New York Apparel Peopling of New York, Spring 2015

New York Apparel


Evolution of the Traditional Clothes

By Dmytro Usyk


Walk along East 7th street on a Sunday morning and you will feel like you have just entered into a twilight zone that is pre-19th century Eastern Europe mixed with modern day New York. Men and women dressed in shirts with what seems like strange embroideries weaved into them. With these shirts they are wearing suit jackets and dress pants, blazers and skirts. What you have entered is the Ukrainian neighborhood of Manhattan, with its own Ukrainian church, museum and most importantly store. It is this store where the Ukrainian residents buy their traditional clothes, if they did not bring them over with them when immigrating. These clothes have significant cultural value play a major role in Ukrainian cultural and religious holidays, as well as display nationalism of the Ukrainian residents.



Hand-made Kilims

First off, needlework is a traditional and still widespread hobby of Ukrainian women throughout the country and every region has its own traditional style of needlework. The different patterns of the needlework are due to the origins of the needlework in the different parts of Ukraine. The triangle shape as seen in the far left stitching most likely came from western Ukraine or Romania, where the Carpathian Mountains can be seen and colors of the pattern are meant to depict the mountains1. As you move East and North the style changes. As you move farther North, the geometric pattern of the embroidery becomes significant, as well as the color choice. The colors become more subtle, and pale, until it reaches the elegant “white-on-white” style, which is seen on the far left of the image. The focus of the geometric styles is around the laying of the yarn in a repeating pattern to create a rich and complex look2.  With this regional needlework comes forth a traditional style of creating shirts called vyshyti sorochki (directly translates to “embroidered shirts”), where with men’s shirts the pattern is focused in the collar and chest, while with women’s shirts the pattern is embroidered into the sleeves3. These patterns are not easy to create, so this creates a demand for the exceptionally well-made ones, which is how my grandmother built a business making them in Ukraine.

“It’s a very tedious process first determining what pattern you want to do, then laying out all your yarn, and proceeding to use a loom to create the pattern. Its important to keep doing the exact same thing over and over so to not mess up what you’re doing.” Maria Usyk

These patterns are made the old fashion way with a loom, by hand, which takes about an hour. When the rectangular cloth is done, you must sow it into the shirt collar, chest or sleeve, once again by hand, because a sowing machine can rip the pattern up. Women like my grandmother make these shirts throughout Ukraine and even Romania and sell them locally and online internationally to store owners in other countries.

Where to Buy

Here in New York, the store along East 7th is one of the parties of this international transport that brings Ukrainian tradition to America. I spoke with the owner of the store Surma, which sells Ukrainian DVDs, movies, and many other novelty items. Most importantly, this store sells the traditional Ukrainian garb that has been adopted by groups other than Ukrainians. The storeowner, Marcus, is a Romanian immigrant who had some interesting insights as to who the buyers of these clothes were. He come to America at a very young age and was able to open a store selling Ukrainian novelties across the Ukrainian Church on East 7th. Ukrainians were not the target demographic of these clothes according to Marcus.”I feel like Ukrainians wear these shirts once or twice a year for major holidays or what have you, but other people wear it too. Romanians I know wear it under suits all the time and this geometric pattern appeals to Americans who want to wear something that’s different but classy.”

“I feel like Ukrainians wear these shirts once or twice a year for major holidays or what have you, but other people wear it too. Romanians I know wear it under suits all the time and this geometric pattern appeals to Americans who want to wear something that’s different but classy.” Marcus

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11 East 7th Street · New York · NY 10003
Embroidered Blouse





This appreciation of embroidered needlework is not unique to Ukraine as it originated in the region of southern Ukraine, which borders Romania 4. In fact, it seems like Romanian immigrants have integrated the traditional clothing into their business and everyday attire more so than Ukrainians according to Marcus. I, too, have noticed that my Ukrainian comrades only wear the traditional garments during major holidays. After a regular Sunday Mass, I spoke with one of the church-goers Dimitriy Vatamanuk, who confirmed that the traditional garb is reserved for special occasions.”In our house we keep them in the closet in vacuum sealed bags so they don’t get dirty. We take them out on special occasions and iron them to look presentable… I never just wore the shirts just under my clothes on a regular day.” Dimitriy has lived in America for 4 years and has brought his traditional garb with him when immigrating. In America, he finds comfort that he is surrounded by his comrades from his home and that life is very similar to what it used to be for him.

