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Olivia Gecseg

MA work

"Folk Art in Fashion": Authentic Folk and Modern Dress in the Hungarian People's Republic, 1968-1980

The textile craft of blue-dyeing (kékfestő) in Hungary originated in the dress of German and Slovak ethnic groups in the eighteenth century, became a rallying point for the nineteenth-century nationalist movement, and was appropriated in its folk art form by late socialist designers in the 1970s. Addressing this last period, this dissertation explores the wider trend for folk-inspired fashion in late socialist Hungary, where traditional motifs and folk dress forms appeared in modern fashion garments. Across the Eastern Bloc, the use of ethnic quotation was promoted in fashion, but the unique relationship of each country to its own folk heritage requires a specifically Hungarian context to explore the topic further. The forced modernisation within traditional communities, stemming from collectivisation, and anxiety amongst Hungarian urban intellectuals for the welfare of ethnic minorities living in neighbouring countries led to a search for authenticity, expressed through material culture. Ethnographic histories contextualise the trend further; within the peasantry, urban dress was increasingly adopted through the process of ‘undressing’ (kivetkőzés), the abandonment of traditional dress. Exploring the convergence of peasant dress and urban dress during this period of heightened modernity, the dissertation questions the typically opposed terms of ‘folk dress’ and ‘fashion’. Finally, the case study of blue-dyed textiles used in a collaboration between textile artist Irén Bódy (1925-2011) and fashion designer Lujza Záhonyi (b.1930), presents the design process and manufacture behind the folk fashion trend.


  • Olivia Gecseg
  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2017

  • Through my research into a Hungarian stocking in the V&A's textile collection I became fascinated with the status of Central and Eastern European folk dress in international museum collections. My field of interest is based in the appropriation of folk culture for different political ends and the appropriation of folk motifs in corporate branding. My dissertation explored both these facets through the trend for ethnic dress styles in the late socialist era in Hungary which also allowed for extensive field research in Hungarian collections and archives. 

  • Degrees

  • BA English, University of Birmingham, 2012
  • Experience

  • Voluntary Research Assistant, Furniture, Fashion & Textiles, V&A Museum, London, 2017; Ambassador, The Costume Society, 2016 & 2017; Editor, Unmaking Things, 2016/17; Voluntary Events Coordinator, 'Opening the Cabinet of Curiosities' Workshop, V&A Museum, February 2017; Voluntary Events Assistant, 'What Was Europe? A New Salon' Series, V&A Museum, London, 2015/16; Voluntary Exhibition Assistant, 'You Move Me' Jo Lathwood Exhibition, Antlers Gallery, Bristol, 2014/15
  • Awards

  • Object Essay, Gillian Naylor Essay Prize in Memory of Tom Naylor, 2016