Unia Europejska
Żywiec Highlanders

Żywiec Highlanders

The Attire of the Żywiec Highlanders

The appearance of the Żywiec Highlanders’ costume is closely related to the herding culture common to all of the Carpathians. A manifestation of its influence on the clothes worn by the inhabitants of the Żywiec Valley is the use of natural resources to manufacture them: leather, linen, sheep wool; the adjustment of forms to work conditions, as well as those connected with the natural environment and climate. As regards men’s attire, there are elements present in all the Carpathian highland groups. Women's clothes are much more varied, and only some of their parts, especially the ones patterned on the urban style, are shared by other ethnographic groups.

Fabrics and materials used to make clothing

It was common for highlanders to be skilled at making fabrics. Many households had weaving devices, which were most often used by women. Above all, linens of varying thickness were woven - the main material used to make particular parts of costume. In the region there were also several linen-producing centres where one could engage weavers’ services: Gilowice, Łękawica, Rychwałd, Koszarawa, Juszczyna, Radziechowy and Kamesznica. In the 1840s the weaving industry witnessed an introduction of cotton. Cloth was a commonly used material (especially in making men’s clothes). Just like linens, which were originally manufactured at home, cloth was regarded as having material value as early as the 17th century. It was made in natural colours: white and dark brown.

From the beginning of the 19th century, widely available were such machine-made textiles as multicoloured cloth, printed cretonne, velvet, damask, muchajer (a kind of satin) and parter - used especially for making women's clothing. The technique of fabric imprinting became widespread, which resulted in floral skirts winning the greatest popularity with highland women.

Men’s attire

Men’s everyday dress was composed of coarse linen - a long shirt with long, wide sleeves. It had a front slit, was set in the standing collar around the neck, and tied with a shred of fabric or fastened with a button. Around the waist the shirt was tied with a thong or a cord. In summer, on a daily basis, highlanders would wear simple trousers of thick linen; in winter they were used as long johns.

For festive occasions a Żywiec Highlander would put on a white, waist-length shirt made of thin linen, with wide, elbow-length sleeves and an archaic cut of an oblong poncho. The sleeves were impregnated with sheep suet to protect them against rain and vermin. In the second half of the 19th century “Wallachian” shirts became widespread. The difference did not lie in the cut, but in the length - they reached down to the knees doubling as long johns. The characteristic thing about them was the simplicity of the form, simple sleeves, the front slit and the gathered neck section set in the standing collar. In time, only the back of the shirt was gathered (the width of the neckline), but at the front, on both sides of the shirt there were three parallel tucks reaching up to the fastening, enclosed at the bottom with a crosswise binding. Under the chin, the standing collar had holes for threading a red ribbon to tie the shirt.

Trousers, the bottom part of men’s outfit, were made of white linen and called “Wallachian” or “Hungarian,” which was a reference to the uniform trousers worn in the Hungarian army. The shape of the trousers worn by all Carpathian highlanders is similar - they are close-fitting and reach only up to the hips. They had tapering legs, which on the outside above the ankle were unsewn to make putting them on easier. The Żywiec highlanders would wear trousers with one fly, and in the areas closer to the Old Witches’ Mountain - also with two flies, the second one being a sham fly. The sides were reinforced with black or black and red cloth resembling side stripes running along the outside seam. Around the waist they had a several-centimetre fold, the so-called zogib, through which threaded was sometimes a narrow belt called rzemień (a ‘thong’). It was long enough to wrap around the hips twice, hanging loosely over the buttocks in a semicircular fashion. The Wallachian trousers were austerely decorated - trimmed with red material around the fly and along the leg slits, with additions of wool twisted into yellow, blue, navy, black and green strings. The bottom parts of the legs were embroidered with twigs; often a red or multicoloured kućka attached. Such designs were preserved till the end of the 19th century, that is till the time when the traditional highland costume began to fall into disuse. For years they withstood change. After the First World War cloth trousers were only worn by older highlanders, senior shepherds, shepherds, and in summer - also forestry workers and carters.

The basic type of highland footwear were kierpce made of cowhide or pigskin. The Żywiec kierpce were made of one piece of skin, properly incised and sewn. They did not have any extra soles or fastening buckles. Sometimes, a metal stamp was used to impress simple patterns of stars, leaves or geometrical shapes. They were laced up with thongs or the so-called nowłoki - cords of twisted wool. Young men used to wear black calf-length boots, traditionally worn in the Austrian army.

