Unia Europejska


The Costume of the Krakowiaks

The Cracow costume is regarded as one of the most popular and recognizable Polish folk costumes.  Having had the status of a national costume for more than a century, it has simply become synonymous with folk costume, at the same time being seen as uniform and obvious. However, the historical picture and the geographical range of the Cracow costume is highly varied, and so is characterised by the ambiguity of the appellation “Cracow costume.”

The Cracow costumes crystallized their basic forms as early as the end of the 18th century, but the landmark moment in their history was marked by the events connected with the Kościuszko Uprising (1794) and Tadeusz Kościuszko's symbolic gesture of donning a peasant shirt. The popularity of the Cracow costume consisted in transcending regional and social boundaries, which resulted in its status being elevated to national dress in the 19th century. Its heyday came in the second half of the 19th century (following the enfranchisement of the peasantry) and lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. This process was also connected with the development of the textile industry, which considerably influenced its changes and diversification. The turn of the centuries was also marked by the rise of ornamentation, especially of the costumes worn in such Cracow-district villages as Bronowice, Mogiła and Łagiewniki. The development of the costumes was not uniform and in some areas, especially ones remote from Cracow, they began disappearing, being replaced by locally produced factory-made clothing as early as the end of the 19th century. The beginning of the 20th century witnessed the fascination of Young Poland artists such as Stanisław Przybyszewski, Lucjan Rydel, Stanisław Wyspiański for the culture of the Cracow-district countryside, which came to be expressed in the popularization of the Cracow costume, and especially its Bronowice variety. In the first decades of the 20th century the so-called “Cracow fashion,” characterised by colourfulness and lavish ornamentation, began encroaching on folk costumes in other Polish regions. It was then that the variety of the “Cracow costume” which was sold, inter alia, at the Cracow Cloth Hall became widespread; it was different from the festive clothes worn in the Cracow-district villages and a liberal interpretation catering for urban clients and tourists. Since then the “Cracow costume” has been worn by people from various social groups, both living in Poland and émigrés, becoming a symbol of the Polishness and patriotic feelings.

Historically, the ethnographic group of Krakowiaks used to inhabit the areas in the north of the present-day Małopolska Province and the southeastern part of the Świętokrzyskie Province. In the second part of the 19th century, that is in the period of the greatest development of traditional costume, the areas were part of the territories annexed by different powers, which considerably impacted their diversification. The areas to the east of the Jędrzejów - Miechów - Proszowice - Brzesko, which had been annexed by the Russians, were inhabited by eastern Krakowiaks, while the areas situated closer to Cracow, which had been annexed by the Austrians, were inhabited by western Krakowiaks. The main indicators of the ethnographic division are the types of men’s overcoat (called sukmana) found in a given area. The costume, especially the one worn by western Krakowiaks had many local varieties, even in the areas closest to Cracow. Minor differences, especially in the ornamentation of bodices or mob-cap headscarves were to be observed even between neighbouring parishes. It is difficult to clearly delineate the boundaries of the occurrence, because the area where particular kinds of costume overlap is usually very hard to define. 


Western Krakowiaks’ festive costume is popularly recognized as synonymous with the Cracow costume. The rich costumes worn at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the wealthy villages located on the northeastern and northern outskirts of Cracow are usually seen as the most typical. Today, these villages (e.g. Mogiła, Pleszów, Bieńczyce, Branice and Bronowice) are included in the Cracow metropolitan area.

