Today I wish to talk about a traditional attire which is unique. This is not a folk costume, but a town costume, one of only two which have survived in Poland. [The other is the Bamberg costume of Poznan'.] This form of dress was common to many of the bourgeoisie of Poland, but the vast majority gave up their old form of dress for modern fashions in the 19th cernt or even earlier. In Żywiec, however, it became elaborated in the late 19th cent. and developed into something found nowhere else. The image above is of the Polish dance troupe Mazowsze wearing stage versions of this costume.
Żywiec [pronounced zhi (short i) vyets] was uniquely placed for the development and retention of this costume as a living tradition. There is a castle in the town which was the summer destination of the aristocracy for many centuries, first of the family Wielkopolski, and later of the Hapsburgs. Thus the townspeople were exposed to the dress of the aristocracy, from which they borrowed. They were also rather isolated, being found in the south of Poland near the Carpathian mountains, and having a closed society. Indeed, it is the belief of the native born inhabitants of Żywiec that no-one else should wear this costume, and that they would be unable to wear it with any grace even if they tried.
This traditional form of attire might have been lost, but in 1927 Żywiec sent representatives to the ceremony of the reinterrment of Juliusz Slowacki, and also the jubilee of the National Folklore Association in Warsaw, and drew such attention that interest was renewed, and the dress, which might have died out in the difficult time between the wars, gained new life.
I made a search of videos to find people dancing in this costume, and for the most part the stage costumes were not well done, and often the dancing and singing were not well done either. Here is a video in which both were reasonably well done. There are some minor errors, however. They begin with a Polonez, followed by a Polka, then a Promenade, the Shoemaker's Polka, a Mazur, and then a Quadrille.
This image shows the four variants of this costume. From left to right, an unmarried girl, a married woman 'of a certain age', a young married woman, the less formal version, jakla and pory, and a man.
We will describe the costume in the order in which it is put on, starting from the inside.
first, you put on bloomers, and stockings. The stockings are white in open knit designs. The skirts are short enough that you can glimpse the stockings. The most traditional shoes are slippers with a low heel and a bow on the toe made of a material that matches the skirt.
Today modern shoes are often worn, or even the short polish lace-up boots.
A full length linen or cotton chemise without sleeves is worn. Next you put on the collar, kreza. This is made of embroidered tulle, a craft which became very popular in many parts of Poland in the 19th cent, but reached its greatest expression in Żywiec. The collar is starched, and sewn with box pleats onto a kind of dickey, with straps under the arms, and is fastened in front. The desired effect is seen below.
Over this is put on the shirt/chemise, oplecko. It has a rather open neck, since it needs to accommodate the collar. It has rather full sleeves, and ornamentation on the cuffs, with little ruffs of lace. The cuffs are often the only part which is actually seen.
Either the oplecko needs to be full length, or a full length chemise needs to be worn under it. Over this, three or four podwlekacki, underskirts or petticoats must be put on. These are made of linen, with cutwork or lace, with a large tuck in the middle to help them keep their shape, are on drawstrings and are very full. Each successive one is slightly longer and more ornamented, and each is tied with ribbons around the waist, thus the waist gets successively shorter. The topmost one should be about 4.2 meters around.
When properly starched, ironed and creased, they should be able to stand by themselves 'like giant flowerpots'. This, of course, is to achieve the desired shape of the skirt, which the Żywieczanki did without crinolines, farthingales or hoops.
When fully dressed, the Żywiec ladies were often referred to as 'Żywieckie kopy', that is to say, animated haystacks.
The skirts, spódnica, themselves are, of course, very full. They are lined with gauze to stiffen them, and have a wide facing on the inside of the hem. They are made of various materials in various colors, the most desirable being a heavy damask. They are generally made of a single color, darker for older women, mid tones for young married women, and pale pastel tones for unmarried girls. Subtle gradations in color are permitted, the hem may be ornamented with a band of ribbon, galloon, or metal lace. Shades of red, green, and blue are especially favored, and indeed, it was expected that certain colors would be worn on certain church holidays.
Over the skirt is worn the apron, fartuch. In the late 19th cent the apron became made out of tulle which was bought commercially, and then hand embroidered locally. It is just as long as the skirt and almost as wide, leaving a triangular area of the skirt uncovered in the back, as you can see above. The edges are scalloped, with a repeated floral design in the scallops. Generally there is a band design next to this, and then large spot designs over the rest of the apron.
On the upper body younger women and girls wear a bodice, gorset. This has lappets at the waist, and is laced up the front. This could be made of a wide variety of material in many colors. It either matched or harmonized with the skirt. If it is made of brocade, then there is little to no added ornamentation.
