Edyta Jarosz-Mackiewicz

Edyta Jarosz-Mackiewicz

[Izabela Łęcka] takes Le Moniteur de la Mode […]. Here is a dinner gown: here spring outfits for young girls, unmarried ladies, wives and their mothers; here there are afternoon gowns, dinner dresses, walking-out dresses; half a dozen new hat designs, a dozen different materials and dozens of different colours. (45)


Good looks were women’s greatest capital, so they were ready to do anything not to lose them or let them slip out of fashionable standards. Excessive concern with appearance could be fatal. That was the case of Małgorzata Mincel, the late wife of Wokulski, who – trying to become fashionably pale with help of some fluid – anointed herself with it from top to toe one evening, with such effect that the doctors called in that very night to help could do nothing for her.

Following the latest fashions was important not only because of class snobbery but also for practical reasons. Garments were supposed to be a reflection of their owner’s social and material standing; they needed to correspond to their age and marital status. The cost of dresses, laces, gilets, and capes, indicative of the actual or deceptively higher financial status, could be the ruin of families. In The Doll, Izabela Łęcka is forced to sell her family dinner-service and silver for lack of money, but she still prioritises the purchase of a new outfit for the coming charity collection at church. And it was not just a dress that needed to be tailored; accessories such as a hat, an umbrella and gloves also had to be the height of French fashion.

In the summer, Izabela is proud to wear her new wardrobe wherever she can encounter people of her social circle: during her walks in the Łazienki park, carriage rides around the city and in the race-course. In the winter, she buys fashionable (and costly!) dresses specifically for parties and theatre visits. When thinking about the church collection, she focuses on the right choice of clothes suitable for the prayer house – and stylish enough for celebrating Easter. The dress, the hat, the cape, and the umbrella, everything has to be ordered in line with the most recent trends. Waiting for Rossi’s visit, Izabela put on a silk dress of cream colour (from a distance it looked like crushed linen), she had diamond earrings (no bigger than pea-seeds) and a red rose at her throat. The fact that the author adds the rather cutting digressions about the silk looking like creased linen and the diamonds being so small clearly indicates his disapproval of the character.

Rich ladies’ dresses were made of silk, velvet, wool, and plush fabric. Contrasting colours and textures were often combined for a better look. Izabela’s dresses suited her status of an unmarried young lady: they were plain and pale-blue or white in colour.

At that time, bustle and princess-line dresses were the two main types of gowns. The former were enhanced with bustle supports worn at the back of skirts; stuffed with horsehair, they were adorned with embroidery, frills and lace. The latter appeared more modest. They had no bustles and were tight-fitting at the waist, which brought about an important change of the female figure ideal (it became more slender). Dresses had fanned-out trains lined with bristled bands to prevent the fabric from getting dirty. A fashionable female outfit could not miss a laced corset with a metal busk, which accentuated the bosom, enveloped the waistline, flattened the stomach and emphasised the hips.

This excessive decorativeness was mocked by Prus in his weekly press columns Kroniki: I do not mean to touch upon every single aspect of this all too easily embraced fashion that turns women into mobile drapery displays with tails, folds, fringes and what not.

As far as men were concerned, their choices were severely limited by a number of restrictions; they could shock the public by simply wearing a frock-coat instead of a swallow-tail coat to an evening ball, or by opening the jacket in everyone’s view. Wokulski repeatedly faces the dilemma of what to wear to gain the aristocracy’s approval and not to become the object of ridicule: If I wear a tail-coat I’ll look like a snob conforming to the conventions, which in the end do not bother me. But if I wear the frock-coat, I may offend the Łęckis. The type of mockery provoked by unfashionable clothes is illustrated in the scene of Rossi’s concert, when Rzecki is jeered at for his ten-year-old top-hat, five-year-old tie, old frock-coat, and out-of-date tight trousers. Ignacy Rzecki, in turn, complains that even humble shop assitants concern themselves more and more with keeping up with fashion, having their trousers cut differently every three months, wearing ever stranger hats, and folding their collars in fancy ways. Another telling detail is that Tomasz Łęcki is disgruntled to see that Wokulski is wearing a white top-hat which, he feels, should be a sole privilege of the aristocracy.

Jewellery, an indispensable accessory to an elegant outfit, does not get extensive treatment in The Doll. The author does not write about its aesthetic value, elaborate on its glamour, or list the names of priceless ornaments. The reader only learns that Baron Dalski brings his fiancée a set of splendid sapphire jewels (a bracelet, a brooch, a necklace, and earrings) from Vienna. We also know that Izabela often has large pearls at her throat.

At the time, people commonly wore gold, silver, or platinum cross pendants. After a death in the family, women took out their mourning jewellery: black crepe rosettes adorned with precious gems, black jewel necklaces, hair pins, and clips. These were also worn as a demonstration of mourning for Poland in the period after the collapse of the January Rising; the tradition survived into the next century.

Men’s jewellery was much more modest. It included pocket watch chains and fobs, decorative tie pins, cufflinks, and signet rings with coats of arms – a sign of noble lineage. Of the above, cufflinks had the most potential for a fanciful design; for example, a horse lover and enthusiast of horse racing, Baron Krzeszowski, visits Wokulski’s shop to buy one pair in the shape of jockey caps and the other one modelled in the form of horse shoes.

A careful hairdo was an essential element of fashionable looks. Hairdressers and barbers paid home visits to rich customers, as does Mr Fitulski, who comes to Wokulski’s apartment to shave, trim, and arrange his hair before social occasions (he would dye it dark as well if only Wokulski consented to this offer). Baron Dalski, who started to go grey early in his life, dyed his hair and waxed his moustache with bandoline (a thick pomade). Fashionable men wore their hair short, with a parting in the middle, lustered or pomaded, combed back or to the sides.

→ Personal Hygiene; → Beautiful Looks;


  1. A. Banach, Słownik mody, Warsaw 1962.
  2. M. Możdżyńska-Nawotka, O modach i strojach, Wrocław 2002.
  3. M. Toussaint-Samat, Historia stroju, trans. K. Szeżyńska-Maćkowiak, Warsaw 2002.