Here's What A Vyshyvanka Actually Is

If you've been on Instagram at any point this summer (and we suspect you have), you've probably noticed many, many members of the fashion set — from Leandra Medine and Pandora Sykes, to Anna Dello Russo and Giovanna Battaglia — wearing colorful, embroidered dresses with billowing sleeves, while staring into the ocean.

#tbt 🌞

A photo posted by PANDORA SYKES (@pandorasykes) on

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Though many fashion sites have been quick to call the increasingly popular style "bohemian," the traditional piece, known as a vyshyvanka, has Eastern Europe roots. "The vyshyvanka is a part of a basic wardrobe in Ukraine, like the striped shirt in Paris or jeans in the United States," Robert Mishchenko, one-half of the Ukranian design duo behind label March11, tells Refinery29. "It's a traditional Ukrainian blouse that has been worn for centuries, and its patterns vary from one region of Ukraine to another. For example, southern regions usually have fruits and berries in patterns, while patterns in the northern regions are more geometric. The original blouse is white with black and red embroidery, but since colored threads have become more widely available, the vyshyvanka has become more colorful."

How then did a garment so deeply connected with a specific culture become a fashion phenomenon? It may have to do with the prominence of labels like March11 that happen to be producing such pieces (brands like Vita Kin, Innika Choo, and Nine in the Mirror); and also, pulling inspiration from traditional garb is, well, nothing new.
"Ethnic motifs have always fascinated designers," Mishchenko says when asked to give an explanation for the style's recent virality. "There was a collection by Jean Paul Gaultier inspired by the Ukrainian vyshyvanka in 2005; John Galliano had "frozen Ukrainian brides" in his fall/winter 2009 show. Isabel Marant has always been inspired by ethnic blouses — thanks to her, I guess, embroidered tops have become trendy in the recent years, and that opened the door for the vyshyvanka outside of Ukraine. I think that's because our world is becoming so globalized; we want to see something different, [and] ethnic motifs are those things that give you a sense that you are experiencing a different culture."

The problem that comes with this cultural experimentation, of course, is the question of appropriation. If this item has such strong ties to Ukranian heritage, is it okay for people not of Ukranian descent to embrace it?

Double power👯 @annazak & @anastasiiam #folknouveau #chicnationale #vitakin #originalvitakin

A photo posted by Vita Kin (@vitakin_originals) on

"I think fashion is a universal language, and when we wear something originating from a certain culture it makes us citizens of the world," Mishchenko continues. "It makes us more powerful and strong. I also think that the vyshyvanka, the one that is made up to the best standards with the traditional handwork techniques of manipulating fabrics, is a thing to have in every wardrobe. It's timeless beauty. And in a moment of a tough economic times, something that is special and can be worn over and over again is a good thing to have."

Though they may not be the most affordable pieces (options from the aforementioned labels will cost you anywhere from $200 to $1,000-plus, though you can find more affordable ones on Etsy), Mischenko makes a good point when it comes to embracing trends from other cultures, and how important it can be for budding style capitals (like Kiev, he says). So while summer comes to an end, and maybe the beachside selfies featuring embroidery-clad influencers become fewer and farther between, the important thing to note is that the vyshyvanka isn't a trend, it's timeless.
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