Saturday, 22 March 2014

Politics of fashion: A broad summary on the Czech national costume of 1848

Another of the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges is now up with details - the Politics of Fashion. Now this is one challenge that definitely suits my sewing plans wonderfully. I love it when the challenges match things I wanted to make anyway. There's no other point in it for me, given how slowly I make things.

I'm going to - hopefully - deal with yet another way politics influenced fashion: I'm making one of those "national costumes" that were developed during the nationalistic emancipation that happened in Europe during the 19th century.
I've just made up the term "nationalistic emancipation", although it's quite possible someone's done it before. I mean that process of arising national consciousness in late 18th and especially during 19th century that eventually often resulted in new countries in Europe, some actually historical like mine is, others really pretty much new, or new amalgamations of historical states (hello, Italy and Germany!). It was a very political phenomenon indeed, connected to the various attempts at constitutional monarchy or more. Very often, it also led to ugly things, like nationalistic pride and conflicts and stuff like the affair of the ostensibly historical manuscripts (Rukopis královédvorský a zelenohorský) that were to prove the Czechs' famous history but were apparently falsified. People were so proud of them that those who dared to point out the inconsistencies were dubbed enemies of the nation (T. G. Masaryk, famously).
But it also involved language study - in many cases language saving - and recording of folklore, and increasingly successful attempts at literature and translations and similar stuff that is actually still going on around the world nowadays. (Like, hey, Apache Mescalero dictionary! Navajo Star Wars!) So even though it often seems like dusty past (especially if you have to learn about it for school and everyone's either treating it like something sacred, or scorning it, with no middle ground), it actually still carries a lot of significance nowadays. And without it, things like Karel Čapek's amazing writing or Stanislava Pošustová's excellent translation of The Lord of the Rings could not have happened. Just to point out some reasons why I personally am glad it happened. :-)
(Although, in this particular case, the costume does not have so much significance nowadays...)

I know some nations already more or less had their national costume / style of clothing - I think Poland was one (old portraits of Polish nobles definitely have their own style). Others had to develop their own - e.g. Germans were trying, too (I'm not sure what the results of that were - dirndl?). Yet others, obviously those nations that were well established already, did not bother. (Hello, Britain.)

Prague fashions of 1848. Note the red and white. Source (3)

Czechs bothered. And ended up with something that was actually pretty similar to, for example, Hungarian clothes (if you look at e.g. depictions of Lajos Kossuth, it's really similar). There were various reasons for that, one of them being precisely the concern of fashion that this HSF challenge is connected to. I believe, in the end, the most national part of it were the usual colours - they tended to go with blue and white, the accepted Slavic combination (which I so dearly love, too :D), or red and white, the combination found on the 19th century Czech flag. Or all of it, just as it combines on the current Czech flag.
You know how I was dreaming about the 1848 kacabajka? Talking about it with nothing happening, as is pretty much the norm on this blog by now?

The "Slavic kacabajka" of Ludmila Tomková from the collections of the Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum in Prague. Source (1)

Source (2)

Well, it's closer to happening now. I have a starting point for the pattern - I mean, in life size, not just a drawing in a book. Thanks to a fellow HSF-er who mentioned it on Facebook, I came to realise the free vector program Inkscape is a really nice, quick and clean drafting tool that allows for easy alterations without waste of paper. Love. I still have to check the pattern goes together as it should and such like, but it's much easier to alter e.g. the length - what I needed to add and subtract here to the original draft - with the vector tools, instead of adding and cutting paper.

As I already mentioned, the original pattern is pretty close to my own measurements - in the girth. I had to lengthen the torso considerably, because Ludmila Tomková was apparently a good 11 cm shorter in the torso than me. I also shortened the peplum part, because with the original length, it would probably be more coat length than jacket length on my inversely short legs, and basically, such longer jacket skirts look bad on me.

Mock-ups definitely need to be made before the real thing happens. Mock-ups are now closer to happening because, ahem, yes, my stays are closer to finishing (more on that later). But for the real thing, I already have both the fabric and the all important soutache braid. After years of postponing it and a very disappointing trip to the local store - all four or how many shop assistants gathering around me to wonder what soutache was only for the only one who seemed to have a clue to describe a type of ready-made piping - I ordered it from an internet shop. I made sure I picked the type that said Czech made - easy, because that type had a much wider choice of colours. :D

It's more purplish than I imagined, but I like the colour nonetheless. I wanted a nice, deep dark colour, not a bright blue, and this fits the bill. It is, of course, rayon, which is not historical, but I'll take what I can get; better than polyester.

