Ukrainian head scarves, better known as ‘khustka’, are an important ritual attribute whose value has partly been preserved till now. In fairy tales a scarf always served as a magic object, in songs - symbolized true love, in dreams – predicted betrothal.
In Ukrainian tradition women were supposed to always cover their head. Particularly in cases where men, on the contrary, were to remove the hat. Usually this would apply in the most sacred places: the house (where the images of the saints are), in church, at the funeral.
Not covered, loose woman's hair is an ancient sign of affiliation to the afterlife, the lower, chaotic, deadly brink of the world. Women would leave their hair down to do magic, thus approaching the ‘antiworld’. Long hair was believed to provide magical powers.
Nonetheless a 'khustka' became an essential element of daily life only once a girl got married, after the ritual of ‘head covering’. Covering the head and dividing a ‘korovay’ or wedding bread marked the end of a betrothal. This ceremony signified a transition to another social position, the acquisition of another family status.
During the wedding ceremony the head scarf was usually used more than once. During the betrothal a girl would tie a scarf around her fiance’s arm or tuck it behind his belt, as a sign of her accepting the wedding proposal.
In the Ukrainian Cossacks times there were also many traditions connected to the ‘khustka’: Every girl would bestow an embroidered scarf for her loved one, it being a symbol of true love. If a Cossack perished in battle, his face would be covered by that scarf so that birds wouldn’t mutilate it.