Czech and Slovak HeritageCzech and Slovak Heritage
Our Heritage and Folklore
this page up-dated Sept. 2008
Folk costumes (Kroje)
NEWS....FLASH.....( November 2006! )
The LONG awaited "Ethnographic Museum of the Czech Republic" has finally opened in Prague! ( Nov. 2005 ) It is a branch of the National Museum of the Czech Republic - it will focus on folklore, kroje, folk traditions, and current day handcrafts of the Czech Republic.
It's located In Prague - South of the Castle (same side of the river). In the Kinsky gardens address: Kinskeho zahrada 98, Praha 5 - Smichov. (They currently do NOT have a web site or information in English on the Internet – I wonder why ? )
I have visited it a number of time, it's nicely done - but a bit small for all the wonderful items in the collections. However it's well worth visiting !
Every village or area had its own "Kroj" ("Kroje" is plural), which we would call a folk costume or dress. It played a very important roll: it showed which village or area you were from, if you were single or married, and it showed off the talents of the boy or girl who made it.
In general, if a woman was wearing some sort of headpiece (cap or scarf), most likely she was married; unmarried girls wore nothing or flowers in their hair. One exception to this rule is the Plzen area of western Bohemia where a woman's cap flaunted a large white bow in back. The bows of single women were heavily starched and stood straight out at each side; married women's bows were more softly starched and fell at each side.
Men also had several symbols for married status. The most notable perhaps, was that of the long feathers bachelors wore in their hats. They were clipped short when they were married. (you literally got your feathers clipped!) In other cases the feathers showed their position or status in the village, or the number of girlfriends they had.
In some areas kroje did not vary much from village to village, with only minor changes, while in other places they were totally different, but everyone was very proud of them none the less. While men's and women's kroje often differed in fabrics, those of a given village had common colors and design elements which distinguished them from other villages. History plays a significant role in the development of Czech and Slovak Kroje. The further west your ancestors lived, the sooner they modified or gave up the kroj tradition. People who lived in the Czech / Bohemia area, generally stopped wearing kroje in the mid to late 1800s, when this part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire became more industrial and prosperous. Whereas in parts of Slovakia and Moravia people still wore them everyday until the 1930’s.
As Czechs started earning more money but had little time, they began using more expensive fabrics, some handwork and muted colors. The result was a more refined look. In Moravia, where people had less money and more time, you see less expensive fabrics, more embroidery and handwork and brighter colors, for a more lavish look. The Slovaks, with few exceptions, had no money and lots of time, so their kroje used lots of homespun cloth, fabulous embroidery and a riot of colors, which produced an exuberant, high-spirited look. More specifically, and generally speaking, starting from West to East:
Czech / Bohemian women’s kroje were made of more expensive materials such as fine brocades and silk, in softer colors, to emulate the wealthy and nobility. Skirts were made of a fine wool, linen or brocade, and were worn below the knee. Designs were generally woven in, not embroidered. However, embroidered ribbons were sometimes added. The exception was in South Bohemia, where intricately cut fish scales were often sewn on in elaborate patterns. The blouse is always white, traditionally linen, sometimes of cotton with a full sleeve which was gathered at the elbow. It was lavishly embroidered and trimmed with lace. In Western and Central Bohemia, white embroidery on white was the rule. In East Bohemia, red embroidery on white was more common. In South Bohemia, multi-colored embroidery, seed beads and sequins decorated blouses. With few exceptions aprons and neck scarves mimicked blouse decoration, but tended to be even more elaborate -- with eyelet or cut-work embroidery, and wide, handmade lace. Other features included a vest of a different but complementary color in a rich fabric, or finely embroidered, worn over the blouse. Red or white cloth stockings, plain or knit with a pattern. Nice dark leather shoes, (pumps) sometimes embroidered or trimmed with ribbons. Caps were beautifully embroidered, sometimes with silver or gold thread and traditional Czech garnets. (semi-precious, blood red colored stones)
Czech / Bohemian men’s kroje generally wore knee length knickers made of a soft yellow or light brown suede or wool, knee-high socks, mostly white in color, and tall black boots or sturdy black shoes. Their white embroidered white shirts (white on white) had large sleeves, ending at the wrist. The shirt is always tucked into the knickers / pants. Their vests worn over the shirt were of embroidered suede, felt or a complementary color in a fabric of rich brocade. Lastly, they sported a colorful neck scarf and a large-brimmed black hat. In Eastern Bohemia each man would make his own elaborate wide leather belt, often done with a quill type embroidery.