Women’s attire

The visually most attractive and distinctive element of the outfit worn by Krakowiak women was a bodice. The bodice's cut, fabric and ornamentation would change both in time and space, depending on the owner’s wealth. The bodices considered to be the oldest were to be found in the Cracow district as early as the 19th century and were very common in the villages located to the west of Cracow, e.g. Bronowice, Liszki, Kaszów, Modlnica. They were made of navy or black cloth, had linings and red cloth trimmings.  The bottom part was decorated with a large number of set-in flaps (called kaletki - distinctive, overlapping, trapezoidal pieces of cloth). The flaps visually enhanced the waistline, and their number was a sign of the owner’s wealth. Bodices were sometimes decorated with little, nacre buttons and amaranthine cord, or metal buttons and amaranthine, silk tassels (called chwasty). Sometimes, they were additionally decorated with simple, colourful embroidery. From the beginning of the 20th century, this type of bodice began to be replaced by newer varieties, inter alia, black, velvet ones with trimmings of dainty flaps or box pleats around the waist. The most popular example of this type are bodices from the Modlnica district; they had ornamental hook and eye fastenings, decorative haberdashery bindings, little buttons and colourful embroidery with dainty floral motifs. In the Liszki, Kaszów and Tyniec districts velvet and sateen bodices appeared; they were, inter alia, in blue, red and black, decorated with gold or silver trimmings of stylised floral motifs and spangle additions. From the beginning of the 20th century, a new type of bodice began to spread in the villages located to the northeast of Cracow, inter alia, Pleszów, Mogiła, and other villages that today part of Nowa Huta, as well as in Bronowice. Widely popularized by the Young Poland artists, it came to be recognised as the most representative of the western Krakowiaks’ costume. The above-mentioned bodices were most often made of cloth or velvet in blue, red, black, navy, green or purple. The most lavish bodices, especially the ones worn at weddings, were sometimes made of expensive brocade or damask fabrics. They did not have flaps, and the bottom section did not have a back or side parts - it was finished with folds. Bodices were decorated with borders of silver and golden haberdashery items, red buttons, beads and spangles, as well as chwasty, that is bunches of metal or varicoloured, silk threads. The ornamentation typically covered almost all of the bodice surface, leaving only the sides and the central part of the back unadorned. In time, the empty spaces began to be filled with colourful embroidery with floral motifs, which expanded more and more, assuming its most elaborate version - the bodice from Zielonki.

In the interwar period, bodices from the Cracow Cloth Hall stalls became widespread all over the country; they were made of black velvet and decorated with multicoloured spangles, embroidery and ribbons. Although they did not have counterparts in the traditional Cracow costume, they came to be known as the “Cracow-style” ones.

In cold weather women would cover bodices with tunics with sleeves (called katanki) made of multicoloured, plain or patterned fabrics: woollen, tybet, velvet fabrics or cloth. They were additionally padded on the inside and decorated in a number of ways, depending on the area. In the area of present-day Nowa Huta, the predominant fashion was for katanki decorated in the exact same manner as bodices - with rows of colourful buttons and ribbons. Thus, women would wear bodices underneath katanki, which were left unbuttoned to enhance the aesthetic effect. At the end of the 19th century żupany (long, navy, cloth overcoats with red cloth lining and red trimmings) began to fall into disuse. Similarly, fur-lined przyjaciółki (coats) worn only by the wealthiest women inhabitants of the Cracow-district villages disappeared completely. Large, shoulder wraps and shawls with floral, paisley or checked patterns were commonly worn as outer garments.

Underneath bodices, Krakowiak women would wear blouses of white, factory-made cotton decorated with white embroidery. At the end of the 19th century, the older blouses with ruffs were replaced by collar-less blouses with embroidered yokes and cuffs (in the villages to the northeast of Cracow) as well as blouses with collars (in the areas west of Cracow) and buttons.

At first, ankle-length skirts were made of linen, percales imprinted with dainty floral patterns, sateen fabrics, tybet fabrics (a thin textile with an admixture of wool of Tibetan sheep or goats, imprinted with motifs of crimson roses and little flowers), smooth woollen fabrics and silk damasks. Several skirts were usually worn at a time, one on top of another, especially in winter. Green, tybet skirts with crimson roses became most popular in the Bronowice district at the beginning of the 20th century, but Krakowiak women also used to wear black, blue and red, tybet skirts. Underneath the top skirt they would usually wear several other skirts. Later on, it was replaced by a linen petticoat with embroidered serration along the edges.

At the front the skirt was covered with zapaska (an apron) - it was ample and slightly shorter than the skirt. Zapaski (plural of zapaska) were sometimes made of tybet, but usually of white, openwork tulle or linen, with smaller floral motifs than the ones on skirts. Linen and tulle zapaski were decorated with white embroidery. A popular set was the one of a green, tybet skirt and a white, tybet, lace-trimmed zapaska.

