Clothing in Slovakia at the time of communist Czechoslovakia

Socialist realism and fashion reality

Centralisation of fashion design and printing

In 1945, on the basis of the Beneš Decrees, at a time when a democratic government still formally existed, nationalisation processes in Czechoslovakia were gaining force and applied to large clothing companies with more than 500 employees. The second stage of the nationalisation of private property came after February 1948, when smaller companies with more than 50 employees also became state property. From 1949 onward, small businesses and trades were gradually liquidated. By abolishing private property, the state took control of production. It became the sole owner of large and small businesses. After the February coup in 1948, Czechoslovakia definitively became part of the bloc under the political influence of the Soviet Union. The world was divided into East and West. Even tough state propaganda against the so-called West was ultimately counterproductive, aroused resistance and did not prevent the countries of capitalist Europe and the United States from becoming a symbol of freedom and plenty in the eyes of people living in the socialist bloc. The functioning of the mechanisms of fashion and its availability in this period are also an example of the hypocrisy of this ideology. Political pressure failed to suppress a person’s natural desire to dress nicely and fashionably.

Centralisation of fashion design and printing

Centralisation applied not just to the production and distribution of clothing, but also to clothing design, fashion printing and the education of creative designers. In 1949, the state-owned enterprise Textilná tvorba (Textile Creation) was established, with prototyping plants and design studios in Prague. Their main task was to ensure the artistic level and craftsmanship of the products. At this institution, designs were made for model, small-run and large-scale production. All fashion collections by which the state presented itself at foreign trade fairs and exhibitions were designed at Textile Creation and produced under its supervision. It was an elite workplace that fell under the auspices of the state. Similar state institutions also existed in Western countries, for example, France also managed fashion production very precisely at the state level (haute couture is a licence granted only by the French Government following a rigorous selection of applicants). The institution Textile Creation transformed the former fashion salons founded during the time of the First Czechoslovak Republic. Although there was some continuity, this occurred against a backdrop of changed ownership and wholly different social contexts.

In 1958 Textile Creation was renamed to the ÚBOK (Institute of Home & Clothing Culture). The organisation also played an educational role, organising lectures and courses for professionals from large- and small-scale production. It became a standard for quality and professionalism. At the instigation of Textile Creation, the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art in Prague in September 1949 established the Clothing Studio. Hedvika Vlková, a well-known designer from Textile Creation, was appointed to manage the studio. This was the same Hedvika Vlková who worked in the Podolská salon in the interwar period and in 1938 opened her own fashion house in Prague. The Communists took advantage of the professional qualities of several professionals from the First Republic and offered them realisation in the new structure of clothing creation.

After 1948, fashion magazines also became a tool for spreading communist ideology. They were run, staffed and censored by the state. One monthly periodical was published in the Czech language Žena a móda (Woman & Fashion) (from 1949), as well as the quarterly periodicals Módní tvorba (Fashion Creation) (1948 – 1951), Tvar (Form) (1948). The first Slovak fashion magazine was published in 1949, under the title Mariena, renamed in 1950 to Móda – textil (Fashion – Textile), in 1961 to Naša móda (Our Fashion) and from 1968 to Móda (Fashion). It was published by the publishing house Živena, which belonged to the Committee of Czechoslovak Women. In 1969, they expanded their offer for younger readers with the magazine Dievča (Girl).

Problems with production and distribution

The post-war resumption of textile production was influenced by several political steps in the 1930s and 1940s. A substantial problem for resuming production was the lack of raw materials. Quality raw materials had become a strategic commodity. They could only be imported from abroad, often from the capitalist countries of Western Europe, which required foreign exchange funds, which the state lacked.

Czechoslovakia was a major producer of clothing and textiles in the Eastern Bloc and Comecon countries. These countries organised International Fashion Congresses in the countries of the Eastern Bloc (for example, in East Germany in Leipzig, in the Czechoslovak Republic in Prague and Brno). It was a competitive show and at the same time a platform for professionals and salesmen to meet. International contracts were negotiated here. Each country presented itself with the best it could make in clothing.

Large-scale mass production of clothing goods should have saturated the needs of a large population. With the standardisation of clothing, fabrics and linen, the production of goods at large-scale enterprises should have increased. Nevertheless, in stores there was a manifest lack of goods for customers. In Slovakia, there were several state-owned enterprises for the production of clothing ranges. The largest producers were Odevné závody Viliama Širokého (Viliam Široký Clothing Plants) in Trenčín (formerly the firm Nehera) with plants in Trenčín, amalgamating the clothing factories of: the former Slovena in Nové Mesto nad Váhom and in Topoľčany, the former Sbor in Hlohovec; and new companies in Šafárikovo and Skalica. They made men’s and boys clothing, formal and leisurewear. A major manufacturer of women’s and girl’s clothing was Makyta Púchov (formerly the enterprise Rolný), with operations also in Žilina, Sučany, Bytča, Námestovo. In 1985, the small-run segment of MakytaŠARM was established.

In eastern Slovakia there were several stores of the Captain Nálepka Clothing Plants (formerly the Magura enterprise): in Košice, Michalovce, Lipany, Svidník, Humenné. They focused on children’s and men’s clothing. The largest manufacturer of linen, such as men’s and women’s shirts, nightwear, women’s, men’s and children’s underwear was Zornica in Bánovce nad Bebravou. In Ružomberok and Levice they used mainly textile fabrics. In the late 1980s, under licence from Lee Cooper they began to make men’s denim shirts and women’s suits. Various types of knitwear were made by Pleta in Banská Štiavnica, Slovenka in Banska Bystrica, Trikota in Vrbové, Tatrasvit in Svit.

