Clothing at the time of the First Czechoslovak Republic

A new touch

The new state department that was created upon the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy – the Czechoslovak Republic – subscribed to republican ideals leading to the democratisation of society. The introduction of general suffrage put the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women all on an equal footing. Slovaks and Czechs after striving for many years succeeded in fulfilling their political emancipation by creating a separate state.  The young republic sought to apply modern progressive ideas in social issues, bringing many of Czechoslovakia’s inhabitants improvements the quality of housing, hygiene, accessibility to education, and possibilities for self-realisation. Clothing culture also contributed to spreading the new ideals of life. For the first time in history, more trendy clothing and fashion goods became available also to the manually labouring class, particularly in cities, whilst the Slovak countryside still remained “dressed in traditional costume” (except the families of teachers, craftsmen, notaries, or pastors, who, despite living in the countryside, nevertheless dressed in an urban manner, i.e. according to the fashion of the time).

The new woman

Despite the fact that, even after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic, interest in fashion events was focused on Paris and the pomp of the fashion world, the situation in the young republic began to develop also in other aspects. Intellectuals became the promoters of new fashion, and the new woman, mostly with democratic appeals, such as Milena Jesenská, who in her books Cesta k jednoduchosti (The Path to Simplicity) (1926) and Člověk dělá šaty (A Person Makes a Dress) (1927) highlighted in particular the practicality of clothing. Ideological reasons led to a defence and promotion of the elegant yet practical and moderate fashion. Modernity took on a very straightforward, functional form, for example the use of trousers, simple cuts, thanks to minimising unnecessary accessories and ornaments, or in short hair.  Nevertheless, this ideal was a minority current, closely linked with the urban environment, with educated intellectuals and bohemians. Alica Masaryková was one of the promoters of this no-nonsense approach in fashion and lifestyle, for example she liked shoes without heels, and quite austere clothes.

The ideal of a woman was also formulated by T. Masaryk: … today’s woman must be active, she must act in public, and in order to do so, she must stop being shouted at by old men and women, so that she has the strength of her own opinion”. This type of self-confident woman, engaged in society, was associated particularly with education, visibility, and openness. The exhibition Civilised Woman was held in Brno in 1929. Its authors Jan Vaněk, Zdeněk Rossmann and Božena Horneková sought to draw attention to the need for reform in clothing and lifestyle. Božena Horneková, (later Rothmayerová), was an extraordinary personality in the field of textiles; she was one of the first female graduates of the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art. For the Brno exhibition she designed women’s clothing for various occasions, based on combining trousers with other clothing elements. This promoter of women’s trousers and the new no-nonsense aesthetic in fashion was ahead of her time with her concept of fashion. Trousers found their place in the women’s wardrobe very carefully; in formal fashion only for sport and as home nightwear. They were very popular among young modern girls in the 1930s.

The Slovak magazine Živena also brought supportive opinions of the “new woman”. Its editor-in-chief, E. Maróthy-Šoltés, cited President Garrigue-Masaryk’s wife as a good role model, emphasising her education and nobility. Their daughter Alica Masaryková was described as an attractive role model for an educated and publicly engaged woman. Modern woman became an oft-promoted term in the new republic. It should be emphasised that the new republic created significant conditions for women’s development: women got the right to vote, had free access to education, celibacy for women’s teaching professions was abolished, they were engaged in society and financially self-sufficient.

Inspiration from folkcraft

Another ideological context for the new republic was provided by the promotion of folk clothing, particularly handicrafts. Alica Masaryková, from the position of the first lady, supported and initiated various activities aimed at deepening and promoting folk embroidery, fabrics, lacework. She was a collector of them, Božena Horneková Rothmayerová organised them and prepared them for display at the presidential apartments in Prague, where the Masaryk family lived.

In this spirit of national ideology, in Slovakia the production of folk-inspired clothing was taken up by the Lipa and Detva associations. This way of dressing was very popular in Slovakia and promoted right from the beginning of the 20th century. Lipa and Detva were participating associations, or cooperatives, concentrating on a wide range of products: fashionable women’s and children’s clothing, as well as toys, and home accessories. All products were handmade. An ambition of these institutions was to support and maintain domestic folk production. The products were made by experienced manufacturers directly in villages; it should be noted that in clothing production, the seamstress received the cut of the dress, which she embroidered in the marked places, and the stitching of dresses or handbags, etc., while the final work on the product was performed by professional tailors at central workshops. Experienced artists were also involved in designing products. The performance of the work was managed and supervised. In addition to this, the headquarters performed quality control, managed distribution and direct sales at the company’s stores, including sales abroad.

