NEW FOLK COSTUME
New Folk Costume: Constructs, Duplications, Appropriations
Work clothes: for the young constructors of Nowa Huta – white shirts, comfortable wide leg trousers, rubber boots; steelworkers should obligatorily wear fufaika jackets, discreetly revealing a flannel shirt underneath, preferably chequered. Headwear is a must: flat caps or hats, protecting against heat or hit. Female plasterers – clothes similar to those worn by men in terms of shape and size, coupled with a headscarf.
Everyday outfits: neat housewives wear starched aprons; applying for a supply of potatoes, you can put on shorts and a colourful blouse or a loose dress.
For a walk: elegant, simple, and plain suits for women. Men: jackets, usually with a necktie, long coats, and definitely headwear.
Women can wear trousers only when they ride a bike, a motorcycle or for skiing as well as, of course, for work.
Wedding: a dark suit for women, a loose suit for men. A symbolic tulle veil for the bride, and a rosette for the groom.
Clothes for special occasions (national holidays, receiving foreign guests, parades): clean work clothes, a uniform or folk costume.
Clothes to be worn at parades: for the eagerly marching junaks at the labour day parade (May 1st) – identical uniforms and forage caps, selected steelworkers in heavy white aprons. Male model workers wear slightly crumpled broad oversize suits, female model workers are in white blouses and dark flared knee-length skirts.
This could be a page from a 1950s fashion magazine, and yet these are merely descriptions of some photographs depicting the first decades of Nowa Huta. They show a reflection of what was trendy, fashionable, or simply worn back then, but also a picture of reality removed from its context. As we scrutinise the visual embodiment – the photograph, we can discover more than consecutive micro-histories of what the first residents of Nowa Huta put on, or what their clothes meant to them; we may also explore the question of creation: of oneself, of the New Man. Keeping in mind that every shot is not only a depiction of what is, but also a choice made arbitrarily by the photographer. The lives of people captured by the camera have been reduced to a single photograph.
According to the terminology proposed by Roland Barthes in The Fashion System, the situations above represent two structures of clothing: iconic and verbal, which relate only indirectly to the real garment. At the same time, we should remember that “«seeing» a real garment, even under privileged conditions of presentation, cannot exhaust its reality, still less its structure; we never see more than part of a garment, a personal and circumstantial usage, a particular way of wearing it.”i Barthes’ words seem particularly true if we agree that their context is strictly defined as the days of the construction of Nowa Huta. The reality of those clothes clearly becomes creation, based exclusively on written and iconographic resources.
Clothing: Construction of Sexes, Creation of New Man
Clothing is a highly flexible and precise instrument of cultural expression. According to Nina Felshin, it constitutes an integral part of social fabric at its most general as well as most private level, as a social form and a substitute for the body, a complex connection between the private body and its public significance; it is “a dense coded system of signification that transmits psychological, sexual and cultural messages.”ii Because it links the body with the society, clothing unites the biological body with the social being, the public with the private, corporeality and culture. We use clothes to shape the body, making sure it has qualities regarded as attractive, we give expression to our identities. Clothes are also considered to be the second skin and, as Renee Baert points out, they are “a membrane that separates and joins, that surrounds and divides. Like skin, clothing is a border.”iii They may serve as a manifestation of opportunism or rebellion against social norms.
Uniformed clothing was one of the methods of moulding and subordinating members of the socialist society. In Przesłanki kształtujące formę odzieży młodzieżowej, published in 1954 in Biuletyn IWP, we read that school uniforms, supposed to ensure the ideological correctness of clothing, had turned into an “external mark of the youth following the right path towards winning their own place in the society.”iv Identical garments fulfilled an educational and socialising role, forming a coherent community, encouraging development of collective consciousness, solidarity, and quality. Uniforms had to be worn for school and festivities, but it was also recommended that children should wear them outside school walls as well.v In an attempt to control private lives by means of clothing, the authorities advised young people to dress with moderation as regards style, ornaments, and accessories, to avoid “unwanted, pretentious or extravagant forms of clothing,” which could lead to germination of “bad aesthetic taste or even deformation of character.”vi If clothing is seen as the ‘second skin’, these guidelines are a way of appropriating the public as well as the most private sphere related to our bodies entirely by the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic. Efforts made to create a new identity by imposing undifferentiated folksiness serves the same purpose.