Short-run production in state hands also existed, offering customers above-standard services. All short-run production enterprises were characterised by a high degree of professionalism and they guarded the quality of their products from design through to processing. Thanks to them, quality clothes were on offer, often with a unique design. Vkus and Vzorodev are examples of custom-made clothing and short-run production garments. High-quality models of various types of clothing were made here, for example formal dresses, women’s two-piece suits, women’s and men’s coats. In the production of clothing, hand sewing still prevailed, with an emphasis on precise stitchwork and detail.

An important alternative in short-run clothing production was the creation of model collections by the folk art cooperatives: DetvaÚĽUV, Slovakia, Kroj, Angora. Under the auspices of the Centre for Folk Art Production (ÚĽUV) a design studio worked with artists in the field of textiles, clothing, and home accessories. Klára Brunovská, Jana Menkynová, and Eva Kováčová all concentrated on clothing. They focused on the use of quality natural materials and reviving traditional techniques of clothing production and decoration, inspired by traditional folk clothing. They made blueprint women’s clothes, embroidered blouses, twinsets, and coats. They were sold in the firms’ own stores: Detva, Slovakia, Centre for Folk Art Production.

Modex Žilina (from 1967) was a somewhat different enterprise, combining clothing fashion ranges with customer service. It produced a smaller volume of clothing, of a customised nature, allowing greater flexibility of trends. For their models, Modex had fabrics made at domestic textile factories, though also purchased quality fabrics abroad.

One of the greatest legends from socialism in Czechoslovakia was the firm Tuzex. The name was a portmanteau of the Slovak words for domestic and export. It was an organisation falling under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, and was founded in 1957.  It was a retail network where one could buy consumer products from abroad, from a fashion range of clothing, footwear, dresses, handbags, cosmetics, and bijou jewellery. In the mid-1960s, the state allowed people to wear so-called texasky, i.e., jeans. They were purchased at Tuzex, or their relatives send them by post from America or other countries. In 1968 Rifle jeans, an Italian brand, first appeared in Tuzex, going on to become a generic term in Czechoslovakia also for other quality jeans. At Tuzex in the 1970s it was also possible to buy quality brands, such as Mustang, Levi’s & Strauss, Wrangler. They were produced in Czechoslovakia at the company Kras Brno at the end of the 1960s. And at the end of the 1980s denim was produced at Levitext in Levice.  In year 1981 licensed the firm Captain Nálepka’s Clothing Factory in Prešov. At Tuzex it was also possible to get products such as Adidas – T-shirts, sneakers, jackets. Most Tuzex stores were in the Czech Republic; in Slovakia only in Bratislava, Piešťany, Nitra, Banská Bystrica, Košice, Martin, Michalovce, Poprad, Prešov, Ružomberok, Vranov nad Topľou, Žilina, Tatranská Lomnica.

So-called fashion houses had an exceptional standing in the network of stores in Czechoslovakia. One of them was in Bratislava, known as Dom módy Dunaj (Danube Fashion House). You could also buy higher-standard clothes from small-run production and clothes from abroad. Quality products could be purchased at the Luxus chain of stores, which while being of higher quality in comparison with large-scale fashion collections, the term “luxury” was nevertheless an exaggeration.

Domestic ingenuity

If a citizen of Czechoslovakia wanted to be on the pulse of fashion news, they had to use their own initiative. Clothes were made by people at home, who knew how. Skills such as sewing, knitting, crocheting were relatively common women’s abilities. Home-based production of clothes was supported also by imported period fashion magazines, but the most popular, if hard to come by was the German magazine Burda. There were specialised magazines for knitwear with detailed instructions for making clothes, for example the magazine Dorka. Many girls and women experimented at home, making unique creations. Many times, however, home-made clothes showed only the fashion of the silhouette, but were amateurish and of poor quality.

Besides individual home-based and amateur production, the lack of goods was filled in part by tailors’ operating unofficially from home. It was a form of private enterprise tolerated by the regime. Trained tailors were also able to earn money at home. Many sewed alongside other jobs in their households, where their customers took turns. Even in small towns where there were no professional tailoring workshops, Vkus, or special shops with above-standard fashion goods, there could always be found a tailor working from home.

The barbed wire behind which the Eastern Bloc countries lay represented significant political, economic and cultural isolation, but practice showed that people behind the Iron Curtain were not at all cut off from the realities of life in the West. The cautious infiltration of new trends from the West came through unofficial channels, often borne by young people. Official ideology strongly condemned the following of Western trends, and fought also against all youth fads.  In the 1950s official ideology criticised “páskov” (stripes) – boys with distinctive striped socks, “potápkami” (divers) – narrow above-the-ankle trousers, with T-shirts or shirts with distinctive ties; in the 1960s the official ideology armed with the propaganda press fought against hippies, beatniks, big-beats, who preferred long hair and very casual clothing; in the 1970s official propaganda guarded the music scene against influences including hard rock and punk; followed in the 1980s by metallists and Depeche Mode followers. Adherents of any alternative currents were publicly criticised as anti-state elements, and often persecuted.

Man-made fibres preferred

From the 1950s onward, scarce raw materials for garment production were gradually replaced by new types of materials being developed since the Second World War. Materials based on a purely synthetic basis were created. The first synthetic fibres in the world to be produced were polyamides. Clothes made from them were easy to maintain. Nylon, perlon, and dederon belong to this group. Nylon production spread in Czechoslovakia under the name silón, with silónky becoming synonymous with women’s tights, as did nylons in English; as well as the Nezmar make of men’s socks. It was also used for the production of underwear, as well as women’s dresses. Crepsilon was used to make women’s gloves, which were still a standard part of formal wear in the 1950s, even for the day. Nylon was combined also with classic natural fibres. It was also used for the production of swimsuits, with a quick-drying swimsuit appearing in 1957, made from curly crepsilon. In the mid-1950s plush fabrics were also made from polyamide fibres, for example for artificial furs. Imitations of ocelot, ram and beaver were created. Other polyamide fibre materials such as nylon, perlon and dederone were used from the mid-1950s to make men’s shirts. The slang word dederónka, used for a shirt from this material, became a symbol of socialist fashion production. In the 1960s, another synthetic material was introduced into textile production – polyamide silk (artificial silk), but in Czechoslovakia clothes made from it could only be bought at Tuzex.

