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Polish Folk Costumes
Poland is a land with a rich and diverse folklore. There are many regions in the country, each with their own traditions, dances, songs and costumes.
Polish folklore developed, first and foremost, among the peasantry. These country people seldom travelled very far. Many people were born, lived and died without ever leaving their home provinces. Rivers, mountains, lakes, forests and marshes isolated the communities from one another and for this reason each region developed its own unique traditions.
Despite this, culture and ideas did travel! Mariners sailed to other countries and mountaineers floated their rafts to the sea. Fishermen crossed lakes, shepherds travelled with their flocks and people travelled to trade. Many people were forced to move by famines or else fled from wars. When they travelled they carried their traditions with them and songs, dances and costumes spread from one region to another. Political boundaries changed, and with them the language and culture of the administrators. In all these ways Poland evolved its own distinct folklore while absorbing influences from neighbouring areas.
Romanian shepherds came to Poland following the chain of the Carpathian Mountains. Russian, Ukrainian and White Russian peasants from the eastern territories of Polesia and Volhynia emigrated to Poland. There were strong cultural connections between the Czechs, Slovaks and Moravians living to the south of Poland, as well as with the German and Wendish people living to the west. Sailors plying the Baltic Sea brought back Scandinavian traditions while long standing religious and political affiliations connected the north-east of Poland with Lithuania and the other Baltic republics. All these influences were reflected in the folklore.
Folk costumes also developed in other ways. Fashions changed, new materials became available, urban influences began to be felt and genuinely new traditions arose. All Polish folk costumes were based primarily on fabrics created and decorated by the local people. Sometimes certain elements would be imported, such as the sea shells which decorate the hats of the mountaineers, but most of the clothing was produced from linen, cotton, wool, felt, leather and fur available in the community. The peasant folk had to make do with what was at hand.
Before the turn of the century, folk costumes were worn daily by most peasants. Rougher clothing was worn to work while more elaborate dress was reserved for special occasions like church, festivals and weddings. Most people had only one or two sets of 'good' clothes. These were frequently very skillfully made and were highly ornamented. Many women spent months sewing elaborate embroidery on their dresses or vests.
On the territory of present-day Poland there are some sixty folkloric regions -- each with their own distinctive costumes. In some areas, such as the highlands of the Tatras (Podhale), Kurpie, Lowicz, Opoczno and Sieradz, the tradition of folk-costumes is still alive. People continue to make costumes and wear them -- at least on holidays and festivals. In many other regions, costumes are still made but mostly for dance groups or choirs. In other areas, such as Warmia, the folk tradition has almost completely disappeared and the folk dress from those regions has been reconstructed from paintings, museum collections and written accounts.
In this book we present a cross-section of some of the better-known and most beautiful of Polish costumes. We also tell you a little about their history and origins and of the people who wore them. To help you with geography there are two maps. The first shows you what part of the country the costumes originated in. The second illustrates some of Poland's neighbouring regions. We hope that in reading about them you will learn a little about the vivid and beautiful folklore of Poland. Have fun!
(c) Christopher Majka and Sheilagh Hunt & Empty Mirrors Press
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