The headwear worn by married women were kerchiefs - folded diagonally and tied into a mob-cap. When used every day, those were red or white, percale, patterned kerchiefs; on festive occasions - they were white and made of linen or tulle, decorated with gorgeous, dainty, white embroidery. In almost every village the way to tie a kerchief was slightly different, and so inhabitants of neighbouring villages could easily recognise the wearer’s village of origin. From the end of the 19th century, colourful tybet kerchiefs became a popular addition to the outfits worn by married women and young girls. They were usually tied at the back of the head. The ritual kind of headwear used by a bride and bridesmaids was a garland of artificial flowers. On sunny days and in summer, girls used to have their heads bare. They would entwine their plaits with ribbons, flowers, hairpins and clasps.

Festive footwear - black boots with corrugated uppers - were decorated with backstitch, and sometimes with red saffian leather. In time, they were supplanted by black lace-up boots. Wealthy housewives used to wear leather pouches under aprons, suspended by straps.

Jewellery used to beautifully complement the outfit. It was made by less wealthy, urban goldsmiths, mainly Jews living in the Kazimierz district of Cracow, as well as apprentice goldsmiths. It was crafted out of pakfong (an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel) or brass. Women's rings and blouse clasps were decorated with coral and garnet. Greek crosses set with five coral beads used to be suspended next to strings of genuine coral beads; they were Krakowiak women’s favourite ornament. Because of their high price, genuine coral beads were commonly replaced by artificial ones, the so-called chlebowe coral beads (made of a blend of starch, resin and red colorant).

Men’s attire

The most characteristic outfit element was a white sukmana (an overcoat) with red lining; it was a men’s typical outer garment in the areas inhabited by western Krakowiaks. At the same time, it was an essential element distinguishing them from the neighbouring group of eastern Krakowiaks, who used to wear kierezje (overcoats) usually in brown. These overcoats used to be called chrzanówki, because they were mass-produced by tailors (called sukmaniarze - overcoat makers) from the town of Chrzanów. It was a kind of a cloth coat reaching down below the knees, and made with no lining. It was slightly tapered around the waist, had a standing collar and sleeves finished with little, trapezoidal flaps, which on cold days were rolled down to cover the hands. The sleeve flaps, the collar, the edges and the trimming were lined with red cloth. In the Bronowice district and the villages located west of Cracow, chrzanówki were decorated with amaranthine (or red) chwasty (tassels), and in the villages east of Cracow (Mogiła, Pleszów, Bieńczyce, Branice, which are now part of the Nowa Huta district), chwasty were black. To the southwest of Cracow, in Dobczyce white sukmany (plural of sukmana) coats with distinctive, cross-like cord ornaments. In the north, in the borderland with the eastern Krakowiaks, in the Miechów district, men would dress in white sukmany with geometrical embroidery of black thread. 

The winter garments worn by wealthy farmsteaders were long sheepskin coats with large, turndown collars, often decorated with plaiting of saffian leather and wool. A płótnianka (górnica) overcoat, which was commonly worn as part of the work outfit, also served as a festive garment for poor villagers.

A sukmana was most often worn over a navy kaftan (a tunic) without sleeves, with red lining, which was a typical element of men’s lavish Krakowiak costume. Apart from kaftany (plural of kaftan) without sleeves there were also kaftany with sleeves, which were worn instead sukmany. A particular kind of ornamentation would define the surroundings the wearer came from. West of Cracow, over the kaftany ornamented with braid or tassels (called chwasty) of amaranthine cord and tin, convex buttons or little, pearl buttons, worn were sukmany with amaranthine chwasty. The Cracow-district peasants would complement black-decorated sukmany with kaftany with green chwasty and flat, brass buttons. Sleeveless kaftany were typically worn under sukmany, while kaftany with sleeves served as outer garments. Kaftany would reach down below the knees, and their cut resembled military uniforms, with a distinctive back section composed of loose parts called skrzela (gills) specially designed for horse riding. In the borderland with Silesia, in Ciężkowice and Byczyna, there were kaftany which were a combination of the Silesian and Cracow fashions, in green with characteristic... Festive outfits, especially ones worn by young men and boys, also used to include kabaty (short tunics) which were worn under sukmany. The cut and ornamentation were characteristic of the surroundings the wearer came from. Particularly appealing were short kabaty from the areas of present-day Nowa Huta, which were most often made of blue, navy, as well as red and green factory-made fabrics, in their cut resembling simple, contemporary jackets, with ornamentation in the form of colourful embroidery with floral motifs and ornamentation in the form of various, little buttons.

