Regional Types – Traditional Polish Folk Costumes, Warsaw National Ethnographic Museum

Polish folk costumes from the collection of The State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. National costumes of Poland (Polish: stroje ludowe) vary by region. They are not worn in daily life but at folk festivals, folk weddings, religious holidays, harvest festivals and other special occasions. The costumes may reflect region and sometimes social or marital status.

Polish folk costumes were used by most Polish ethnographic groups. The period of the greatest development of folk costumes falls on the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, when the enfranchisement of the peasants, the development of the commodity economy and industry caused an increase in the wealth of the peasants. In the interwar periodfolk costume began to be treated as festive clothing, worn for great occasions, and not as everyday wear. The appearance of the outfit depended on the region of Poland where it was created, climatic conditions, type of economy, socio-economic relations and history in which it was created. Ideas for costumes were often derived from noble and middle-class clothes, military uniforms. European fashion of the Baroque and Renaissance periods also had an impact. Dress decoration depended on the wealth of ethnographic groups and the owner individually.

Łowicz type
Corpus Christi procession in Złaków Kościelny”, directed by Tadeusz Jankowski, 1939. “Księżacy” – inhabitants of Złaków Kościelny, in the Łowicz area of Poland, are going to participate in the local Corpus Christi procession. They are wearing traditional folk costumes typical for the region.

Łowickie costumes are the most representative ones in central Poland. They have undergone many changes with regard to both colour of fabric. Towards the end of the 19th century and until around 1914, the background of the striped fabrics was red, then it became orange and did not change until the end of the 1920’s, but in the 1930’s, with the arrival of aniline dyes, it took on some cooler colours; green, blue, violet and grey. During the above periods the embroidery of shirts was changing too.

The garland was a characteristic element of the traditional wedding costume.The oldest garlands were made from rue, which was grown in home gardens. Later garlands made from herbs and flowers were replaced with fairly large headgear.The garland consisted of a cloth cap, adorned with draped ribbons and pearls.The cap was crowned with a headdress – a large bunch of silk flowers, beads and tiny glass bubbles.The garland was fixed on the head with a ribbon or a wire, entwined with small braids over the forehead.

Kurpie Zielone type
The Kurpiowski costume of the Green Primeval Forest includes a very characteristic element – a girls’ headpiece called czółko (a “little forehead”).

Biłgoraj type
Biłgoraj costume is classified as archaic. All its elements are made of linen. The original women’s headpiece consisted of a “chamełka” (a type of a supportive bonnet) with a “rańtuch” (a scarf worn loosely around the head), common across the South-West Poland. The S-like and helix-like embroidery patterns used were also of archaic nature.

“Kalita” – men’s bag was a characteristic element of men’s traditional costume in Biłgoraj area. The horseshoe shape bag had a flap covering its whole length and making the whole thing convex.“Kalita” was worn on the back-left side with the strap over the right shoulder.It was used for travelling, for example to a church fair, distant weddings or fairs.When setting off men would put food into the bag (bread, pork fat, alcohol) as well as necessary tools, for example a knife, leather tobacco bag, pipe, flint and steel, snuff box made from bull’s horn.

Lachy Sądeckie type
Lachy Sądeckie live in southern Lesser Poland, especially in Nowy Sącz County and Kotlina Sądecka.

The costume worn by Lachowie Sądeccy is considered to be one of the most beautiful Polish folk costumes. It pleases the eye with colourful, embroidered, chain-stitched applications (made by men) on jackets and trousers, colourfully embroidered shirts and delicate, linear, bead embroidery on female corsets.

Lachy Sądeckie group. Men’s costume is traditionally believed to have stemmed from Swedish uniforms.

Gorals type
Gorals live in southern Poland along the Carpathian Mountains, in Podhale of the Tatra Mountains and parts of the Beskids. Their costumes vary depending on the region.

Kraków type
Kraków region: The woman’s costume includes a white blouse, a vest that is embroidered and beaded on front and back, a floral full skirt, an apron, a red coral bead necklace, and lace-up boots. Unmarried women and girls may wear a flower wreath with ribbons while married women wear a white kerchief on their head. The men wear a blue waistcoat with embroidery and tassels, striped trousers, a krakuska cap ornamented with ribbons and peacock feathers and metal rings attached to the belt.

A Cracow costume is the only peasants’ attire which was promoted to the rank of a Polish national costume. This decision was made on patriotic grounds, with the Cracow’s peasants’ participation in the Kościuszko Uprising as a main factor. Even the Uprising’s leader, Tadeusz Kościuszko, used to wear the Cracow costume (so he dressed “like a peasant”) just so that he would not be recognised by Russian spies. Kościuszko’s popularity contributed to the popularisation of the Cracow costume among the Poles in general.

Some of the costume’s elements were applied to the uniforms worn by participants of the 19th century national uprisings. This popularity of the Cracowian costume, especially in its female version, was then reinforced by the Cracow’s intelligence of the Young Poland (Młoda Polska) movement, who promoted it as a new fashion.