The place with the strongest tradition of kroje in Bohemia now is the Domazlice area,
southwest of Plzen. People still wear kroje to church or on special occasions. It is the
only place in Bohemia where you can still buy newly made clothing kroje items with
MoraviaThis gets more complicated the further East you go, do to the greater variety of designs.
Moravian Women’s kroje:Fabrics could be rich, and when they were more common, they were more heavily embroidered. Skirts were shorter and more full than in Bohemia, and worn over many heavily starched and embroidered white petticoats. Red was a very popular color in Moravia, but other bright colors were used too, depending on the village. Blouses and scarves were white, with sleeves a little less full than the Czech ones, and cut to the elbow.
They were generally embroidered in black, often with eyelet designs. In some villages beautifully embroidered with cut-work. (mostly white on white) Aprons were very elaborately embroidered with many colors, always in very traditional designs. Vests were cut higher, in some areas they had large red or orange pompons front and back or three embroidered circles on the back which stood for the Holy Trinity. In many villages married women wore headscarves instead of caps.
Each village had its own scarf pattern and distinctive manner of tying it. When caps were used, they were elaborately embroidered and sometimes beaded. Most Moravian women wore black boots, generally knee-high, sometimes just above the ankle and some wore a sturdy embroidered shoe.
Moravian Men’s kroje:They traditionally wore knee length knickers of a soft wool in deep blue or black, trimmed in red or black braid. They feature a flat pocket across the lower stomach which could be accessed from both sides; this held a white handkerchief, richly embroidered in white with cut-outs, by a wife or girlfriend. Their white shirts had very full sleeves all the way to the wrist; like the women's, they were embroidered in black or sometimes in white. (depending on the village tradition) The shirt is always tucked into the knickers/pants. Vests had pompons or three embroidered circles on the back which stood for the Holy Trinity. Tall black boots had embroidery from top to bottom, the older ones with brass heels. Jaunty, narrow-brimmed hats had ribbons, and long feathers if one was single, shorter if one was married. Elaborate wide leather belts, often with quill embroidery done by the owner, completed the Moravian men’s kroj.
In Uherske Hradiste, Moravia it is still possible to order a new kroje, custom-made for you from anyplace in either Slovakia or Czech Republic. Most people are interested in the kroje for the village of their ancestry, however they do not have an extensive library, but they will attempt to make anything you provide a picture or drawing of. I personally had this done, and it turned out quite well!.
Slovak Kroje:While some of the Moravian kroje designs spill over into western Slovakia, describing kroje in Slovakia gets very complicated. The variety is fantastic, ranging from very elaborate to very modest. However, Slovak kroje are the easiest to find. Today a number of places still make them, and it's still somewhat common to see them in the countryside on Sunday morning, or at the wonderful folk festivals.
Slovak Women’s Kroje:The fabric can be something as common as homespun; linen and wool are also widespread. Bright colors are very popular: blue, red, orange, fuchsia, pink, yellow, and green. Skirts are very short, but get longer as one ages. Many are a sky blue, embroidered around the hem in yellow. They wrap around one's back and tie in front. A matching apron wraps around the front, giving the appearance of a single skirt, and providing flexibility for pregnancy or weight gain. In more remote areas, homespun in a natural color with woven borders is used. Tons of wonderful embroidery can be found on the blouse, vest and head pieces. Stitches are sometimes almost invisible, creating intricate raised designs. Blouses are generally white, with yellow or orange embroidery, but other colors and homespun are also used. Sleeves are slightly fuller than in Moravia and cut to the elbow. In some wealthy areas, gold, silver or even platinum embroidery embellishes the older blouses and caps. Vests are cut higher. Black knee-high boots are essential, except in remote areas where leather sandals prevail whose thongs wrap up to mid-calf. A number of different head pieces, were used including beaded caps, but scarf’s and richly embroidered caps are more common.