From the 1960s onward, new types of materials using polyester fibre were introduced. In Czechoslovakia, they appeared later than in the West, and until the 1950s, were called “svitlen” (lights). In the mid-1960s tesil (known in the world as terylene) appeared on the market. Various types of women’s and men’s clothes were made from it. A new material similar to terylene was used for the production of sportswear, but with better flexibility and stretchability: polysport.

A major discovery was the elastic polyurethane fibre, which began to be produced in 1962 in the USA under the trade name Lycra. Its production was gradually introduced in Europe as well, but was only imported to Czechoslovakia, not produced. It was an elastic knit, used mainly for making underwear, tights, swimsuits, but also knitted outerwear, including sportswear. Lycra and elastane were used mainly for their elasticity, stretchability. In Czechoslovakia, it was mainly the knitting industry that used imported elastic fibres for the production of corsets, tights, but also women’s elastic trousers with under-foot straps – stirrup pants. In 1967, products from diolene became available in Czechoslovakia, followed by zadara – a synthetic chemlon knit – in 1969, which was used for the production of various types of garment. It entered the market in the same year tesilan, which was mainly used for the production of clothing for young people. Crimplene became a widespread material used particularly for scarfs and knitwear. For the clothing of the 1950s and 1960s, textiles from synthetic thread resembling metal fibre, the so-called lurex was produced on a large scale. It was first produced in the 1950s in Great Britain, and its popularity rose in the following decade.  Czechoslovak industry tried to respond quickly to this development, but the local products did not reach the quality of Western goods. Imported lurex could also be purchased by the metre. In Senica, Slovakia, synthetic textiles resembling silk fabrics were produced from 1970 onward: polyester silk slotera, or the viscose silk slovisa already in the interwar period.

In 1970, paper dresses officially appeared in Slovakia. They had commonly been worn in the West since 1967. They were not made of normal paper, but from a non-woven textile papitex (viscose with tesil). It was a disposable dress designed for casual wear. An advantage of these dresses was that they could be folded into a small form.  They also withstood gentle washing and ironing, but had a short life.

What was worn in the 1950s

The basis of the women’s wardrobe was a two-piece suit with a straight smooth or slightly gathered skirt. The length of the skirts was 10 cm below the knee (although it was shorter in the West).  Short jacket coats of various shapes gained popularity; those loose below the waistline were given the slang name coolie coat. The blouse and skirt became a widespread combination for daily wear. The most popular was a variant of a white blouse often embroidered with a small collar with a white gathered skirt. Loose sweaters were also given the slang name cooligan. They combined with a skirt or trousers, the more elegant ones were shaped to the waist and had a collar. The sweater and skirt had become a popular garment since the interwar period. Various shapes of Macintosh coat were worn: with distinctive V-shaped arms, or in a close-fitting shank gathered at the waistline, or also in the shape of a pyramid in an A silhouette. The most common type of winter coat in the 1950s was the hubertus (women’s and men’s) in green from combed wool, unlined, and in the back having a counter-fold with a belt. The most widely worn coat in spring (among men and women) was the duffel coat. It was sewn from thick linen fabric and tightened at the waistline with a belt.

On the head a scarf was worn on a normal day, or rádiovky (berets) were also worn. Hats then were considered outdated, or even a bourgeois experience.  Nevertheless, they were promoted in the contemporary fashion press of the time as a classic element of formal elegance. Knitted caps of various shapes came into fashion.

In the 1950s the wearing of trousers became more common among women, particularly young women. Kominárky (chimney-sweep trousers) were a favourite (made from corduroy or fabric in dark colours); they had a narrow cut and reached down to above the ankles (Potápky (divers) also had a similar cut, and were worn also by men.) They combined with sweaters, jacket coats, pullovers, T-shirts. A nicer type of T-shirt with a collar was called the skampolo, and could be a single colour or striped. They were used only as a casual type of clothing.

Gloves remained a mandatory part of the wardrobe: for social occasions, as well as for summer walking clothes. They were made from various knits, spring gloves now from synthetic fibres, and winter gloves from leather. Mittens also became popular outside of sports.

The evening dress had a similar silhouette as the day dress – a slender waist and a gathered skirt. But they were sewn with conspicuous necklines, often with large folded collars falling over the shoulders. In addition to a richly pleated skirt from taffeta or tulle on an evening dress, a skirt could also be narrow at the front and extend into a siding at the back. A new introduction were cocktail dresses, which were included in the group of dresses for social occasions worn in the afternoon, as well as in the evening (as a small elegant evening dress). They were calf length, small cleavage, existed in a short-sleeve or sleeveless variant, then supplemented by a short coat or bolero. They could be sewn from expensive fabrics: silk or semi-silk, often with a strong pattern (brocade, lace, velvet, taffeta).

Formal shoes were still leather pumps on a thinner, but still quite massive heel, even on a high platform with a thick heel. Much sought-after ones were termed italky (Italians): only slightly open at the tip and without a heel at the back. Shoes made from cork were also worn, with a layered platform, and received the slang name súdkové (barrel shoes).They were popular in particular for their light weight. Fabric shoes on a low platform became a popular summer shoe; those that tied with the laces high below the knee were called šnurovačky (lacers).  Sports fabric shoes up to the ankle and for tying with laces on the instep were called tramky. In winter only full-ankle boots were used; boots were not yet worn as elegant footwear. There were also cloth shoes on a platform, colourful and decorated with a leather ornament on the ankle, and known by their slang name as filcáky (felts) or tatranky or partizánky. A common type of footwear were galoshes, or cossacks: rubber ankle boots with a small heel, and you could also buy canvas insoles for them. Cossacks, unlike galoshes, were also worn with elegant clothes.  Shoes giving a massive, or solid, look continued to be produced in the Czechoslovak Republic.

