Unia Europejska
Kliszczak Highlanders

Kliszczak Highlanders

The costume of the Kliszczaks

The delimitation of the area inhabited by the Kliszczaks - who are also called the Highlanders of Myślenice[1] - is a difficult task, because the ranges delineated by various researchers present considerable discrepancies and inaccuracies. The boundaries stretch from Maków Podhalański, through Jachówka, Zachełmna, Baczyn, Bieńkówka, Trzebunia to Stróża.[2] Then, they follow down the Raba river valley, including such places as Stróża, Pcim, Lubień and Tenczyn. The area also marks the border with the Krakowiaks and the Zagórze Highlanders. Up to the line delineated by such places as Krzeczów, Bystra Podhalańska, Osielec, Kojszówka and Maków Podhalański, beyond which the Podhale influence is clearly visible, and the transition area between the Kliszczaks and the Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders. The difficulty delineating clear-cut and permanent boundaries results from many reasons, inter alia, a transitional character of the area which yielded to the strong influence of the neighbouring cultures, especially western Krakowiaks in the north and the Podhale Highlanders, as well as the Zagórze Highlanders and the Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders. The transitional character of the area essentially influenced and was reflected in the appearance of the costume, especially its festive version. The distinctness, as well as the transitional character of the ethnographic group can be noticed, among other things, in the type of outer garments worn by men. Because of the fabric it is made of, the homespun cloth coat is a reference to outer garments worn by the Highlanders, but it is longer and its cut resembles the Cracow płótnianka. In the transitional area between larger ethnographic groups with distinctly marked differences noticeable above all in attire as one of the hallmarks of local identity, it is difficult to come up with and maintain absolute distinctness. Therefore, the costume of the Kliszczaks constitutes an amalgam of various influences appearing in this area and being reflected in the individual elements of the outfit. The outfit would also change as a result of, among other things, the improvement in economic conditions and the development of the textile industry. New, more easily accessible factory-made fabrics would appear; these would replace locally produced homespun fabrics, which is mentioned by an anonymous author of Dziennik podróży etnograficznej między Kliszczakami w roku 1910 w poszukiwaniach za odzieniem ludowym [Journal of the Ethnographic Journey among the Kliszczaks in the Year 1910, in Search of Folk Costume], who writes thus: “women do not wear the traditional costume any more.  Currently, they dress variously in percale fabrics bought in towns.”

According to Urszula Janicka-Krzywda, the costume of the Kliszczaks “disappeared almost completely as early as the 1960s,”[3] and archive materials and museum pieces are few and far between. Given the fact that it is generally accepted that the heyday of the costume came in the second half of the 19th century, which on the one hand is connected with the enfranchisement of the peasantry, and on the other hand with the development of the textile industry, then speaking about the clothes traditionally worn by the people inhabiting this area becomes problematic.

Women’s attire

A bodice is usually the most spectacular element of the costume, and often constitutes an indicator of the local identity. However, the area in question did not see development of just one type, and the bodices worn there primarily serve as a historical record of the influence of the individual neighbouring groups on the shape and ornamentation of this costume element. According to the records[4] dating from the mid-19th century the bodices worn back then were made of a variety of fabrics: cloth, damask and velvet, the latter of which was by far the most popular. They were in the following colours: black, navy, but there were also red and green bodices. Their edging was decorated with trimming of ornamental silver binding, and there were semicircular tooth-like flaps around the waist. The end of the 19th century saw a gradual introduction of bodices with marked differences in form or ornamental techniques, depending on the place of their origin. In the northern part of the region inhabited by the Kliszczaks bodices showed some similarities to the ones worn by the Krakowiak women. They were mainly decorated with trimmings of silver binding sewn along the edges and on the front parts, in the shape of twisting or geometrical motifs. In time bodices in this part of the region began to feature floral motifs of silver binding and spangles. Naturalist floral motifs embroidered only in beadwork constituted the only ornamentation of the bodices worn in the southwestern parts. The last type which appeared at the beginning of the interwar period, especially in the southern part, was that of the Podhale-style bodices with the motif of carline thistle, decorated with sequin embroidery and additional colour-thread embroidery.