Clothes in “folk” style were widespread in the inter-war period in the Czech lands and Slovakia. The association Živena published a magazine of the same name with a fashion supplement, where fashionable clothes and accessories by Lipa were promoted.  Both associations had a network of stores. Detva was based in Bratislava (the headquarters were on Štefánikova Street in the former headquarters of the Izabella association), and had stores in Brno, Prague, Piešťany, Karlovy Vary and Olomouc. Detva also exported its products abroad. In interwar Czechoslovakia, Lipa also had stores in several cities in the country. In Bratislava it opened a store in 1927 in the Tatra Banka Palace on SNP Square (the building of today’s Ministry of Culture).

This type of clothing was not worn by a simple women from the countryside, but was widespread in the urban environment, particularly in nationally conscious Slovak families. At first glance, the dress was reminiscent of folk clothing. Pale, natural canvas colours were preferred for summer, with dark silk fabrics for evening wear. The cuts corresponded to contemporary trends in fashion.  It was popular to dress young children in such clothes; the associations made children’s jackets, capes, dresses, trousers, and caps for winter and summer.

Changes of silhouette

At the beginning of the new republic, the silhouettes worn during the First World War still persisted; in the straight one, a narrower long skirt was worn, and in the bell, the skirt widened downward, reaching the ankles. In the years 1920 – 1921, we see a shift of the waistline toward the hips, giving a change of silhouette. At the same time, the length of the dress moves even lower from the ankles. So-called “pocket” dresses became popular, with the waistline  lowered on the hips, and with the upper, loose, peace, they gave a free and comfortable look.

A bolder shift occurred in 1925, when the length of skirt shortened to the knees, and the waistline remained reduced. This style of clothing in Europe in the 1920s was termed à la garçonne. The waistline, lowered on the hips in a tall and slender figure, with a masculine flat bust became the ideal figure for fashion designers and photographers. This new ideal of beauty celebrated the boyish look. To correct their figure, women used a rubber band and bra. Androgenic shapes looked best in these dresses. You can see in the period photographs that this type of dress was not so flattering for more corpulent ladies. Fashion ideals and clothing reality often do not match.

The most popular type of clothing for daily wear became the knitted set, brought to the fashion world by Coco Chanel. In the variants: skirt, sweater (or kazak) and jacket (or sweater), or skirt and jacket were comfortable daily alternatives for going to work, but knitting of quality wool, or silk also fitted for more formal daytime occasions. They partially replaced the previously popular women’s costumes: a skirt, jacket and blouse. Two-piece suits were still worn, in the French version – with more refined cut details, or English – a rather austere look.

In autumn 1929, the silhouette and cut of dresses changed. The waistline moved from the hips to a natural place, the skirt length and, the cut of the dress followed the proportions of the body, and the silhouette of the dress took on a flowing character. The accentuation of women’s proportions won. There was also a marked change in hairstyle and make-up. The ideal shifted from boyish to “sweet” femininity. Perfectly fitting dresses for the figure were made possible by the “oblique” cut, made famous by the French designer Madelaine Vionnet. It allowed the construction of clothing on the basis of sophisticated symmetry causing adhesion to the figure. Moreover, dresses made this way are interesting thanks to multi-part cut fields that make them visually special.

Before 1936, there was beginning the trend to gradually emphasise shoulders on various types of clothing. The female silhouette loses flow, and the strong dominance of the shoulders adds rigour to the silhouette. Creases were introduced on sleeves, and shoulder pads were used. A narrow torso, and the flowing longer skirt optically added even more volume to the shoulders. 

Interwar fashion throughout Europe promoted a new perspective on elegance. Inconspicuousness, civility, functionality, even with strong masculine elements, prevailed for daily occasions, both formally and informally. For evening occasions, the aristocratic etiquette of nobility still dominated. In the 1920s, influences from the Orient still persisted in evening and daily social wear. This stabilised in the 1930s glamour, promoted by film stars and fashion photography. A novelty was the revealing of the back (exclusively) on evening dresses. The female character gets a new master, and that became sport. The body was to be shaped by physical exertion, various sports activities, such as walking to the Sokolovna gym, the swimming pool, or hiking. The state, besides solving the housing issue, was also creating conditions for the construction of sports centres.

Despite the fact that aesthetic forms were changing in the spirit of sober modernism, while simplifying and facilitating the way of life, social and clothing etiquette remained adherents following the “olden days”. An example of this is the prevailing convention from the 19th century, such as the wearing of gloves and headwear for women, or stiff collars for men. Clothing etiquette was binding for the middle and upper classes, and women’s and men’s clothing were strictly divided according to the section of the day and social occasion.

