Conjecture on Czech Design

I should have posted this when we were still in Prague but the entry hadn’t gelled, it still hasn’t. Clothing design in the Czech republic was different in a difficult to define way. Much of this entry is pure conjecture, I’d be thrilled if some of you could correct, refine or guide some of the ideas I have about it.

First off, there are a lot of pretty girls there. Really. Why is that? I can’t tell you how many I saw on their way to work that if they played their cards right and lived in the U.S., the only thing they’d be doing that day would be shopping and spending their husband’s money. That’s the truth, sexist as it sounds.

The difference in Czech clothing design boils down to differing style lines. These were different from what I saw in Belgium, France and Germany. At first I thought it might be due to poverty. The Republic is relatively poor still, recovering from its legacy and their clothing isn’t homogenized (lack of homogeniety is a good thing in my opinion) and as such, they’re not slap happy importing “brands” from the former “west”. Second, perhaps they wear their clothing longer and pass them down. I think it’s actually both of these things coupled with a third influence -the provenance of vocational training. Specifically, have you ever seen run of the mill Russian sportswear, aka daily type apparel? It is different. Their style lines run in unique ways, not typically as it’s done in the west. I have saved some jpegs of some Russian styling but as I’m traveling and they’re on my work computer, I don’t have access to them. I really like the visual differences. We have a few Russian pattern makers who hang out around here, maybe they’ll have some ideas.

I only have a few photo samples; it’s hard to take photos of people without them noticing you and most of the people’s apparel I had the time to observe was on the tram and it’s too hard to take photos on a moving street car. I would have had to have my camera at the ready at all times and hope to pass unnoticed. A lot of people don’t want you taking their photos; they get ugly about it. Still, here’s two examples of pants I photographed while waiting for the tram. Shoe design was another thing that was unusual; I wish I had photos of those too.

In this first set (two photos, same pant), there is no real side seam. Note the seam that starts at the side waist and moves down and frontwards to the knee. That is a dart, not a seam! There seems to be a side seam further down the pant leg -and it is a side seam at the lower leg- but the beginning of that seam starts at the back hip. Interesting, no?

The second pants I photographed have a yoke at the side waist. Typically, we have yokes at CB or CF but yokes at the side seam are very unusual. If you look carefully in the second photo, the front side of the yoke opens for a pocket. This may be true of the back as well but it wasn’t evident on this cold rainy early evening in Prague.

Other oddities. Many men were wearing sport coats, even young men. A lot of men were wearing “car coats”. I don’t know if that’s the right word based on common usage but internally, a coat manufacturer describes a larger and longer outerwear version of a sport coat intended to be worn over everything else, a car coat. I’ve always loved the look of these; pattern and sewing wise, there’s little difference between these and frock coats. I should make Eric one.

My idea is that clothing production in the Czech Republic remains largely domestic (not importing styling) and as such, who’s making the patterns? I think it’s a safe bet that owing to the vocational and educational infrastructure of what was the Soviet Union, it’s likely that all training was done by Russian pattern makers or the work done by them directly.

It probably doesn’t really matter but it does create an impetus for me to look into the matter now because it is only a matter of time before this original thumb print and unique styling is lost as is surely inevitable as their economy improves and they can then import “name brands”. ~sigh~.

I plan to post some dreamy pattern puzzles I found in Berlin. I could have posted these already but I want to be home or at least have better internet access so I can participate more. Speaking of, we should be home on Thursday. Today we are in Amsterdam and planning to meet Els (the sewing diva) in another hour in front of the Anne Frank house.

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  1. katherine says:

    Hello Kathleen,

    I have just read your tutorial series on the “camel toe”. I recently made a leotard for my daughter that has a camel toe…it could very well be my cutting out, but could you give us some pointers for eliminating the camel toe in a briefs pattern as opposed to a pants pattern. Thanks, K

  2. Lisa B. in Portland says:

    I have actually seen 2 pairs of pants here in Portland that had interesting “side” seams. 1 was on the side at the top and curved around to center front at the bottom and there was a few inch part of that left open to go over the shoes and be long enough for the back without clumping up. The other was the opposite, curving around to the back. Both did their curve around the knee area. I thought they were really cool and much more interesting than the usual fare.

    Sport coats so reminds me of 50s and 60s (possibly earlier) movies and TV shows where almost every man wore one or was in a suit.

  3. Barb taylorr says:

    The seams on these pants look to be taken from athletic apparel, specifically snowbaording. In snowboard & ski apparle this curvature is to make the pants hang best and feel most confortable when the wearer is in a forward-leaning position with knees slightly bent. Often what is developed for practical application makes it’s way into fashion detail where the application is no longer needed.

  4. ken simmons says:

    I too notice that in Europe, especially in Amsterdam where all young people seem to end up at sometime or other, jeans are more creatively cut than in the US. Why? I never thought about it .
    In the 70’s I had tons of jeans that were cut in fantastically unique ways. Could it be that designers are turning to these now vintage pieces for styling? My students love 70’s style. The Euro’s are always 2-4 years ahead of us on cut.

