Unia Europejska
Zagórze Highlanders

Zagórze Highlanders

Festive and Everyday Attire of the Zagórze Highlanders

In the 19th century a typical thing about the countryside was its self-sufficiency with regard to manufacturing fabrics used to make clothing. The basis of the ancient festive and everyday outfit was originally homemade linen. As for women's outfit, underwear and bottom parts of the attire were made of thicker, coarse fabric of worse quality. Skirts, blouses, aprons and rańtuchy (homespun linen wraps) were made of high-quality linen. Linen was an important kind of material used for making men's everyday and festive clothing. Apart from shirts, it was used to make work trousers called płócienki.And so in every household large amounts of flax were grown and processed. One of the largest, local linen-weaving centres was Kasinka Mała. A lot of knopy (weavers) provided their services in the nearby villages of Rabka and Skomielna Biała as well. And it was here that the inhabitants of the Zagórze villages would bring linen and wool threads, paying between 8 and 10 groschen for one ell of thick linen, and between 20 and 25 groschen for one ell of thin linen. To enhance its aesthetic quality, linen was imprinted with geometrical and symmetrical patterns, as well as dyed, thanks to which clothing made of it would last longer looking clean. In his publication Polskie druki ludowe na płótnie [Polish Folk Linen Prints] Roman Reinfuss (1910-1998) confirmed that dyeworks operated both in Rabka, Niedźwiedź and Dobra.  According to local accounts, the one in Niedźwiedź operated until 1865.

Outer garments were made of homespun cloth woven on looms and fulled at local fulling mills. Black cloth was used to make hazuki (overcoats), while white cloth was used to make men's portki (trousers) called guniorki in this area.

The traditional festive and everyday attire worn by the Zagórze highlanders bears traces of the Wallachian influence. The socio-economic issues also had some indirect effect on the development of the shape of the attire. Some fashion innovations and urban inventions arrived at the local villages quite late because of seasonal migration to Hungary in the 18th century and emigration waves to France and the US at the end of 19th century in search of additional sources of income. In the second half of the 19th century itinerant salesmen brought machine-made fabrics from Bohemia and Vienna to this area. A cotton fabric called karton (from French ‘carton’) became a popular kind of material, which was used to make skirts and kerchiefs. Shops in Mszana Dolna and Niedźwiedź, as well as in Nowy Targ and Myślenice would deal in fine fabrics such as tybet, cashmere and velvet.

The influence of the Podhale fashion was so strong here that already in the 1980s, in the Zagórze villages (Raba Niżna, Olszówka) only brown, Podhale-style jerkins were made and thought to be the only traditional ones in the area.


Men’s festive and casual clothes

The bottom layer of clothing used to be called przewdzianie in this area.This type of underwear used to include płócienki (trousers), also known as gacie, made of thick homespun linen, with one przypór (a slit) on the right-hand side, as well as a shirt. Shirts, which had an oblong poncho cut, were quite long, sometimes long enough to reach the knees.

Festive portki (trousers) of the Podhale type were usually custom-made of white, woollen, homespun cloth, which was fulled at fulling workshops in the nearby village of Kasinka Mała. Sewing was the trade plied rural tailors, who were also responsible for the ultimate ornamentation of portki. Both parzenice (heart-shaped patterns) - which used to be called cyfra or ubiór sprzypora - and the right cut of the trousers sometimes used to constitute the main hallmark of distinctness, as well as pointed to geographical origin. The Zagórze Highlanders used to wear trousers with wide legs slit at the bottom on the outside. As Jan Bujak writes, a characteristic feature of the Zagórze-style portki was a side seam on the leg, which did not extend straight from the waist, but curved across the back. The seam was additionally decorated with embroidery or coloured cord (stament). Embroideries themselves were subject to modification, so that their final form was conditional upon many factors. The oldest pattern of parzenice in this area were loopy ones in the form of the so-called węzeł rycerski (a knight's knot); they were usually made of red and blue cord. A somewhat more recent type most characteristic of this area was the heart-shaped parzenica. In the Kasinka Mała and Mszana Dolna districts, heart-shaped parzenice were additionally decorated with a kind of hooked embroideries called kogutki (just like górnice in the Kliszczak region).

In time, the modest, heart-shaped ornament was gradually developed, and in the 1920s began resembling the Podhale-style parzenice, which were viewed as the most beautiful ones and, in the opinion of the locals, were a manifestation of a more "worldly” fashion. It was only in Poręba Wielka that the original cut of the portki was preserved, as well as the ornamentation style; as a result, the former type of trousers came to known as porębski (of Poręba) trousers. Pattern books of parzenice, which still before the Second World War were ordered from the local embroiderers, are a wonderful research and documentary material. To this day they have been included in the collection of the Rabka museum. They are a perfect illustration of the skills possessed by the then craftsmen. Here one can also find watercolours presenting patterns of embroideries painted (on the basis of real objects or Seweryn Udziela’s portfolios) by the skilful hand of Stanisław Dunin-Borkowski, one of the founders of the Władysław Orkan Museum in Rabka-Zdrój.

