Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Costume of Cieszyn or Těšín, Silesia

Hello All,
Today I will take a break from Asia, which is fascinating but very challenging.
I will talk about another Polish town costume, That of Cieszyn, or Těšín in Czech. This costume is typical of the town and part of the region around it, which was known as Cieszyn Silesia, or Śląsk. 
The Silesians were a people closely related to the Poles, speaking what is either a closely related language, or a very divergent dialect of Polish. 
The west of this district is inhabited by Moravians, the central and eastern parts by Silesians [Polish], the southern mountains by Gorals [Highlanders], with large German colonies in some of the northern towns. 

This part of Silesia was part of the Austrian Empire, and in 1920 was divided roughly in half between Czechoslovakia and Poland along the river Olza. The city itself was divided, as the river runs through it. The western part is now known as Český Těšín.
The Cieszyn region lies in south central Poland, across the river in northeastern Moravia, and shares its southern border with Slovakia. Here is a map showing the location of the Polish side. 

This costume was not worn over the entire area of the Duchy of Cieszyn, but rather was restricted to the central regions, around the city itself on both sides by the Silesian population up to the mountains. The Moravians in the west have a different costume, and the Gorals in the south a similar, but distinct costume. In the 20th cent. it spread to the south, to the town of Jablunkov; and a sort of hybrid costume is now sometimes worn by women in some of the highlands.

The costume is of the type sometimes called chemise and sleeves, which is found in pockets from this region up to Estonia. The chemise is a foundation garment here, and is not visible when fully dressed, which is unusual for eastern Europe. It is called ciasnocha. It originally had only one strap, and was gathered on the sides and in back only.

Over this garment were worn up to three petticoats, spodki, at least one of which had an attached bodice. Today these garments have been modernized, with two shoulder straps, and the addition, under the influence of urban fashion, of bloomers. Some variety in the cut has been introduced. In my opinion, this first one is too short.

Old photographs show the skirts as being very full, which indicates the presence of multiple petticoats. Note the one woman on the left in 'modern' dress.

The outer shirt, called kabotek, is short, reaching just past the waist, and very full, the body field, which includes the front and the back being densely smock-gathered into the collar. There are shoulder insets, which are doubled, and the short wide sleeves are densely gathered into them. There are large square gussets under the arms. The short sleeves are much more typical of Czech, or even German costumes than Polish ones.

There are a few variants of this garment.The simplest everyday ones were unadorned.

On some of them, the collar and cuff bands were embroidered with chain stitch, braid stitch, or cross stitch. this is no longer done in the Cieszyn area, but the Goralky sew this kind of blouse and use negative space cross stitch on the collar and cuffs to this day.
The third kind is shown on the bottom of the figure above. Floral eyelet embroidery, or 'brodierie anglaise' is done on wider collar and cuff bands, on the front overlap, and sometimes on the lower part of the shoulder inset.

This embroidery may  be relatively narrow and modest as shown here. Note that the neck is fastened with a pin or brooch.

Today there is usually a separate piece that covers the front opening like a bib, and has eyelet embroidery on both sides This is called przedniczka or żabot [jabot]. There may also be a flounce, okruża, which is sewn in by the cuff band and stands up. These pieces may now be of machine made eyelet. The collar and cuff bands are often wider.
A- body, b - sleeve, c - collar, d - cuff, e - shoulder inset, f - gusset, g- 'jabot', h - flounce for cuff.

Recently it has become more common to see a band of openwork embroidery done right across the middle of the sleeve.

The skirt, suknia, is very full and made of a dark colored material, usually wool. The hem has a ribbon of a contrasting color several inches wide attached to it, along with a facing. In older photographs the skirt is ankle length, but today is usually worn mid calf, although there is still some variation. Note that this example has a pocket sewn into a seam on the right side.

The bodice, żywotek, is the most distinctive part of this costume, with the characteristic peak on the back. The skirt is sewn to it, densely on the sides and back. Sometimes the gathering is smocked into a pattern, as shown here.

The classic ornamentation on the bodice consists of gold or sometimes silver galloon edging the top of the bodice, and gold or silver embroidery within the fields.

The oldest extant examples are all quite short, under the influence of the Empire period, with its short waisted silhouette.

Today the bodices are made longer, more or less reaching the waist. The classic format still holds, however.


The embroidery on the bodice was always quite individual. In more recent years, there has been a tendency to simplify. In some cases the galloon is used alone, some say this is more common on the Czech side, perhaps under the influence of the old Jablonkov costume, and sometimes the embroidery is used alone, often in silk thread of various colors, occasionally with beadwork. This is more common outside the city.

A full apron is worn which is as long as the skirt. Today it is usually of brocade, often silk, in quiet colors, most commonly with a floral design. There is generally no waistband, the top of the apron is usually just folded and stitched over, as it is covered by a ribbon.