Tights, which were warned by elegant women were always only thigh-length and fixed with a garter on the waistband. A great hit were women’s very thin nylon tights, termed sklenky (glasses) – very transparent and fragile. Thick pantyhose, flórky, were worn on ordinary occasions. There were also patentky, which held onto the thigh.

Etiquette in the men’s wardrobe simplified greatly. The suit began to be worn without a waistcoat, even evening suits for celebratory occasions. The tailcoat and tuxedo remained the clothing only of artists and diplomats. Designers looked for alternatives to the men’s suit, preferring a simplified jacket or coat instead. These jupky – short jackets pulled into the waist, where they ended in a ribbing; the sleeves could be loose or also in a ribbing, with distinctive pockets on the front.  They were made from cotton and flax, with winter coats made from wool.  This type of coat was worn even in the interwar period as an informal type of clothing. Now it was preferred as an alternative to a jacket, and accompanied men’s trousers. The official men’s silhouette on jackets and trousers was wide; jackets had distinctive shoulders and a loose fit; trousers were wide and ironed into creases. In the second half of the 1950s, a suit jacket could also be accompanied by trousers without creases. Young boys and men preferred narrow trousers, potápky (divers), which were significantly narrower than the official cuts, and reached down to above the ankle. They were worn with striped very distinctive socks and Hungarian shoes – low shoes on a cork platform. Another trendy type of shoe were the peštianky (Budapest shoes), with a 5 cm high soul made of laminated rubber. Semišky, or suede leather shoes, were another trend. In the second half of the 1950s, šupky (peels) became the new hit, replacing peštianky. They were pointed shoes on a thin platform, light as a peel. In winter, young men wore felt shoes called partizánky.  Trendy jeans, though, could be got only from abroad. Instead, imitations of the real thing were worn. They were sewn by tailors performing craft unofficially at home. They used tarpaulin for them, using small snaps as studs. A favourite for spring were duffel coats (similarly as for women), as well as baloňáky (thin raincoat). The duffel coat could have a liner for winter. The most common coat for winter, similarly as for women, was the hubertus. Various types of tweed fabrics used for suits and coats were popular in the men’s wardrobe. The length of the coats remained just below the knees. In the second half of the 1950s, the man’s silhouette narrowed, particularly in the trousers, but also in the volume of the shoulders. Young men, and women too, liked T-shirts (skampolo), as well as striped T-shirts, pullovers, and shirts with wide provocative ties, or also without ties. A hit of the second half of the 1950s was the so-called Swedish shirt, a loose linen shirt that had no fastening on the front, was dressed over the head and fastened only under a wide collar on both sides. The urban chic appeared in beige gabardine shirts with a folded collar (wing), which were the height of European fashion. Cowboy shirts or brightly coloured model Hawaiian shirts, as well as chequered flannels, were widely popular.

In the 1950s, the most common means of transport was still the motorbike, for which a leather jacket was an essential accompaniment. Cool haircuts of the time were the crew cut combed backward or with a high “cock” above the forehead. For ideological reasons, the hat in the 1950s was not promoted, yet it remained common headwear. Rádionky (berets) were still popular among the proletariat. Boys and youths expanded the trend of knitted caps.

During the relaxed 1960s, a tuxedo was again recommended for evening events. At that time, the overall silhouette on men’s suits and overcoats narrowed. The turtleneck became a hit, which could function as an alternative to a shirt in a suit. The new cut of men’s trousers had a lower waistline and widened from the knees downward. The slang term zvonáky (bell-bottoms) was used for the bell-shaped cut and trousers themselves. They were still worn in the first half of the 1970s, and the bottom width could be as much as 60 cm.

What was worn in the 1960s

A major event was the opening of the fashion house in Prague in 1958 and in 1966 in Bratislava (in the building of the former department store Brouk a Babka). These shops offered a range of higher quality garments. Bratislava in the 1960s also saw the new department store buildings: Prior on today’s Kamenné Square and Centrál on Krížná Street or the Ružinov department store.

In women’s fashion a more relaxed line appeared in the Czechoslovak Republic, without the need to emphasise the proportions and shapes of the figure in detail. In 1962, a trapezoidal (conical) silhouette appeared and was worn for a whole decade. It did not require a complicated division of clothing, and emphasised material and colour. The skirt length reached down to the knees. Headwear became more expressive, with various shapes of garrison cap emphasising the head or hairstyle. Massive tufted hairstyles, often achieved using wigs or hairpieces became a new feature in hairstyling. From Britain there came the new ideal of beauty – the tomboy – with short hair, becoming widespread among young women and girls also in Czechoslovakia.

Shirt dresses with or without a belt were very popular. Trousers became a permanent feature particularly among urban women, and at the end of the decade they appeared on the pages of Czechoslovak fashion journals in line with the French design, also as evening models. This was quite a reversal, because trousers previously had been unthinkable as eveningwear. A new entrant among Macintosh coats was a street model featuring a long lapel. A notable trend was the dress costume, consisting of address completely complemented by a costume jacket. Large distinctive buttons were worn on clothes. Short three-quarter sleeves appeared on coats even in winter, and high gloves were worn. A fashion hit, arriving from Italy, were windcheaters, named šuštiaky, for their rustling sound when touched. They could only be bought at Tuzex or imported from abroad. Sweater vests and waistcoats made from various materials, worn with a skirt or trousers were another new trend.