White cloth was used to make men’s socks - the so-called kopyta. They were calf-length, decorated with dainty embroidery, wrapped over the trousers and tied with nowłoki. Men also used to wear the so-called kopytka - socks made of white wool.

A waistcoat called bruclik was a part of the traditional Żywiec highland costume. It was borrowed from the urban fashion around the first half of the 19th century, which can be evidenced by the fact that it was the only element of machine-made cloth, and had a more complicated and close-fitting cut.  Brucliki (plural of bruclik) were made in red, sapphire blue, navy and black. They were waist-length, had two tabs at the back and pocket flaps at the front. Along the front edges bruclik waistcoats were decorated with (one, occasionally two) rows of buttons and kućki. They were purely ornamental, because brucliki were usually worn unfastened. A foreign element in the highland costume were also the so-called kaftany (tunics) with long sleeves; their cut and ornamentation resembled those of the bruclik; they were lined along the edges with red cloth that continued onto the outside, thus constituting another decorative element. They were worn on the shirt only or together with a bruclik.

A gunia was considered to be the most festive part of a Żywiec highlander’s outfit. It was a kind of overcoat worn in freezing weather, while travelling, but also on special occasions. Gunie (plural of gunia) were made of black, snuff-coloured or dark brown cloth, had an archaic cut of a crosswise poncho. The amount of fabric necessary to make a gunia was measured by the distance between the opposing fingertips of the outstretched arms of a person for whom the gunia was intended. The length of a gunia was dependent on the length of a piece of cloth. More often than not, it reached down to the knees or was a touch longer. Because of its simple cut, it used to be worn flung over the shoulders, sometimes tied under the chin, and in warm weather it was flung on one shoulder only. Gunie were edged along the front parts and the nape with several or a dozen or so coloured cords of twisted wool. Each cord in the bottom section of the coat was coiled into a volute. Next to the collar, another semicircular border of cords was sewn on; sometimes little semi-suns were added its ends. The appearance of a gunia was a telltale sign of which village the wearer came from, but it also testified to his wealth, as the price of a gunia was dependent on the number of cords that the wearer wished to have sewn on.

A burka was a later form of a men’s outer garment. The name was derived from the fabric it was made of. Burnus - a thin, dark brown, woollen cloth less stiff than sheep cloth. It was used to make jackets with collars, fastened with buttons at the front. They had a more complicated cut; sometimes they had slash or patch pockets at the front. The collar was trimmed with black cloth. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries burki completely supplanted gunie in the Żywiec district, becoming men’s most popular outer garment.

The most basic type of headwear used by Żywiec Highlanders was a hat worn to complement a festive outfit; it was black, made of felt, had a broad brim and a small dome; it was wrapped around with a red cord. Shepherds used to impregnate their hats with a blend of resin, suet and tar, which in combination with the smoke hanging in a shepherd chalet made them waterproof. In winter, highlanders would also wear baranice made of black sheepskin or oval caps made of coloured cloth with fur trimmings which were turned down to cover the back of the neck and the ears.

Women’s attire

Women used white, linen blouses as everyday wear. At the front they had slits tied with a cord or fastened with buttons. The sleeves on the blouse were wrist- or elbow-length.

Skirts worn on a daily basis were made of white linen or machine-made fabrics imprinted with white patterns against a navy background. They had to be billowy and so they were made of six or seven single, or three double widths of fabric. Aprons called zapaski were used on a daily basis to protect the front part of the outfit from dirt. Rural women would normally not part with them - they could be used to handle a hot saucepan, wipe a child’s smeared face clean or bring na podołku (a zapaska-ful of) something from the garden. Originally, zapaski were made of linen, but in time they began to be imprinted with white patterns against a navy background, or made of striped or pinstriped cretonne.

A kaftanik, which was a type of tunic, was popularly called jakla, jaklicka or jupecka. An everyday version of jakla was made of the so-called siwizna - a machine-made fabric imprinted with white patterns against a navy background. Unlike the festive version, it was not lavishly embellished with haberdashery binding, little buttons or lace appliqués. It reached a little below the waist, had puffed sleeves, was fastened with buttons at the front.

For everyday chores women would cover their heads with kerchiefs - white, linen ones made of fabrics imprinted with white patterns against a navy background, just like other parts of the outfit. They would be flung over the head and tied under the chin. They could also be tied at the back of the neck whenever the dangling tips might disturb the work at hand - this method of tying the kerchief was, however, viewed as improper for church visits. In winter, the ends of the kerchief were occasionally tied around the neck - such a tying method was called opasterzenie.

