The text reads: “Toque de Velours. Witz-choura de Satin.” I’ve looked at enough fashion plates to guess the meaning of most of the text. After some quick reference to translation programs, I confirmed my suspicions and translated the text as: “Hat of velvet. ____ of satin.” The question is, what does “Witz-choura” mean?
First, let me tell you that I originally read the plate as “Toque de Velours. With-choura de Satin.” That z looks remarkably like an h, despite the fact that I don’t think “with” is a word in French (also, I don’t really associate the letter z with French words, so I was happy to interpret it as an h). I followed this path for awhile, though, despite the fact that it didn’t quite make sense. Assuming “With” meant what it does in English, I proceeded to try to figure out what “choura” meant. I looked at English dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, with no luck. And in French dictionaries the closest thing I found is that “choura” is conjugation of “chouraver” or “chourer,” a verb which seems to mean “to steal” or “to rob” in English. But that didn’t make any sort of sense! The only other reference to the word “choura” I found was that it has a connection to an Arabic word relating to the parliament of an Islamic state. Again, no connection. So then I thought, what’s the word for shoes in French? Maybe “choura” is an older form of that word? Turns out that “les chaussures” means shoes in French.
I was about to pursue this train of thought, when Mr. Q interrupted me. When I complained about my lack of useful results he suggested I try, amongst other ideas, a search of Google Scholar. My initial search turned up lots of science related publications with authors whose last names were Choura. But then, when I added the word “fashion” to my search, I was returned one result which was to the point and clarified the whole business (at least a little bit!). Mr. Q broke the mystery wide open!
The clarification comes from the book Empire Fashions by Dover Publishers. The relevant sentence can be found here and reads: “Around 1808, a high-waisted, fur-lined woman’s coat appeared, the witzchoura [wi choo ra].” Ohhhh, I thought, that’s not an h it’s a z!
Upon searching for it with the now-corrected spelling I finally found relevant information! All that will be in future posts, though. I thought I’d break it up to avoid having one really long post. So you can look forward to a post with descriptions of witzchouras and then also a post with images of them. At least I was on the right track!
(Click here for my original post about the 1814 Vernet Project, to which this post refers.)