Slovak Men’s Kroje:In western Slovakia men generally wore knickers made of a soft wool in blue, red or black. A white shirt with very full sleeves to the wrist, embroidered at the shoulder to match that of the ladies. An embroidered vest, a smallish black hat with feathers and high black boots richly embroidered also were necessary. Originally the men embroidered these boots themselves. In more remote poor regions, homespun pants cut to mid-calf, and matching shirts with small patches of fine fuchsia and yellow embroidery are found.
(the shirt in this case in not tucked in the pants) Footwear is a simple leather sandals with thongs that criss-cross up the man's calves. A very distinctive element of Slovak men's kroj -- common to both city and country is a beautifully tooled leather belt, one version circles the waist several times, and another version the belt is 8 to 12 inches wide and heavy. ( and only goes around the waist once ) Another feature is the elaborately carved and brass-trimmed “valasko” (a cross between a cane and an ax) which each man carries and flaunts while dancing.
Don't blend current fashion trends with your traditional kroj. For example,
1) Short skirts may seem cute, but don’t wear a short skirt unless the region you are representing
has short skirts.
2) Lacy/fancy tights or pantyhose are not traditional leg wear and sandals are not traditional footwear.
3) High heels or something that laces up your leg ( Czech ) was not worn.
4) Nothing is basically worn below the elbow, your lower arm should be bare.
Try and find out what area/village your family is from. Although it's best to wear a kroj representing your ancestral village, it is not mandatory, but at least something from the general region. Regardless of the area your kroj represents, wear it with pride - it's a part of who you are ! A couple places to start looking include:
Where to Seek Guidance
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML)
30 - 16th Ave. SW
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404
Phone # ( 319 ) 362 - 8500 Fax ( 319 ) 363 - 2209
Web site: WWW.NCSML.ORG
(The NCSML always has a dozen or more full kroje on exhibit.
Their library also has a number of reference books and a set of
full sized patterns for Czech kroje.)
CzechoSlovak Heritage Museum
122 W. 22 St.
Oakbrook, IL 60521
(They also have a large number of kroje on display and plus reference books.)
CzechoSlovak Genealogical Society International
PO Box 16225 St. Paul, MN 55116
web site : www.cgsi.org
(They have some reference books and a large number of full sized patterns,
mostly of Czech / Bohemian, and some Moravian )
Dvoracek Memorial Library
3rd St. Wilber, NE 68465
(They have some reference books and some full sized Czech patterns.)
Individuals / places, who Can Help you Make Your Kroj (not a free service)
The only place I know of in the Czech Republic that makes custom made kroje is :
they will make them to your size, you can order a whole kroje, or just a part or two.
The US ( volunteer ) rep. for this is : Louise Wessinger
her email is : firstname.lastname@example.org
6075 West 50th St. Webster, MN 55088 phone number (952) 652-2677
Deb and her husband founded a South Bohemian style dance group in New Prague MN, and danced with the St. Paul Czech and Slovak dance group for many years. She has a number of old kroje, and has made a number of new ones.
N5638 County Line Rd. Gilman, WI 54433 phone number (715 ) 452-5245
(Darlene has made kroje for people, and helps research what they should look like )
There may be others who do make kroje, but these are the people that I know about.
This is something I helped write up for some of the State Miss Czech & Slovak Pageants
( some of it might be the same as above - but it more information ! )
Miss Czech/Slovak Pageant
Suggested Contestant Kroj (folk wear) Guidelines
The following should be reviewed to help guide pageant contests in the selection or creation of their kroj
for the National Miss Czech/Slovak Pageant in Wilber, Nebraska. Also as a outline for the Judges.