A festive outfit with a bodice made of tybet, which was the oldest type of bodice worn by Żywiec highland women. It had narrow shoulder straps and a low, semicircular neckline; it was fastened with buttons; at the bottom it was trimmed with flounce or little flaps. The fabric pattern itself and sometimes the edge borders, which were also used to trim velvet bodices, served as decoration. Velvet bodices used to be decorated with geometrical, floral motifs - arealist in their form - a chain stitch which only made it possible to use a stroke. Floral motifs, which are most popular today, became widespread later on. Most often, bodices were made of black, green and claret-coloured velvet, and selected to contrast skirts.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries highland women would wear plain skirts in the following colours: navy blue, claret or dark green; black ones were becoming more and more popular too. At that time, skirts made of machine-made fabric, the so-called siwizna, were worn as well. Some time earlier, white linen skirts or patterned ones made in the batik technique (white patterns against a navy background) were popular as well. Velvet bodices were complemented with tybet, patterned skirts made of woollen fabrics with colourful, flowery patterns.

Underneath bodices highland women would put on festive, linen blouses. The oldest forms had simple sleeves, and had trimmings under the chin. Later on, under the influence of the urban fashion, the trimmings turned into embroidered ruffs. It was customary to wear, under the skirt, a half-slip called podpośnik or spodnia spódnica (a bottom-layer skirt). According to the folk aesthetics prevailing until the mid-19th century, a woman was supposed to be well-built to be able fulfil the duties of a housewife and a mother; that is why both single and married women found some ways to correct their figures; as for the latter ones, a well-rounded figure was a sign of health, wealth and prosperity. This effect was achieved by putting on several deeply starched and ironed half-slips. Thanks to this the skirt fell beautifully and the rustling slips enhanced the wearer’s chic. Podpośniki (plural of podpośnik) were made of white linen, the bottom edge being decorated with openwork serration or crocheted lace.

An apron called zapaska was a decorative element of the festive outfit. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries aprons were made of white cotton, batiste or muslin, and were decorated with lace haberdashery items. The simplest ornamentation consisted in trimming the zapaska sides and bottom; occasionally, an additional binding was sewn in above the bottom edge. The apron also decorated with handmade embroidery; it was encircled by serration with floral and geometrical motifs connecting full embroidery and openwork. There were also aprons with machine-made embroideries attached at the bottom to a piece of fabric; at the seam they were decorated with horizontal tucks.

Alternatively, instead of the bodice and the blouse, a highland woman would on festive occasions wear a kaftanik (a tunic) with long sleeves, called jakla. Depending on the season of the year it was intended for, jakle (plural of jakla) were made of patterned cretonne, batiste, percale, silk or velvet or plain woollen fabrics. Young women would choose brighter colours, while older women - darker ones, depending whether they were supposed to contrast the skirt colour or have a similar shade. They had a close-fitting cut made of sewn-together gores which from the narrow waistline flared down thereby forming a kind of basque skirt.  Jakle had puffed sleeves that tapered to the wrists. Around the neck they were finished with a standing collar, the front being fastened with buttons and decorated with haberdashery items: ribbons, bindings, lace trimmings. Both the cut and the ornamentation were distinct references to the fashion favoured by urban women back then.

Women’s kierpce were similar to ones worn by men, but they were tied around the legs in a more spectacular way with the aid of brown, woollen cords called nadstawki. Kierpce were worn over hand-knitted, woollen socks called kopytka, which women would decorate at the top with coloured stripes.

Married women would cover their heads with mob caps, which was supposed to symbolise the marital status. They were horseshoe-shaped caps tied at the back with cords and around a plait coiled at the back of the head into a bun (cuba). Mobcaps were covered with kerchiefs. The mobcap end protruding at the front was decorated in a variety of manners, most often with white openwork or crocheted lace.

The wealthiest highland women used to wear genuine coral beads, of which they usually had several strings, which later on they would pass on to their daughters or granddaughters. The so-called granatki were also popular; these were necklaces of garnet, a mineral commonly found in Bohemia; they were dark red or almost black. Poor women would wear imitation coral beads, most often in white, and occasionally amber beads as well. A little cross or a religious medallion was often threaded on the lowest string of coral beads Coral beads were not merely decorative, but they also served as a hallmark of wealth. It was more difficult for single women who did not have coral beads to find an eligible man. Red coral beads also performed a function of an amulet protecting against ill luck.

Jadwiga Jurasz


Strój górali żywieckich [The Costume of the Żywiec Highlanders], Elżbieta Filip, Barbara Rosiek, Publishing House: The Foundation of the Golec Brothers.