With a population of over 38.5 million people, Poland is the 34th most populous country in the world and it is one of the most populous countries in Europe. Poland is geographically diverse and is split into nine historic regions: Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Kujawy, Masuria, Mazovia, Podlasie, Pomerania, Silesia and Warmia. Due to its diverse history, many ethnicities have lived and are living in the country. According to a 2002 census, ca. 97% of the population consider themselves Polish, while ~1% declared another nationality (~2% did not declare any nationality). The largest minority nationality and ethnic group in Poland is the Silesians, the others include Belarusians, Czechs, Germans, Jews, Lemkos, Lipka Tatars, Lithuanians, Roma, Russians, Slovaks and Ukrainians. The Gorals, an ethnicity living in the mountainous regions, have a distinct culture but consider themselves Polish (see 1.15.a Goral: General Information).
The area that would become Poland has been colonised by humans since early times. The most famous prehistoric archaeological find is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as an open-air museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BCE.
Throughout Late Antiquity (2nd and 8th centuries CE), many distinct ethnic groups populated the region though the ethnicity and linguistic affiliation of these groups has been hotly debated; the time and route of the original settlement of Slavic peoples in these regions lacks written records and can only be defined as fragmented. Poland’s first documented ruler, Mieszko (of the Piast dynasty), converted to Christianity in 966 CE, and so set up Poland as a state. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025. Polish society flourished during the rule of the Jagiellon dynasty in the late Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, the Polish people emerged as an idiosyncratic cultural nation having its own features embellished with Germanic, Latinate and Byzantine influences. In 1569, Poland cemented a longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin. This union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest and most populous countries of 16th and 17th century Europe. Once a leading European power, the Commonwealth ceased to exist as an independent state, following several territorial partitions among Prussia, the Russian Empire and Austria from 1772 to 1795. Poland regained its independence in 1918 at the end of World War I, reconstituting much of its historical territory as the Second Polish Republic.
In September 1939, World War II started with the invasions of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. After the war, Poland’s borders were shifted westwards under the terms of the Potsdam Conference. With the backing of the Soviet Union, a communist puppet government was formed, and after a falsified referendum in 1946, the People’s Republic of Poland was established as a Soviet satellite state. During the Revolutions of 1989, Poland’s Communist government was overthrown and Poland adopted a new constitution establishing itself as a democracy. Despite the large number of casualties and destruction the country experienced during World War II, Poland has managed to preserve much of its rich cultural wealth, including 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 54 Historical Monuments, in addition to many other objects of cultural heritage.
The design and the appearance of a costume depend on the region of Poland it comes from and especially the historical background of the region, climatic conditions, type of industry, socio-economic relationships and marital status. Accordingly, there is an enormous range in the traditional and folk costumes of Poland; however, winter and summer clothes were not essentially different. The main characteristics of the traditional costumes found in Poland nowadays are typical of the country’s former peasant culture. All of the costumes involve a high level of craftsmanship (especially embroidery), bright colours and symbolic aesthetics.
As in other Slav countries, unmarried girls left their heads uncovered apart from a headband or ribbons plaited into the hair. At their wedding, the bride’s headband would be removed, her hair unplaited and then hidden under a married woman’s headdress. From then on, she would keep her hair hidden when in public.
The biggest bloom of Polish traditional clothing was in second part of the 19th century. Between the World Wars, the costumes started to be treated as festive clothes not as casual, everyday garments. Although modern Poles no longer wear their traditional costumes in their daily lives, the Polish clothing heritage is often showcased at cultural events, traditional festivals [e.g. the Harvest Festival (Dozhinki) which has been celebrated after the harvest since the time of the feudal system in Poland] and special occasions such as weddings.
Due to the great diversity, I will only provide information about a few of the costumes.
The archaic Polish costume is typified by the Biłgoraj outfit found in the south-east of Poland. It is made of linen. The hats originally worn by women are called chamełka or rańtuchem. Archaic embroidery motifs were used to decorate the dress’s curve and ogee. The leather shoes, tyszowiaki, are rather peculiar as there is no distinction between the right and left shoe.
