Some Thoughts On Witzchoura Mantles

With the cloak finally done, I wanted to write you a quick post-scriptum on the original plans I had in mind when first starting the project. While browsing a big fabric store in Berlin in January, I picked up a piece of cream-colored fake fur and decided to line the hood with it. This idea got me to look into Regency-era fur cloaks and mantles.

While researching, I came across the term “Witzchoura” for the first time. It describes a class of fur-lined cloaks, coats and mantles adopted from Polish fashions of the era. The style first appeared in French fashion plates around 1808 and kept on popping up in different variations for the next forty years to follow. Because of ist Polish origin, this style of outerwear was also sometimes called “a la Polonaise”. Not to be confused with the dance or the later polonaise gowns. ;) Here is an 1816 example taken from “Costume Parisien”:

Fashion plate of a Witzchoura-style pelisse (c. 1816).

But what is Polish about the style and how did it make ist way to France in 1808? Supposedly, Napoleon is the main “culprit” here. Around this time, he had a Polish love interest, the Countess Maria Walewska. In 1808, they had known each other for about two years and her stays in Paris .

Portrait of the Countess Maria Walewska by François Gérard (c. 1812).

“Witzchoura”, first spelled “Witz-choura”, is a French vocalization of a Polish word, the origin of which is still debated among historians. What is more certain, is that this style of coats was inspired by the fur-lined pelisses worn by Polish cavalry, and especially hussars. If you look at Napoleonic-era military history (or into a Sharpe novel), you will find that the Polish riders were quite infamous. From this angle, it is not surprising that fashionable ladies should adopt their style as a token of admiration. For this same reason, I am planning to make a riflemen-green pelisse at some point in the near future…

Sadly the information and documentation on Witzchouras found online is somewhat patchy. But I wanted to share at least a little input on here, to make this special, and very pretty, military-inspired fashion known to you. If you are interested in learning more about it, you can head over to Quinn’s blog. She is making a Witzchoura for her Vernet reproduction project and has been dedicating some more in-depth research to it. To see another few fashion illustrations of hooded Witzchoura pelisses, you can also have a look at this Tumblr post. Perhaps it will inspire your next Regency outerwear project.

Best, Nessa

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3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On Witzchoura Mantles

  1. quinnmburgess says:

    I like that 1816 fashion plate and haven’t seen it before! You’ve solved the mystery of which Vernet fashion plate I’ll be making (although considering there’s only one witzchoura it seems hard to keep a secret). :) My next witzchoura post starts with a lot of the same information you’ve included here, but I think you covered it in more detail than I will be, because I’ll quickly move on to some other written references to witzhcouras in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Thanks for the mention.

    Best,
    Quinn

    • Nessa says:

      Hello Quinn,

      No problem on the mention, you really deserve it. :) What I have summed up in this post is the extent of information on Witzchouras that is readily available online. So I am much looking forward to your exploration of the written resources to discover more about this awesome style. The fashion plate shows one of my favorite Witzchouras, by the way. It looks simple and yet very smart and stylish. I would also love a closer look at the fur trim down the front. And, oops, sorry about spilling the beans on your Vernet plate. ;) I can’t wait to see your interpretation of it.

      Love, Nessa

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