Clothing does much more than protect the body. It can be used to mark a person’s social status, age, gender, marital status and so forth. In Ukraine, the clothing of the young differed from the clothing of the old.
There was special holiday clothing and clothing to mark the major events in a life such as weddings and funerals. Clothing differed by gender. This not only means that women wore skirts while men wore pants. It means that the clothing of little girl was different from the clothing worn by a girl old enough to marry. When a woman married, her clothing, and especially her head gear, would change again.
Thus, little girls wore unbelted shifts, sorochki, and could wear their hair loose. Young women wore single braids. They had to wear a belt over their sorochki and most often wore a skirt as well. At marriage, a woman’s hair was braided in two braids as part of the wedding ceremony. From then on, the woman was supposed to wear two braids, wear her hair up, and keep her head covered. Her clothing became more modest and darker and darker as she aged. The man, by contrast, wore the same hairdo and pretty much the same clothing throughout his life, though his clothing, too, became darker with age.
Clothing has magical power. The act of embroidery is powerful and clothing protects an individual, not just from the elements, but from the evil eye. Clothing was embroidered and holiday and ceremonial clothing richly so. Embroidery around all clothing edges served a protective function and, since individuals in transition, such as the couple getting married, are especially vulnerable, their clothing was richly embroidered and they were decorated with wreaths, flowers, pins, and other protective items.