  5. Helen says:

    Many years ago, I bought a pair of pants at an Army-Navy store (I don’t know if these exist any more; they were like Goodwill for military surplus). They were marked as being from the Dutch army and have the same odd no side seam, dart for shaping cut. My son wore them for at least 8 years. As he grew taller and slimmer, they just continued to fit.

    I will dig them out and take some pictures. I went back last year to the same store. It has changed format to carry sporting goods and clothes, but I found a pair of the same pants, lined with polyfill. Unfortunately these were too small for offspring. Fortunately, I would be happy to cut them up. I’ve carefully put them somewhere. When I remember where, I’ll send pictures.

  6. Eric H says:

    I would not go so far as to say the Europeans in general are ahead of “us” in general. A lot of the stuff they were wearing was pseudo-faded university sweatshirt looking things. Hoodies are just coming in. Lots of monobutts in France, but the Germans and Czechs are still cutting the “old” way and therefore resisting the mono-butt look. I didn’t see anything terribly interesting in the Low Countries except for a boot thing Kathleen noticed. The interesting stuff was in Prague, and I agree with Kathleen’s reasoning: vocational training through ComEcon.

  7. Zuzana says:

    Hi, I am a Czech girl, so please let me explain some things:

    At first, I really must to laugh. Czech design!!! There is no Czech design….that’s just people don’t care what to wear…It’s not much about money, though Czech people like to buy things on sale. You see, for 40 years there was communism here and it destroyed any sort of culture. Czech people used to dress very nicely before the war, as well as their behavior was much better, nicer, gentler. The communism taught people that they don’t get any reward on what they do, so they became lazy. Didn’t care about things.

    So that’s just it. They buy whatever they find first and what’s for a good price and what they feel good in, so that means they rather wear jeans and odd combinations of sportswear and classic wear, because they have no sense for design.

    We used to be a big manufacturing country 70 years ago, but communism and China caused that most of our factories closed, so now we import most of the things. As for apparel, we mainly import things, there’s only one real Czech company that makes classic clothing and has their own drafting system etc. (the “Czech drafting system). It’s called OP Prostějov. So people here mainly buy from H&M, C&A, Promod, Terranova. I think mainly buy from shops as Terranova and Kenvelo, beacause they’re cheap. Ughhh…hate that.

    Actually our economy is far better than “people from the west” think. We have many people in the middle class (opposite to Russia – they have no middle class, just “poor” and “rich” people). Most of our people have a nice income that covers their need without having to work too much. In America, you have to work very hard to get a living, here it’s much easier, people have 8-day jobs and they have quite some time for themselves…for us, life is not work, life is the freetime after work. We like to go to restaurants, inns, hiking, travelling.
    America is, in my opinion, a very rough country. If something goes wrong, nobody helps you. You’re on your own. Here, there are still many possibilities and chances to give you a new start if you lose a job or something.

    Yes, we have many pretty girls…there is no reason for it. Slovanian race always had pretty women (Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia…they all have nice girls). Women here care about themselves about as half as much as in the US…there, all women go to the manicure every week or so, visit their hairdresser very often…spend 1 hour in the bathroom every day:-) It’s a lot of money and time. We just don’t want to spend it all on appearance. There are more important things. You’ll notice, the more east you go, the deeper the minds of the people. Russia and Ukraine have the most deep thinking people I ever knew.

    I think it’s really terrible how people dress here. I feel ashamed.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Forgive me, making value judgments is weighing heavily on me this morning, more than usual. I don’t think it is bad if someone has no sense of style or design or dresses poorly. I like to look at well made clothes, I like to make nice clothes but it’s more of an academic exercise for me, not something I care enough about to participate in myself. The only time I take pains with my appearance is if my dressing badly would embarrass people I will be with. If I did not, I am certain you would be ashamed of me too :).

    I think stylistically, there’s been very big changes in the manner of dressing in the US since you were here. Comparatively, and as much as you decry it, I saw more people in Prague who distinguished themselves by dressing than is currently the case here. Here, it’s increasingly a battle of the brands; people’s clothing seems more and more the same.

    People in the US pride themselves on being helpful and friendly so some may be uncomfortable with your assessment. I think your points are valid based on my own experience but it’s a matter of comparatives and culture. Most people here have few points of comparison beyond the occasional vacation abroad which never provides a complete picture (this is tested domestically by visiting a tourist area; locals are more guarded than in non tourist areas).

    Culturally, it’s multi-faceted. Living in an area with lots of migration (OC California) is less friendly that an area with a static population. Even the context in which you meet others matters. Cognitively, people don’t want to “invest” in caring about someone who won’t be there the next day. Groups like churches are typically friendlier for two reasons. One, there is the social expectation that they should be and two, their population is more stable. I agree it is more difficult to find friendliness; here you must work your way into hospitable social groups like churches or groups involved with social causes.

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