{301.} Folk Costumes


An extraordinary number of factors influence national costumes, where alterations occur perhaps at a somewhat faster rate than in other areas of peasant culture. Change accelerated over the last two centuries, partly because increasingly more manufactured and factory products were added to the basic materials produced mostly at home.

During the Middle Ages and the following centuries, most of the basic materials were produced by the peasants themselves. They spun and wove linen out of hemp and flax and even did most of the wool processing themselves. They practised the most simple way of preparing skins, although the main elements of process and supply moved into the hands of village and town specialists since early times. However, these differed depending on whether they prepared the skins (tawer, currier) or processed them (furrier, bootmaker, shoemaker). The processing of wool remained within the domestic framework for a long time, but a number of small trades making wool into clothing became independent relatively quickly (tailor, szr maker, frieze maker, button maker, hatter). The making of linen by peasant women survived longest, although the importance of the products of small artisans (e.g. weavers) increased after the end of the 18th century. Factory-made products gained importance after the middle of the 19th century. Materials of broader width and richer colours caused great changes in the appearance of clothing. The high period of Hungarian folk costumes may be reckoned from this time and lasted for half a century–from the middle of the 19th century until the beginning of World War I–and in the border regions it lasted even longer.

Tradition is an especially noteworthy factor in the development of folk costumes. It also has social implications, in that certain strata of the peasantry define their costumes by an unwritten law that is nevertheless a bindingly valid order of the community. In the same way, tradition prescribes the norms of clothing for certain age groups, which are also strongly influenced by the role of each member within the family. Thus costume changes when a girl gets married, after the first child is born, and at the time when she must finally put on the clothes befitting an old woman after the birth of the first grandchild. Tradition also defines the costumes worn for special occasions (e.g. baptism, wedding, burial, etc.).

Various authorities interfered with the development of folk costumes, just as the Church did, by setting certain rules. County authorities prohibited especially expensive and ornamental hats, szr mantles, and richly embroidered sheepskin jackets, primarily those that imitated the clothing of the nobility or were even equal to it. Such interference was always justified as the protection of the poor from the excessive expense of certain pieces of clothing, which could cause bankruptcy, or for which they might attempt robbery in order to acquire the necessary {302.} amount of money. In fact, the authorities tried to prevent the people’s costumes from approximating those of the nobility. The Church, which directed its measures against overt gaudiness, fought against worldly vanity. The last great demonstration of this prohibition took place in 1924 in Mezkvesd, where all the sequins and gold lace were ordered to be removed and were burned ceremoniously, and their use, along with the use of pure silk yarn in embroidery, was prohibited by a Catholic priest.

Despite all prohibitions, the clothing of the nobility changed more rapidly than folk costume, and had an effect on peasant dress. And because the nobility maintained familiarity with foreign garments, primarily those of the Western nobility, many new elements of clothing reached the Hungarian peasantry, though with a time lapse. The influence, however, was reciprocal, because in certain periods of anti-Habsburg protest, the nobility put on the garb of the peasantry, or at least took over some of its features in their dress.

Many factors have influenced folk costumes, and the effects of these influences are known in detail only from the evidence of the last hundred years. Therefore, what follows refers primarily to this latter period.