An Albanian man’s jelek (sleeveless jacket or waistcoat), 1900-1920. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

An Albanian man’s sleeveless waistcoat.

An Albanian man’s jelek (sleeveless jacket or waistcoat), the entire surface covered with elaborate maroon and purple silk couched braiding on a black wool ground. Nine pairs of buttons made by covering a wooden core with plaited thread to form a herringbone pattern are sewn to the flaps at the front characteristic of Albanian jeleks. Each button is tipped with an amuletic coral bead to ward off evil. The lining of green woven wool cloth with white stripe, the edges finished with machine-woven ribbon. The entire waistcoat has internal stiffening, probably of paper.

Similar waistcoats are recorded among Albanian communities in the Skrapar region, South East Albania, (c. 1900-1920), and in Kosovo, see A. Gjergji (ed), ‘Albanian Folk Costumes’ vol. 2, Tirane 2001, p. 65, pl. 45, described as from Tomorrica, early 20th-century, and A. Bido, ‘Art Popullar ne Veshje e Textile, Tirane 1991, betw. pp. 104-5, as from Kosovo. See also Fitzroy Maclean, ‘Yugoslavia’, London 1969, pl.. 203, Shiptari (Albanian) men perfoming a traditional dance, all wearing similar waistcoats, described by Maclean as ‘made of black wool, decorated with dark colours, usually purple.’

Made by male tailors who specialize in these handsome braided designs, using hand-spun, plaited and twisted thread. For waistcoats with similar braiding see L.E. Stuart, ‘The Durham Collection of Garments and Embroideries from Albania and Yugoslavia’, Bankfield Museum notes, 1939, Pl. X, pp. 47-8, and pl. XI, pp. 52-3. Edith Durham brought back a number of jeleks from her travels to Albania c. 1900-1014. They are now in the Bankfield Museum, Halifax.

Object Details

Culture: Albanian

Materials and techniques: Wool, silk

Timeline of Art History: Southern Europe, 1900-1920 (circa), Albania

Preserved in London. © The Trustees of the British Museum