Clothes can also provide protection, like a mimetic exterior; Katherine Lebow quotes the memories of one of the Nowa Huta junaks:“ wearing the same clothes [emphasis ER], eating the same food, and sharing the same quarters, «all of us [in the bridgade] were equal». For the first time, Chmieliński writes, he fell asleep that night «completely happy».”vii It was mostly for people coming from poverty-stricken rural regions that clothes frequently were a cause for shame. As a consequence, blending into an anonymous and uniformly clothed workers’ crowd could have socio-therapeutic effects.
Work clothes did not differentiate between male and female workers because labour was blind to sex. Baggy trousers, fufaikas or work jackets, gum boots, usually lined with felt. Unisex clothing. The only type of garment, a remnant of foregone fashion trends, that revealed differences at the level of the ‘second skin’ was headwear, used by men and women alike. In this context, the figure of a masculinised female tractor driver and bricklayer with loose working clothes in the style of the Soviet female kolkhoz worker on: “express a grim androgyny; the loss of womanly features and a lack of clearly masculine ones […],”viii as Leopold Tyrmand wrote in his Diary 1954. At the same time, this kind of clothing was the embodiment of an ideal working woman. Women were expected to wear plain, asexual clothes suitable for model workers. Golonka-Czajkowska writes:
Their presence by casting furnaces, a place which had been accessible only to men before, was direct confirmation of the new position of women in the socialist society. A few years previously, they had begun to emerge, wearing military uniforms, in the fighting zone of the Eastern Front, and now they were to actively fight for a new world like the heroines of the post-revolutionary Soviet posters, bravely aiding smiths in forging weapons and rails.ix
In the same period and system, when work was over, at home and on a walk, during celebrations, we can see images of neat women wearing modest but elegant one-colour suits. The monotonous and homogenous nature of those clothes was not entirely a product of imposed ideological guidelines; it was a consequence of the actual shortage of materials. After 1956 and the political thaw, Polish fashion began to reflect some of the Western trends more openly, with the brand of Moda Polska [Polish Fashion] offering fancy elegance to mature women, modelled on French tailoring, and world famous fashion designers. Colourful blouses, well-fitted sweaters, and skirts resembling Christian Dior’s 1947 style, glasses shaped like butterfly wings, and polka dot on dresses and neckties were mostly observed in big cities and among wealthy members of the society. The situation was radically different in small towns or villages whose residents, according to their means, developed a creative approach to what was presented in magazines. The Przekrój weekly with its column devoted to fashion, edited by Barbara Hoffx and Janina Ipohorska, played the leading part in this subject. The editors discussed fashion trends behind the Iron Curtain, and suggested ways of making similar garments at home. In the street, one could see women wearing home-made clothes, frequently also self-designed. Since fabrics were hard to come by, they mostly used old and unfashionable items, such as, for instance, elements of folk costumes. Some received various garments in parcels sent by relatives living abroad; some purchased inexpensive clothes at streets markets.
The two images: the working woman and the private woman balance between the official ideological picture and the traditional idea of womanhood, suggesting a rather ambiguously defined gender-specific image of woman. xi And it is only here that we are able to see one of the basic, inseparable functions of clothes – aesthetic and erotic, meant to attract the attention of the other sex. Piotr Bogatyriew claims that “the aesthetic function tends to form a structure with the erotic one, and often covers it in a way.”xii It is therefore, according to Bogatyriew, that people may not be aware that they put on an item of clothing because the other sex finds it alluring; they believe the reason behind their choice is exclusively the pleasing visual quality of the garment.xiii
The image of men conveyed by dress reveals strong steelworkers and bricklayers wearing fufaikas and gender-unspecific working clothes, or young builders of Nowa Huta in uniforms, and forage caps, the new model socialist-realism heroes.xiv But this image is entirely a sociotechnical creation as former steelworkers recall that “it was a penalty to be assigned to wear those clothes [at parades] – so we thought; it was a terrible shame, and great embarrassment to walk dressed as a steelworker,” “it was an oppressive duty, a punishment, to be parading in those clothes.”xv
This image is countered by the figures of “shady bikiniarze,” seeking to look trendy. Their outfits reflected a fascination with western fashion, combated by communist authorities: they put on loose jackets, colourful exotic neckties (with palms or women wearing bikini), shortish and tight trousers, boots with thick gum soles, and skimmer hats.xvi Their clothes challenged all norms of socialist fashion tips. In the local Nowa Huta newspaper Budujemy Socjalism [We’re Building Socialism], their picture is presented in a mocking tone: “He was wearing a shirt with some weird swallows, stripes, and little flowers on. Uncut for half a year at least, his hair was made to resemble a swallow. Short, tight trousers.”xvii
The Double “Folkness” of Clothing: Appropriation
In the first decades after the Second World War the term “folk” acquired a double meaning. The idea of folk consisting of people living in rural areas grew to be commonly understood as being related to the nation, or the state. This is, for instance, evident in the name Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa [Polish People’s Republic, literally: Polish Folk Republic]. What matters here is the construct of ‘folkness’. Closely related to old culture of the countryside, perceived from the outside exclusively through the prism of this category created by the elites. This is a picture of the countrywide where the concept of “folk culture” is not seen as an ordering research category, but a reflection of reality,xviii and one of its most emblematic, differentiating and representative elements has been and, in some places, still is folk costume.
