Friday, 20 May 2011

Feresi - an Iranian-Karelian piece of clothing

I stole this image from someone's blog in the US - she had collected old Finnish postcards from the 70s. I assume this is a folk band, and I should probably know who they are. I don't and the image makes me grin broadly. In my childhood, this kind of Karelia folklore was really popular.

The dress the three women are wearing is not an official folk dress, but a feresi - the everyday dress of Karelian women, worn in the kitchen and cowshed. Interesting about the dress is that it has travelled from Persia to Russia and landed in Karelia. Another, more festive variant of it is the sarafan. Different parts of Karelia had different feresi fashions - the one seen here is a North Karelian variant. The ones from the Russian side of the border seem more flashy and "Oriental". The common colours in feresis and sarafans seem to be red, blue, white and black. Usually they are worn with headgear that shows the woman's marital status. Unmarried ones wear ribbons, married ones a sorokka or säpsä.

Feresis were almost disappearing in Finland in the 20th century, until 1960s when two women active in the Orthodox church, Tellervo Riikonen and Irinja Nikkanen, decided to revive the tradition. Nowadays feresis seem to be in particular church fashion, but I am sure they are also worn in Orthodox families at different family gatherings.

I first saw a live feresi here in Tampere as I attended the Orthodox church coffee hour a couple of years ago. I must say I found them odd in the beginning, but now I am always looking forward to seeing the feresi ladies serving the coffee. It would be nice to own one, even if it was worn once in five years. As a piece of clothing, it seems to allow more movement than the actual Finnish folk dress, and it makes you look less matronly, as the dress is made of lighter fabric. Feresi specialists in Finland tell that everyone can make a feresi of their own style. It should consist of the dress, a white shirt and an apron,  but all the rest is up to you to improvise.

In the US there are lots of fashion websites dedicated to "modest clothing". Here in Finland I don't think women dress up in feresis to highlight their modesty, but rather to celebrate family history and "roots".

The most poetic part of feresis is the Russian "soul warmer" (dusegreja), a festive jacket worn on top of it at wintertime and as a bridal specialty in weddings. All women deserve their own soul warmers. This is a tradition that truly feeds the soul.

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