We can see a significant change in footwear; solid-looking pumps were out and replaced by subtle pumps with a thin heel and slight toe. Also more sporty pumps began to be worn, similar to moccasins at the front, but with a heel.  A new trend from 1961 were women’s shoes with an oval toe and a small wide heel. The front part could be designed in various ways: with a class, a bow, a buckle, and possibly without a heel. Leather boots with a more elegant look, calf-length and from softer leather began to be worn. Nevertheless, rubber cossack boots were still the most popular footwear in winter. Moccasins were also a big hit, having an embossed platform. Handbags took on the shape of small suitcases, as well as having flaps, both types often with two handles – one for the hand and a shoulder strap. Following Chanel’s design, shoulder chain straps became a common feature on handbags.

The miniskirt established itself among the youth worldwide in the first half of the 1960s. Born on the streets of London among youth in revolt. Its promoter, the miniskirt, established itself as informal clothing among young women and girls. And officially also in Czechoslovakia in 1966, while at the International Fair in 1964. Nevertheless, in official fashion magazines it was promoted only at length above the knee. The miniskirt was worn in a pencil shape, but also in an A line. Women’s elasticated trousers with under-foot straps – stirrup pants – were presented at exhibition fairs in Liberec in 1965 and became a great favourite, because they clasped the legs tightly.

In 1967, the long skirt made a comeback. They were worn alternatively in lengths from mini to maxi. In the late 1960s, several alternative trends styles emerged: hippies, neo-romantic, ethno, safari, and unisex. They addressed mainly young girls and women. Alongside these, there was also a classic conservative style, only slightly influenced by youth fashion. The year 1968 saw the return of the silhouettes of the female ideal accentuating the waist, breasts, and narrow shoulders. Long or short hairstyles with curls and expressive make with shading added a romanticising touch. 

Clothing at the time of Soviet “normalisation”

The occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968 was of fundamental significance for the entire 1970s and 1980s. Soviet-style socialism was restored; the Communist Party’s leading role was reasserted, and the Soviet Union’s control of life in Czechoslovakia was reaffirmed. Borders were closed again and travel to the West was significantly restricted. Despite efforts, the state could not prevent the population from taking an interest in what was happening in the West.

Western capitalist countries were seeing and individualisation of society – seeking and supporting a person’s free choice. Expressing oneself in one’s own terms, not according to societal norms, also took on a political charge.  No new silhouettes, or new canons, were created in the fashion of the 1970s; quite the opposite. It was possible to dress in various styles, to look for inspiration in history, folklore, on the street, in technology. The way of dressing came to be seen as an expression of the three individual. The fashion of hippies and, in the second half of the 1970s, the inspiration from punk, stirred up and relaxed not just aesthetic rules in fashion, but particularly in social conventions. Adherents of punk disengaged themselves so much so that they looked aggressive or even brutal. Each generation of young people is provocative against the older generation, yet the force with which this happened in the 1970s was quite unprecedented. Street fashion also began to be accepted by the world’s fashion designers, who in the 1960s reflected elements of artistic or technological trends in their fashion creations. The fashion of this decade wholly abandoned conventional notions of elegance and taste.

The founding of the Czechoslovak Federation in 1968 led to the establishment of Slovakotex, which became a separate organisation independent of management from Prague. It was a central body based in Trenčín that brought together several clothing and textile plants for large-scale and small-scale production in Slovakia.

Right from the start of the 1960s, the magazine Burda had been freely available in Czechoslovakia in some shops specialising in foreign press.Nevertheless, demand for it was greater than the number of magazines for sale, and that was why people drew cuts and lent them to one another.  In the 1970s, fashion was also influenced by disco culture – essentially mass to full entertainment combined with dance, exhibition and light effects.  Disco was a specific type of clothing and also influenced daily fashion (distinctive make up, glitter for make up, shiny and luminescent materials). American film became a huge inspiration. Saturday Night Fever of 1977 and a year later Grease, which were shown also in Czechoslovak cinemas.

The state organised regular exhibition fairs for fashion: the first year of the international fashion fair in Brno Intermóda was held in 1972, as well as the regular Liberec exhibition fairs (since 1955), a fashion show in Trenčín – Trenčín the City of Fashion and in Prostějov Zlatá Fatima. These exhibitions presented the best from domestic textile, clothing and footwear production.

Tuzex continued to be a place where Western clothing could be imported, as well as textile sold by the metre. Besides this, shopping tourism also flourished: inhabitants of Slovakia were closest to Hungary, while the Czechs were closest to East Germany. Hits in clothing were also imported from summer holidays by the sea, especially from Yugoslavia. Regulated by the state, it was possible to reach Western countries, even exotic ones. Obtaining a travel permit was quite complicated, and those whom the state evaluated as unreliable or noncooperative with the regime were not allowed to travel abroad. Importing clothes and accessories from abroad required adventure, because customs controls were typically uncompromising; smuggled items discovered were confiscated.  Being chic, actionable or an alternative dude in socialist Czechoslovakia required a great deal of effort.

In the 1980s, fashion designers who started to come out of anonymity became important in Czechoslovak fashion. Despite the fact that since the start of the communist regime they had been involved in creating clothing and fashion trends, their names were unknown to the general public. The communists kept them in anonymity. Change came only gradually during the 1970s. The presentation of designer-labelled clothing with a more pronounced emphasis on the individuality of the creator occurred through regular fashion shows held in the years 1976 – 1985 at Bertramka in Prague. The individual work of the young generation of designers, especially graduates of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, were presented. Some young designers also collaborated with the Institute of Home and Clothing Culture. Readers had already been learning about them in the periodical press. Designer models could be bought by mail order direct to home – a wholly new possibility. This was offered, for example, by the magazine Mladý svět (Young World), popular among the intellectual class of women. Thanks to their models, Liběna Rochová, Nina Smatanová, Daniela Flejšarová gained wider recognition among the public.

