Teksas-land. Moda młodzieżowa w PRL

TitleTeksas-land. Moda młodzieżowa w PRL
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsJastrząb, Mariusz
Author(s) of reviewed materialPelka, Anna

book. Title translated: Teksas – land. Youth fashion in the People’s Republic of Poland

PublisherWarszawa: Wydawnictwo Trio
ISSN ISBN: 978-83-7436-102-6
Review year


Full Text

Teksas was a brand name of the cotton fabric with which Polish industry attempted to substitute denim. Jeans made of teksas were introduced into the market in the early 1960s but unfortunately they were neither blue, nor well-fitting. As a result the consumers still preferred “genuine” jeans from the West. 

The book by Anna Pelka is a pioneering attempt to analyze the history of fashion under state socialism in Poland. Although similar topics have already been the subject of historical research concerning other socialist countries, no book of this kind appeared in Poland before her work.[1] The book is arranged chronologically and supplemented by interviews with leading Polish designers (Barbara Hoff, Jerzy Antkowiak, Grażyna Hase), fashion journalists (Teresa Kuczyńska) and photographers (Tadeusz Rolke).

Fashion trends between 1945 and 1956 are the theme of Chapter 1. Pelka briefly discusses the problem of impoverishment caused by the war limiting the possibility to choose clothing, but concentrates chiefly on the relationship between the drive towards uniformization of clothing worn by young people and communist attempts to transform the society and create the new man. She explores the problem of the politicization of outfit by showing how certain elements of clothing or certain styles of dressing were branded as characteristic of the “class enemy.”

Chapters 2 to 7 are devoted to the period of Gomułka´s rule (1956 to 1970). The starting point of this part of the book is the political thaw of 1956. From that date, the state, as Pelka argues, was gradually withdrawing from the attempts to control private lives. As a result it became more tolerant towards new cultural trends or intellectual currents, starting from existentialism and finishing with rock and roll, and at the same time more ready to accept individual dressing styles. Chapters about the times under Gomułka are also very much focused on social changes: phenomena like the approval of trousers as an element of women’s formal wear or the popularity of miniskirts are discussed in the context of challenging traditional gender roles in the 1960s. Gradual incorporation of the elements of hippie style into the mainstream of Polish fashion or the lifting of the ban on wearing jeans in the classroom are also referred to as manifestations of a more general tendency towards social modernization.

Chapters 8 to 11 are about the times of the Gierek regime (1970-1980). Pelka concentrates on showing how his slogans of “building the second Poland” and “letting the people live more affluently” translated into what was really offered to young people by textile and garment industries. Although she does not refer explicitly to Fehér’s concept of  paternalistic legitimization of power, she draws a picture of a government making efforts to control society through satisfying consumer appetites.[2]

The two final chapters of the book deal with the decade of the 1980s. They focus on the impact of economic crisis on style and on individual coping strategies. Here Pelka describes what she calls “the shift towards practicality in dress” caused by worsening material conditions. Nevertheless, she devotes relatively little space to everyday consumer practices like queuing, organizing networks of friends to buy outfit, copying patterns from fashion magazines, and making or tailoring clothes at home. Instead, by an interesting discussion on the growth of youth subcultures, she demonstrates how the frustration of the younger generations with social and economic conditions manifested itself in their way of dressing. 

The general problems that are discussed throughout the book include the relationship between stylistic changes in Poland and fashion trends in the West and the evolution of official attitude towards Western fashion. Pelka describes channels through which Western trends could enter Poland. She also shows how they were accommodated to specific Polish conditions. The point she makes is that fashion reflected the continuous fascination of young Poles with the Western way of life. In this context she emphasizes the impact of American and Western European music and film on the way of dressing of the Polish youth. According to Pelka, after 1956 no more ideological discussions on fashion took place in Poland. Unlike in the GDR, there was no attempt to promote a local, socialist style of dressing, independent of or in competition with changes in the West. The ruling elite, albeit with some reservations, accepted the reality in which young generations of Poles judged the standard of living in the country using the criteria of similarity between Western and Polish ways of dressing.

Such a description seems to overlook several important problems. Official attitude towards fashion in a socialist country was shaped by two contradictory forces. On the one hand, changes in style could be considered irrational and therefore unwelcome in a planned economy. At the same time, however, the state had to create the perspective of satisfying consumer needs in order to encourage people to work. Socialism was a promise of material advancement, and a proper dress was an important element of a decent life. Moreover, socialist states always had the ambition to educate their citizens, and also aimed to teach them what good taste in clothes meant. Paradoxically, the “good taste” usually had a lot in common with conventional bourgeois taste. If life in the West (or its simplistic representation) was taken as the model of decent life, the patterns of what could qualify as a proper dress had to be taken from the West as well.    

Another important theme is the history of fashion design. Pelka stresses the link between the general shift towards better satisfaction of consumer needs after 1956 and the emergence of the first fashion collections designed specifically for young people. Throughout her book she gives most attention to the creative work of the most eminent figures of Polish fashion design such as the likes of Barbara Hoff, Grażyna Hase and Jerzy Antkowiak, as well as to the activities of leading enterprises like “Moda Polska”, “Cora”, “Telimena.” In consequence, Pelka assumes the perspective of Warsaw where their collections were typically sold. We learn disproportionately less about what was worn in the country by young people from lower social strata.

Pelka does pose the question why there was such a wide gap between what was designed and what was really available from shops. However, somewhat surprisingly, her book pays little attention to economic or technological conditioning of the activities of textile and garment companies. Pelka does not move beyond general remarks on the well known ills of a planned economy: its lack of flexibility and continuous shortage of necessary resources. It would be interesting to learn more on the interplay between political decision makers setting plan objectives, middle level bureaucrats and factory managers. We do not learn from Pelka’s book whether any institutional actors advocated the interests of young customers in the process of planning. We do not know what factors determined the hierarchy of preferences adopted by decision makers allocating scarce resources. The book does not explain how bargaining about plan objectives influenced what was really produced and how far the actual output thus deviated from priorities set at the highest levels. If young customers were neglected, as Pelka argues, were they neglected because of the conscious decision of a central planner, or against his will? 

The history of fashion could also become a starting point for a more general discussion on the attitudes towards consumerism under socialism. The ruling elite wanted to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate consumer demands. Ideas about the scope of those legitimate ones varied over time. Therefore, writing about fashion would be a good occasion to trace a complicated problem of what was considered luxury and what was believed to be a basic commodity under state socialism in Poland. Unfortunately, Pelka did little to illuminate these issues. The opposition of commodity versus luxury was at least partially reflected in pricing policy. Regrettably, we learn little about how the state set the prices of clothes fromTeksas-land. 

All in all, despite certain weaknesses, the book expands our understanding of social life in Poland after the war. In some aspects it remains sketchy, but this might perhaps be unavoidable taking into consideration the lack of previous explorations. Teksas-land is an important and thought-provoking reading for students of cultural and social changes under state socialism.  

[1] See among others: Judd Stitzel, Fashioning Socialism: Clothing, Politics and Consumer Culture in East Germany (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005); Olga Vainshein, “Female Fashion Soviet Style. Bodies and Ideology” in: H. Goscilo, B. Holmgren, Russia, Women and Culture(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).

[2] Ferenc Fehér, Ágnes Heller, György Márkus, Dictatorship over needs: an analysis of the Soviet societies (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983).