This book on traditional skirts from Kihnu Island is based on my MA thesis defended at the Department of Semiotics of the University of Tartu in 2008. The dissertation has been revised for the purposes of publication.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part introduces earlier work by authors who have discussed semiotics of clothing, while the second part focuses on the history and current status of Kihnu skirts, assessing the empirical facts while proceeding from the theoretical premises outlined in the first part of the book.
Kihnu Island is a special place in the Estonian context. Women belonging to the older generation continue to wear traditional clothes and several archaic customs are still practised.
An important part of the traditional outfit of Kihnu women is a bright striped skirt called kört. These skirts have a long and interesting history and the book sets out to provide a thorough overview of it. The traditional skirts are used to manifest stages in Kihnu women’s lives, each of which can be regarded as a symbolic entity. Passage from one stage to another is enacted by means of particular rituals.
Although the tradition of making and wearing Kihnu skirts currently stays alive mostly thanks to the older generation of women, kört has remained one of the most important symbols of Kihnu identity. In the rest of Estonia, wearing traditional clothing on a daily basis disappeared from people’s everyday life already at the beginning of the 20th century, yet on Kihnu, this custom has been preserved. Evidently, geographical isolation and a strong sense of community have facilitated the survival of the island’s intangible heritage, including its traditional clothing and dialect.
The book is in Estonian and has English summary.