In a system where the (literally) folk authorities constructed its message on the basis of the attractiveness of folk culture in its most visually differentiating and aestheticised components, it was almost natural that folk costume became one of the most representative types of attire. Therefore, like everything connected with folk culture, folk costume was regarded as part of our own authentic national culture unlike foreign cosmopolitan influences.xix The multilayered mythicisation of costume is linked to its aestheticisation, exoticisation, and instrumentalisation. It was achieved chiefly by emphasising its form, ornament, and evaluating visual features: beautiful, coloured, richly decorated. It was thus radically different from mundane working clothes, and tedious outfits seen in the streets.
Aesthetisation here is more than simply emphasising the visual aspect, but first and foremost it is stressing the presence of the underlying system organising reality, which shows power relations by means of the figure of an aesthetising subject holding a socially privileged position, that is – in the communist era – members of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). Every system organising reality is constituted by power-knowledge relations which configure the discourse. Content that originally came from folk culture was transported from the highest levels of the party hierarchy to scientific, mostly ethnographic, circles, and become the germ of a peculiar mechanism that transcribed folk patterns via the political dimension (power) to the scientific domain (knowledge), to eventually restore them in a new version to their righteous owner, the folk. A closed transcription. What was originally a folk phenomenon became meta-folk.
Folk costumes in the Polish People’s Republic were reinvented, adapted to new contexts; their functions were altered, their forms simplified, and the concept behind them reshaped. Dominant policies influenced academic attitudes and, as a consequence, the work of ethnographers who set out guidelines for folk ensembles and folk contests, forcing the people to follow them, and to depart from original meanings and contexts. Mythologising ethnographic undertakings were frequently products of researchers’ individual opinions; these provided a basis for knowledge and interpretation of facts in accordance with values promoted in a given political system.xx In this way, the people as subjects, their right to hold views, and have different aesthetic sensitivity faded into oblivion.
Costume in the Polish People’s Republic was expected to expose its “folk nature,” rather than its connection to a specific region, or synonymity with a national costume. Whether the costume was typical of the Kraków region, the Łowicz region, or the mountains, was irrelevant. What mattered was the fact that it was a folk costume, originating in the countryside, and belonged to all citizens. As the new people’s government came to power, it was present not only at parades or official celebrations, but also in the higher echelons of society. An attractive visual attribute of the Polish People’s Republic, it soon began to feature in all ceremonial occasions, except for religious ones, which in fact stood in stark contrast to its original context. In a time when the value of folk culture was enhanced, folk costume was made less elaborate, and its character was determined not by its users but by the elites. The fashion for folk costume could not be stopped, and led to some grotesque situations – it was conspicuously present, for instance, in the staging of pagan celebrations or all kinds of performances given by folk ensembles, such as Mazowsze. “Guardians of ethnographic correctness” opposed its caricatural form, but they did not object to new contexts of its appearance.
Fashion for Folk
Fashion became an inseparable part of contemporary culture, and at once a mirror reflecting ever-changing societies. Temporary, ephemeral, impermanent, mosaical, fragmentary, multilayered, but also unified. The trends it generates are short-lived, but they are commonly followed. It used to characterise particular social classes, thus perpetuating the division into high and low culture. Today, it signifies a ‘lifestyle’, rather than social position. Assuming environment- and context-related forms it reveals mutual pervasion of genres and categories.