Made in Krnov. I've never been there, so I'm not sure why knowing that makes me so happy. I think it's the fact that soutache braid made in a smallish border town in the Czech Republic fits so wonderfully with the whole ethos of the 1848 national costume.

Back to the background! "National costume" in this sense is definitely not the same as "folk costume" - I see people pinning the pictures of the kacabajka from my blog under this false assumption. (I do the narcissistic thing of searching on Pinterest for Pins pinned from my blog, sometimes. It's a bit like looking at your blog statistics.)
I suppose there are some nations that have some sort of national costume that's evolved from a widely worn "folk" costume, so the distinction is not that clear. (Japan maybe? I'm not really versed in other nations' costumes, so apologies for any false assumptions of my own.) Plus there is the fact that there exists an overall style of costume assumed to be "the Czech folk costume", abroad as well as by some Czechs - like, you know, those costumed dolls. The truth is that folk costumes are regional, so while someone may choose one representative regional style (Kyjov is wildly popular), it is, in fact, not representative of the whole area, far from it.

And all that is definitely not the case with the Czech 19th century national costume, anyway. For one thing, it never became so widespread. And the male version of it was more widely adopted than the female version - it has, for example, survived to this day in the special occasion uniform of the Sokol sport organisation. (But that one also incorporated the red Garibaldi shirt.) The female version of that worn nowadays is really just a modernised female version of that (and booooring), while the mid-19th century female national costume had a flavour of its own, based around the mid-19th century fashions for female (riding) jackets.

 1842 riding habit, La Mode. Wikimedia Commons.

"Folk costumes" as we know them nowadays were peasants' clothing, or farmers' clothing. The versions surviving today were usually special occasion clothes (as they still are nowadays, after all), and some of them got really rich over time; but it was still usually the clothing of the "lower classes" and was slow in adopting fashionable styles.
The "national costumes", on the other hand, were usually connected to the rising urban middle class. The people developing the Czech national costume of 1848 specifically did not want to associate themselves with the village people's clothing - they wanted to prove their and their cause's worth in the eyes of their German neighbours, and associating themselves with the villagers was not the way to do it. They drew inspiration from the villagers in many ways - including, obviously, the fact that the villages were the places where Czech language had survived. They admired them in many ways, but they would not completely go back to that lifestyle. They did take some motifs of the folk costume - the braid as such perhaps (many male folk costumes feature braided vests and pants, for example), or in some cases laced bodices - but at the same time, they also still wanted to be fashionable.

Which is also why the early designs that looked back into history, like these:

Source (1)

- were never very successful (they're pretty theatrical and costume-y, aren't they?); while designs like this that followed the fashionable silhouette:

Uniform of a national guard (militia), published in Slovanská lípa in 1848. Source (3)

- were those most widely adopted. Also, tailors themselves took initiative in this movement, publishing their own designs, and obviously they worked with what they knew.

Funnily enough, the first Czech national costume of 1848 was actually developed in Vienna, for a delegation of Czechs who met with other Slavs and felt ashamed of their generic 19th century fashions in the nationally costumed company. The original costume with the braided jacket/coat was designed by Josef V. Hellich, a painter living in Vienna, and was very theatrical indeed, so when Petr Faster, the one member of the delegation who actually had it made, came back to Prague dressed in it, most people made fun of him. (Apparently, he had still chosen the least extravagant of Hellich's designs.)

Vilém Horn - Petr Faster, 1848 (Muzeum hlavního města Prahy). Source (4)

But he persevered and in the end more acceptable, toned down versions of the costume appeared and became quite popular, particularly with students who organised into militia groups in the revolutionary year. But while the revolution pretty much failed and various aspects of Czech national life were banned (eventually including the national costumes themselves), the style still survived in the end. (As I already pointed out, it still lives on in the Sokol uniform.)
Čamara, the braided jacket like in the uniforms above, was the most recognisable and widely accepted form the male Czech national costume took. In fact, it survived well into the first half of the 20th century, so that Jiří Guth Jarkovský, who wrote a famous etiquette book, had to specifically point out that wearing a čamara as a substitute for a frock dress coat for certain special occasions was not acceptable.

Beside the čamara, there were also braided coats, called kabanka (from a "folk costume"-related word, kabanica / kabanice, meaning a heavy, coarse woollen coat (6) - presumably the style was based on such coats).

Source (3)

And various hat styles, usually based on folk or historical styles.
The probably most popular of these hat / cap styles was "poděbradka", a fur lined cap with upturned brim, named so after Jiří of Poděbrady, the 15th century Czech king notable for being the only Czech king to be elected out of Czech nobility. So he became something of a symbol of the Czech nation and its political freedoms. I am not sure how he ended up being associated with this style of cap in 19th century depictions, though. It was later adopted into various uniforms, like firemen's uniforms in this 1896 advert, or the uniforms of the cavalry of Czechoslovak legions in Russia. (BTW, if you try searching for "poděbradka" nowadays, you'll mostly get the mineral water from Poděbrady.)