In Bratislava, similar events as at Bertramka were to appear only later. In 1986 designer clothing from the workshop of young designers was presented at the Slovak Exhibition of Applied & Industrial Art in Bratislava. An important platform for presenting designer creations was the event Design of Clothing & Jewellery I in 1986, which was held at the Institute of Industrial Design in Brno. The third year was held not only in Brno, but also in Bratislava. A significant contribution to the organisation of these events was made by Ľuba Slušná, an art historian, who from 1987 worked as an editor for Pressfoto. Thanks to her curatorial efforts, clothing as well as other types of applied art have become a part of exhibition projects.

The first sales exhibition of clothing models took place at the sales outlet Dielo, which was organised by the Art Fund only in 1986. In several stores of the outlet Dielo in Slovakia, it was possible to buy clothes from Slovak clothing artists. Nevertheless, they had to meet certain criteria, which were checked by a commission (not just professional, but also ideological) of the Art Fund. A young generation of designers in Slovakia arose thanks to the university formation of the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art. Only from 1976 did there begin to exist a separate textile department at the Academy of Fine Arts & Design in Bratislava. At this studio, students were trained in free artistic design processes, with emphasis on textile as a medium. The Academy’s graduates found employment in clothing design, for example Mária Mutkovičová in the magazine Dievča (Girl). Compared to the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art, in its formation there was less emphasis on the design and more on the designer. Graduates found employment not only in free creation, but also in textile design and some worked in plants as designers (Júlia Sabová, Jozef Bajus). Clothing design in the traditional sense was studied only at the Prague Academy of Applied & Industrial Art. From it came graduates who were active in Slovakia in the 1980s with their own creative work (Katarína Böhmová, Iveta Ledererová, Marta Bošelová, Anna Bohátová). One graduate of the Academy of Industrial Design in Budapest, who went on to become a notable personality was Karol Pichler, who with his clothes worked on the edge of free and utilitarian creation. In the second half of the 1980s, the outlet Dielo also sold clothes by designers who had not directly studied art at an academy or fashion design, but whose creations were nevertheless approved at the Art Fund, whereby they officially became members of the association of artists; such artists included Lea Fekete and Michaela Klimanová–Trizuljaková. Lea Fekete was a founding member of the SET 88 group, in which Andrea Krnáčová and Daniel Brunovský also worked. Their designs brought a connection between the designer’s clothes and jewellery. Most of the garments that we refer to as designer garments sold through Dielo represented an alternative creation to the mainstream taste in fashion. These models were expensive, available only in cities where Dielo had shops and did not represent a mainstream fashion. They were worn rather by artists and intellectuals; women with strong opinions regarding clothing. Thanks to these models, women with non-mainstream tastes were able to dress in interesting models. Clothing began to be seen in the 1960s in Czechoslovakia and around the world as a medium through which artists could express and convey an idea. Such innovators in the Czech Republic included Milan Knížák and in Slovakia Otis Laubert and Milota Havránková.

At the end of the communist regime, in the autumn of 1989, monthly fashion shows were beginning in Bratislava at the Forum Hotel. They were organised by Ľuba Slušná, Xeňa Lettrichová and Lea Fekete from the SET 88 group with the official support of the Art Fund. Fashion designers presented themselves at the shows and their models could be purchased directly at the showing.

What was worn in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, the Paris collections brought the length of the skirt to mid-calf. Young girls, though, continued to wear mini or maxi skirts. At this time, the miniskirt was also worn on top of trousers, creating an untypical combination. As an alternative to the miniskirt, short trousers were extended below the buttocks. They first began to be worn in America, followed by Europe from 1970. These shorts were very practical, not provocative like miniskirts, and at the same time demonstrated the modernity of their wearers. They were combined with various types of uppers, with long coats or sleeveless tops being a favourite. They were no longer just some sportswear, but were worn year-round, from various materials, even on top of stockings. In the 1970s trousers definitively took over as an alternative to skirts for both day and evening wear. Trousers were worn in various shapes: bell-bottomed, wide, with a low or high waistline, narrow, to the ankles, to the knees, and others. Trouser combinations became a new trend. The trouser skirt also gained ground. In official clothing to work in offices, in teachers’ clothes, trousers were only rarely worn. The middle and older generation of rather conservative women were also cautious in adopting them. More courageous women wore costumes with a man’s cut, complete with ties and masculine hats and overcoats. 

A fashion hit were sleeveless tops of various shapes: long as well as short sleeveless tops, wide or close-fitting. They were worn with skirts or trousers. They could be sporty, or be of a more elegant nature. They were worn on top of shirts, blouses, but also turtlenecks. Shirts were close-fitting, with distinctly stretched collars, which shrank in the second half of the decade. There were single-colour shirts, as well as colourful shirts with flowers or geometric patterns. Trendy blouses were long under the buttocks, often knitted (including home) and had slits on the sides. They could also be belted. Shirts and blouses of a romantic cut with ruffles on the plastron became fashionable, a plate ruffle, a high standing collar, embroidered blouses in a folk style on a sheet were all favourites, as well as multicoloured silicones, in long- and short-sleeved form, were all popular. Dresses of various cuts and several styles were still worn: fitted, preferably made from knitwear, as well as white shirt dresses, also with a slim bodice and a pleated skirt. The trend was to dress them in blouses or turtlenecks. Sleeveless or short-sleeved dresses were termed dress skirts and are quite typical of the 1970s. T-shirts led among young people: single-colour, multicolour, patterned or with various inscriptions; best from abroad, with foreign inscriptions. Singlets from knitted fabrics with thin straps, sometimes at the top for tying were a completely new arrival in the girl’s wardrobe. They showed the woman’s body more exposed than before. The bare-chested singlets created a courageous image. In the summer, clothes spread completely, to uncover the back.

At the end of the decade, the principle of layering clothes prevailed: dresses over skirts, dresses over trousers, white blouses across skirts and trousers, or trousers with long shirts, and short waistcoats or sleeveless tops on dresses. These various alternatives allowed for variable dressing. When we consider stylistic diversity, the 1970s come out as very colourful and relaxed.

