School Uniform: Poland

Figure 1.--These Polish boys are pictured in their school smocks or fartuszki which they are wearing with short pants. The fartuszki have detachable large white collars. I'm not sure just when this photograph was taken, probably the 1970s.

I have little information on Polish school uniforms or Polish boys' schools in general. Hopefully some of the European visitors to this web site will provide some information. Poland like many countries of Eastern and Central Europe has undergone cataclismic political changes in the 20th Century. These changes were especially significant in Poland. Poland in the medieval era had been one of the most important countries in Europe, but as a result of the 18th century Polish partitions, Poland was reased from the map of Europe. This led in the 19th century to efforts by Austria, Germany, and Russia to supress Polish natioinalism and culture. Only in the 20th century was Poland reconstituted. The resulting political changes have significangtly affected the educational system which of course affected school uniform and dress.

Pre-partion Poland

King Stanislaw August established a Commission on National Education. This was essentially the world's first state ministry of education (1773). Austria, Prussia, and Russia completed the partitions before a national education system could be established..

Partitioned Polland (1773-1918)

As a result of repeated war, invasion and partition, Poland had ceased to exist as an independent country (18th century). Poles were part of the Russian, German, and Austrian Empires. Russia had by far the largest portion of Poland, including Warsaw and central and eastern Poland. These three empires had differing policies on the ability of national groups to express their nationalism, but all in one way or the other sought to supress Polish nationalism. We know that Tsar Alexander III initisted a major effort at Russification. He revoked the constitution that had been granted Poland and in Poland and other areas initiated efforts to Russify not only Poland, but other national groups. Schools were required to operate in Russian. We do not have details on the extent to which Polish-language schools were permitted in the areas of Poland annexed by Austria and Prussia. We believe that the Austrians were more flexivle on this than the Russians and Prussians. We have little information on the uniforms or clothes worn at these schools. We do note two Polish brothers in the Austrian sector of Poland duing 1918. The boys look to be wearing school uniforms.

Independent Poland (1919-39)

World War I fundamentally changed the political situation in Eastern Europe, and Poland was at the heart of those changes. The Germans drove east, taking Poland, the Baltics, what is now Belarus, and large areas of the Ukraine. These gains wwre formalized in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) and German dominance in Central and Eastern Europe. German defeat in the West, however, meant that Germany had to abnrogate the Treaty and led to the division of the great European empires and national self-determination for the former subject people of those empires. The Treaty of Versailles recognized an independent Poland. War with the Bolsheviks moved the boundary of Poland signifiantly to the east into areas with non-Polish populations (Lithuanians, Bylorussians, Ukranians, and Jews). Under Russian and German control, there was no Polish language instruction. (The Austrians were more open to national minoriries.) We have little information on the Polish school system established in independernt Poland. As the Polish Partitions (18th century) tookplace before a public school system had been established, this was the first Polish national school system. The new independent Polish Republic had the task of combining the existing Austria, Prussian, and Russian schools into a unified national education system. The task was magnified by the fact that the population in the east consisted of a large non-Polish population. We are not sure how the Poles dealt with the language issue in schools. The 1930s Depression sharply reduced school attendance as well as Government funds available for education. There was some achievements. State universities were established in Warsaw, Wilno (Vilnius), and Poznan. Attendance was largely limited to the upper classes and affluent middle class. The Government also opened a number of specialized secondary schools. The Polish Academy of Learning was founded. We have little information on school uniforms or boys clothes during this period, but believe that younger boys wore smocks and many boys wore short pants. I am not aware of any national regulations on school uniform.

German Occupation (1939-44)

Poland was occupied by the Germans for a longer period than any other other country, except for Czecheslovakia. The German occupation in Poland, however, was more brutal than in any other country. An incredible 25 percent of the population perished in Wotld War II. In addition to extermination of the Jews, the Germans sought to totally destroy Polish nationalism and culture. Intelectuals including teachers were rounded up and sent to slave labor camps where many perished. The Germans saw the Poles as inferior people suited only for menial labor in the New World Order. Education beyond basic literacy and math, was deemed unecessary--if not undesirable. The educational system esentially ceased to exist during the War, except for underground schools.

Communist Rule (1944-89)

Russian "liberation" resulted in the reserection of an independent Poland. The border was pushed far to the west. Territory adquired by the Soviets in the east was replaced by former German Silessia and other territories in the East. Millions of people were forcibly moved, the Poles by the Soviets in the east and the Getrmans by the Poles in the west. By 1948 the Russians had coreagraphed the creation of the Polish People's Republic. The Russians did all they could to recast Poland in the Soviet mold. The Church and the strength of Polish nationalism made this difficult from the start. It was eventually Poland, spearheaded by the Solidarity movement, that led to the unraveling of Russia's Eastern European Empire in the 1980s and eventually the Soviet Union itself. I have no detailed information yet on the school uniforms worn by Polish children during the Communist era. I believe smocks were commonly worn by the younger boys and girls. Polish boys commonly wore short pants in the 1940s-70s, and presumably this included school wear.

Democratic Poland (1989- )

Free elections in 1989 were the beginning of a ne democratic Poland. I am not sure what this has nmeant for Polish education or uniforms in the Polish schools. Since the end of Communist domination, it has been possible to open non-giovernemt schools. The principal non-hovernment schools have been opened by the Catholics. Manu of the Catholics schools require uniforms. Aleksandra Kudzin explains, for example that her Jesuit school has green school uniforms.