Thanks to Coco Chanel, which gradually gave courage to other seamstresses, the hats of the interwar period took on a more reduced form. She discarded massive Art Nouveau hats filled with animal and floral decorations. In the 1920s, ladies still wore wide-brimmed hats, but with more moderate decoration, and bell-shaped cloche hats prevailed, but also garrison caps and turbans. In the 1920s, evening caps were also popular, complementing the dress. A novelty in the women’s wardrobe world wool berets, until then having been an emblem of the proletariat, yet now fashionable in various colours, both in summer and winter. Fur products were very popular, long-haired fur coats and capes for the day, short-haired for the evening, or evening fur boleros and short capes. A trend were also fur gloves – muffs. Up until the 1940s, some species of whole animals were a typical addition, such as foxes, ferrets, minks, placed on one shoulder, or as a shawl, or as a long collar on day dresses, costumes, but also on evening dresses.

As skirts shortened, shoes became a distinctive and visible accessory. Elegant types had a higher heel; according to the etiquette of the time: the rule for heels was lower for the day, higher in the evening. Various types of pumps were worn, popular were sandals with a toe and heel. The general rule was that in winter, women from the higher classes wore high heeled pumps, not boots. These represented sport shoes, but also shoes for the working class. On summer days these were expanded also by open-toed sandals without a heel, and textile shoes on a low platform, similar to today’s gym shoots. Combinations of leather and textile also became fashionable. Thanks to the Baťa company, footwear of a more fashionable form also became affordable for lower classes of the population. In addition to Baťa shoes,there were also other ready-made shoes on the market, for example poperky, which in contrast to Baťa, were of a higher-medium standard. It was still true that elegant and more luxurious shoes were bought at smaller businesses. Shoemaking was also a common trade, where shoes were also tailor-made. In the 1930s, a fashion was pumps and sandals in a combination of black and white, or gold and silver for eveningwear.

Handbags were a necessary accessory for the fashionably dressed lady, chosen according to clothing and the social occasion. So-called leafless handbags, carried in the hand, became a novelty. Generally, handbags were smaller in form. They could be bought in departments stores, but they were also made by bag makers. In winter, those that could be worn as a sleeve (a muff) were also popular. The colours of the shoes and gloves matched the handbag. Gloves were a necessary accessory for the fashionably dressed woman / lady not just in winter, but also summer. They were worn in a length up to the wrist, but also with a higher cuff under the elbow, even the length of the arm for the evening, made of silk knit or tulle or netted with linen or cotton threads.

In the interwar period, parasols gradually declined in popularity as an essential accessory protecting porcelain skin. This is also related to the fact that suntans were becoming popular. Young girls and women had begun sunbathing. Parasols remained only as a remnant of aristocratic walks.

The basis of the man’s remains the men’s suit in a triple combination of jacket, waistcoat and trousers. Etiquette from the time of the monarchy still persisted, so for a day on official occasions a jacket or long suit skirt was de rigueur, will while a suit and jacket was prescribed for less official occasions. For daytime occasions, the waistcoat was high, with a waistcoat with neckline for the evening. The height of the collar on men’s shirts and the way the tie was tied also said much about the wearer: High rigid collars were preferred or prescribed in all offices, horizontal collars were more informal. In period photographs from the 1920s, our political representatives at daily working meetings are usually dressed in jackets and frock coats (redingotes). Tuxedos and tailcoats were prescribed for the evening. An essential formal accessory of men were: hardened hats, such as the top hat or bowler, with soft hats also coming into fashion. Caps (otherwise proletarian) were worn as men’s informal headwear. In the 1920s, new types of men’s clothing began to appear – jackets (similar to today’s bomber jackets) instead of formal jackets, or sportier forms of jackets with several pockets. In the 1930s, the silhouette of men’s clothing changed significantly, from a slim vertical silhouette to something broader. A new type of day suit gained ground: a jacket with two-row fastening. In the interwar period, similarly as with women’s fashion, knitted garments, particularly pullovers and waistcoats were popular among men; in a gentleman’s wardrobe for informal occasions and sport; among young boys and manually working men also for daily wear.

Fashion magazines and fashion advertising

Advertising for clothing products and firms producing clothing and accessories was present in the public space of cities, and most frequently in periodicals. In the interwar period there still was no fashion magazine published in the Slovak language. In Slovakia, therefore, women, as well as men, read mainly Czech and foreign fashion periodicals. They were also closely watched by editors of specialised fashion supplements in the Slovak press, so that readers were informed about world trends. An example is Anna Škultétyová, the editor of Živena, who prepared a fashion section, taking French, German, English, and Bulgarian fashion magazines. From 1928 there was also a specialised fashion section Móda a vkus (Fashion and Taste) in the Živena magazine. Other society magazines also had smaller fashion sections, e.g. the weekly Slovenský svet (Slovak World) (from the 1921 section Ženám slovenského sveta (To Women of the Slovak World)), the pictorial social magazine Nový svet (New World) (from 1928 the section Móda Nového sveta (New World Fashion)), the monthly Ozvena Echo (since 1931 the section Móda (Fashion)). From 1938, the women’s weekly Nová žena (New Woman) (section Fashion) began to be published.