Clothes from denim (often false), corduroy, in safari style from cotton, in ethno style from flax and cotton, i.e. clothes from quality natural materials were worn throughout the decade. A hit of the 1970s was also worn in the following decade, namely Indian cotton – very airy and a light cotton fabric with a finely structured surface, from which summer dresses, blouses and skirts were sewn. Fabric by the metre and clothes were still produced from synthetic materials: dederone, Crimplene, nylon. In the 1970s the Bavlnárské závody V. I. Lenina (V.I. Lenin Cotton Plants) in Ružomberok began the mechanised large-scale production of blueprint patterned clothing, while designers worked from classic blueprint templates. Clothing factories produced a large number of them, particularly women’s summer clothing. Czechoslovak textile factories have since the 1970s produced quality woollen fabrics of various types. The 1970s can be called a decade of knitwear – jerseys, from which almost all types of clothing were made. In addition to machine knitting, entire sets of women’s (and children’s clothing were also knitted or crocheted at home. In addition to the existing standard dresses, pullovers and sweaters, knitted trousers or skirts were also seen.

There was also variety in coat design. Spring and winter coats were sewn from denim and corduroy.  It was common to see the whole garment, together with the coat, in these combinations. Firms were still popular, and synthetic furs and imitation leather were also gaining ground. The combination of fur with the lads are also became a trend. Fur coats, both real and synthetic were produced in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic at Kara Trutnov a Kožatex Liptovský Mikuláš. So-called Slovak fur coats, sewn from brushed velour, remained a favourite. The sportier cuts of the coats were based on the already known – trench coats and raincoats, with a wider free line coming into fashion. Women also wore masculine coats. Paletots and windcheaters still enjoyed popularity. In connection with romanticising historicism, both short and long pelerines reappeared. “Windbreaker” textile became a hit, and from which were sewn not just winter sports garments, but also fashionable day coats. The popularity of anoraks became so widespread that in the 1980s the streets of the Czechoslovak Republic were awash with people in anoraks.

Formal clothing underwent a real revolution, as it ceased to be considered something special among young people. It was worn both for evening occasions and daywear. More formal and classic clothing, preferred by women for evening theatre visits, returned to the style of long dresses down to the floor, with a small neckline and short or long sleeves.

At the beginning of the decade, women wore pumps on a higher, thick heel, slightly widening downwards. The tip was a little rounded. From 1972 onwards, very solid shoes on a thicker sole appeared. Around the middle of the decade, shoes gradually lost this solid look, but, paradoxically, shoes on a large platform appeared at the same time. Wooden clogs worn not just by women, but also men, became a legend. Another novelty were shoes from denim, or other textiles, which could be on a wedge heel or flat platform. An interesting feature of the decade as a whole was the trend in high shoes, up to the knee in unprecedented combinations, even in summer. High boots were also worn with shorts in the summer. These were not just boots, but also shoes with refined straps up to just below the knee. At the end of the decade, shoes just above the ankle on a high slim heel made an appearance. Moccasins were a favourite summer shoe, and they could also be on a high platform. Sand shoes, various sneakers and trainers were also worn.  A hit for several years in footwear were Číny (All-Stars) shoes – sneakers made in Svit Poprad, in white with a fine red rim on a rubber sole, with metal holes through which white laces were tied. They reached just above the ankles. Besides natural leather, vachette, and swayed, footwear was sewn also from synthetic materials. Synthetic materials were used also for the production of handbags. Alongside this, textile handbags also appeared. The decade saw great variability in handbags: besides the traditional frame and flap ones, leaf handbags with a shoulder strap also appeared. The length and shape of the shoulder straps and handles varied. Work handbags of a larger size also gained importance. Baskets made of natural materials, from synthetic bast fibres, as well as plastic baskets were carried as handbags. In Slovakia, handbags from the Centre for Folk Art Production became quite a trend. They were sewn by hand with leather braid, and were made entirely of natural undyed letter, in the manner of shepherd’s scrips, decorated with embossing or punching.

The hat was no longer a necessary part of a woman’s wardrobe; but still it a firm place among women preferred a classic style. Young girls didn’t want to look like their mothers and grandmothers, so they didn’t wear a hat at all, or very extravagantly – in terms of location or form. Masculine types of hats became popular among women, as well as romanticising with large crimps of various shapes. Hats, or hat caps from denim or knit were worn, crocheted hats being a particular hit. Historicising tendencies returned in the form of turbans and flows. In the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s, garrison caps gained popularity. More elegant forms of knitted cap were dome-shaped at the top, with a small corner; their lower part folded into a distinctive tube.

In addition to the popularity of denim, corduroy, and washing cord, a great hit of the 1970s were nets, especially whole sets – dresses or trousers with a waistcoat, dresses with sweaters, or coats.

A certain degree of romanticism also prevailed in men’s fashion of the 1970s. After a long period in the history of men’s fashion, there was a deviation from civil, inconspicuous development. Men’s colourful floral patterns on shirts, ruffles and fastenings, shiny materials, distinctive colours, white patterned tights, heels, platforms, narrow trousers at the waistline, wide bell-bottoms, long hair (even in an official neck-length cut, in alternative hairstyles, including very long hair) wide sideburns, moustaches and beards of various shapes.