Pageant officials recognize that not all contestants have access to an original authentic kroj from the
Czech Republic or Slovakia. (Even if you have an opportunity to travel there and seek one for purchase,
they are becoming increasingly scarce and those you do find may or may not be complete.)
General kroj information:
(Please note that because of the variation between kroje in each village and region, there are
exceptions to nearly everything!) Czech and Slovak kroje* (traditional folk costumes) represent some of the world’s finest folk art and most exquisite dress. They reflect centuries of evolution and refinement. Kroje are also very diverse; each region and village has a distinct kroj. Each varies in fabrics, colors, embellishments, and overall form. All are traditionally handmade.
Women’s kroje are usually more elaborate then men’s kroje. The head covering may be a cap, scarf, headband, ribbons, or even a floral wreath. A married woman usually covers her hair with a cap or scarf. Blouses are often embellished with embroidery, beadwork, sequins, and/or lace. In parts of Moravia, the sleeves are very full and may be tightly pleated. A vest is worn over the blouse. Skirts may appear full, lie close to the body, and/or be tightly pleated. An apron, sometimes elaborately embellished, completes the kroj. There are also appropriate stockings and footwear for each region.
The manner in which a kroj is prepared and worn is as important as the individual elements. In Moravia,
for example, the women of each village tie their head scarves in a unique style. Blouse sleeves may hang
naturally, are starched, or may be pleated for fullness. Often, lace collars and aprons are starched for a
stiff and crisp effect. Heavily pleated sleeves or skirts must not appear crushed or distorted; skirt fullness
is achieved with petticoat layers. Overall, the kroj must appear clean, fresh, and unwrinkled.
Occasion is a final consideration. Traditionally, there was a specific kroj for church events and one for
dancing and festivals. Kroje for wedding and mourning ceremonies were especially complicated.
For example, in the Chod region of western Bohemia, the relationship of the mourners to the deceased could
be determined according to the composition of the kroj. At a wedding, the bride would dress differently
than her bridesmaids; a godmother attending a baby s christening ceremony would not dress the same
as the baby's mother.
Kroj is pronounced kroy. Plural is kroje, pronounced kroy-eh
What should I wear?
First, recognize that there are two schools of thought on what makes an acceptable kroj.
1. The first abides by very strict rules that the only real/authentic kroj is a completely original kroj
from the old country. These are the kroje you might find on exhibit in museums or worn by
individuals participating in festivals in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
2. In the United States, there is growing acceptance of Czech American Kroje and Slovak American
kroje. These are designed and worn as a reflection of an individual s pride in his/her Czech or
Slovak heritage. This includes altered authentic kroje or those made completely from scratch.
Selection of your kroj:
1. If you are lucky enough to have a kroj that fits definition #1 above, then you may wear it for the pageant. Be prepared to explain your kroj to the judges. You should know as much as possible about the history of the kroj and what village/region it represents. The type of information you should seek includes: Who made and/or wore it? How was it acquired? Who brought it to the U.S.? Does it represent the area that your ancestors came from? ( It is ideal, but not mandatory that your kroj represents your ancestral village.) Any other interesting facts about the kroj or those who wore it before you? If you are asked to explain your kroj, consider which of following answers would by more impressive to the judges:
a. The kroj I am wearing today was brought to the U.S. by my great-grandmother. It has been handed down to the women in her family until I inherited it this summer.
b. The kroj I am wearing today was brought to the U.S. in about 1908 by my grandmother, Anna Novaková. I have been doing research on our family genealogy and I think she was from Western Bohemia. The kroj substantiates this as it represents a typical kroj of Domazlice. Anna gave the kroj to my aunt (Maria Novak) who wore it to several festivals and picnics. Aunt Maria gave it to me. There have been a few size alterations to the original kroj and several repairs, but overall it is an original kroj that has been a part of my family s history for nearly a century.
Clearly, the judges will appreciate answer #b. as it illustrates the contestant did her research! Even if you can t find all the answers you seek, do your best and explain how you tried to find information and what you were able to find. At the very least, you must know what village or region your kroj represents!