Underneath the bodice a white linen blouse was worn; it had ruffs around the neck and the cuffs. Festive blouses were decorated with dainty whitework of floral motifs on the cuffs, the ruff and the front parts. Less festive blouses had trimmings at the neck; as late as the beginning of the 20th century for work women used to wear work blouses with an attached part of thicker fabric from the waist down.

Skirts were long, made of several widths of fabric and richly gathered at the waist. The oldest skirts, called fartuchy, were made of bleached linen.  On special occasions women would wear several linen skirts, one on top of another. The linen used for making outer skirts was dyed indigo or black at home, or ready-made and dyed linens (e.g. the so-called ‘Orawa prints’) were purchased at dyeing workshops. Colourful percales were usually brought from Cracow. As soon as a variety of factory-made fabrics appeared on the market, women began making skirts of different kinds of woollen fabrics (cashmere) in dark colours, or of the popular tybet fabrics featuring rose motifs. Woollen skirts were plain or patterned, and the bottom edge sometimes featured black or dark-coloured binding. They were edged with szczotka, and underneath it was lined with broad binding protecting the skirt against being torn. Underneath a colourful skirt a fartuch was worn so that its embroidered edge was visible from underneath the edge of the outer skirt.

Zapaski (aprons), which used to be somewhat shorter than skirts, used to be put on top of them. Normally, they were made of homespun linen, and at the turn of the of the 19th and 20th centuries - of striped, factory-made percales. On holidays, women would put on whitework zapaski embroidered with dainty floral motifs, or black, alpaca ones with colourful, floral embroidery around the edges, trimmed with lace or flounce.

As late as the 19th century, rich housewives used to wear szubki - plain cloth overcoats, close-fitting at the waist, sometimes trimmed with fur and lined.

The beginning of the 20th century saw growing popularity of kaftan (a tunic) - an outer garment made of thicker fabrics in darker colours, decorated with trimmings at the front and on the cuffs. Tunic-style blouses were also popular; they were made of pastel percales and resembled the Cracow ones.

Shoulder shawls were an indispensable outer garment. The oldest type of homespun sheets (łoktusa, obrus) were preserved as elements of both the festive attire and casual clothing till the beginning of the 20th century. They were made of linen of varying thickness and were shaped like a large square. Festive obrusy (plural of obrus) sometimes featured dainty embroidered borders along the edges. They were worn over the shoulders in a crosswise fashion, that is diagonally with the tips tied at the front against the chest. Over the shoulders women also used to fling black woollen shawls (called kaźmierki) with tassels, or ones featuring a paisley (called turecki, that is Turkish) pattern. In wintertime, thick, so-called barankowe woollen shawls in dark colours were worn as well. As an element of the festive attire, shoulder shawls used to be worn the longest, and as late as the 1970s. were quite commonly worn by women for church.

On festive occasions, married women used to wear czepki (bonnets) or mob-cap headscarves. The bonnet was strongly influenced by the Podhale style and was made of either fine homespun linen (rąbkowy) or of homespun thread (siatkowy/niciany). In the 19th century women used to wear a humełka under the bonnet; it was a disc made of stick or wire, around which hair was wrapped and which was placed under the bonnet. The mob-cap headscarf was properly tied so that the embroidered tip would trail down the back and the knot was above the forehead. On a daily basis women used to wear headscarves tied under the chin; they were called smaciny or tybetki.

Simple kierpce (leather shoes) were soon - as early as the second half of the 19th century - supplanted by calf-length boots with uppers, which originally only affluent women could afford to have made to complement their festive outfits.

Men's attire

The trousers were the element of the festive attire that became the hallmark of the ethnographic group’s identity. Their name was used as the basis on which to coin an appellation for the whole ethnographic group as well as nicknames given by the neighbouring groups.