Sometimes in the past it was of linen, white or with stripes, and this can sometimes be seen today.

A wide ribbon is worn tied around the waist with a bow in front, and the ends hanging down over the apron.This is usually patterned, and sometimes even embroidered.

Single girls wear their hair in a single braid in back.

Married women arrange the braid in a bun at the back of the head, and wear a lace cap, czepek, over it.

The top of the cap is today usually open netting, the side pieces are thin linen, and the forehead piece is traditionally of homemade lace.

The front is worn low on the forehead in order to show off the lace.

A kerchief is always worn over the cap when going out. Today the kerchief is usually of a silk brocade in quiet colors, often matching the apron, and is knotted behind the neck. Everyday kerchiefs were, of course, in cotton or linen, and would often be knotted under the chin. Some old photographs show linen kerchiefs with eyelet embroidery were also worn.

Regular shoes and stockings are worn with this outfit.

Very specific jewelry is worn with the original city version of this outfit The most famous are the lacing hooks which are attached to the front of the bodice. These are called hoczki or hooks, and no longer actually lace, but are considered to be an indispensable part of the costume. They are most often made of cast or filigree silver, in many different shapes.

An elaborate metal belt, pas, is often worn with this outfit. It consists of four metal plates with filigree decoration connected by a number of fine chains. One plate forms a buckle in front, and the other three are in back. Also a net of chains hangs from the belt, draping the upper part of the skirt. The belt is worn over the decorative ribbon which is tied around the waist. This is an ornament unique to the Cieszyn region.

This is the kind of thing which obviously not everyone can afford. Some of my sources claim that it is only worn by married women, but a quick perusal of the images show that this is not the case. See the second image above, and this one of a group of Confirmation candidates. Certainly the expense of such an accessory would mean that older women were more likely to have one.

A second chain, resembling those pendant from the belt, is sometimes worn hooked to the straps of the bodice. This is called orpanta.

When the costume spread to the villages, especially the highland villages, often the women could not afford the silver. This led to the hoczki being imitated by beadwork.

Likewise the belt was imitated by women using hand embroidery, sequins, and strings of beads. Some of my sources decry this as untraditional, but I see it as an example of folk creativity. Take a close look at the belts in the next images.

The following three ladies are Goralky in Cieszyn dress, as is shown by the men's outfits, and the cross stitch embroidery on the sleeves.

A number of outer garments are worn at need. Besides shawls, both woven and crocheted, a short jacket called szpyncer and a longer, warmer coat called jakla are worn. Sheepskin coats, kożuchy, are also known.

Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative.

Roman K

A traditional dance group from Cieszyn.

Source Material:
Vera Tomolova et al,  'Těšínsko', Těšín, 2000
Barbara Bazielich, 'Stroj Cieszynski', APSL, Wroclaw, 2006
Barbara Bazielich, 'Strjoj Ludowe w Polsce - Opisy i Wykroje', Warsaw, 1997
Barbara Bazielich, 'Ludowe Wyszycia i Hafty na Slasku', Katowice, 2005
Stanislaw Gadomsky, 'Stroj Ludowe w Polsce', Warsaw
Malgorzata Kieres et al, 'Stroj Cieszynski', Bielsko-Biala, 2014
Maria Michalczyk, 'Hoczki, Knefle, Orpanty', Katowice, 2007
Magdalena Rostworowska, 'Slaski Stroj Ludowy', Wroclaw, 2001


  1. the potential confusion about an item of attire (in this case, the distinctive belt of linked/netted chains) being "only for married women" yet seen on unmarried young women or older girls derives from modern people being unaware of the long transition of folk culture connected with recognition of fertility. certain garments or items of attire used to mark the girls who were of an age to reproduce, thus candidates for marriage, however that was understood in remote periods of time. later, as pagan traditions changed or waned under subsequent christian/urban influences, marriage assumed a different status or definition. clothing and ornaments reflected this in varying ways; sometimes the old markers of female adulthood transferred to the bride or married woman. (see capping ceremonies...) sometimes another tier of markers came into being to denote the nubile girls, now that the older identifiers firmly meant 'married', rather than 'marriageable'. in the case of the belts above, some people clearly are recalling the more ancient meaning preserved in a local tradition, and possibly in contradiction to another nearby tradition that uses the terminology and meanings of a slightly later time. so it's quite possible that the belts are in some places worn by married women only, whilst in others girls over a certain age may wear them.

    1. A good point. I do notice that the youngest girl of which I have images wearing the belt is a confirmand; a traditional rite of passage. None of the little girls wear it. On the other hand, it would be too expensive to make such a belt for a little girl.