Sometimes a kaftan was girded around with a leather belt. The most popular type of belt was a broad, brown opasek decorated with openwork against red cloth background, studded with brass buttons and embroidered. At the end of the 19th century, in the Cracow district a white, narrow belt with the so-called brzękadła (jingles), that is little, metal pegs fixed to leather straps hanging in semicircles, was becoming less and less common.

Underneath the kaftan worn was a long, white, linen shirt with a collar, which was sometimes embroidered. Under the chin the shirt was fastened with a pakfong clasp set with a coral bead, or tied with a red ribbon.

On festive occasions a western Krakowiak would wear wide, straight linen portki (trousers), often featuring vertical pinstripes (white and red, white and blue, or white and purple), and in cold weather he would wear dark (blue or navy) cloth trousers. He would tuck his trousers into calf-length boots of black leather, sometimes decorated with a kind of corrugation around the ankle.

A hat, called celender, with a somewhat tapered dome was the most common headwear. It was decorated with a broad, black velvet ribbon, and young people would adorn it with peacock feathers. It made its way into the Cracow costume from the urban fashion as an imitation of a top hat in the first half of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was replaced by ordinary, low, felt hats. Magierki (caps), which were produced in Tyniec, were also commonly worn, and in summer - straw hats. A red rogatywka-type (four-cornered) hat called krakuska, which today is above all associated with the Krakowiak costume, as early as the second half of the 19th century was worn only by wedding best men at lavish wedding parties, and sometimes children. This “red cap” - as it was referred to in the environs of Cracow - was decorated by best men with a bunch of peacock feathers (a symbol of vitality, pugnacity, youth, just like other types of feathers) and ribbons.


The attire of eastern Krakowiaks were to be found in the rural areas of the eastern part of the territory inhabited by the ethnographic group of Krakowiaks. Just like in the area of western Krakowiaks, here too there were many varieties and variants of the festive outfit. In general, one can single out a variety from the Pińczów, Miechów and Zaborów districts and the villages located in Powiśle Dąbrowskie, which is most often associated with the costume of the eastern Krakowiaks.

Women’s attire

In the second half of the 19th century, the wealthiest Krakowiak women in the Pińczów and Miechów districts would wear - as a long, outer garment - knee-length overcoats (called żupany) of navy, factory-made cloth. A żupan (singular of żupany) had a lining, a hook and eye fastening at the front, and slanting pocket openings on the sides. A characteristic element of the żupan was a back section densely pleated from the waist down. The żupan edges were trimmed with red cloth, just like the edges of the standing collar, and it was usually richly embellished with amaranthine embroidery, which in its form was a reference to kierezja embroideries. In the 19th century, both girls and married women would fling over their shoulders linen rańtuchy or łoktusze (shoulder wraps), which were later on replaced by shoulder shawls.

Just like in the case of western Krakowiak women, the distinctive element of the costume was the bodice. In this area there were bodices fastened with buttons or laced up. They were made of various fabrics, but most preferable ones were woollen, cloth or sateen fabrics in blue, green, red, as well as multicoloured tybet fabrics. Bodices were most often finished with overlapping flaps at the waist, and were sometimes decorated with spangles, appliqués, embroidery, beads and colourful tassels (chwasty), just like in the case of the characteristic, dark-green cloth bodices in the Zaborów and Szczurowa districts, which were a reference to men’s kaftany worn there. There were also dark blue, cloth bodices decorated with pearl buttons and amaranthine chwasty (tassels), typical of western Krakowiak women at the end of the 19th century. As of the 20th century women would also wear velvet bodices.

A katana (a cropped jacket) used to be worn over a bodice, and usually made of plain woollen fabrics in colours matching other elements of the outfit. At the front and cuff edges they were decorated with appliqués of black velvet as well as flat and bead embroidery.

Underneath the bodice, women living in Miechów, Jędrzejów and Pińczów would always wear white blouses, which sometimes featured black or amaranthine and later on also white embroidery. A characteristic, black-and-red or white embroidery with floral motifs decorated blouses worn by Krakowiak women in Powiśle Dąbrowskie, who additionally had embroidered ruffles around their necks.   

