Proud citizens are now re-learning what to wear in Georgia: the chokha, a traditional overcoat that is uniquely Georgian. Think French and you picture in your mind a soldier wearing a beret; Spanish, you see a lovely lady and her mantilla; Georgian, you should see a stately man wearing a chokha to demonstrate national pride. It is clearly not just a simple fashion trend.
Not to be confused with the American state, Georgia is a picturesque mountainous country in the Caucasus region. That part of the world between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea where there is an abundance of verdant mountains, hills, steppes, meadows, and plains. It is one of the loveliest places in the planet, with so much history and unique local traditions.
The chokha has covered the shoulders of millions of Georgian men since the 9th century until the Russian Bolsheviks seized the country in the 1920s. For some time in the 20s, the Georgians wore their chokhas as a form of protest against the Russians.
Today, Georgia is an independent country and gaining more and more confidence in promoting its nation and national identity. It is also doing very well in tourism as the country experiences a steadily growing surge in the number of international tourists and guests. As a result, local traditions, including the wearing of the chokha, are being practiced with more pride and frequency today.
A chokha is a thick cotton overcoat and comes in different colors. In the past, people used wool or camel hair. Around the waist, it is worn tightly with buttons running from the chest down, but wide and loose at the bottom to exude royalty and prestige.
While more popularly worn by men, the chokha was tailor-made to fit women in the southern part of the country as well.
The well-loved overcoat may not reach the level of fame it used to enjoy in bygone years. In the Middle Ages, people wore it every day to represent national pride, tradition, handicraft, and folklore. Nearly every Georgian home today has a picture of their ancestors wearing a chokha in whatever kind of activity they engaged in in the past. Today, men wear chokha only on special occasions, most notably on their wedding day or a funeral.
The revival of the chokha in Georgia fashion began in 2010 when the first chokha shop in modern times opened in the capital city of Tbilisi. Locals and even tourists flocked to the shop to get their own overcoat. It makes for an interesting souvenir, something that tourists can clearly brag about and show off with friends and family back home.
Today, there are more chokha shops in the country and people observe that foreign buyers are fond of the color purple. Perhaps they are unaware that Georgians traditionally wore black and white chokhas, although they do come in other colors such as gray, blue and red.
In the past, a black chokha was worn by people of authority and stature, including generals, poets, local heroes and national leaders. This was especially true all over the southern regions of Caucasus.
Now that the chokha is once again an important wear in Georgia, an All-Georgia Chokha Society has been established, and this is what they are saying: “When you love your chokha, you love your country; when you love your country, you love your tradition.”