Source (2)

A wide-brimmed straw hat based on the hats of the Italian revolutionaries was also popular, called kalabréza - "Calabrian hat". I was unable to find a specifically Calabrian hat that would fit the description, but I found this painting depicting the Italian fights of 1848 and depictions of Czech people in similar hats (see the painted target below), so I think it's safe to say that's what it was.
Baldassare Verazzi (1819-1886). Un épisode des cinq journées de Milan en 1848. Wikimedia Commons.

Faster's daughters also soon adopted a specific style of "national" dress, no doubt under their father's influence.

 Jozef Božetěch Klemens (?), Johana Fastrová, c. 1848—1849 (Private collection). She was aged about 11 at the time of this painting. Source (4)

The female version of the Czech national costume was never as widespread, though. Some speculate it was because women were more used to following new fashions from abroad. They had more peer pressure. In fact, that was the opinion at the time - Božena Němcová in one of her letters says, in a manner typical for the time, that the ladies (she uses a rather derogatory word, actually rethought, it wasn't then) care more about foreign fashions than their own nation. And those who did care about the nation still cared about fashion as well and were clearly not very satisfied with what was on offer - Němcová complained that the historically-inspired designs the male painters had made looked shabby, and that either women would know better, or that, if the designers had instead been inspired by folk costumes (! - she was one of the collectors of folklore), the hats and bonnets would be more flattering.

This is one of the designs that follow the fashionable lines closer, and I don't like the hat or bonnets very much either. Nor the shoes. They're weird. They must have been weird in the 19th century as well. (But just like the women of the time, I love the braided jackets! This particular number is pretty much another 19th century jacket perfection and I would not mind making one as well. Blue, of course. Like, in another five years or so. :P)

Josef Mánes - designs of national costumes for winter. Source (3)

It could also possibly be that at the time the national costume appeared, there were still not so many women involved in the national revival movement - less educated women concerned about the language and politics and everything (just my wild guess, though). Anyway, the experiments quickly settled on the jacket, called kacabajka (a word of Ukrainian or Polish origin, (6) ), with a white dress underneath. Sometimes, the jacket is fashionably fitted, sometimes it looks looser and more like a light kaftan-like coat, in that case usually also worn with a red sash (see below). But it seems historical sources often refer to the jackets worn as "Amazon jackets", i.e. jackets in the style of a riding habit.

So just like with the male version, the braided jacket became the most widely adopted form the national costume took. I suppose it's because it's easier to change your style by adding a new jacket to your wardrobe and throwing it on top of your existing clothes, than having a whole new wardrobe made. And this is also part of the reason why I'm making one. (Read: it's my HSF excuse for making a garment I've been in love with for years.)

October 1848 kacabajka design by tailor J. Vopička. Source (2)

It was most often blue and white like those two kacabajkas featured above, but the woman who would later come to be known as Karolína Světlá had a red one made.

Source (2)

Faster's daughters were described as having worn "red turbans" with their costume - which I think is much more of a Romantic vision that an actual historical Czech accessory! The female costume could also be accompanied by a white hat, sometimes namely kalabréza is mentioned; and in some illustrations (usually of the 1848 fights) also what seems like caps somewhat similar to the male ones.

Target of the Litomyšl student militia, depicting the Prague fights in 1848. Source (5)

Speaking of riding habits, mid-19th century riding habits and jackets are hard to find around the internet as well. When I was trying to determine how the jacket would be constructed, I found out it's practicaly impossible to find an existing dress diary / construction post - or even just photos of the finished product - for a similar jacket of the era (there are a few outstanding exceptions, but they were not much help for me - even though that pink jacket is close to what I aim for in its shape). Not even extant examples - at least not the insides, and in fact not even the outsides. Nothing. Nada. Nic. For one, 1860s are much more popular in the English-speaking corner of the internet. (After previous disappointments, I'm not even bothering with Czech. I'll have to start my own.) 1840s happen, sometimes, but it seems pretty much limited to dresses. Even 1860s jackets are quite rare. I kept getting bustle-era jackets instead.
It is a curious phenomenon - I understand jackets became more popular later, but still, there is quite a lot of pictorial evidence for jackets. They had to be worn until they fell apart, or reworked later, or something. Out of all the kacabajkas most definitely made in the 19th century (there were six Miss Fasters and there is newspaper record of about 50 girls following their example, as Lubomír Sršeň quotes it (4) ), only one survives, which I guess is still a good ratio.

