There is a cute and meaningful tradition in Ukraine – to belt the bride with a ceremonial towel instead of an ordinary belt. We can see this in the central and northern regions of Ukraine in the 19th century. Of course, a towel is much wider, longer, and brighter than any belt, so it adds color and opulence to the bridal outfit. Today, this wedding tradition is practically forgotten, brides don’t belt themselves with embroidered towels anymore. Some people would even say that it’s weird to use a towel as a belt. But why did they do it?
The ceremonial towel was either embroidered or hand-woven, but it always was decorated with symbolic patterns, not just a piece of white cloth.
The patterns were meaningful and symbolic. Their purpose was to protect the blushing bride from the evil eye, the envy of the guests, and any evil, in general. So, the ceremonial towel was prepared in advance – usually made by the bride herself or her close relative (mother, godmother, sister, etc) – and the patterns were picked thoroughly.
The ceremonial towels used as belts were, mostly, adorned with red patterns (embroidered or woven), but there were examples of red&black or colorful embroidery. The ends could be embellished with lace or fringe because they were not only visible but caught the eye.
Authentic embroidered ceremonial towel used as bride’s belt. It has cute floral stitched pattern and lace border. Central Ukraine, the late 19th – early 20th century
This towel was tied so that the ends were hanging at the front, adding color and opulence to the outfit. In the past, the wealthier a person, the richer a costume, which means more fabric (clothes could be rather wide, with wide sleeves and many pleats, or the like), more garments (wedding attire often was multilayered, even in summer), more adornments, more jewelry pieces, etc. Our ancestors didn’t actually consider if colors matched, if items of clothing looked good together, and etc, they just mixed what they had and what they liked. Fashion was determined by merchants and available goods in a certain village, not by fashion designers and magazines, as it is today. At least when we’re talking about ordinary villagers, peasants. People had a much narrower assortment of goods available, so they used what they could.
Sometimes, the Maid of Honor also was belted with a towel, but in most cases, it was only for the bride. Even the groom used a festive but usual belt, never a towel – woven belt, leather belt, or belt sewn from manufactured fabric. Towels could replace a belt only in women’s bridal attire.
Traditional bridesmaid’s attire from eastern Ukraine, the early 20th century. Red&white hand-woven towel used as belt