“Kierezja” was usually worn in winter. Recognizable for its wide, entirely embroidered, triangular collar called “suka.”The garment’s cut made the man wider in the shoulders and made him look fashionable thanks to the narrow waist and flared lower section.

Podhale type
Since the 1840s hand-dyed and printed skirts were worn in the Podhale region on both festive and normal days.

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The highlands are represented by Podhale costumes. A common feature of both Balkan and Carpathian highlanders is the fact, that the men’s outfit elements, such as “gunia”, “cucha” (types of coats) and “portki” (trousers), are all made of thick, fulled cloth in the natural colour of sheeps fleece. Rich ornaments, colourful applications and woollen embroideries were all made by men. The colourful compositions, woven on the thigh sections of “portki”, called “parzenica” deserve particular interest.

Full dress men’s traditional shoes (“kierpce”) ornamented with metal “cętki”. This type of shoes was fashionable in the interwar period and after the Second World War. It is still worn by men, especially in Bukowina Tatrzańska area.

Żywiec town type
A Żywiec costume is an example of a bourgeois fashion, with over 200 years of tradition. Its characteristic feature is the “złotogłowie” (gold-embroidered) bonnet and tulle elements; a ruff, a shawl called “łoktusza” and an apron, all embroidered with floral motifs.

Rozbark type
The Polish folk costume had not really bloomed until the second half of the 19th century, after the affranchisement of peasants and abolition of serfdom in the countryside, which resulted in changes of the peasants’ legal status and helped improve the general living conditions of rural communities. Villagers demonstrated these changes by making their costumes richer, using better quality, beautiful embellishments, such as priceless embroideries, laces and jewellery.

Szamotuły type
Made from tulle.Trimmed with delicate “tiulka” along the forehead and side-sections, made by rolling the fabric on twigs or straws with special frames.

The costumes of regions such as Wielkopolska, Silesia, Lubuskie, Kujawy or Warmia are classified as western type, as they stemmed from the West European bourgeois style. They are made of very high quality fabrics: wool, damask, silk and velvet.

Kaszuby type
The Kaszubian embroidery as we know it today appeared in the region in the 1920s and 1930s. It was created by Teodora Gulgowska, Franciszka Majkowska and Maksymilian Lewandowski and other people creating the so-called variations (the schools of teaching the technique in the Kaszuby region). The embroidery was created to combat unemployment and was designed to be liked by urban and foreign customers. Today “Kaszubian embroidery” functions as “Kaszubian model” and is used in various markets (food, advertisement, everyday items, regional coats of arms etc.).

Celebration Time in Polish and European Folklore
Visit a glass showroom with folk costumes, a story about rituals, traditions, and objects that belong to different traditions and denominations in Poland and Europe takes up over 850 m² and it is told through thousands of exhibits. The exhibition’s style is very modern and resembles a shopping centre – well-lit interiors, dressed-up mannequins behind glass, drawers full of accessories and ornaments. It puts the traditionally understood notions of “folk” and “rustic” in a new context.

The folk “costume” is the key to the Celebration Time exhibition – a unique set of clothes worn for a feast that involves dancing, music, and rituals. Therefore, the exhibition aims to emphasise the variety of folk costumes by presenting over 100 festive outfits from Poland and Europe as well as a unique in the world collection of European folk dance models with miniature dancers wearing traditional folk costumes. The models were created for the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life held in Paris in 1937.

While presenting tradition, the exhibition also asks about the importance of folk style in mass culture and reveals the influence of folklore on fashion and applied arts, since the 1930s to our times. A gallery with folk instruments from Poland and other countries allows visitors to listen to now forgotten sounds of the sarangi, gadulki, or bandura. Visually, the atmosphere of rituals is re-created through valuable votive paintings, folk sculptures, Easter eggs, paper cut-outs, Christmas tree decorations and carnival-related items.

The permanent exhibition “Celebration Time in Polish and European Folklore” was created in 2013 to celebrate the Museum’s 125th anniversary.

In the modern, two-storey exhibition hall, that incorporates big showroom aesthetics, you can admire a collection of the most beautiful folk costumes from Poland and Europe, ritualistic accessories, religious art, fabrics, decorative ceramics and woodcarving.

National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw
The National Ethnographic Museum is a space where the achievements of world culture meet with individual sensitivity, becoming an inspiration to discover the beauty of diversity.

The State Ethnographic Museum – one of the oldest ethnographic museums in Poland. The museum was founded in 1888 and houses over 80,000 objects and about 120,000 archives. The Ethnographic Museum presents several permanent exhibitions and over a dozen temporary exhibitions a year.

In modern interiors, we present permanent and temporary exhibitions of interdisciplinary character and diverse themes. The autonomous structure of our institution is dedicated to the youngest Children’s Museum, where you can touch everything. The museum also has a library and the Antropos cinema with an unconventional repertoire. In the Bílý Koníček café you can get acquainted with the offer of the bookstore and shop while drinking coffee. In addition, the museum hosts trade fairs, special events, meetings with authors, workshops and seminars. Therefore, we encourage you to actively participate in culture – children, youth and adults.

National Ethnographic Museum diversity and richness of cultures around the world and present their values as a nationwide good, thus contributing to the development of an open society.