Albania's rich and varied cultural heritage is perhaps best demonstrated by the incredible range of traditional clothing. For many centuries, the Albanians' clothing allowed strangers to learn all kinds of things about them at a single glance; region of origin, marital status, the family's wealth and standing, ethnicity, age, and more. During religious, social and other special occasions, clothing was a kind of passport, and within Albania there are about 300 different traditional costumes, each linked to a specific area or even village.
Clothes were made by specialised craftsmen and women with cotton, wool and imported silk, and decorated with colours, embroidered symbols, themes like the Albanian eagle, natural scenes and patterns, incorporating gold and silver thread and small river pearls. Curiously, embroidering was a craft that was only done by men. Styles and fashions changed over the years as new materials and trends emerged, but the distinct regional variety remained.
As the use of traditional clothing waned in the 20th century, the cultural and also the real value of these items was forgotten, and many costumes and related objects were lost due to carelessness and decay. Apart from the state museums, there are only ten serious collectors of traditional wear in Albania, but it's thanks to them that people have been made aware of the importance of preserving old traditional wear. A recent law prohibiting the export of items older than 50 years from Albania has ironically increased the illegal and unprofessional export of antiques and traditional clothing, leading to identity mix-ups with some Albanian traditional clothing being exhibited abroad as being from other countries in the region.
Albania has huge costume collections, the National Museum alone has 30,000 artefacts, but only a small amount is exhibited. Places to view costumes, apart from Tirana's National Museum and Spahiu Collection, include the Ethnographic Museums of Shkodra, Berat and Gjirokastra and the Tradita G&T guesthouse in Shkodra, though unfortunately the museum displays are often dull, with little in the way of explanations. Thankfully, costumes are attracting more and more local and international interest, and both private and state collections are increasingly accessible.
Linda Spahiu Collection
Linda and her son Luris are perhaps Tirana's most fervent collectors and restorers of traditional Albanian costumes; they even sold the family house and moved into a rented apartment to be able to purchase more clothes. Although they do not have a permanent exhibition space yet, they are happy to show their collection and sell some items to interested visitors; the photos on this page are from some of their top pieces, which include waistcoats, heavy woollen embroidered xhubleta skirts, and delicate tablecloths.
Visits to their home and storage space along the road to Elbasan can be booked via tel. +355 68 304 26 64/+355 68 212 10 08 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Luris speaks English and French. Take a taxi or bus to the first roundabout after the Martyr's Cemetery and you'll be met there. There's no admission fee, but donations to help upkeep the collection are welcome.