Vintage Polish Fashion Divas of the 1950s and 60s
They transformed sneakers into trendy pumps, made blouses from drapery, and even created evening gowns from plastic or cotton diaper cloth. There was also their original jewellery, made of… beans and coloured pasta. This is how the women of 1950s and 1960s Poland elegantly stood up to the communist regime.
Agnieszka L. Janas, the author of a newly released book, Elegantki: Moda ulicy lat 50. i 60. XX wieku (The Elegant Ones: Street Fashion of the 1950s and 1960s) claims that Barbara Hoff and Leopold Tyrmand were at the forefront of an "army dressed in hard-gained garments and equipped with needles". In her exciting new book, Janas collected memories and anecdotes from the lives of 13 women: aristocrats, actresses, nurses, teachers, physiotherapists, and models – different figures united by their love of fashion and hatred of the communist regime. Here they are:
Ewa Wiśniewska: The Polish Brigitte Bardot
An actress of film and theatre, and an icon of style. In the 1950s and 1960s, she added a splash of colour to the grey streets of Warsaw. Her need to create was so strong that even as a student, she quickly learned how to tailor, cut, and sew, and she used to remake practically everything she could get her hands on. To the terror of her parents, Wiśniewska would use a hot iron to burn out fine patterns on sweaters she got from "the West". On another occasion, she painted her black rubber boots with an army camouflage pattern, and added red stripes to her white Italian stilettos.
Ewa Wiśniewska keenly collaborated with costume designers who cherished her style, and her clothes often starred in films. In Stanisław Bareja’s film, Co mi zrobisz, jak mnie złapiesz (What Will You Do When You Catch Me?), Wiśniewska wore a dress of her own making, with pink fabric imported from Chicago, and the addition of tea-dyed lace. In a talk with Janas, Wiśniewska reveals that for her, the most fascinating aspect of dressing up was the power of creation:
I would invent clothing, draw, and decorate. I used to dye cretonne in all kinds of colour. I borrowed paint from my friends at the Academy of Fine Arts and created patterns on fabric. Once, I decorated four different places on a skirt with the image of an African American under a palm tree. I also had a friend who tied up cloth in knots and dipped it in paint. He came up with colourful, uneven circles, and I made skirts and dresses from this cloth. I also had evening dresses which I made from baby diaper cotton, dyed in a special plant on Nowy Świat street.
Ewa Wiśniewska’s wardrobe is filled with special items. There are sport shirts bordered with lace from her grandmother, skirts with sewn-on ruffles, and a little black dress with tassels, which was hunted down by her father during an international tour with the National Philharmonic.
Krystyna Mazurówna: Flip-flops at a Monte Carlo ball
Krystyna Mazurówna was an eccentric dancer, choreographer, and a soloist of the Great Theatre National Opera, as well as the renowned Casino de Paris. During her first international tour, she surprised guests of a Monte Carlo ball, wearing a green gown made of curtain fabric with stylish satin and crystal flip-flops. She easily drew everyone’s attention. Apparently, one of her partners fell for her wide circle-based skirt, finished off with a… hula-hoop. In the book, Mazurówna recalls:
There was a shoemaker on Chmielna who made shoes on the condition that he was provided with the leather. I once took daddy’s old briefcase to this shoemaker. He told me that the leather was made from such stiff and thick pigskin that the only thing he could make from it was beach sandals. And he did: soles, a few straps, and laces all the way up to the knees. They were trendy Roman sandals.
Mazurówna either designed costumes for her dance team, or she simply took them out of her wardrobe. When white sweaters appeared in stores, she would buy 12, later sewing mini-skirts to make up the outfit for women, and pants to complete the one for men. "We performed a number in white sweaters, danced to the music of Kurylewicz. We danced in white 'pepegi' shoes, which were very hard to get, by the way. Once they brought out size 35, so I had to gather dancers who had small feet." Pepegi was a name given to sneakers made by the state-owned PPG, Polski Przemysł Gumowy (Polish Rubber Industry).
Beata Tyszkiewicz: The gene of elegance
An actress and aristocrat, as well as a diva of the Polish silver screen, Beate Tyszkiewicz admits that she learned elegance from her father, Krzysztof Tyszkiewicz, who paid a lot of attention to his own looks. The actress recalls:
During the Warsaw Uprising, he bravely fought in the Wola district, dressed in… a flannel suit and salmon deerskin gloves! He captured one German tank in this attire, and later received the Virtuti Militari medal for the achievement. He abided by the rules even at the time of the occupation – this is how he was remembered by his fellow fighters.
Beata Tyszkiewicz’s mother was also an elegant lady before the war, and used to sew dresses at the Telimena store.
I had a beautiful chiffon dress the colour of coffee with milk. I would order buttons for my shirts at a jewellers. They were framed in very fine gold. I also took a lot of care preparing my outfits for festivals in Moscow, San Sebastian, and Rome.
Monika Dzienisiewicz-Olbrychska: Hunting for tweed
An actress, and an individual personality who always had her own original ideas for an outfit. The most famous Polish fashion designer of the time, Barbara Hoff, once said that whenever Monika appeared there was electrical discharge. Monika Dzienisiewicz-Olbrychska used to have her clothes sewn by a tailor in Łódź she'd befriended, and she also collected items in various second-hand stores during international tours with her theatre. She drew inspiration from magazines she ordered from France, as well as the fashion section of the Polish Przekrój magazine.
Her biggest fashion triumph is connected to the world of diplomacy, and a show she gave at a party of the Italian ambassador in the early 1960s. Wearing a dress of her own design, Dzienisiewicz-Olbrychska was elected the best-dressed lady at the party. Later on, she recalled:
I was inspired by a photo of Twiggy wearing a wide velvet dress fastened with a huge, round buckle. I wore an evening dress with a lace collar, dyed in tea. The collar had very meticulously cut out edges, which made it more elegant and classy. The top of the dress was made from my mother’s black velvet skirt, and the long sleeves were also finished off with lace. I had a wide satin belt with a buckle that I bought in a haberdashery store. It was made out of pearly plastic, and it was the element from which I began creating the outfit.
Ewa Maria Morelle: Telimena dresses herself in Łódź
A painter and a model of the famous Telimena Fashion House – the first pre-war Polish store that tailored dresses for women. The Łódź fashion house, founded by Krystyna Dębczyńska in 1958, was known for employing the most beautiful models in the country. The unique Ewa Maria Morelle (Frykowska, nee Kwaśniewska) was one of those models. It was there that she first wore high-heeled shoes, a narrow skirt, and a formal dress with underskirts. She marvelled at Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, and when she cut her hair like the Italian actress Lucia Bose, she was thrown out of school.
I used to buy things from imported foreign packages, sometimes I bought the things I wore at fashion shows, and when that was not enough, my mother would sew clothes for me. I wore slippers by Gejderowicz, hats, gloves, and fake jewellery designed by students from the Academy of Fine Arts.
Edited by Anna Legierska, source: Elegantki. Moda ulicy lat 50. i 60. XX wieku by Agnieszka L. Janas, BOSZ publishing house
Translated by Paulina Schlosser, 9/12/2014