The ethnic Polish community of southern Lesser Poland is known as Lachy Sądeckie. The dresses for women are decorated with superb floral patterns and beadwork with typical Lachy Sądeckie motifs (see Lachy Sądeckie doll). They also wear embroidered aprons and headscarves. Men’s folk costume has ciosek under the collar and beautiful embroidery on the shirt and vest. They also sometimes wear Kaftan-shaped coats decorated with metal buttons, silk tassels, red wool appliqué and embroidery.
Krakow, the second largest and one of Poland’s oldest cities, dates back to the 7th century. It is considered to be the genuine cultural hub of Poland and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life. Nowadays, it is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. Its traditional costume is used to typify Polish culture (see the three Krakow dolls).
Opoczno lies on the Wąglanka River, in the north-western corner of historic Lesser Poland. Opoczno costumes are characterized by the thick, woven, striped material used for the dresses, capes and aprons. The material was traditionally coloured using natural dyes and hand-woven on wooden looms. The fabric is tightly gathered at the top so that the cape displays nicely over the shoulders. Capes were worn during the colder months instead of coats in many regions of Poland.
The Krzczonów folk costume of Poland is the best known traditional dress. It comes from a village in the Lublin Province. In the women’s dress, the chemise is embroidered on the cuffs, collar, shoulder pieces, and sometimes around the front opening with special Krzczonów embroidery; this was later replaced by cross stitch. The apron is unique, in that it is basically a short version of the skirt, gathered into a waistband and wrapped completely around the body. The bodice is the typical Polish lace-up type, known as a gorsetka. The men’s costume is based on a shirt which has a cut identical to the women’s, except the collar is smaller, and the shirt itself is shorter. It is worn outside the pants. It has embroidery like the women’s, but with no or less extensive embroidery on the shoulders.
In Lesser Poland is an ethnic group called the Lemkos (aka Ruthenian), which have Ukrainian affiliations. The basic garment for Lemko women in Poland is a chemise, sometimes separated into two garments, the shirt and the underskirt. Traditionally, the dress was adorned with minimal embroidery or hemstitching on the collar and cuffs. The skirt was originally made of linen, from flax for dress occasions and hemp for every-day wear. The aprons often had ribbons sewn on and a panel of contrasting material. The waistcoat is called the leibek and was usually made of wool. The most delicate part was a broad collar-shaped necklace strung of seed-beads. Men also wore a leibek though simpler in design. Short sheepskin vests (kozhushok), similar to those worn all through the Carpathians were also worn. The fleece is worn on the inside, the edges trimmed in lamb’s wool, the suede coloured yellow, and a floral motif was embroidered on the two front panels. The men’s costume tends to be quite plain, the summer outfit consisting of plain white linen pants and shirt. Wool pants, either light or dark were worn in cold weather.
The most distinctive Lemko garment is the chuhania, a coat-shaped mantle, with a flap on the back in place of a hood, and short sleeve-shaped pockets attached at the shoulders. This resembles nothing worn by either the Ukrainians or Poles. It is reminiscent of the Hungarian szűr. Similar garments are also worn by Slovaks and Croatians.
The Biskupian outfit, also called dzierżacki, it is the most iconic symbol of the Biskupian, a regional group who are the residents of several villages in the south of county Gostyń. The costume was most commonly used in the period between the two world wars, mainly for church and festivals. The women wear peasant skirts with a white apron, which has beautiful embroidery on it. The hat that most woman wear is very similar to the bonnets worn by peasant women in olden times. The men’s attire is very similar to the horse riding gear, with Jodhpur-style trousers, short jackets, a hat and leather boots.
The costume from the mountainous region, Świętokrzyski also has its specialities. The men wear a brown russet coat with the left lapel turned inside out. On their heads, they wear a cornered, navy blue hat with a hatband made of black lamb fur. The footwear consists of high-heeled leather boots, sewn on the sides. The women wear a Basque-style embroidered bodice ornamented with colourful crossing ribbons. Unmarried women wore headscarves, while married women wore bonnets. Stockings (mainly white) were sometimes worn.
