I have often thought that being stylish is not a matter of following what the magazines tell us, but something more instinctive. Ruth of Core Couture has been writing, interesting about this. I wrote about being cool on another occasion and style is a similar issue. Having money can help you express your individuality – if you are Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, or Mrs Simpson. But money, on its own, is not enough.
Style, looking cool, means being comfortable with who you are and being happy with your lot. In my view style means that when you choose how you present yourself to the outside world you are giving an authentic – not head-to-toe-designer – look.
So I present four Romanian shepherds for you to consider.
I have recently been on a walking holiday in Transylvania where people still scythe the hay by hand, and transport it on horses. Without mechanised equipment or cars the style of agriculture remains as was here during the 1920s and 1930s. The sheep, and goats, are grazed outside and moved across the country as the weather changes. This ancient tradition, known as transhumance, is semi-nomadic, and many of these men sleep outside in all weathers, in little huts, so that they can be close to their flocks and deal with threats from wolves, bears and lynx. In the winter the shepherds dress in thick sheepskins to keep out the cold. All year round these coats are also the shepherds’ bedding.
The first shepherd was leading his horse. We found he was deaf and we managed to communicate using signs. He was happy to pose for photographs and seemed a very warm and engaging individual. Despite his poverty he was dressed in an appropriate way. His denim shirt was worn, and like the tank top, probably second-hand. His rubber boots were basic and his trousers torn. With his jacket tied around his waist, a rucksack and a beanie hat he was dressed perfectly for the weather and any eventualities. The muted colours harmonising with the factory-made, but colourful, “fair isle” sweater made me keen to capture him on camera. But it was his open smile and genuine friendship that sung out.
Later on we met another man, wearing an amazing brimless pot hat. This hat is typical of the region and worn by shepherds and gypsies. It is made on a hat block from soft wool and shaped a bit like a cloche. Apparently they are sometimes painted white inside so that the purchaser can be sure that the hat is a new, not second-hand one, turned inside out and re-shaped.
We saw this man two or three times on our travels, one day herding 350 sheep along a steep path. His outfit was the same – a bright blue shirt, contrasting perfectly with a nut-brown woolen jacket. He was happy to be photographed too – proud of his heritage and profession.
The third man was a cheese maker. Standing in front of his small, wooden, forest home, he wears a tank top too. He doesn’t meet our gaze but looks at the floor while he explains how he makes cheese from the milk of sheep and goats, builds a fire and smokes it. His life is orderly. He takes milk from all the shepherds, curdles and drains it, makes cheese, smokes and ages it. Then sells it. His methods are primitive but effective.
Another cheese maker asked us in, and showed me his special belt. I am pretty sure the purse is for the proceeds of the cheese sales, but I am not sure about the rest of the design.
We have a rescue dog called Billy who was found in a gutter in a Transylvanian village wth his back leg broken. After an op and necessary papers etc he came to the UK with wwwloveunderdogs.org and now he’s ours and we love him to bits. Lovely to see and hear a little of his origins.
Thank you for this interesting story and link. All the dogs we met were working dogs – mainly looking after the sheep and protecting them. They are reasonably well looked after but are not pets.
I love that there are still regions where these kind of ancient traditions survive. Sometimes it feels like the whole world has been homogenized into one gigantic blur of American corporate culture.
Blessed are the cheesemakers as Brian said
Interesting and sympathetic post, K! The colours of their clothing are harmonious and they seem relaxed.
Great post, really enjoyed sharing your photos. Never thought about style in the context of traditional workwear, especially in rural environments. I visited Romania in 1990, shortly after the fall of Ceausescu and was taken aback at how undeveloped the country was then, but so glad to see some of the traditions still remain, all these years later.
Thanks Karen. I went there too, around that time and was distressed at the abject poverty of many families, children and older people. Over the last few years they have really used membership of the EU to modernise and it now feels like a modern European country. I don’t think the very traditional lifestyle will survive another generation.
One word comes to mind…gritty…hard working folks with little interest in what the rest of the world perceives as style. Clothes that serve the purpose of warmth and utility. I was fascinated with the cheese maker’s patches on his shirt…some emblems of service or organization perhaps? Thank you, Kate, for sharing your walking tour of connections to the past and yet of the present as well.
Lovely post, so nice to see people comfortable in their own skin and clothes. incidentally that camel coloured coat / denim shirt combo, and the fluffy sheepskin wouldn’t have been far off the mark last season!