The most characteristic element of the Zagórze men's dress is the so-called hazuka, a kind of outer garment. Hazuki were made of black cloth exposed to the sun to turn russet, and so a shabby hazuka sometimes looked brown. Their distinct cuts and ornamentation made particular villages stand out. The characteristic thing about the Mszana cut was that the hazuka did not fit closely. The Poręba cut enhanced the figure by the application of wykrój pasowy, while the Kasinka-style hazuki would reach almost down to the ankles and were very ample. The characteristic front part of the hazuka, along the upper part of which ran a slit, made it possible to slide frozen hands inside. The only ornamentation was the trimming made of three woollen cords extending next to one another, along the hazuka edges, around the neck and across the chest, as well as on the sleeve edges, and around the pocket openings reaching the armpit seams.

Sheepskin jackets served as rich peasants’ winter outer garments. Each one was made of five, tanned sheepskins. Sheepskin jackets used to be quite long, enough to extend below the knees, had long sleeves, were decorated with stament embroideries or appliqués of red or green leather. A more lightweight version of the sheepskin was serdak (a jerkin) with long sleeves, made of four white sheepskins. Its length was only mid-thigh. Its edges were trimmed with the so-called opryma, a black one on a man’s serdak, and a white one on a woman’s serdak.

One of the best preserved parts of the Zagórze outfit was a white, sleeveless serdaczek (a little jerkin). It was commonly worn until the 1950s. The main ornamental motif on Zagórze little jerkins were colourful appliqués of various grades of leather; red, green and grey cord (stament), as well as edgings called opryma.

A crucial addition to men’s festive attire was a belt studded with caps. The belt was used to hold money, flint and steel, tinder and a tobacco pouch. Wide belts would be worn as late as the second half of the 19th century; unfortunately, not many of those have been preserved till our times, because once they begin falling into disuse they would be commonly converted into kierpce (flat leather shoes). Ancient ornaments, which already at the beginning of the 20th century were left on the shelf, also included brass clasps used to fasten the neckline of men’s shirts.

According to ancient custom young men would wear short-cropped hair, while older farmsteaders were allowed to have shoulder-length hair. For festive occasions hair was slicked back and covered with a thick layer of butter or pork fat, which made it look smooth and shiny. Zagórze men were typically clean-shaven, and “only few had moustaches, which were a sign of refinement.”

Men’s headwear was a felt, broad-brimmed hat called orawiok. The hat dome was originally ornamented with a red cord (stament), and later also with beads and ultimately kostki (cowrie shells). Hats were mass-produced at family-owned craftsman workshops in Nowy Targ, while in the villages peasants themselves would occasionally get involved with this. In winter baranice (caps of black or white sheepskin) were worn, as well as carter’s woollen gloves used for driving and other work.

A groom’s outfit did not differ from ordinary festive clothes, the only difference being a hat decorated with a white ribbon and a white bunch of artificial flowers called pusa.In Jurków, a garland of artificial flowers was worn on top of the hat. Best men’s hats were decorated with a red ribbon, a red pusa or an ornament of peacock feathers. Serdaczki (plural of serdaczek) worn by best men had attached kerchiefs, which could be flung back over the shoulder.

Kierpce were everyday footwear because of the wearing comfort and the fact that they could be made single-handedly. In this area, men would lace up kierpce under the portki legs, so that the quite wide trouser legs would come very low and over the shoes, covering them almost completely. In summer, it was customary to walk barefoot around the farmyard. In winter, kierpce were stuffed with straw, and feet were covered with warm footwraps. For festive occasions leather boots were sometimes worn. Boots with soft uppers would be commissioned from local shoemakers, but only rich peasants could afford officer boots decorated with karby (corrugation). Since footwear production was very costly, boots were worn very seldom, usually on Sundays and holidays, which markedly increased their lifespan. Thus well looked after, boots could last as long as 20 years.


Women’s festive and casual clothes

Originally, Zagórze women’s festive clothes were only made of homespun linen. By accounts, as late as the end of the 19th century, in Kasina Wielka “it was uncommon to see imprinted fabric on a woman.” Only rich peasant women could afford to wear skirts made of tercynalowykałajmakowykamlotowy and damask fabrics, as well as tybet ones, while poor peasant women would have to settle for linen garments.

For protection against cold and enhancement of the figure, several skirts were worn, one on top of another; they were wrapped tightly around the waist so that a woman would look like kopa (a stack), which was one of the canons of the then prevailing fashion.

On top worn was the most paradna (most formal) skirt. It used to be called fartuch, and it was worn only on the greatest holidays. Fartuchy (plural of fartuch) of thin linen, bengal or tulle were richly decorated and were decorated with serration at the bottom. When dyed, pattern-imprinted or machine-made skirts became common, fartuch began to function as a bottom layer. Coloured skirts appeared relatively late in this area, along with the development of dying technology in the 17th century. Farbanica skirts were made of homespun linen and originally in toto dyed black, navy or blue. Another way to decorate them was to imprint them with patterns. Imprinting and dyeing fabrics and ready-made clothes were the occupations pursued by craftsmen working at dyeing workshops or itinerant craftsmen. They usually offered typical print patterns made with the aid of wooden printing blocks (e.g. flowers, borders, stars) and various shades of dye. For instance, a service like this was provided by the popularly known dyeing workshop in Rabka. It was established around 1860 and owned by Jakub Bloch, a poor Jew. Later on, the dyeworks was taken over by Horowitz and Herbst, who extended it and ran it until 1909, when a fire tragically consumed the whole building. Homespun linen, drill, karton and other factory-made fabrics, brought over even from Bielsko and Andrychów, were mechanically dyed here. Peasants would also submit cloth for dyeing to make the hue uniform.  A fabric-printing block with a symmetrical, brass border, which is an exhibit included in the local museum’s collection, is a relic of the past glory of the Rabka dyeworks.

