Ukrainian embroidered shirts are both old and new. International designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino have taken Ukrainian national dress as the ‘go to’ trend in this spring’s fashion. On May the 21st I saw many photos and videos of people all over the world wearing traditional Ukrainian shirts. It was Ukrainian embroidered shirt day.
According to one report, Ukrainians in China were the first to mark the celebration. Because of the time difference they donned their colourful shirts and carried Ukrainian flags hours before people in Ukraine woke up.
On my way to the drugstore in Bloor West Village in Toronto, a young man walking with an elderly woman caught my eye. He was wearing an embroidered shirt as he casually strolled down the sunny street.
Later in the day I came across a video of the celebration in Mariupol. A city in the Donetsk Oblast that had been taken over by anti-Ukrainian forces, then liberated and named the acting capital of the war-torn region. Watching people dancing in the center of the sunny coastal city, wearing embroidered shirts, I could hardly believe that mortar rockets were being fired at them just kilometres away.
Some people told an interviewing journalist that they wore their Ukrainian shirts all the time. Others said they had put them on for the first time.
Watching photos of Parliamentarians posing for the cameras in their embroidered shirts I thought about Levko Lukianenko. He wore his embroidered shirt in Parliament in 1991, when no one else did, because it wasn’t trendy. He’d spent 27 years in the Soviet Gulag. I guess the shirt was a sort of armour for him, a declaration of identity that could not be erased but needed to be demonstrated.
My family was displaced from Ukraine by World War II. None of the old embroidered shirts survived. My mother embroidered, so I grew up with new ones. But have always loved the old, and smile when I see a friend wearing a shirt from an ancestor.
On Ukrainian embroidered shirt day I wore something old/new. It’s an antique embroidery I bought in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv that has an unusual cut. Created a long time ago but new to me, it made me feel connected to the spirit of the day, as well as the past.