“In our house we keep them in the closet in vacuum sealed bags so they don’t get dirty. We take them out on special occasions and iron them to look presentable… I never just wore the shirts just under my clothes on a regular day” Dimitriy Vatamanuk

IMG_4703 However, on these special occasions, the integration of the clothes is done in the way the Romanians did it, as seen in the picture taken in St. Joseph’s Ukrianian Church (which is across the street from Surma) during Sunday Mass on Easter.

National Spirit

In light of the political relations between Ukraine and Russia, many Ukrainians are finding more and more special occasions to wear the traditional shirts 5. To give quick explanation about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there have been a series of circumstances that escalate the situation. Early in 2014, the Ukrainian president was scheduled to sign an agreement to make Ukraine part of the European Union. Pressure from the Russian government prevented such an agreement from being signed, so a revolution began to replace the pro-Russian president. This resulted in a response from the Russian government to subdue the revolution, but it only escalated it. For a more detailed explanation about the conflict click here. To show support for Ukraine in this conflict, many have begun to shun Russian influences in Ukraine, and bring back Ukrainian traditions. There are many similarities between Ukrainian culture and Russian culture, which inevitably connects the two nations. However, wearing vyshyti sorochki is a Ukrainian tradition, which is not widely practiced in Russia besides by Ukrainians living there 6. Many Ukrainians are trying to separate themselves from the Russian culture, by embracing their own, which gives the sorochki a spotlight. This caused the Ukrainian traditional shirt to see a rise in international appreciation, according to fashion designer Vita Kin. Kin stated, “Ukrainians have a unique method of decorating clothing with embroidery, and that’s always impressed me,” and she has implemented this method into her own designs and fashion. A few years ago no one would be wearing the embroidered shirt, but the recent months have caused a rise in requests for Kin to such an extent that she “can no longer accommodate individual orders or samples for shoots” 7. While the storeowner Marcus has noticed that Ukrainians are buying the traditional shirts, they are buying from Kin those that fit the design of their culture. They are embracing their culture, but with a modern spin, and showing their national spirit for their country.

The Beginnings of Cultural Appropriation

The storeowner, Marcus, and fashion designer, Kin, have both noted that this style of clothing is starting to make its way into mainstream fashion. The traditional designs and patterns make it appealing to designers like Vita Kin. The infinite amounts of patterns possible allow for creativity and freedom to incorporate more contemporary looks and styles 8. This would not have been possible if people did not desire these styles, which they do as Marcus observed. When I asked if Americans ever bought these clothes, to my surprise the answer was,

“Yes actually, we have occasionally people come in just to see the store and oftentimes they end up buying a shirt… It’s not just a Ukrainian shirt, it’s a Bohemian style that looks classy and the blue would look good with a suit or dark skirt.”

They have moved away from the full traditional costume (as seen by this image), but held on to the shirt and blended it with their suits and blazers. Vogue magazine had written about a fashion trend that has started to hit the mainstream– Bohemian style. Blouses done in Bohemian style have geometric patterns that follow a red-white or red-black color scheme that run along the sleeves, much like the women’s vyshyti sorochki. In fact, it is exactly like the vyshyti sorochki, and designer Kin stated that this is in fact the style of the Ukrainian traditional sorochki 9. The similarities between the new Bohemian design and traditional Ukrainian style is apparent in the images below. As more and more Ukrainians embrace their traditional garb, it will receive more international attention and further integrate into the mainstream.


Traditional Ukrainian Men and Women’s clothing


Placement of embroidered patterns on blouses


Design by Vita Kin

  1. Dmytrykiw, D. (2006). TRADITIONAL UKRAINIAN EMBROIDERY. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from
  2. Dmytrykiw, D.
  3. Dmytrykiw, D.
  4. Ukrainian folk dress. Traditional clothes of Ukraine. (2010, July 13). Retrieved May 10, 2015, from
  5. Satenstein, L. (2015, April 28). Your Favorite Bohemian Garb Is Actually Traditional Ukrainian Costume. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from
  6. Dmytrykiw, D.
  7. Satenstein, L.
  8. Satenstein, L.
  9. Satenstein, L.

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