MORE THAN A FASHION STATEMENT//Wearing the Albanian identity?
Credit: Gift of Owen Shimel
If you’re in awe of this elaborately tailored coat from 20th century Albania, then you’ve got the intended effect. Coats like this were often worn for important court ceremonies and festivities, like riding or dancing. The construction of the coat’s wide sleeves and front-opening skirt gives the wearer the freedom to move and participate in such activities. The intricate designs created from the gold-tread work couched on the red velvet background would have certainly made a fashion statement for the wealthy wearer.
The richness and elegance of the coat’s design and function punctures the “savage” and “primitive” depictions of the Albanian-Balkan identity that have remained popular in the Western imagination since the 18th century. The coat itself is dated in the context of nationalist projects attempting to reunite the scattered nation under a recognizable Albanian identity. What remains evident in the structure and floral motifs of this coat, however, is the continued poignancy of Ottoman and Muslim influence on both Albanian costume and culture. Perhaps then, although the magnificent coat is a symbol of progression and the potential for reimagining Albanian identity, it also reveals the challenges inherent in trying to define national identity in the first place.