2. Most contestants will likely have to make their own kroj or make significant repairs, alterations, or replacement pieces for an authentic kroj.
If you are starting with elements from an authentic kroj, research how the original kroj would have appeared and do your best to duplicate the missing pieces. You want your kroj to appear as close to the original as possible. Be prepared to explain to the judges what you had to make/repair and what steps you took to make sure it was as accurate as possible. As above, be prepared to answer questions about the history of your kroj.
If you are starting from scratch, consider the following: Do you want to make a kroj that resembles your family’s ancestral village/region? Can you find photos and/or patterns of a kroj from that area or any other areas? Will you be able to find the correct fabric, lace, and ribbons? These may all be tough questions, so do your best. Consider the list of sources at the bottom of this document and at least find images of authentic kroje. You may also be able to find books at your local library or through interlibrary loan.
Once you find your photo or pattern, do your best. From the image you should at least be able to determine fabric color or any patterns on the fabric and the overall form of the finished kroj (full skirt? short or long skirt? full or loose sleeves? etc.).
As you go through your resource material, note that kroj are divided into three areas: Bohemia (western Czech Republic), Moravia (eastern Czech Republic), or Slovakia. Generally speaking, you will notice the following about each of the three regions:
Bohemia (Western half of Czech Republic):
Blouse: White with roomy sleeves (but not pleated or full like in Moravia). No embroidery on the blouse sleeves. Usually no fabric below the elbow.
Vest: Relatively simple (except those from Chod region where woman’s vests are beaded). May be laced in front as opposed to buttons or frog clasps.
Skirt: Relatively simple, not full of rick-rack, just a few lines on the bottom of the skirt. Often softer colors and richer fabrics.
Apron: Often most of the handwork was done to the apron, which could be embroidery (colored or white on white) or even beadwork as in kroje from the Blata region of South Bohemia.
Head Covering: Head coverings vary in greatly Bohemia. If you don t have the correct cap, you may wear a floral wreath. Keep in mind that the head covering usually indicates marital status.
Footwear: Often red stockings/tights and black shoes. – sometime white stocking are used.
* In the United States, there is a tradition of representing a Bohemian kroj with a red skirt, white blouse, and black vest. You may consider this as a last resort, but keep in mind that it doesn't represent a specific village or town.
Moravia (Eastern half of Czech Republic):
Blouse: White with full sleeves, some even heavily pleated and starched. May have handwork
at the shoulder, collar, and cuffs.
Vest: Often elaborate with red or multicolored handwork.
Skirt: Wide range of colors and patterns, some floral. Range of skirt lengths.
Apron: Again, a wide variety of aprons from simple to the colorful and elaborately embroidered Kyjov aprons.
Head covering: Head coverings may be a dark red or brownish head scarf, beaded cap, or a floral wreath.
If you opt for the scarf, remember that each village has a different method for tying them! Also, scarves usually indicate that the woman is married.
Footwear: Often dark stockings/tights and black shoes or boots.
The variations between kroje in Slovakia are too variable to generalize. Do keep in mind that Slovakia is generally poorer than the Czech Republic, so you are less likely to find kroje made from silk and other expensive fabrics. They did much more handwork in Slovakia.
Guidelines prepared by Carmen Langel, past Curator of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
and Mark Vasko-Bigaouette, Czech and Slovak Heritage Tours Inc. web site www.czechheritage.com
and Founder of the CzechoSlovak Genealogical Society International ( CGSI )
We welcome you to join Czech & Slovak Sokol Minnesota
A Czech & Slovak Ethnic Educational - Cultural - Fitness Organization Founded in 1882 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Full details, information and events schedule are available at the above link.
Sources for this section are the wonderful guides used by Heritage Tours, Ramon, Jan, Olga and the many folk artists we visit, plus the Czech and Slovak Embassy web sites.
This informational website is brought to you by Czech and Slovak Heritage Tours,
Specializing in unique travel journeys to the Heart of Europe since 1992.
Your access to their link is greatly appreciated, and detailed itinerary for trips is available there.
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