It’s time for a little more information about witzchouras! Back in January, I shared my round-about journey to figure out what a witzchoura is. Now it’s time to look at witzchouras in more detail to determine what qualities define them.
In that last post, we left off with this enlightening sentence from the book Empire Fashions by Dover Publishers: “Around 1808, a high-waisted, fur-lined woman’s coat appeared, the witzchoura [wi choo ra].” Here is an example of what a witzchoura looks like.
My go-to source when I get geeky about word history is the Oxford English Dictionary, and lucky for me, it has an entry for witzchoura! The OED tells us it as an obsolete noun from the French vitchoura and the Polish wilczura (a wolf-skin coat) that is defined as “A style of lady’s mantle fashionable c. 1820-35.” The OED also shares four uses of the word from period sources. Here they are, with slight edits:
1823 La Belle Assemblée Dec. Witzchoura pelisse of gros de Naples,..trimmed with a very broad border of swansdown.
1833 Ladies Pocket Mag. The witchoura is a very ample mantle, made with a very deep collar, and cape, and long, loose sleeves.
1835 Court Mag. [The mantle] is of the Witzchoura form, drawn close at the back, with large Turkish sleeves, and a deep falling collar.
[1898 M. Loyd tr. O. Uzanne Fashion in Paris Witzchouras had not yet [c1806] come into vogue.]
So far, our qualifications for a witzchoura include: a high waist for earlier witzchouras (to correspond with the fashionable silhouette), fur lining, fur trim, the fact that a witzchoura is a coat or mantle (for outerwear, with another garment worn underneath), that it was most popular c. 1820-1835, and that it had not yet become fashionable c. 1806. Other sources add to a witzchoura’s qualifications those of its being full length, having large sleeves and a wide collar (or sometimes hood or cape layers over the shoulders) especially in the 1830s when the silhouette changed, as well as the general period of the “early 19th century” for its popularity, which makes sense since we’ve just looked at sources that mention dates between 1806 and 1835.
There is some information telling us that the garment became popular after Napoleon gained a Polish mistress in 1808 and other information that tells us that the garment was Russian in origin and became popular after the Napoleonic Wars brought the style back to France and England. (For more information about these early witzchoura influences, check out this post at the Sewing Empire blog.)
I’m excited the word has Polish or Russian origins, because “witz” sounds Polish or German to me. Also, I love that the last quote from the OED tells us that witzchouras weren’t popular just a few years prior to the year 1814. Oh, how fashionable is a merveilleuse!