The cut tends not to be complicated, in fact, it resembles bodices from all over Malopolska, but notice that the bottom left example above has embroidered stitching made to look like it was made with a complicated multiple princess line cut.
If it is made of a plainer material, then it may be embroidered, or have other ornamentation added. The bodice on the upper left is made of quilted cotton.
Over this a large shawl is worn over the shoulders. There are three types, firstly, an actual cashmere or plaid woolen shawl, which is generally only worn in cooler weather or by older women. A tulle shawl is what is worn the majority of the time. It is either a large square, Chustka, or a long relatively narrow rectangle, Łoktusza.
The square shawl, chustka, is embroidered in a similar way to the apron and collar, but only one triangular half is embroidered, as it is folded in order to be worn around the shoulders. This is considered to be appropriate for unmarried girls.
The Chustka developed under the influence of the Kashmir shawl which was so popular in the mid 1900's. The Łoktusza, however, which is worn by married women, developed from the ran'tuch, a long rectangular piece of cloth worn over the head or shoulders, and which was part of the ancient women's costume of eastern Europe, even today being found in various forms and under various names from Latvia to Romania. The photo below shows an unmarried girl on the right, and a young married woman on the left.
The Łoktusza is heavily embroidered on the ends and the trailing edge, and more lightly embroidered on the top edge which goes on the shoulders and is less visible.
The current fashion is for unmarried girls to put their hair up and tuck flowers into the braids. The old crownlike girl's headdress has disappeared, and I have seen no photos of it. It is considered unseemly to appear in public with empty hands, so a prayerbook, a rosary, or most commonly a small tulle 'handkerchief' is held in the hands.
For married women there is one more garment. The hair must be put up, and then a gold cap, czepec, is put on.
While gold caps are found in many places including other locations in Poland, this cap is of a unique cut. Stiff cloth is cut into a semicircle and the entire surface is embroidered. The straight edge fits over the head and around the face, and the other edge is formed into folds in order to fit around the back of the head. Around the face a length of goffered lace is attached, and around the back a wide ornamental ribbon is gathered at intervals and also attached.
Women 'of a certain age' would wear a jacket, Kamizelka, instead of the bodice. I suppose younger women might do so in cooler weather. It is cut much the same, except that it has a high neck, sleeves, of course, and a shoulder cape. It is buttoned up the front and may be embroidered. It has a folded peplum instead of lappets. She may well choose not to wear a shawl over this garment.
Here is a matron of Żywiec in full array.
There is another version of this attire which is less formal, called pory. The skirt and apron are made of thin chintz with a subtle print, the ruffed collar is not worn, it includes a different sort of jacket, jakla, made of plainer materials, and includes a folded kerchief as the headdress. It is worn with a regular wool shawl, generally kashmir or plaid.
The kerchief on the head may be of tulle or cambric. It is embroidered, and folded into a particular shape called 'kogutek', or cockscomb. It may be put off and on without refolding.
Here are some young people, some of the girls are wearing the full unmarried costume, but a couple are wearing jakla and pory.
The men's costume is a variant on the general Burgher/Petty Aristocracy costume which was worn by men over a rather wide area, including Ukraine and Belarus. A white linen full sleeved shirt is worn, black pants, and boots for the first layer. Over this is worn a light coat, or long jacket which they call Żupan. This was long in the past, but now ends somewhat above the knee. It has a high collar, buttons down to the waist, is full in back, and is generally made of a rich fabric such as satin or velvet in a solid color. The collar is fastened with a pin of precious metal, often with an enamel design.
Over this a wide elaborately woven sash is worn. The most desirable are the ones known as kontusz sashes. These were woven in commercial textile factories in Kraków, Belarus and other places, and acquired by trade. These were worn as part of the costume of the Aristocracy of the area for quite a few centuries. Here is a detail of one such sash.
Failing this, sashes of other rich materials are worn. The headgear is one version of the classic Polish cap, the rogatywka. It consists of a round band of karakul sheepskin, with a four-sided top of a soft cloth in a color which matches the Żupan. Over this a black coat called Czamara is worn. It comes to somewhere from just below the knee to boottop length.
The sleeve seam may be left unsewn in the middle, and a contrasting lining added. This enables the sleeves to be thrown back.
Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative.
A few more images from Żywiec.
Krystyna Kolstrung-Grajny, 'The Dress of Żywiec Townspeople', Golec Brothers Foundation, 2007
Stanisław Gadomski, 'Strój Ludowy w Polsce', Kraków,