The Lowicki outfits are worn in the villages in central Poland. The outfits for women consist of wide colourful skirts, aprons tied at waist, white blouses with wide embroidered sleeves, and black leather shoes. The headgear is different for married and single woman. The men wear white shirts, colourful wide trousers tucked in leather boots, colourful belts around the waist, and round caps. The Lowicki outfit has evolved over the years; the biggest changes have affected the young women’s costumes as they wanted to enrich their clothing range. The most common materials used are the striped cloths, which became famous in the 1820s and 1830s. Not everyone could afford to buy these costumes, so the owner of a costume had to take care of it for many years. Sometimes the clothes that a woman received as a dowry had to last her for the greater part of her life
The Leczyca outfit also belongs to a region in the central Poland. The most striking feature in the dress here is the use of striped fabric. Both men and women use striped fabric to make their skirts, aprons, jackets and trousers. Men and women both wore black leather shoes, though women also wore laced heeled boots. The headgear was different for married and single women, while the men wore round caps.
This Southern Polish region was and is inhabited by several ethnic groups. The costumes therefore show very great variation.
The basic element of the female costume in Silesia was the oplecek, a back cloth with a dress and a bra with a skirt sewn to it. The other parts of the costume included an apron, a white plain waist-length shirt (kabotek), a bonnet and a scarf. The costume was made of silk and wool. Skirts and aprons were long and broad. On festive occasions, girls wore wreaths made of artificial flowers, decorated with long, wide patterned ribbons. The men’s costume includes a characteristic coat with a cloak, which has been popular since the early 20th century. The costume included a thin shirt (usually embroidered), trousers and shoes, so-called Polish zgrzyboki. In summer, the head was covered with a hand-made straw hat that was worn about the house and in the fields. In contrast, in winter, a cap made of lamb fur with a cylindrical base but cone shaped up to its top (baranica) was worn. On festive occasions men wore czopki, wide-brimmed hats made of black or less frequently grey felt.
The costumes from Cieszyn, a border town, are very elegant and rich in bewitching patterns and sophisticated colours. The women’s skirts were sewn with fabric panels 6-8 m long and 5-6 m wide. Traditionally, the female folk costume featured silver jewellery.
Condra Jill (2013) Encyclopedia of National dress. Traditional clothing around the world. Volume 2. ISBN 978-0313-37635-8
1) Historical regions in Poland – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_historical_regions
2) Married women wore a special cap (kłapica). This one is a Biskupian cap – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-_X7nt0dr280/UAwi5KshVFI/AAAAAAAAAAc/X4sFOvGW-00/s1600/stroj-biskupianski-czepiec-2-fot-adam-cieslawski-mnp-7-galeria.jpg
3) Biłgoraj – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-H5q02Ho6C1o/UAwfzSZLSZI/AAAAAAAAAAM/iO9Uap0gIAg/s1600/str%C3%B3j+bi%C5%82gorajski.jpg
4) Tyszowiaki- http://www.muzeumlubelskie.pl/images/media/1387282008letno_917.JPG
5) Lachy Sądeckie – http://www.nowysacz.pl/content/resources/kultura_i_sztuka/Lachy/028.jpg
6) Krakow – http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-UbC3FnEdlMM/UaGo_VIA0zI/AAAAAAAAMiE/bGdr50e2ERs/s1600/img130.jpg
7) Opoczno – http://www.janosikdancers.org/images/costumes/opoczno.jpg
8) Krzczonów – https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-i2CSFJIZPV0/TXa3srjI72I/AAAAAAAAAPI/EkqE1_HYeaY/s1600/Image14+2+sm.jpg
9) Lemkos – http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/pic%5CL%5CE%5CLemko%20couple.jpg
10) Lemkos man in a chuhania – http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/picturedisplay.asp?linkpath=pic%5CL%5CE%5CLemko%20in%20chuhania%20coat.jpg
11) Biskupian – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-JSA9WvDVlko/UAw8PVUtocI/AAAAAAAAABs/3Ea2iyxijZM/s1600/8044_1601_pl_g_lowicz_big.jpg
12) Świętokrzyski – http://images.delcampe.com/img_large/auction/000/252/034/354_001.jpg
13) Lowicki – https://kaskatypek.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/f8708f86ffa11303e40be50ef5055dd3.jpg
14) Leczyca – http://tekfolksieradz.com.pl/zdjecia/leczycki/gr02d.jpg
15) Silesia – Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1461161
16) Silesia – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/POL_CZ_Girls_in_Silesian_dresses_from_Cieszyn_Silesia,_2008_01.JPG
17) Cieszyn – http://www.janosikdancers.org/images/costumes/cieszyn.html