In the case of the Polish People’s Republic fashion can be seen as social and cultural coercion, rather than a phenomenon consisting in rapidly changing tendencies and their strong, even though only momentary, impact. Fashion in the PPR mirrored the state’s policy, it was a spectacle taking place between the stage of public life and private chambers. Politicised clothing was meant to provide a visual form, but first of all to construct required social practices. Attire could be a sign of opposition to the party’s directives. The contrast between unattractive goods sold at department stores, and the brilliant colours, richly ornamented folk costumes made of various fabrics turned the latter into creative inspiration. Inscribed into politics – constructing images in the folk style, costumes were appropriated by the political system.
In the 1950s and 60s Western models were carefully avoided. Linking clothing, chiefly women’s clothing, with the idea of folk costume was a marked trend in the fashion in the Polish People’s Republic.xxi Attempts were made to legitimise it by means of social needs and changes advanced by young generations, rather than by trends officially promoted by state-owned companies, such as Cepelia or Moda Polska.xxii This kind of clothes displayed a number of qualities. Piotr Korduba writes that they could be modern in style, but made of regional fabrics or ones that were inspired by them, or decorated with lace or embroidery, allegedly typical folk ornaments. Some historical versions of folk costumes were adapted to contemporary conditions, and usually presented at official demonstrations to evidence the influence exerted by folk costumes, and to testify to the existence of a native manifestation in the fashion of the time.xxiii Making sure that manufactured fabrics and clothes were ‘correct’ folk-wise was a task allocated to ethnographers. In her text Moda współczesna a sztuka ludowa,xxiv Jadwiga Jarnuszkiewicz claims that tendencies adopting folk creation to contemporary clothing or, the other way round, current fashion trends to traditional folk patterns, are erroneous, suggesting that the question of fashion is not a constituent of the reflection upon the authenticity of folk art or truthfulness to its patterns. This approach is also observed in perceiving folk costumes as constant, homogenous forms that once prevailed in the countryside. In fact, a substantial part of rural population never owned or even saw folk costumes in the visual space of the villages they lived in. On the other hand, Piotr Bogatyriew believes that “we do realise that folk costumes are not unchangeable, and they can incorporate elements of fashion.”xxv Fashion in rural attire was very prominent. According to Stanisława Trebunia-Staszel, “The fact that folk costumes also yielded to fashion cannot be ignored; it dictated new styles in embellishment, cut, and arrangement of particular components, even if less intensely than in the clothing of the elite. ”xxvi It only takes a closer look to notice that rural life and folk culture, considered virtually constant and strictly protected by social sanctions, involves many processes that imply variability and stressing individuality, for instance by wearing specific clothes. This again shows the extent of simplification that underlay the basic figures promoting folkness in the Polish People’s Republic.
In the Polish People’s Republic, aside from reference to old styles and traditions, the fashion for anything folk was regarded as an expression of revolt against standardised, grey, and monotonous clothes, an attempt to stress one’s uniqueness, in accordance with Simmel’s definition of fashion as “one of many forms of life that helps us combine in a homogeneous sphere of activity the tendency to social unification and the individual desire to stand out and to change.”xxvii Wearing elements of old peasant costumes was described as rural style.xxviii
Folk costume successfully escaped those functions. It no longer implied a particular region; instead, it was a sign of the social class – working or peasant. It changed from being peasant costume to being worker costume. Most of the functions it had performed were now meaningless. Apparently, it constituted a link with a world people abandoned in search of a better life, even though they never ceased to long for it. It was becoming, or could have become a sort of ‘comfort clothes’, evoking childhood memories.
Folk costume was now a common thing: its nationalisation also meant its dehumanisation. As a national symbol it belonged to everyone and to no-one, and perhaps that was the reason why it was appropriated by everybody. In a way, the folk costume discussed here became a peculiar product of culture, present in popular discourse as its own image, rather than an actual set of garments. This strongly symbolic image obliterated not only the genuine picture of folk costumes, but also gave rise to creation of new ones, and frequently to ‘self-folklorisation’xxix of its users.
i R. Barthes, The Fashion System, trans. M. Ward and R. Howard, Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 1990, p. 5.
ii N. Felshin, “Clothing as Subject”, Art Bulletin, vol. 54, no.1, Spring 1995, p. 20.
