It's called a "kożuszek góralski", and is a natural sheepskin shearling short coat, decorated in the tradition of Poland's highlanders (górale), residents of Podhale, the High Tatra mountains of southern Poland. My family really loved that part of the country, and we spent many holidays there. I learned to ski in Zakopane, and hiked my little legs off around Morskie Oko, a very deep little lake whose name translates as Eye of the Sea - cue legend of a super-long underground tunnel connecting the lake to the sea - situated in one of the most picturesque valleys in the high mountains.
I claim the łowicki style (second row from top, at right) by birth,
and the krakowski (third row from top, centre) by descent.
An aside: to fully appreciate those costumes, you really have to see them in motion. If you scroll down to the end of this post, you'll find a few links to some really dynamic, professional performances of Polish folklore.
My kożuszek dates from 1969: a gift from my mother as we were leaving for Canada (thanks, Mom!) Though not yet a teenager at the time, I stopped growing early and was almost fully grown by then, so its fit today is just about the same as when it was brand new.
In researching this subject on the internet, I was able to find just a single very tiny icon of a kożuszek that appeared - at least at its miniscule scale, at left below - very similar to mine, at right:
I chased the link to discover that it was a "for sale" entry from five years ago, advertised as "antique, patterned on the style used for the Polish Olympic team in the 1960s". The date certainly fits! Unfortunately, the icon's link to a larger photo no longer exists, so I couldn't verify its similarity to mine in detail.
I dug around some more and discovered - aha! - that it was at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble when the Polish team's beautifully embroidered shearling coats made a fabulous impression on the world. The Poles didn't bring home a single medal from that event, but damn, they must've been a stylish looking lot. Ironically, they didn't bring their kożuszki home either, but flogged them locally for the to-them-astronomical sum of $200 (think Iron Curtain economics). Good for them, I say - free enterprise rocks.
My search for a photo or video of the team has yielded only this photo of the team's coach in a very nice shearling:
Although his coat does have traditional embroidery, the embroidery is utterly unlike mine, and with the huge hood on its back, the coat itself is very atypical. So I feel that I'm still no closer to finding out what the coats of the '68 Olympians looked like, and whether mine is at all similar to them. It would be nice to know, if only for the historical perspective.
I'd like to preserve it somehow, as the original workmanship was really beautiful and it's unique. My internet search showed me that other examples from that period are practically nonexistent. There are similarly embroidered sleeveless shearling vests, serdaki (see serdak góralski) , but full on long sleeved embroidered coats are rare indeed.
I'm thinking of picking or cutting the garment apart and creating a series of framed pictures of the embroidered sections.
Much of the cross stitch on the back and shoulder trim, and some of the stitching holding the leather appliqué have rubbed away so I'd have to undertake some repair work, but that strikes me as a relatively easy if painstaking task. Because the fur is falling out, it could perhaps be removed entirely (?) and replaced by facsimile trim made of faux shearling. Or I could use felt or some similar wooly cloth to allude to the original fur in a somewhat more abstract way; a slavish recreation may not be necessary.
Anyway, I'm throwing this idea out there to see if any of you might be willing to voice your opinion and give me some advice on how to proceed. It's a tricky thing - on the one hand I'd like to be respectful of the item - on the other, it offers no artistic benefit nor personal joy to me while hanging in a closet. And really, curating it in its original form is not really an option, as it has already begun to disintegrate; a process that's bound to continue.
If you got this far, here is some fab folk dancing for you that show off the folk costumes as they ought to be seen:
For a unique look, not to mention pure athleticism and boy on boy competitiveness, you can't beat the dances of Podhale:
Above, the real fun begins at 2m 50s.
And finally, a dance of the central region; it begins with a very beautiful, very lyrical duet:
Thanks for reading!