When I read Rebecca West’s description of the folk costume of Albanian men, I assumed she was lying or at least exaggerating:

No Westerner ever sees an Albanian for the first time without thinking that the poor man’s trousers are just about to drop off. They are cut in a straight line across the loins, well below the hip bone, and have no visible means of support; and to make matters psychologically worse they are of white or biscuit homespun heavily embroidered with black wool in designs that make a stately reference to the essential points of male anatomy. The occasion could not seem more grave, especially as there is often a bunch of uncontrolled shirt bulging between the waistcoat and these trousers. Nothing, however, happens.

Surely these “references” must be awfully subtle? Or perhaps the word “stately” is meant to be sarcasm? Can I trust anything West says about Albanians, given her notorious bias in favor of the Serbs? Or am I fool to expect the unembellished truth from a travelogue in the first place?

If you, too, have long wondered whether Albanian folk costume is as suggestive as West claims, the answer may lie in this old photograph , posted today on the Tumblr Folk Things and originally from the wonderfully specific site Balkan Threads .

Without wanting to start a conversation about the ways this garment may or may not evoke what it conceals, I will say that for the first time I can see how West’s description might be credible.

Articles by Helen Andrews

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