How Women dressed before & after WW I in Poland

The World War I brought not only disaster, death and misery. This war changed many old political systems, abolished monarchies, sped up technical progress and also changed people's attitudes towards the life and especially the role of women.

This can be seen in a change of women clothing.

Below are two examples from my own family photo album

The photograph on the left shows my grandmother (in the middle) among other women in the front of the brickyard. All are dressed in the long skirts, shirts and kerchiefs. This was a typical dress for women of the working class in towns and farming class in villages. My grandmother stands in the middle, she is probably pregnant in that time (altogether my grandparents raised 7 children). Her eyes were very blue - that is why they are hardly visible on the picture. My grandmother did not work outside of the home. She died at 1974 at the age of 86, as far as I remember she never changed the way she dressed.

The photograph on the right shows my aunt Elizabeth, she was 10 years older than my mother. Aunt Elizabeth is the first to the left, I think she is the prettiest and the most elegant (fashionable coat and boots), no wonder, she was an excellent taylor and she had an excellent feel for style. All ladies are dressed in coats and skirts only up to their knees. It is important to understand that these women represent already a different class of women, they are educated and professionals. This gave them certain freedom and independence.

about 1918

late thirties or early forties

one generation difference - Katowice, Silesia, Poland
Click the image to see it magnified

Although the WW I changed the women role and status in the positive way, it gave more opportunities for girls like my aunt, the WW II brought a personal tragedy to my aunt Elizabeth. She lost her long-time fiance, Jan. They were really a very happy couple, I was lucky to be able to read their letters - full of love and commitment. Jan was taken to Nazi prison near Katowice for his anti-Nazi activity. They were secretly married there. Unfortunately he was sent to the labor camp in Dora, Germany where he was killed probably in one of the allied attacks to the camp and its industrial facilities nearby. My aunt never remarried again although she could because she was very pretty, she was waiting for her fiance for quite a long time, because nobody could definitively confirm what happened to him. This was a fate of many women of her generation.
Below is their picture in their happy times - before the WW II started:

During the Second World War which started with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1st 1939 and by Soviet Union seventeen days later, six millions Poles - half of them of Jewish origin and half of non-Jewish origin were killed. For the first two years of the war until Soviet Union was unexpectedly attacked by Germany, Poland was occupied by nazi-Germany in the West and by Soviets in the East in the result of Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Approximately the same amount of Poles of non-Jewish origin died under Soviet occupation than under Nazi occupation, this fact is little known. Silesia was for the whole time of the war in the German military zone, actually it was directly integrated to Germany, since this was one of the Western provinces of Poland before the war started.

Check more articles about women, folk costumes, War World II and Silesia.

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, article #240

Below is a link to Polish customs' book written by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Mary Anne Knab (Illustrator). It is entitled Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore

The Grounding of Modern Feminism by Nancy F. Cott

The SITE MAP contains all articles classified according to the topic.