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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI professor is editor, contributor to new book on folk dress and beliefs about protection, fertility New work focuses on traditions in Europe and Anatolia

KINGSTON, R.I. -- December 8, 1999 -- Everyone has at least one, a piece of favorite or lucky clothing they wear when they need to feel especially sharp, attractive, or powerful.

Baseball players on a hitting streak won't discard a worn batting glove because it might upset their good fortune. A fisherman wears a tattered 20-year-old cap for good luck. And brides wear something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue to ensure a happy life.

Such beliefs in the power of clothing date back centuries. Now a book edited by University of Rhode Island Professor Linda Welters examines such beliefs and traditions as they developed in Europe and Turkey. Welters, chair of the URI Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design, invited eight other writers to contribute to Folk Dress in Europe and Anatolia, Beliefs about Protection and Fertility. The 224-page book with illustrations, (Berg publishers), sells for $65 in hard cover and $19.50 in paperback.

Welters' interest in women's folk dress and the beliefs attached to the apparel began 20 years ago when she was researching in Greece.

"I questioned what these beautiful objects meant to the people who wore them," the Peace Dale professor says in the preface to the book. "I am still answering the questions. The answers are not easy because folk dress embodies multiple layers of meanings, one of which is spiritual.

"This volume is the result of my interest in the hidden meanings of folk dress," Welters says. "Richly colored, densely embellished, and painstakingly crafted, folk dress has great aesthetic appeal."

She traveled to Latvia and studied folk songs as part of her research. "There are half a million folk songs that impart critical information about Latvian belief systems," she said.

The book examines dress in a broad range of cultures-from Turkey, Greece, and Slovakia to Norway, Latvia and Lithuania.

Welters said traditional cultures have long held beliefs that certain articles of dress could protect the body from harm by warding off the "evil eye", bring fertility to new brides or assure human control of supernatural powers. The book reveals the connection between folk dress and ancient myths, cults and rituals, as well as the communicative aspects of folk dress.

Welters said that folk songs in Latvia allude to long belts worn during pregnancy that were loosened as women's pregnancies progressed. As the song went, when the last fold popped, the women knew their babies were due.

Welters interviewed 400 Greek women about folk dress traditions. Along with other researchers, Welters concludes that certain articles of clothing, especially those with symbolic decorations, showed that the wearer was ready to procreate. "These symbols can be found in Latvia, Greece, Turkey and Macedonia" Welters said.

Welters also said researchers found that red, symbolic of menstruation and birth, is a common color for apparel worn by brides and newly married women in some cultures.

Some articles of dress are seen as protective. In parts of mainland Greece, fringed belts were thought to protect the women during childbirth. In Norway, people adorned themselves with shiny metal jewelry to ward off evil spirits.

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For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116


 

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