The classic men’s suit was now simply an alternative to other clothes. It remained in the closet of officials and politicians, and was worn for ceremonial occasions. From the mid-1970s onward, more modern-minded men, particularly of the younger and middle generation, preferred suits made of trousers and jackets, or jackets with a more sporty shape, with distinctive pockets sewn in double seams, often made of modern materials, such as denim and corduroy. Cotton jackets of various colours became popular, sometimes ambiguous in their cut, because they resembled both a suit jacket and a coat jacket. This type of suit was sewn in a wider or slightly fitting line. Men wore shirts with them, but without a tie, open linen shirts, or T-shirts. In the first half of the 1970s, a narrow silhouette dominated in the upper part of the man’s body. Overcoats and suit jackets had a distinctive front shape: wide, almost to the waist, and the length of the jacket shortened just below the buttocks. The shoulders were only slightly widened. The jackets were sewn with a slit in the back.  The trousers, fitting over the hips, widened significantly downwards. A completely new arrival were suits made from velvet in dark colours: black, bottle green, burgundy, dark blue. There were also men’s suits of a sporty nature, with distinctive pockets, often with stitching and contrasting fastenings. Raglans and trench coats with shoulder straps, buckles and straps on the sleeves remained a regular feature among overcoats. For the winter season, Ulster coats remained in fashion, while hooded duffel coats fastened with olive leather clasps became a hit particularly among intellectuals. Classic fur coats, termed Slovak coats, were complemented by coats sewn from synthetic materials. Waist-length fur jackets were also worn. Shoes, in the case of both men and women, took on a more solid form. Heels and platforms appeared on men’s models.

What was worn in the 1980s

In the early 1980s, differences between leisure and work clothing almost disappeared. In official fashion, though, casualness had to be of an elegant nature, not rebellious. Clothing for civil servants or grammar school students remained under scrutiny, at least by the proactive party comrade director, or comrade professor.

Massiveness of the shoulders was a major trend in women’s fashion in the 1980s. This was manifested in several silhouettes: with massive shoulders and a tapering Y downwards, and with massive shoulders, a slender body, and a widened skirt X. Wide-shouldered silhouettes were complemented around the mid-1980s by a T-line, particularly on coats in a straight line.

The preference for silhouettes with massive shoulders brought back the so-called bat cut on sleeves, in which the sleeve is cut from the waistline. Large pads, lowered armholes, or even sleeves gathered in the armhole were used for highlighting the shoulders. The skirt length in official designs was recommended above the knee; a big hit was a significant slit either in the front, back or side.  At the end of the decade, the silhouette of a lowered waistline became popular on dresses; the upper part was straight, and the dress waistline dropped to below the buttocks. Or, the top part of the dress was wrapped at the waistline down to the buttocks, where the skirt was inserted. Formal dresses were sewn in this line. Separate skirts were also made with a large saddle. Wide-cut garments, such as dresses, shirts, tunics were popularly fitted with wide massive belts with a large buckle. They were either fastened at the waistline, or were lowered casually to the hips, being higher at the rear than at the front. Quilted anoraks from a balloon rip stuffed with polyamide fleece or feathers became a hit. Anoraks remained popular.

In parallel with romantic patterns on dress material, there were also geometric patterns, or large coloured areas dividing the garment. Girls’ fashion was influenced particularly by the aerobics training outfit. Elastic exercise trousers, and tight elastic T-shirts, as well as headbands, or leggings moved into daywear. So-called elastics were worn with a skirt, or alone. The saddle on women’s trousers rose, with so-called mrkváky (carrot jeans) becoming a hit, slightly curled on the front saddle, and tapered downward. There were numerous colour variants. Jeans with an admixture of elastane, making them flexible and close-fitting, became much sought-after. Jeans with a surface moon-washed finish, resulting in a reduction of blue colour and white remnant blotches also became popular, having been taken over from the West. A notable feature of women’s look in this decade was the massive hairstyle around the entire head, and the perm. Coloured headbands worn around the head modified the massive hairstyles, not just for sport. The look included large plastic earrings, and distinctive, even aggressive, make up.

In the men’s clothing of this decade, the suit was now only a formal type of clothing. For daily wear, trousers were preferred in combination with shirts, open shirts, T-shirts, pullovers in combination with a sports jacket, or windcheater jacket. The man’s silhouette was also wide, with the volume of the shoulders artificially increased on jackets. In the 1980s, the wearing of denim jackets and trousers with T-shirts bearing inscriptions, or the faces of music idols became widespread among some young boys and men. They complemented the hole with metal and leather details, with the hair often worn long. They were called heavy-metal fans, but fans of other rock orientations dressed similarly. In the second half of the 1980s, the streets were flooded again, this time with fans of the British band Depeche Mode. Dressed in black clothes with short hair gelled in height, they could not be overlooked even in the middle of the fashion mainstream. They sought out everything black, except for socks, which they wore white. They wore leather jackets all coats, on the head a classic black beret, black glasses, and also adorned themselves with metal accessories. Black shoes with a massive sole were an essential feature. The Western Doc Martens gradually replaced combat boots. Getting such alternative clothing in Czechoslovakia required considerable effort.

In addition to fashion clothing, clothing was also prescribed throughout Czechoslovakia in the form of uniforms for children and youths in the mandatory pioneer scouts organisation. These existed in boys’ and girls variants from the 1950s until November 1989. In the 1950s, at the time of the harshest ideologization of life, these uniforms were worn not just for political or school celebrations (as up to November 1989), but also for cultural events.

Another special phenomenon of the clothing culture of socialist realism in Czechoslovakia was the popularity of tracksuits in the 1950s. These were trousers for sport made from cotton or synthetic machine knit, complemented with a jacket. Due to their low price, availability and warmth from the training outfit, they became popular as daily leisure and work clothing among the broad masses of common people. For long they were a scarce commodity. Another trend among common people were work aprons, which women also wore as comfortable clothing around the home. In villages, women in also wore tracksuit trousers with them. In the countryside, such clothing replaced the traditional women’s work clothes, and this remains true to the present day. As in any period, people dressed in various ways, with even socialist Czechoslovakia being no exception. There was a significant difference between the mass and a narrow group of people who followed the hottest trends. Looking back at this period, it may seem to some that the clothing was awful or very unified. Yet, the reality was more varied, and this not just thanks to above-standard and high quality clothing, which while not available to the majority population, were a credit to self-production and self-sufficiency.