AMBA: Folk Dress and Fashion

Episode four of the podcast is live! This time I'm discussing the history of regional dress in Europe, "national costume" schemes, and where most modern folk dress traditions come from.

I will be posting an illustrated, written version of the episode here - but not very very soon, because I'll be going off this weekend to see Anastasia on Broadway and the Visitors to Versailles exhibition at the Met!

The next episode will be on court dress, addressing the English and French courts as well as a number of others. I don't know which yet - it always depends on what sources I can find - but I really want to address other regions, because fashion history does tend to be so focused on the two above. Spain and Sweden at the very least!


  1. This is exactly the topic I'm very, very interested in. :-) I was particularly interested in all the British styles you spoke of because that's exactly the sort of thing that is indeed overlooked these days.

    But what I also find interesting is that the specific flavour of folk dress I'm best familiar with has been sort of left out of the podcast - the sort of folk dress I know from the Czech Republic, especially Moravia, and the Baltic countries (and presumably Slovakia and maybe Poland or Hungary, too), is, as far as I can tell, a mixture of the trends you spoke of. Regional "peasant" styles, described & preserved by learned elites for future generations, but - and that's the twist - these countries / nations had at that time been parts of bigger nations, with different languages & majority national identities for centuries. As a result, many of those same learned elites often originally hailed from the "peasant" classes, or close enough (like small towns where it wasn't uncommon for the inhabitants to do their share of farming). So there was, I think, less of the disconnect, and I think this is what has led to folk costumes in these countries to this day being regional, without a single one being accepted as representing the whole country/nationality. Even though one such, often a richer area one, does often emerge for practical representative purposes, like the Kyjov one in the Czech Republic or Curonian styles in Latvia - but those who live in the country usually know to ask for regional variants where they live. So there's a high degree of local patriotism involved, even over the national identity these days. The shift was from everyday, working clothes to local styles only worn for special occasions and thus sometimes gaining in elaborateness (like the number of starched petticoats worn under skirts, heh). In some areas, there was really never a breach in the wearing - there are areas in Moravia where only now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the last generation of people (women) wearing the old style everyday clothes (I think that's more or less a late 19th century style) every day is dying out.
    And thus there are - here in Czechia at least - ongoing attempts at recreating what people wore in the past regionally even in areas where those styles disappeared earlier (usually with the spread of industry), because that's what a folk costume is.

    1. I forgot to add that one large factor in the preservation throughout the 20th century and onward have been folk song & dance ensembles. But also, in Moravia, ongoing annual local festivals tied to a time of year (like wine harvest).

      I recently read an interview with a leader of one such ensemble explaining the difference he saw between Bohemian folk costumes and Moravian folk costumes, and it could be summed up as Bohemian folk costumes being perceived as costume by their wearers and Moravian ones being perceived as special occasion clothes. Which would kind of also explain why many Moravian folk costumes kept evolving in the 20th century, sort of with their own fashions... to go back to your main topic. :-)

    2. Yes, I realized after I'd outlined the episode that I was really neglecting central/eastern Europe! My sources were largely on the constructed/patriotic nature of northern/western European folk dress. Thank you so much for adding this.

    3. You're welcome. :-)

      I have, from yesterday, a fresh wrinkle to my local patriotism observation. There was a public debate at the town hall of the small South Moravian town I currently live in about an attempt at recreating the local folk costume, which is in the overall Brno style. In this case, it disappeared after WW2 because this was a majority German town and the original inhabitants were forced to leave...
      a) "Is there a non-German kroj, you know, ours, for M. people?"
      "THAT is the kroj of M. people, it's the same style all around Brno, regardless of ethnic makeup."
      b) Suggestion to, for the time being, in time for the annual festival in September borrow folk costumes of the neighbouring village, P. (currently already part of Brno, unlike M., even though by now they're separated by only about 100 m of fields), which has the most similar ones in details as well and already has four pairs of them ready.
      Suggestion shot down immediately. "I see no reason why we should be wearing a P. kroj."


Post a Comment