An apron (called zapaska) worn over the skirt used to be an indispensable element of women’s ancient outfit. Everyday aprons were made of coarse linen or cheaper machine-made fabrics. The festive version was additionally decorated with lace, embroidery or haberdashery binding. At the end of the 19th century tulle, muslin and batiste aprons became popular.

Linen shirts were quite short and sometimes did not have trimming. Their only ornamentation was a collar in the form of a ruff embroidered with white thread and floral motifs.

The main and most decorative element of women's festive outfit was a bodice. Originally, in the 19th century, satin and velvet bodices with floral prints, decorated with trimming of modest flounce 3-4 centimetres wide, were popular. At the end of the century, in use were also light-coloured, damask bodices imprinted with floral motifs, decorated with dainty flaps. Modest black velvet bodices became very popular back then, decorated only with metal thread (szych) imitating gold thread. Bodice ornamentation also served to highlight the distinctness of particular villages, however not to the degree that the ornamentation of the slits (przypory) on men’s trousers (portki) did. Poręba women had a liking for the thistle motif ornamentation, while in Mszana Dolna bodices decorated with the so-called latoróżki (floral motifs) were more common. This part of the outfit was additionally lined with thin homespun fabric and fastened with a hook and eye.

The so-called łoktusa, which has long been forgotten now, used to be a part of the women’s outfit. It was a kind of linen wrap (2 metres long) made of white good-quality homespun edged with hemstitch. The way to wear łoktusa was quite simple: it was folded lengthwise and flung over the back, securing the edges at the front by hand. In this area, another type of łoktusa called obrus was common; it was made by unusually talented weavers from Kasinka Mała and Łopuszna. It was a patterned fabric meticulously woven on mutli-harness looms. An earlier type of outer garment was rańtuch (a type of shawl with no ornamentation). As S. Flizak writes, rańtuchy (plural of rańtuch) were made of thin linen the length of which was decided in a way that made it possible after the wearer’s death to use the rańtuch to cover the coffin and the altar stone. It was only at the end of the 19th century that woollen and cotton kerchiefs became fashionable. The so-called kocówki, that is large, woollen, checked kerchiefs, were already worn as an outer garment back then. In winter, wealthy housewives used to wear warm barankowe kerchiefs.

According to popular custom, young girls would have their heads bare, while married women were obliged to wear headscarves. On festive occasions, wealthy, married women would wear richly embroidered mob-cap headscarves, using for this type of headwear the so-called homełko. It was a kind of wooden or wire hoop which was attached to the head, clipped together with hair and wrapped around with a kerchief. In this way homełko elevated the head silhouette a bit, which - according to the then canons of beauty - enhanced the feminine charm. On festive occasions, older women would wear lightweight headscarves called kazimierki which were tied up under the chin.

Necklaces of genuine precious coral (Corallium rubrum) beads were decorative elements of the outfit which served to highlight a woman's wealth.The precious coral beads were usually threaded on violin strings for fear of snapping the necklace and losing them. A religious medallion, a pendant or precious coins were often threaded next to coral beads.

A women's wedding attire was composed of four skirts (each one with four gores), one on top of another. On the very top worn was a bengal apron with pressed creases. Shirts with embroidered collars and cuffs were made specially for this occasion. Furthermore, a bride would customarily put on her best bodice. Her hair was plaited and adorned with a garland of white, paper flowers.

Piotr Kaleciak stresses that the traditional clothing worn by the inhabitants of these villages began disappearing during the Second World War. One of the indirect reasons for this was the high price of the particular elements of the traditional outfit; the saying that the means needed to clothe one highlander would be enough to clothe one lord aptly captures the conditions prevalent in the countryside in those days. In the 1960s some inhabitants of the village of Niedźwiedź would stress that it was impossible to make a new pair of portki, because a parzenica embroidery alone is too costly. Having a new outfit made according to the ancient art of sewing was seen as luxury. The price of portki was so high that with the same amount of money it was possible to buy a whole set of clothes.And so the economic reasons prevailed, as well as opening up to the urban fashion, which was cheaper, more comfortable and more easily available. 

A large collection of festive outfits and casual clothes worn by the Zagórze Highlanders (182 elements) can be seen at the Władysław Orkan Museum in Rabka-Zdrój. It constitutes an interesting comparative material, because with its geographical scope it encompasses the whole of the area inhabited by this ethnographic group, and the attire elements have been collected as early as the 1940s.


Małgorzata Wójtowicz-Wierzbicka



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