iii R. Baert, “The dress: Bodies and Boundaries, Reinventing Textiles”, in J. Jefferies (ed.), Gender and Identity. Vol. 2, Winchester, Telos Art Publishing, 2001, p. 21.
iv “Przesłanki kształtujących formę odzieży młodzieżowej”, in Biuletyn IWP, suplement to the montly Odzież, no. 9, 1954, pp.179-180.
v Cf. A. Pelka, Teksas-land. Moda młodzieżowa w PRL, Warszawa, Trio, 2007, p. 21.
vi “Przesłanki kształtujących formę odzieży młodzieżowej”.
vii K. A. Lebow, “Public Works, Private Lives: Youth Brigades in Nowa Huta in the 1950s”, in Contemporary European History, Vol. 10, No. 2, Jul 2001, p. 208.
viii L. Tyrmand, Diary 1954, trans. A. Shelton and A. J. Wrobel, Evanstone, Ill., Northwestern University Press, 2014, p. 185.
ix M. Golonka-Czajkowska, Nowe Miasto Nowych Ludzi. Mitologie nowohuckie, Kraków, WUJ, 2013, p.130.
x First articles by Barbara Hoff were published in Przekrój already in 1954.
xi See E. Toniak, Olbrzymki. Kobiety i socrealizm, Kraków, Korporacja Ha!art, 2008, pp. 106–107.
xii P. Bogatyriew, “Funkcje stroju ludowego”, in P. Bogatyriew, Semiotyka kultury ludowej, Warszawa, PIW, 1979.
xiii Cf. P. Bogatyriew, “Funkcje stroju ludowego”.
xiv M. Golonka-Czajkowska, Nowe Miasto Nowych Ludzi, p. 42.
xv Interviews with former steelworkers conducted by Monika Golonka-Czajkowska, in M. Golonka-Czajkowska, Nowe Miasto Nowych Ludzi, p. 139.
xvi A. Pelka, Teksas-land, pp. 25-26.
xvii Quotation after M. Golonka-Czajkowska, Nowe Miasto Nowych Ludzi, p. 4.
xviii See M. Buchowski, “Kultura ludowa – mit czy rzeczywistość?”, Lud, vol. 74, 1991, pp. 180–181.
xix See Cz. Robotycki, S. Węglarz, op. cit, s. 8.
xx Ibidem, s. 4.
xxi See A.Pełka, Teksas-land, pp. 165-167, 172, 251.
xxii Cf. P. Korduba, Ludowość na sprzedaż, Warszawa, Fundacja Bęc Zmiana, 2013, p. 251.
xxiii P. Korduba, Ludowość na sprzedaż, p. 252.
xxiv J. Jaruszkiewiczowa, pp.181-192.
xxv P. Bogatyriew, “Funkcje stroju ludowego”, p. 164.
xxvi S. Trebunia-Staszel, Śladami podhalańskiej mody. Studium z zakresu historii stroju Górali Podhalańskich, Kościelisko, Podhalańska Oficyna Wydawnicza, 2007, p. 16.
xxvii G. Simmel, “Filozofia mody”, in S. Magala, Simmel, Warszawa, Wiedza Powszechna, 1980, p. 181.
xxviii See Pełka, Teksas-land, p. 172.
xxix I follow E. Klekot in understanding the term as “an expression formulated by the coloniser in the language of the colonised who can see no real possibility of changing his situation, but wants to change it symbolically.” E. Klekot, “Samofolkloryzacja: współczesna sztuka ludowa z perspektywy krytyki postkolonialnej“, Kultura Współczesna, no. 1, 2014, p. 98.
Fashion, seen as using clothes to create a specific image and establish a relationship with the society, is not merely a current trend or style with no broader context. The clothes a person puts on reflect his or her character, what comes into fashion in a society reflects its situation, views, and character.
At the limit of what was correct by convention new collections were developed, consistent with the idea of fashion as a phenomenon related not only to clothing, but also to lifestyle. As genres had ceased to be pure, the tension at the border between the high and the low style was released, offering new ways of looking at the elements of cultural reality, considered known and natural. Toying with convention, new folklore-inspired costumes became a critical commentary to unification of attire.
Folk costumes used by communist politicians questioned the established cultural reality, and the artificially produced division into high and low art, what was exclusive and popular. They turned into a game with conventions, and well-worn patterns. They escaped obviousness by moving along the boundaries of found orders and replicated cultural clichés.