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. The artisans were so famed that Albania became a centre of production for the wider region, and positioned along the old trade routes between west and east, local craftsmen had access to all manner of quality materials.
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.