Traditional Polish folklore clothing through history
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Published: Mon, 01 May 2017
Fashion and folklore apparel in Poland has been influenced by the resources available, climate, and also by the other cultures that came across. German, Czech, Russian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, and other influences can be seen in the traditional dress of each region. There are roughly 60 unique costumes attributed to the different areas in Poland, thanks to these diverse influences, each region of Poland has its own local traditional dress.
Polish fashion developed in the late 15th Century. Medieval garments were worn all over east Europe. Attributes as the jopula were influenced by Hungarian and Turkish costume. Those were in turn created by affecting the Byzantine court dress and by central Asian influences. Connections with Hungary were significant for the creation of a separate style of dress that was worn in Poland and in Lithuania. Those connections were strengthened by dynastic arrangements within the royal families of both countries. The stereotypical caftan-like ‘look’ of long flowing robes was new to the early 16th Century, which was strongly reinforced by the election of the popular and effective King Stephan Bathory of Transylvania. King Stephan Bathory alongside King Jan III Sobieski, gained the greatest respect and popularity among the nobles, as they were famous not only for their bravery but also, significantly, for their preference for dressing in Polish style. Which, at the time they referred to as ”Sarmatian dress”. The style became a way of manifesting the gentry’s ideology. It was a symbol of the republic tradition and the nobles’ liberty that was valued the most in Poland. West European male attire with its laces and ribbons, accompanied by a curly wig, was regarded as a creation of an absolute monarchy and a token of effeminacy. Kings dressed in such a ”ladylike” manner were treated with distrust. Just like the last King of Poland; Stanislaw August Poniatowski, who refused to wear a Sarmatian dress on the day of his coronation. The long Hungarian coat, the mentlik, was also adopted as Slovakian national dress. The Lithuanians, White Ruthuanins, Ukrainians, and most Cossacks wore Polish dress in the 17th Century. Because of all the fast changes, it was difficult and often confusing for foreigners to tell the difference between some eastern European outfits, especially in times of battles. For example: a Pole could always find a Hungarian in a crowd, but westerners weren’t able to recognise Turks from Poles and Hungarians. In the second half of the 17th Century, thanks to two queens consort who came from France; Maria Ludwika Gonzaga and Maria Kazimiera Sobieska. Polish woman’s wear followed the western European fashion trends. Women left behind dark coloured, rather humble and rigorous remembrances of Eastern culture. However this foreign style came across a strong disapproval from the traditionalists. They were afraid of the immoral influence of French court on Polish women.
Jan Pasek is mentioning the changes in his memoirs:
“How many continuously changing styles I remember in frocks, caps, boots, swords, harness, and in every other kind of military garment and household utensils, as well as in hair styles, gestures, walking and greeting habits! Oh Almighty God! one could not manage to list them on ten ox skins!. …. The outfits which I bought abroad would have lasted me a whole lifetime – even my children would have profited by them – had they not gone out of fashion and become unstylish in a year or less. These outfits had to be taken apart and restyled, or else had to be sold in a second hand market. (If one did not purchase new ones) people would rush at you like sparrows at an owl: ‘look look!’ they would point their fingers at you. They would say that the outfit reminded them of the days of the Deluge (‘Potop’, 1650s). About the ladies and their fancies I shall say nothing because I could fill an entire book.”
In Poland the beginning of folk culture is usually associated with class divisions in society. As a result of social, economic, political, and historical factors, three distinct groups emerged: the peasants, middle class and nobility.
Dress symbolised the different value systems of various social groups and reflected the economic differences between them. There were also distinctions between the dress of richer and poorer members within each group. That resulted with making few laws, to stop peasants from copying dresses of the richer classes.
In addition to grains flax were grown and were used for making yarn, which was then woven into linen or hemp cloth. Stockbreeding provided a source of wool and leather. Country dwellers were self-suficiant in producing clothes, which for a long time had been their distinguishing mark. Producing clothes was an important part of village women’s work.
The heyday of creativity in dress occurred between 1850 and 1890.it was a time of sudden industrialization, which led to new materials and techniques appearing in the villages. At first the festive dress had been modest and devoid of complicated ornamentation. But after the granting of freehold, developments were made in the use of new cuts, colours and accessories. More elements were factory made. In this period, folk dress was still worn and had great symboilc and estetic value, but the slow progress of it vanishing had begun, especially in northern parts of the country. This process of decline was slowed by the higher classes declaring an interest in folk culture. Like artists, that used folklore as their inspiration for new creations.
Another category of variation in dress was occasional outfit, which was distingtive in its colouring, richness of adornments, and accessories. Particulary by the wedding attire, that was worn by the bride, groom and his best man. During the wedding ceremony -according to region- brides hair was unpleated, and the married woman’s headdress was put on. Married women usually wore headdresses made of batiste, linen,tulle or velvet always highly decorated, because of the social requiremen to cover he hair. Sign of virginity was an uncovered head, but young girls often wore colourful head scarves, or pleated ribbons in to their hair. The groom and his best man were distinguished by a decoration attached to their hats and/or lapels. Social norms also regulated mourning attire and the clothes put on the deceased. As for more casual occasions, women wore aprons over their knee-lenght skirts. Colours of the aprons were carefully chosen to match the skirt. It used to be strictly decorative accessory, often beautifully decorated with laces and beads. As for jewellery, the most popular were strings of coral beads, but also less common amber and plastic beads. Even the number of strands that women wore on their necks suggested her wealth.
However the division between winter and summer clothes was not always very obvious. During winter, people wore several layers of summer clothes, and during summer, sheepskin coats were still worn as a mark of wealth.
previously mentioned ”kontusz” and ”zupan”, were one of the most striking components of Polish dress.
The word ‘zupan’ for an outer caftan-like garment started being used in the 1530s. Like the later kontusz, it was often lined with fur. By the 1570s the word started to mean an under-caftan, generally light in weight. The military version was, however, padded, since it was used under armor. The outer garment choices, which were often fur-lined except for summer-weight variations, include the delia, ferezeya, and later the kontusz. The delia was form fitting from the waste up and loose below and lacked a collar. It is often seen in illustrations being worn as a mantle (arms not through the sleeve). It was usually fastened with passementerie loops. It disappeared in the mid 17th century (in the 18th Century it came to mean a fur-lined mantle. The ferezeya in the 17th Century was a fancy indoor outer-coat, worn over the zupan. It was replaced in the 1640s by the kontusz.
Most often it was folded in half and wrapped around the waist few times. ”kontusz” first appeared in the 1630s, and quickly replaced most outer garments. According to Turnau, the hallmark of the ”kontusz” is the one-piece back with a trailing long narrow rectangle of fabric, to which is attached a side skirt panel on each side. The slash in the inside arm, which allowed sleeves to be thrown back in the ‘wyloty’ style, came about in the 1650s, and then became universal in all but the heaviest of fur-lined winter-weight kontusz. The kontusz, which could be unlined soft wool for summer wear, or fur-lined for winter, might be supplemented in cold or bad weather by overcoats and mantles and capes, such as bekiesza, burka, and oponcza.
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