In fact, I was not even entirely sure what the original jacket was made of. Mirjam Moravcová's book said silk. It also mentioned, as I wrote about before, wovens from the border regions, probably linen. Eva Uchalová, who should know better because she apparently had a chance to work with the originals, said wool.

So, I asked the ever knowledgeable ladies of the Facebook HSF group about the possible construction methods. The general consensus was flatlined with some possible light boning. Klára - another Czech participant - suggested asking the curator at the museum that owns my inspiration kacabajka. It just so happens that the curator in charge of the textile collection is actually Eva Uchalová herself. I followed Klára's advice and wrote to Ms Uchalová and she settled it all for me:

Ludmila Tomková's jacket has no boning or other stiffening, only canvas lining, it is made of fine, light blue kashmere with white kashmere borders.

I'm glad that's clear now. Flatlined, no boning sounds fine to me.

But I'm not going to make an exact copy of the original, because I cannot afford kashmere fabric (not to mention finding a suitable one). I'm not even going to make it in the other option, because I can't afford silk either (and I have not run into one in a colour I would like anyway). Instead, I'm going to use cotton, because that's what I have, and cotton of a rougher weave at that. I'm going to pretend that's what a girl who could not have afforded silk or kashmere but wanted to express her national feelings would have gone for in 1848. She has spent all her money on the braid and uses fabric from her grandmother.

I just hope I have enough of the fabric. The (still unfinished, ahem) medieval dress ate more of the fabric than I expected. (Probably because I forgot to count on the fabric being so narrow.) Inkscape tetris experiments with the kacabajka pattern do not give me many hopes as to its "stackability" if the grainlines are to be retained; that narrow waist and wide hips make for some odd shapes. (Oh for medieval or even Regency patterns!) Wish me luck.

(They're all in Czech. Duh.)

(1) Kybalová, Ludmila. Od empíru k druhému rokoku. Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, Prague 2004.
(2) Moravcová, Mirjam. Národní oděv roku 1848. Academia, Prague 1986.
(3) Uchalová, Eva. Česká móda 1780-1870. Olympia, Prague 1999.
(4) Sršeň, Lubomír. "Vévoda z koňského trhu a jeho princezna. Petr a Johana Fastrovi v národních krojích."
(5) Město Litomyšl. "Terč "Litomyšlská garda v roce 1848"."
(6) Machek, Václav. Etymologický slovník jazyka českého. Academia, Prague 1971.

The terrifying length of this post is, I think, enough of an explanation why I did not save all that for when (if) the kacabajka is finished.


  1. Well Hana, I'm glad your plans are coming together and I really like this jacket. I'm sure the cotton will be fine - being a cotton lover myself, it sounds good to me.
    There's nothing wrong with being a tortoise rather than a hare. (in fact, I actually worked on my circle quilt today - very pitiful, but I thought Lent was a good time to get back to it).

    1. Wait, did you share your circle quilt? I can't think of it now... you've actually already made many lovely quilts. :-)
      I would not so mind being a tortoise if it did not mean those unfinished projects are taking up so much space!
      I'm a cotton lover, too, and like the cotton I have - I was most concerned about historical accuracy for the HSF. I need to clear that up to be able to sum it up in the end!

    2. Space, yes! space, ahhh

  2. Oh my I love the jacket, and I love the research you've done. It makes perfect sense too that women would roll their eyes and copy Paris rather than join the menfolk in some dippy political thing. This only ever seemed to work when a very obsessed male leader laid down the law, like Gustaf of Sweden or Louis XIV. And men do love a uniform, any excuse to not have to choose their own clothes!

    1. :D It worked when it was their own cause, I think... Reform movement and stuff, those were women, too.
      Thank you. I'm still finding little mistakes in this post (like, I forgot to finish the details for the first three sources before posting), so changes to the research may happen, but nothing substantial.

