Traditional folk clothing or costume is a precious legacy of our ancestors that we should respect and protect for generations to come. Those, who have a costume hanging in the closet as a memory of their grandmother or grandfather, are lucky and own a piece of Slovak history and a huge treasure that they can be proud of. Zuza Tajek Piešová, an amateur folklorist, renovator of folk costumes and a lecturer, told us about folk costumes (and not only about the Tatra ones), their origin and some interesting facts.
How the folk costume was created
If you are wondering, where the folk costume came from in Slovakia, it is not easy to answer. The folk costume evolved gradually from clothes that people wore until the mid-19th century. They were made mainly from what was at hand: linen, hemp or cotton cloths, baize or sheepskin. “To a form as we know today, it evolved gradually, when it was no longer prohibited by the nobility, that ordinary people couldn’t decorate their clothes.”
Sewing also depended on whether it was simpler or a more complex costume. Sewing a traditional costume (work costume) took considerably less time than sewing a festive folk costume. “As for the festive season, of course, it depended on what costumes were worn in what places. In rich regions, making such folk costume was very labor-intensive and took several weeks or months.”
The folk costumes of the Low and High Tatras also have their specifics. Color, decoration and beautiful embroidery are common denominators, which make Tatra folk costumes so special. The charm of folk costumes of the High Tatras is closely related to the original composition of the population. Its seal was imprinted by the Germans (Mengusovce, Štôla), Gorals (Ždiar, Lendak) and Ruthenians (Osturňa). High Tatras folk costumes, therefore, attract attention by their visual aspects. Worth seeing are, for example, Goral male fur “serdoky” and woolen trousers “portky”.
Even the Low Tatras are not lagging behind the High Tatras´ variety of decoration and rich history. “Unlike the folk costumes in the villages of the High Tatras, the Low Tatra costumes were simpler, but with beautiful blueprint patterns on skirts or aprons. In other parts of the villages of the Low Tatras, they were embroidered and beautifully decorated – for example on corsets – with various decorations (gold ‘temple’ ribbons).” This beautiful embroidery was often received from the nobility. Skillful women, who served nobles and lairds, picked up the patterns that noblewomen embroidered while working and then decorated their own clothes.
Different region, different folk costume…
… and not just that. To this day, many rarities are associated with the tradition of folk costumes. The costumes did not differ only in individual regions, but even within one village. “There are several villages in Slovakia where two types of folk costumes are worn – according to the religion. If there were Catholics and Protestants in one village, they differed in the type of costume and decoration. It was often said that the evangelical costumes were simpler (in Lower Liptov), but for example, in Čataj (Senec district) Catholics wore the so-called Trnava type of folk costumes and evangelicals paradoxically also wore a very decorated, richly embroidered, but specific costume only for this village.”
You may not have known that the rich decoration of folk costumes does not only have an aesthetic function. Beautiful embroidery and magnificent ornaments were, in fact, a kind of “secret language” of our ancestors. “First of all, the costume was like an ID card. When people from different municipalities and regions met for example at fairs, everyone knew who everybody was from, whether they were single, married, had children or widowed. The decoration was different, for example, for children, for single, married, the decoration for women after the first child was different. Widowed or generally older, dressed in darker colors.” The folk costume was, therefore, an open book from which you could read.
Does the folk costume belong to the scrapheap?
Everyone perceives cultural heritage differently, and it is the same with wearing folk costumes. One way or another, the folk costume began to disappear from society at the end of the 19th century, when men went to work abroad. In spite of the fact that the city clothing gradually pushed out the traditional one, the combination of the city clothing with the embroidered shirt was still in vogue. It was the same in the 1950s and 1960s when it was customary for women to wear “semi-folk costumes”, or “urban blouse” and skirt, or original or simplified aprons. To this day, however, the tradition of wearing folk costumes on a regular day with pride persists in Hont region (Plachtince, Príbelce) or in Lendak under the Tatras.
Where to go for traditional clothing
There is no need to go a long way to get to know the history of folk costumes and to admire their beauty and precision. During folklore festivals, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the folk costumes. In addition, Slovakia is rich in museums that map the history of folk costumes. “Regional museums, the Slovak National Museum in Martin, publications in libraries, in the chronicles of municipalities – if they are willing to make them available, they will help you in your quest for folk costumes. There are still survivors, but unfortunately, there are very few of them. Ethnologists can be helpful, for example during the Ethnological Days in Nitra at Constantine the Philosopher University, folklore festivals, folklore educational meetings organized by local educational centers, ÚĽUV, Museum of ĽUV, enthusiasts, regional folklorists, ethnologists specializing in the region and folk clothing and of course the Internet”.
Let’s be proud of folk costumes
“Traditional folk clothing is a timeless phenomenon, part of our cultural heritage. Slovakia, as small as it is, is extremely rich, diverse, colorful. The saying, wherever you go, you will find a different folk costume, is typical in Slovakia and applies here very much. We should appreciate it, continue with what our ancestors left us, not invent any pseudo-costumes, but to stick to the rule and follow up on the original. If we miss this chance, it will escape between our fingers and we leave nothing for the next generations. It is therefore very important to approach this phenomenon very responsibly and consistently.”