The Ukrainian wedding tradition that’s making a stunning comeback

Ukrainian headdress

With a look to the past, these headdresses are the ultimate symbol of eternity and beauty.

In Ukraine, a folk tradition popular before the rise of communism at the beginning of the 20th century is making a glorious comeback, and it’s certainly turning heads — quite literally!

Although wearing traditional folk dress “was a way to protest the powers that tried to erase Ukrainian distinctiveness” in the 20th century, modern Ukrainian women are now embracing the old ritual of decorating unmarried ladies’ heads with elaborate crowns of flowers, and the results are simply exquisite. Yet, what is also remarkable is that by rediscovering the joys of its very rich and stunning folk history, Ukrainians are learning more about their past customs, which speak of a time when marriage was seen as a woman’s crowning glory.

A headdress that grows with age

Tradition dictates that girls could begin wearing a headdress from an early age. They began with simple decorations of ribbons, tendrils, and flowers that were fresh in the summer. As fall drew nearer, the flowers would be replaced with paper or cloth decorations. When the girl felt she was ready for courtship, she would wear a more complex headdress. Finally, on announcing her marriage, her friends would come together and weave the most elaborate headdress for the bride to wear on her wedding day. Following tradition, Lubow Wolynetz, the curator of folk art at New York’s Ukrainian Museum, explained “that was the last time a maiden could wear a wreath,” adding that “once she was married, she could no longer decorate her hair or head.”

Starting young: a simple crown with traditional dress


Showcasing the national flowers of Ukraine: poppies and sunflowers


Felt flowers are just as stunning and last all year


The real simplicity of wheat in all its beauty


When nature takes over the results are breathtaking


The weddings of yesteryear

Looking back at old photos that survived the years, it is clear to see the dedication and love that was put into constructing the headdress. The bride-to-be’s friends would gather at her house the day before the wedding ceremony. Impressively, the devoted friends would work through the night to ensure the headdress was complete.

As weddings tended to take place in the fall, the headdresses would be full of plant life and perhaps artificial flowers made from paper, cloth, or shells. According to tradition, Wolynetz explains how the headdress had to include at least one live element; usually the winding stems or leaves of the everlasting periwinkle. As a “symbol of eternity and beauty,” we can see why this was so appropriate in the marital headdress.

A bride in her elaborate headdress in the Carpathian Mountains, 1930


Detail and symmetry in this bride’s headdress in western Ukraine


It’s easy to identify the bride in this group of women


The vibrant colors used to make headdresses


This new husband and wife look united in love, nature, and traditional embroidery


Modern wedding day wonders

Popular in the shops of the Ukraine capital, Kiev, today’s headdresses are created on a few models using the photos that remain from the last century. Once more, the intricate and symmetrical designs require extreme skill and patience. Sadly, the custom of gathering at the bride’s house to make the headdress the night before is no longer; these creations take at least a month to achieve. However, the results are exquisite and demonstrate the joy of recreating the lost art of headdress making — although we can’t help but wonder just how heavy these elaborate creations really are! Nevertheless, any bride would be lucky indeed to walk down the aisle topped with such beauty.

The fiery russet colors make this the perfect headdress for any fall wedding


The dramatic design of these wreaths would really take a groom’s breath away


This intricate headdress creation is matched with a cluster of jewelry on the embroidered traditional dress


Although monochrome, the design of this headdress and traditional clothing is still full of detail and charm


The use of peacock feathers and ribbons adds a creative touch to this striking headdress