In Slovakia, fashion magazines published in the Czech lands were available, such as Elegant Prague, Fashion and Taste, Salon, Prague Fashion, Eva, Taste, Fashion Show, the Month or Gentleman. Foreign fashion periodicals included, for example, Gazette du Bon Ton, Femina, Vogue, The Garden of Fashion and Harper’s Bazaar.

Notable firms

From among the prominent firms producing various clothing and fashion ranges on the Czechoslovak market, particular attention should be given to the firms footwear Baťa, clothing factories Nehera, Rolný, Sbor, Prvoděv, Moravia and from Slovakia Slovenka.  Still today some clothing companies slogans have not disappeared from memory, for example: Model Shoes Sewn by Rolný, or Nehera sews dresses well. These Czechoslovak firms offering fashion collections focused on the production of industrially and mass-produced goods, with their production and business strategy focused on the wider market. Acceptable prices meant that they became affordable also for manually working classes, for whom the possibility of dressing fashionably had previously been unavailable. The firm Marathon specialised in sportswear and supplies. It was established in 1918 and became the largest sportswear shop for Slovaks (its store was on Ventúrská Street in Bratislava).

The shoemaking firm Baťa targeted its products at the wider social market. In the interwar period in the Czechoslovak Republic, it was not above-standard in terms of fashion to have shoes from Baťa; the firm conveyed its products to the widest possible masses, striving to follow the fashion demands in footwear. In its product advertising, it promoted not just “folk” types of footwear, such as galoshes and sneakers, but also fashionable women’s snakeskin shoes. In creating its collections Baťa tried to respect the requirements of all age groups.

Department stores

Modern and progressive department stores were built in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s and 1930s, for example from 1934 the fashion store Schön (Obchodná Street, during socialism known as the Pionier Department store), as well as the S. Braun “Quality Fashion Store” (at the Suché Mýto crossroads). The most modern of its kind was the Brouk a Babka Department store (on SNP Square, today the Dunaj Department Store). It opened in 1936 as the first in Slovakia of this already well-known firm from the Czech lands. It was built in the space of five months. Functionalist architecture, together with modern sales methods (mail-order, sale on credit) and advertising (the firm published catalogues, mail order catalogues, advertising leaflets, fashion guides, etc.) all added a progressive, modern stamp to the company.

There were also other department stores with fashion goods in Bratislava: Sigmund Kohn (Laurinská Street),  J. Steiner (Hurbanovo Square),  Amschelberg (Sedlárska Street), Berger Adolf  (Mariánska Street). The most well-known company, Tausky and Sons, had an exhibition department store in today’s SNP Square above the Main Post Office building. This company had been operating in Bratislava since 1846. In addition to its fashion collection store, they also had a model salon for women, and, notably, also for men.

Luxury companies

The highest quality women’s and men’s clothing was always made to measure for the customer. This service was offered by women’s and men’s tailors, who often carried on their trade often in the centre of small towns. They also knew how to get quality fabric, or their customers brought their own fabrics to them. Clothing, tailor-made by a trained master tailor “sat” best on the figure, and this was an important requirement for the quality of the model.

There were also tailoring workshops, making tailor-made clothes, but the tailors not only sewed the clothes, but also designed them. Such tailoring was often referred to as salons named after the owner-designer of the clothing. There were several such salons in the interwar Bratislava, for example Christa Nase, Gita Nemešová, Dedeo and Löwy, or Jaroslav Kalvoda, Zsákovits, Rosenzweig. Smaller companies, specialised in the production and sale of clothing in higher quality than that offered by large-run production factories, were, for example the firm Tausky and Son or Buxbaum, Blau & Weinberger. The prices of clothes in these salons were greatly higher than custom made clothing at a tailor. Customers came from the upper middle class or the bourgeoisie.

The most renowned of their kind in the former Czechoslovakia were the Prague model houses, whose customers included the wives of Slovak politicians, e.g. Irena Hodžová or Maja Markovičová, as well as the wives of Slovak industrialists and bankers. Notable salons were, for example, Rosenbaum, Podolská, Roubíček. Some of them also produced clothes for the Barandov film studios. Czech film legends became promoters of their luxurious clothing production and, thanks to the films, they spread throughout Czechoslovakia as a fashion ideal.