Linen trousers were a typical garment. They were made of homespun linen, and called gacie or płócionki, because of which - in the surrounding areas - the wearers were referred to as gacie-clad Kliszczaks (gaciaste Kliszczaki). They had a simple cut, one slit on the side or in the middle, and wide legs. In the bottom area, close to the edges, the legs were sometimes decorated with hemstitch (cyrka) and tassels (strząpki) made by pulling threads out of the fabric. Cloth trousers were another type of trousers worn in this area; depending on the place, they were called spodnie guniane, gunie, guniaki or bukowiaki. They were made of two pieces of cloth, and the seam was placed on the outside of the legs and curved above the buttocks. The whole was complemented with gussets. The legs were wider than the ones on the Podhale-style trousers, and at the bottom they had a distinctive element - a slit called kliszcz. As Wincenty Pol writes, it was because of this seemingly insignificant clothing element that they earned “the contemptuous name of Kliszczaks.”[5] The oldest type of trousers had two symmetrically placed slits, or one on the left side. The more recent type of trousers, which appeared at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, was patterned on urban-style trousers and had only one slit placed centrally. A decorative element of the ganiane trousers was a piece of plaited string attached in the form of side stripes and around the slits in the shape of a letter U. The trousers of the earlier type were decorated with black or red, plain or mixed edgings with an addition of blue thread. In time, after the First World War, the Kliszczaks would buy trousers from the neighbouring group of the Zagórze Highlanders, and from the 1930s - from the Podhale Highlanders.

The Kliszczaks would complement their trousers with linen shirts, which as late as the beginning of the 20th century had an archaic cut of an oblong poncho and were quite short. Around the neck, the shirt was trimmed and tied with a red ribbon. This type of shirts was replaced by the przyramkowy (made of square pieces of material) type with a turndown collar.

A commonly used outer garment of the old type was a brown, homespun cloth overcoat called gunia, or górnica in the villages located in the borderland with the Krakowiaks, or cuha or cuga in the southern villages. The gunia, which had an oblong poncho cut, a narrow waist and a standing collar, resembled a Cracow-style płótnianka. It was decorated with red cord attached along the edges, in the bottom areas of the sleeves, around the pockets and on the collar. Sometimes the collar featured a stitch called janina and a row of stars.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the brown cloth baja (or bajka) fully replaced the gunia. With its cut resembling a jacket, it was an imitation of the urban fashion. It had a turndown collar and lapels as well as four or five pockets. At the front it had buttons, sometimes made of horn. The baja was ornamented with cloth appliqués, usually black ones on the collar, lapels, around the pockets and at the end of the sleeves. Sometimes the pockets were additionally lined with red cloth. Appliqués were additionally sewn through in backstitch arranged in geometrical patterns. 

In winter men used to wear long, white sheepskin coats trimmed with fur. The sheepskin was additionally decorated with colourful embroidery of wool and string as well as appliqués of red or green saffian leather. The so-called spancyry (sheepskin jackets which reached a little below the waist) and the so-called serdaki (shorter, sleeveless versions of the former) were worn as well.

A black, felt hat with a semicircular dome was the most popular type of headwear; it was decorated with red wool or seashells. In winter, a black baranica sheepskin cap was most common.

Kierpce, which were called kyrpce or kurpiołki, were made of cowhide and were laced up over the leg with leather straps. They were soon superseded by calf-length boots, which were above all worn as a complement to the festive attire.

Until the end of the 19th century men would wear broad belts similar to the Cracow-style trzosy. It was common to wear only thin leather belts to support cloth trousers.


Ewa Rossal


[1] See Zdzisław Szewczyk, Strój ludowy [Folk Costume]. [in:] A Monograph of the Myślenice County, (ed.) Roman Reinfuss, vol. 2, Cracow 1970, pp. 171-213.

[2]According to the research conducted by Roman Reinfuss, that is the Highland-Lach boundary. To the north of this line lies a transitional area which includes a belt stretching from Mucharz and Zembrzyce to Harbutowice, Jasienica and Bysina.

[3] Urszula Janicka-Krzywda, Strój Kliszczaków [The Costume of the Kliszczaks], [in:] Kalendarz 2001, (ed.) Janusz Kociołek, Krakow 2000, p. 89.

[4] See T. Tripplin, Wycieczki po stokach galicyjskich i węgierskich Tatrów, [Trips to the Slopes of the Galician and Hungarian Tatras], Warsaw 1856.

[5] Wincenty Pol, Rzut oka na północne stoki Karpat i przyległe im krainy [A Glimpse of the Northern Carpathian Slopes and the Neighbouring Lands], Cracow 1851.