There has always been a wide assortment of diverse folk clothes in Slovakia. Sometimes even to the point where people from one community – as it happened in the village of Čataj near Bratislava – wore different folk costumes according to their faith – either catholic or evangelic.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when wearing folk costumes in the traditional agricultural setting was beginning to fade, its beauty was discovered by the educated, patriotic layers of society. Ladies started wearing folk costumes, particularly at ceremonial events, so they could demonstrate their political feelings. For this purpose it was necessary to choose one folk costume that would represent all of Slovakia not only at home, but also abroad. In particular Czech people showed their fellowship with their “Slovak brothers” by wearing a Slovak folk costume. It was not an easy task to choose from the rich and vast number of embroideries, cuts and forms. Finally, the Czech intelligentsia chose the Piešťany folk costume.
We can only make assumptions as to exactly why our local folk costume was so honoured. The fact is the Piešťany folk costume – alongside the one from Trnava – belonged to the most beautiful and most splendid Slovak costumes and both won awards at world exhibitions in London and Paris, as well as at the Ethnology Exhibition in Prague in 1895.
It is no wonder that it fascinated the spa guests and Piešťany visitors. At the turn of the 20th century, when interest in folk art was culminating, it became a much sought after souvenir. After the origin of its Krakovany variant, which had even more intricate patterns and softer embroidery than the original Piešťany costume, the interest among the Czech public actually increased. There were agents who organized the most skilful embroiderers and lace makers from the adjacent villages and then sold their work in Prague. Thus, at the end there were more Piešťany folk costumes in Czechia and Moravia than in the region of their origin.
Nothing can demonstrate the deep attachment Czech women had to the Piešťany folk costume any better than the old cabinet card (photographs), which show them wearing this folk costume. Sometimes it is clear that they adapted the costume to their local customs – they attached ribbons to head-rings, or they put a camisole (bodice) on it, tied with laces. The sleeves and aprons, which bore the most splendid decoration, were always original.
The popularity of the Piešťany folk costume was not confined only to the Czech lands, but it also spread to the USA. The biography of Milan Rastislav Štefánik by Ján Juríček speaks about Štefánik´s visit to his fellow countrymen in Chicago in 1910, when „a young girl dressed in a Piešťany folk costume handed him a bunch of flowers“. Compelled by the attractiveness of Marienka Lamošová dressed up in the costume, he changed his travel plans and prolonged his stay in Chicago by one week.
Piešťany traveller Igor Čech came across a Piešťany folk costume during his US trip in 1992. In the small town of Temple, Texas, the Slavic Union Supporting the State of Texas (SPJST) was established in the 19th century. At the time of his visit it was a prosperous insurance company. Within the premises, there is a museum of documents, everyday necessities and a few objects, which had been brought across the ocean, including a female dummy wearing a Piešťany folk costume. It is interesting that the former local immigrants did not come from Slovakia, but from the region of Frenštát and Rožňov pod Radhoštěm (now part of the Czech Republic). This is why, next to the dummy in a Piešťany costume, there is another one dressed in a folk costume from the Kyjov region, which is still regarded as the most famous costume of Moravia. In general, it can be said that in the social lives of our fellow countrymen living in the US, the Piešťany folk costume was preferred. However, nowadays the bonds with their original homeland tend to be looser and appear in different forms and expressions.
One more matter of interest at the end: the Slovak Republic Miss Universe contestant, Denisa Mendrejová, introduced herself at the world final in the Bahamas in 2009 dressed up in a Krakovany variant of the Piešťany folk costume. And she looked wonderful in it!