Bulgarian women's closed tunic - Soukman

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The soukman or closed tunic was made from a single piece of woven and felted woollen cloth in black or dark blue for winter wear, or a single piece of white or light coloured woven linen, hemp or cotton for summer wear. This piece of fabric was wound round the body (like a sarafan), a round or 'V' shaped hole is cut out for the head, and then the fabric was joined at the shoulders. Soukman can be sleeveless, short sleeved, or long sleeved. The soukman style costume was worn in western Bulgaria around Sofia, Pernik and Kyustendil, across   the central Thracian plain to the Black Sea, along the northern foothills of the Stara Planina, and in the central Rhodopes around Smolyan. The soukman style of dress emerged later than the saya or double apron costumes. It is considered to have evolved from a style of wearing 2 chemises, one on top of the other, with the outer one being shorter so the sleeves and hem of the under-chemise were visible. This older style of dress was known to have existed round Sofia until towards the end of the 18th century.

The soukman was also called manoful, preskolnik, or litak in central Bulgaria, kusoklinest in the west,  soukno in Rila mountains visokoklinest on the Thracian plain or vulenik in mid Rhodopes. Soukman are decorated round the neck, hem and sleeve edges with white, coloured or gold braid, sequins or tinsel. They are worn with a brightly coloured woven woollen front apron except in some areas of western Bulgaria.

Soukman costume can be divided into 3 main variants:

Short gusseted soukman

In the west of Bulgaria, and in parts of the central and northern Rhodopes,  soukman are knee length and can be short sleeved or sleeveless, and has extra triangular gussets inserted at waist level to give extra width. This style is referred to as a short gusseted soukman. They neck is usually round and is decorated with rows of coloured braid, gold thread or rows of sequins around the neck edge and sleeve ends. Soukman in Sofia, Trun and  Pernik can be worn without the  front apron. Sleeveless soukman are richly decorated around the neck with many rows of sequins, and short sleeved soukman  have heavy embroidery in red or occasionally white on the sleeves (which can be made of red, yellow or green velvet or silk instead of the woollen material used for the main part of the tunic. In Sofia black or dark blue soukman can be decorated with appliquéd white braid in similar motifs as those used for men's jackets.

In Trun a black soukman with red decoration is worn in winter, with a white soukman called a manofil, being worn in summer. Around the beginning of the 20th century the black soukman with many rows of gold thread and sequins around the neck, sleeve edges and hem were introduced.

After Bulgarian independence soukman from Kyustendil were commonly made from green woollen or linen fabric. These were decorated with gold and coloured braid around the neck and top of the short sleeves.

In the west, when aprons are worn these are made of cloth woven with horizontal stripes in red, gold or silver thread.

Long gusseted style

Soukman from central Bulgaria were either knee or ankle length, and sleeveless or sometimes short sleeved, and were made of black or dark blue or green woollen cloth. This long gusseted style of soukman has long rectangular or triangular gussets which are sewn onto the main part under the arms. The neckline formed a deep 'V' shape reaching to the waist.

This style of soukman was decorated around the neck with a row of brightly coloured embroidery worked in woollen or silk thread in floral motifs, and around the hem with either similar rows of floral embroidery or vertical stripes of multicoloured appliquéd in brightly coloured (yellow, red, pink, green, or orange) cloth, satin  or felt, interleaved with woollen, gold or silver braid.  Soukman with embroidered decoration predated those with coloured appliqué (the latter being found around Kazanluk, Yambol, and Haskovo). The row of appliqué around the hem is very wide in eastern Thrace and narrow along the foothills on both sides of the Stara Planina and was called a chelo (forehead), prag (threshold) or prechka (obstacle).

Soukman from eastern Thrace often have two 'long strips of materials (tails) attached to the back. These were decorated with lace and floral woollen embroidery, and are thought to be a modified form of sleeves that have lost their function.

In central Bulgaria the front apron worn over the soukman  was usually plain, and can be made of woven wool, linen or even silk. It was decorated on the lower third with woven stripes or brightly coloured embroidered floral motifs worked in wool or silk, and was often edged with a row of fine white or cream needle lace.

Two piece soukman

A two piece soukman is found on the eastern slopes of the Stara Planina Mountains, and along the Black Sea coats in Dobruja. This style is made of black, red or brightly coloured fabric and had a short sleeveless bodice (chapak), with a separate skirt attached (similar to a dirndl) which is made of several widths of fabric, gathered at the back and flat at the front where it is covered by the apron.


© Eliznik2008, Last updated Jan-08