  3. Hani, prokousala jsem se až na konec tvého obsáhlého a velmi pěkného příspěvku, děkuji Ti za něj. Jestli jsem správně pochopila, šiješ si oblečení podle vzoru z 19. století - držím Ti palce a moc se těším, až ho na Tobě uvidím. Jsem pravidelnou návštěvnicí Uměleckoprůmyslového muzea, miluji a obdivuji staré oděvy a je úžasné, jak se tomu věnuješ. Domnívám se, že odívání (stejně jako jídlo, tance a třeba vybavení domácností) přijímalo velmi rychle všechny změny a vlivy, které kolem prošly v tom už dosti turisticky bohatém 19. století a které se následně promítly se do národněobrozeneckých snah. A teď trochu odtržitě od módy - jak v 19. století se menší království, knížectví, vévodství, státečky a svobodná města spojovaly ve větší celek (Itálie, Německo...), pak vidím ke konci 20. a na počátku 21. století opačný trend nejen v Evropě. Rozpad Československa, předtím Sovětského Svazu se dává do souvislosti s politickými režimy odlišnými od západní Evorpy, ale odstředivé snahy Vlámů od Valonů, Benátčanů od Itálie, Moravy od Čech, Krym... bojím se i jen rozebírat, co za tím vším může být a kam až to může vést. Moc zdravím, přeji hodně oděvně-badatelských úspěchů, zručnosti při šití a těším se na další čtení ...:-)

    1. Díky moc, a gratuluju k prokousání! Ve zkratce je to přesně tak. :-)
      Ten druhý trend... kdo ví. Zas se v důsledku toho, co se dělo v 19. století, rozpadlo třeba Rakousko-Uhersko, a teď je tu EU a podobně, takže je těžko odhadovat. A nejsem politolog a radši se ani nebudu snažit. :-) Mně šlo v příspěvku jenom o to poukázat na to celkové národní uvědomování v té době, ať už nabralo jakoukoli podobu.

  4. I love your blog! Can you tell me more about T. G. Masaryk? Thank you! I am very interested in Czech history!!

    1. Well, I'm really sorry, but I don't think I can - I mean, I think there are many people out there who can do a better job of telling about TGM than me, including internet sites... This particular post was written after several years of occasional pondering the issue and reading books and so on; I hope that gives you an idea of how much work such "telling more" involves in this case. I do not know how much "more" you want to hear about TGM and how much you already know; I'm not a historian, so what I could tell you would most probably be things you could find out by yourself anyway.
      I'm glad you like my blog, though. :-) Hopefully, it will still give you some insights into things Czech, those I can safely provide.

  5. Výborný text, díky za něj. Teď mám chuť se taky do kacabajky pustit, ten zvětšený střih by nešel nějak nasdílet? :)

    1. Šel. :-) Já si s tím dokonce hrála a zkoušela to převádět do velikostí podle Burdy (ale s původními proporcemi a bez záruky, že to pasuje k sobě a opravdu sedí, protože je to jen hrubě procentuálně zvětšené a ještě jsem to ani nezkoušela na sobě...) Bylo by bezva, kdyby nás bylo víc, takový Sewalong. :-) Je to fakt krásný kabátek, některé dámy z HSF se taky hned nadchly (proto jsem si s tím tak hrála).

    2. udělejme sewalong! :) ten strih z toho programu leze v jakem formatu? da se to nejak vytisknout klasicky doma, nebo je treba nejaky profi stroj?

    3. Dá se z toho udělat PDF - je veliké, ale dá se vytisknout jako "plakát" na 100%. Akorát to potom má tu nevýhodu, že si ho Adobe Reader automaticky centruje, takže mi tam vzniká spousta volného prostoru kolem... Ještě jsem nepřišla na to, jak udělat rozstránkované PDF bez nějakých profesionálních programů, tak akorát dělám ty tetrisoidní pokusy v Inkscape, aby to zabíralo co nejmíň prostoru. Stáhla jsem to myslím na 20 stránek. Dá se to tisknout s ořezovýni značkami, takovými těmi křížky v rozích, takže výsledek není o moc jiný než PDF střihy na tisknutí doma, akorát si člověk musí ty okraje dorýsovat.

  6. Very interesting. I've been curious about "traditional" European clothing. Of course presumably fashions changed in villages, too, so there's no one "time" that's the most authentic, but I've wondered what era the traditional clothing tends to reflect as a rule. Mostly I've figured it was roughly 17th/18th c, with some 19th c additions. But I had no idea there was a whole movement to establish a "national dress" when nation-building was going on. Here in Nepal, FWIW, there's a national dress for men which is based on what's still worn by older men in villages, like my FIL, but which is paired with a Western suitcoat as formal dress for bureaucrats and parliamentarians. Interestingly, there's no "national dress" per se for women. A woman parliamentarian would wear a sari, but I bet there'd be no success in getting women to wear older-style or village-style sari outfits as a national dress! (There's a particular style that's still worn in villages, and is also altered for "cultural programs" and dance shows, but you wouldn't really catch urban women in it.)

    1. I think the versions worn around here were usually established in the 19th century, depending on the area (rich agricultural areas usually have newer and much richer costumes). With, of course, elements from the earlier eras.
      And thank you for the insight on the situation in Nepal. :-)