The Wardrobe of a Krakow Woman

On the Krakow costume

Paktong ring from Olszanica The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

More than 2000 items. 

That is the size of the collection of clothes of Krakowiaks – both men and women – at the Ethnographic Museum of Kraków. 

Skirt of z a Bronowice Małe resident (early 20th c.) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

It's the oldest and largest collection of Krakow costumes in the world. Diverse, full of unique specimens and exceptional treasures from centuries ago.
 

Yet it is but a modest slice of a complex reality. 

Peasant Family in Front of a Thatched Cottage in the Village of Bronowice Małe (1912) by Karol Chotek The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Who exactly were the Krakowiaks? 

Ethnographic sources from a century ago indicate the vast area of Lesser Poland. It is an extremely diverse area in terms of geography, history, identity. 

Many of the villages described by ethnographers a hundred years ago now lie within the city limits. Bronowice, Krowodrza, Mogiła, Pleszów are today parts of Krakow's districts – and far from the city outskirts. 

Bodice belonging to a resident of the village of Kaszów The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Besides, place of origin was not the only criterion utilised by the creators of this collection. We know that they had a taste for outfits worn on festive occasions in the countryside. 



They were fascinated by the intensity of the colours and the craftsmanship of the decorations. Meanwhile, the scrappy everyday life of the rural areas was far less spectacular. 

A bodice belonging to a resident of the village of Modlniczka A bodice belonging to a resident of the village of Modlniczka (1905) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Fortunately, the museum lets us look at more than just the top layer of clothing. We can examine it from the inside out. 

The left side reveals traces of reinforcement with cheaper fabrics, stitching, indicating a change in size. It reminds us that festive clothes were used for years, sometimes throughout the entire adult life. They used to be passed down from generation to generation. 

Coral necklaces from the vicinity of Rudawa The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Festive outfits were very expensive. Recognised today as a staple of folk costumes, red corals (Corallium rubrum, dead coral skeletons), were imported from Naples, Venice, and Marseille. 

In the first half of the 19th century, three cords of beads were worth as much as four or five cows. They increased a woman's value on the marriage market. A daughter would inherit them from her mother. Less well-off girls wore artificial beads, such as those made of starch with added resin. 

Boots owned by a resident of Mników (unknown) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków


Even today, you can still find people who remember going to Sunday Mass while carrying their shoes in hand – prudence dictated to only put them on before entering the church. 


One went barefoot to work in the fields, to school, and to the town market. 

Cropped jacket z of a Głęboka resident Cropped jacket z of a Głęboka resident (early 20th century) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Dressing with flair 

The interest in rural costumes and the creation of museum collections (the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century) was – at the same time – a period of great economic and social change. 

Front of women's kaftan (1930) by Zdzisław Bakowski The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków


The pace of change is dictated by political movements (the emergence of nation states, the two great wars) and the industrial revolution.
 

The impact of these changes can also be seen in the countryside, considered a refuge of old traditions and a source of knowledge about the past of native culture. 

Women From Bronowice Małe Carrying Goods to Market (1912) by Karol Chotek The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Rural clothing is sometimes exchanged for second-hand city outfits. It makes it easier to blend in with the crowd and not be harassed by the townsfolk when looking for a factory job or when running errands in the city. Women were the last to abandon traditional outfits. 

Ribbon of a Wyciąże resident (the interwar period) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Hand-woven materials are pushed out by factory-made velvets and brocades. The availability of fabrics, colourful threads and embellishments fires the imaginations of seamstresses and embroiderers. 

Bodice of a Mogiła resident Bodice of a Mogiła resident (approx. 1870) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The design and choice of colours, define more than the local identity. The more glamorous the outfit, the more it emphasises the position of its owner in the local community. 

Bodice of a Bronowice resident Bodice of a Bronowice resident (19th c. / early 20th c.) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

However, it isn't only about the richness of decoration. In this game of appearances, posture also counts. 

The woman's affluence and readiness for tasks (on the farm and in the family) are confirmed by her wide hips. The folds and pleats at the bottom of a bodice gave the female figure the desired shape – the more there were, the clearer the message about the owner's wealth. 

Skirt of a Podskalany resident Skirt of a Podskalany resident (first quarter of the 20th century) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Lavishly ruffled skirts also gave women more volume. The best result was provided by wearing several at the same time – one on top of the other. 

Skirt of a Podskalany resident The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

As their front part was covered by an equally richly crinkled pinafore, sometimes a piece of expensive fabric was replaced by cheaper materials when sewing the skirt. The lower edge of the skirt was trimmed with a protective and decorative ribbon, called a brush. 

Crib puppet – Cracovian (1885/1915) by Leon Ezenekier The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Being Krakowian, being Polish, being yourself 

For Polish socialites and ideologists at the turn of the 19th century, the Krakow festive costume became a national value. 

Sleigh ride skirt (for a “Cracovian” costume) (1870) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

It became a popular art subject. It was used as a fun motif, for example for carnival outfits. 

Anna Tetmajerowa with the children (1906) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Meanwhile, the clothing collected in the Museum serve as traces of the lives of specific people. Their tastes, their choices, their life stories. 

Pinafore of a Mników resident Pinafore of a Mników resident (1790/1810) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

This apron was donated to the Museum in 1913 by Antonina Munkaczy, a teacher from Mników, along with the information that it was her great-grandmother's wedding apron, made from homespun linen and decorated with a pattern by an itinerant printer. 

Scarf of Petronela Matysikowa from Cholerzyn (1876) The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

This intricate embroidery was handmade by Petronela Matysikowa from Cholerzyn, who made her mobcap for her own wedding in 1876. 

Bodice of Maria Ślęczek from Kłaj The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Reminiscent of a starry sky, the bodice came to the Museum along with two petticoats, a skirt, a pinafore, a corset, and a shoulder wrap. The entire set, sewn in the first quarter of the 20th century, was worn on festive occasions by Maria Ślęczek from Kłaj, born in 1870 – we know this from her grandson. 

Plain pinafores The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków


After all, beyond what is official and meant for foreign eyes, every wardrobe hides hundreds of intimate stories.
 

What would yours be about? 

Credits: Story

Text: Dorota Majkowska-Szajer
Designed and created by: Natalia Ciemborowicz-Luber, Dorota Majkowska-Szajer, Katarzyna Piszczkiewicz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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