A Catholic school

The history of Aleksandra's school provides some details on Polish educational trends. Her school was founded in 1937, a few years before the German invasion (1939). Her school is the Jesuit school in Gdynia-Or³owo. The Jesuit's work was suddenly interrupted by the World War II (1939-45). Teachers and priest were arrested and the schools closed. Immediately after the war, the school was briefly re-opened in 1945, and continued to form the new leaders of society, following their motto: "For the greater glory of God." Unfortunately, the Communist regime didn’t share the Church’s outlook on education, and so Jesuits were banned from teaching.

Communism fell in 1989 and the seeds of democracy were planted. Then the plan of re-establishing the school in Gdynia was again taken up. However they had to start from the very beginning, the Jesuits weren’t afraid of the new challenge. There was no buildings, but the parish (of St. Stanis³aw Kostka) helped by rendering the rooms around their newly built church, these rooms were then made accessible to the colleage. Father Tadeusz Pawlicki was called upon to be the headmaster of the school. Thanks to their determination in achieving their aims (which is so characteristic to the Jesuits) the results of their hard work can been seen. Soon, the fame of the newly opened school in our city, spread throughout the world amongst the graduates of the Jesuit schools. Most of them contacted the school, showing their interest in giving a suitable education to youths is still very much alive. The hard work of many people rebuilding the school’s prestige and fame resulted in growing number of young people eager to continue their education there. It is easy to say so after looking at some statistics. In June 1994, the first candidates applied and completed the exams. There were 51 of them, althogh only 42 were accepted. Three years later, there were 126 applicants, but only the 48 who passed with the highest marks were accepted.

State schools

A British girl descibes her experiences in a Polish school. "When I first arrived in Poland , I expected school to maintain rigid discipline, 5-minute breaks and a longer one in the middle, quiet during the lessons and breaks, as well as locked school gates after 8 o' clock, which was the time when everybody should be present. But the thing that surprised me most was that the pupils had no respect for their fellows or the teachers. The school gates were kept open, the breaks were 10 minutes long with a 15-minute one in the middle of the school day. The breaks were wild. Sometimes you didn't have to come at 8 o'clock. Also, the toilets were dirty. On the good side, there was a shop and a school doctor, both of which had not been available in my previous school. The dentist was nice. Computers were also available. As well as that, clubs had been formed. The "wietlica" took charge of young children. My conclusion is that my Polish school can be a bit of a rough-house, but on the whole it is a very pleasant place."

Individual school

A HBC reader suggests that we look at his school, Gimnazjum 27. They have an extensice site with what looks like a lot of interesting infornmation. Unfortunately the site is all in Polish, so few HBC readers will be able to understand it.

Academic changes

The coming of democracy to Poland in the 1980s meant many important changes for Polish school children. In Communist Poland it was the steel wotkers and coal miners who earned the highest salaries. They usually earned more than professionals with university degrees. As a result, in Communist Poland less was at stake as to how children did academically at school. Most people wound up in jobs paying roughly the same wages, nit matter how much they applied themselves in school or the academic degrees they earned. Now in Poland's free market economy, getting a job with a good company can make a huge difference in a person's life style. In Communist Poland pnly about 30 percent of the students stufied in academically oriented high schools, most Polish children went to vocational schools. Now these ratio has been reversed. Anout 70 percent of the children go to academic high schools. There is increasing pressure to get into the better schools. One of the most prestigious is Warsaw's Witkacy High School. There are many more applicants than places so competitive tests determine who get the cobeted places. Polish students take these tests at the end of the 8th grade when they are about 14 years old. Most find them "fiendishly" difficult. The Witkacy test, for example, had a last question for extra credit that was apparently meant to be too difficicult fir all but the brightest students. [Holley]

New uniforms

The Polish government has passed a new law that will require all primary and middle public school students in Poland (age 7-16) to wear uniforms beginning September 2007. The Government did not establish a national school uniform. Rather each school can decide what kind of uniform to adopt. A Polish reader tells us, "The future of school uniforms is not clear because the current Government is weak and under political fire for unrelated issues. The Government's future is unclear so we are unsure just how the uniform law will be enforced."


We have not yet done much work on Polish schoolwear and school unifiorm garments. We note many bys wearing German-styled school caps in the intr-War period (1920s-30s). A good example is a oy in a family snapshot during 1935.

Individual Schools

A useful section of our country school psges is individual schools. This provoides a lot of useful information about school trends in the various countries. We see different types of schools as well as schools in different chronological periods as well as regions of the country. And when the schools did not wear uniforms, the school portraits provide a valuable record of period fashion. We do not yet have much information on individual Polish schools, bt hope t add some as HBC-SU develops.


We also have very limited information about individual Polish school children. A reader has provided some information about Ludwik Bieńkowski, a student in a secondary school sabout 1915.


Holley, David. "Polish 14-year olds strive to survice exam hell," Washington Post July 27, 1998, p. A19.

Additional Information

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended

Apertures Press New Zealand schools books: E-books on New Zealand schools available
Boys' Preparatory Schools: Lovely photographic book on British Preparatory Schools during the 1980s with over 200 color and black and white images.
Apertures Press British schools books: E-books on British preparatory schools available


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: 11:31 PM 9/28/2012