Skirts were usually made of several widths of fabric, which made them more ample, thereby imparting a properly curvy shape to the figure. At the top a skirt was densely pleated and set in the trimming, and at the bottom it was lined with a broad strip of fabric to reinforce the bottom section and to give the whole skirt a proper shape. 

Zapaski were sometimes made of linen, plain woollen fabrics and printed percales, as well as patterned tybet fabrics with floral motifs. Zapaski made of linen sometimes had borders of openwork at the bottom. In Powiśle Dąbrowskie, it was customary to wear zapaski of red, and later on black woollen fabric decorated with a broad strip of whitework, openwork or raised embroidery in red and black or blue and red.

A white, properly folded mob-cap headscarf (called chusta czepcowa), which was richly embellished with embroidery in one corner, used to serve married women as festive headwear. In Powiśle Dąbrowskie, mob-cap headscarves used to be decorated with red embroidery too. Mob-caps made of (white and red) patterned percale kerchiefs were worn too, as well as colourful woollen kerchiefs tied at the back of the head, most often the so-called tybetki.

The outfit was complemented by leather calf-length boots or laced up boots.

The type of jewellery worn here was much more modest than the one used in the environs of Cracow. Wealthy women would wear strings of genuine coral beads, while poor ones - artificial coral or glass beads.

Men’s attire

Men’s outfit included a characteristic sukmana-type overcoat called kierezja with a triangular collar trailing down the back. They were most often made of brown, homespun cloth, but they were also sometimes navy blue, grey or black. The distinctive element was above all a decorated collar. It was embroidered in wool or silk with floral or geometrical motifs, sometimes additionally adorned with spangles or appliqués of red cloth. Sometimes the overcoats were decorated with embroidered borders at the front and around the pockets. Particularly ornamental kierezje (plural of kierezja) were worn in the environs of Kazimierza Wielka and Pińczów. In the eastern part, in Powiśle Dąbrowskie, wealthy villagers would wear opierzanki, that is brown sukmany with characteristic standing collars edged with bunches of silk threads formed into a kind of down. An opierzanka was additionally decorated with colourful embroidery along the fastening and around the pocket openings. In the borderland with the western Krakowiaks, in the Jędrzejów, Miechów and Proszowice districts, there were mainly white sukmany with standing collars and red facings, in their cut resembling chrzanówki popularly worn by the neighbours. They were decorated with trimmings of black cord arranged in the form of a loop, or with black, geometrical embroidery. Coats called płótnianki (górnice, kikle) were popular; they resembled sukmany, but were made of linen. Festive płótnianki were sometimes decorated with embroidery or cloth appliqués on the standing collar and along the edges. Płótnianki were often worn under the sukmana, because kaftany were not as popular as in the region of western Krakowiaks.

In the environs of Miechów, Jędrzejów, navy blue kaftany with metal buttons and amaranthine chwasty (tassels) were worn. In the environs of Zaborów, light or navy blue kaftany were popular; they were richly embellished with coloured embroidery featuring floral motifs and silk tassels (chwasty) in three colours (yellow, green and red). Embroideries were characterised by the same colour schemes as chwasty and were placed in the bottom corners of the front section of the kaftan. Sometimes, apart from floral motifs, embroidered was the owner’s full name and the production date of the kaftan, which was often made on the occasion of a wedding. As for winter outer garments, particular attention should be paid to white “wiślickie” sheepskin coats, which were worn in the 19th century.

Just like western Krakowiaks, eastern Krakowiaks would wear (red, blue, purple or black) pinstriped, linen, loose-fitting, simple-cut trousers; sometimes they were made of cloth (usually navy blue). The trousers were tucked into calf-length boots.

The so-called smycka was a characteristic belt in the Zaborów district and in Powiśle Dąbrowskie. A long and narrow belt, studded with flat, metal buttons and worn over a kierezja, was wrapped two or three times around the waist, thus creating the effect of loops hanging loosely over the hips. Leather belts with brzękadła (jingles) were worn as well, just like in the western Krakowiaks’ region, or white belts decorated with plaiting of saffian leather.

As for headwear, men would typically wear a crimson rogatywka hat, which was a little lower than the one typically worn in the environs of Cracow; its corners would protrude beyond the rim, and for wedding parties it was decorated by best men with a bunch of feathers. A woollen magierka cap, which was produced in Tyniec near Cracow, was a popular type of headwear as well.

Ewa Rossal


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