So, um, I’m about to attend this year’s Christmas ball… but I didn’t ever get around to posting about last year’s ball! So very belated-y, but in the spirit of getting ready for the holidays, here is a quick look at last year’s Fezziwig’s Ball, hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.
Bedecked with garlands, the hall was ready for guests…
…while jingle bells waited for the arrival of eager carolers.
During this quiet lull, I was getting ready with other hosts.
Fully dressed, I was ready to show off my hair. Braids, curls, puffs… it wasn’t huge in terms of size but it had a lot of parts despite that.
I counted the number of bobby pins it took to create this style at the end of the night when I took my hair down (and even kept the information in an easy to find spot for the last 12 months…).
The final count: 63 bobby pins.
The usual crew, fully outfitted for the early 19th century.
I started this post soon after joining the Vernet Project, so I think it must have been in my drafts for close to two years at this point. I didn’t want to leave it in the drafts folder forever, though, so I thought I’d include it as I’m wrapping up my Vernet posts.
Throughout my research, I’ve looked through many hundreds of pins on my Pinterest boards from the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and have found only a handful of plates that show outerwear specifically labeled as witzchouras (these can be seen in this past post showing examples). There are a much larger number of other, similar, types of outerwear.
(If you’ve missed out, this post explores the origins and qualities of a witzchoura, while this past post explores witzchouras in even more depth, with multiple excepts from the first part of the 19th century mentioning them.)
Examples of garments similar to witzchouras
Common garments in this category are labeled using words such as pelisse and pardessus. Then there are also carriage dresses (example), promenade dresses (example), and redingotes (example) trimmed in fur, but it seems clear in the fashion plate descriptions that these garments were not considered witzchouras.
Here is another similar garment, a Russian mantle, described in The Ladies Pocket Magazine in 1838 under the chapter English Fashions and Novelties: Remarks On The Prevailing London Fashions.
Descriptions of garments similar to witzchouras
In 1849, La Belle Assembleé addresses this for us (while also mentioning yet another type of outer wear, a burnous. The Dreamstress defines and explores this garment specifically as it relates to historical fashion, which is excellent and full of images!). The author of this reflection of fashion specifically mentions the weight of a witzchoura and how that compares to the weight of a pardessus, as well as the types of outings that these garments would have been worn for. Interesting that they would be worn for carriage dress, when, alternatively, one could also wear a ‘carriage dress’.
This next excerpt, from La Belle Assembleé in 1825, tells us one distinctive quality of a pelisse which is that the arms were not encased in the garment and could be freely moved about.
Examples of out of the ordinary witzchouras
Then there are garments labeled as witzchouras, but which are odd in a variety of ways. For example, take a look at the interesting witzchoura mentioned in The Lady’s Monthly Museum in 1817, seen below.
I’m not really sure what qualities allow a witzchorua to keep one’s dress from being rumpled, but what strikes me as odd is that the witzchoura mention is lined with silk and that is has a chapeau bras attached! Also in 1817, La Belle Assembleé mentions this exact garment twice! The first is a description of the garment. The second is about the inventor, Mrs. Bell, who, if you care to read more, has a long list of other interesting things that she supplies.
In this next case, the witzchoura is described as being lined with sarsnet (a fine plain or sometimes twill weave usually silk fabric) and only trimmed with fur rather than being lined entirely with fur. Haven’t we seen conclusively that a witzchoura should be lined and trimmed in fur? This witzchoura is also interesting because of its colors. It is quite likely a garment made for the general mourning of the death of Queen Charlotte, who passed away in November 1818.
“For out-door costume nothing can be reckoned more completely elegant than the Witchoura pelisse of black velvet lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with real ermine.”
La Belle Assembleé in January 1818
Finally, there is this fashion plate at the LACMA which is labeled as being a witzchoura but with nothing witzchoura-like about it! A mistake perhaps? This looks like a summer garment, not a heavy winter garment.
What a rabbit hole of obscure information the witzchoura is. I’m rather glad to say that I’ve now exhausted my currnet list of historical references to the witzchoura!
As a quick recap, I started my witzchoura research journey here, being confused about how the word was spelled. After sharing that with you, I moved on to look at basic witzchoura definitions and then further witzchoura references, but I haven’t really shared images of witzchouras with you yet, so that’s what this post is going to focus on.
Out of the thousands of pins on my historic clothing Pinterest boards, the images below are the only ones I could find that specifically mention that they show a witzchoura. (Never fear, I’ll be looking at not-quite-witzchouras in a future post.) If you know of any other images that specifically name the garment shown as being a witzchoura please let me know!
I find it interesting that two are yellow and two are blue. Also interesting that all the furs that are depicted are textured or downright weird (like the first one with the flower-fur… what is that?). However, in terms of materials there is variation: one of merino (wool), one of reps (could be wool, silk, or cotton, according to the OED), and two of velvet (fabric content unknown, though wool, silk, or cotton would seem to be likely).
Last December, I had the opportunity to wear my green 1824 dress again at an annual holiday ball. It took a lot of time to sew all the trim on the dress (there are construction posts about this dress here) and I don’t get many opportunities to wear 1820s clothes, so it’s quite lovely to have a general “early 19th century” ball to wear this dress to.
This year we had new garland decorations and were able to get some adorable pictures! I was quite pleased with my silly figure eight braid hair style and my other accessories (the green earrings added a nice matching pop of color, the hair wreath worked well as it has in the past, and I like the white shoes with this dress). I’m behind sharing the photos, but pleased that they’re finally making it into a post.
Don’t you want to jump out of your chair and join in the dancing?
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 theOxford 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!
I am very excited to share that I am finally done sewing the trim on my 1822 Walking Dress and 1824 Ball Gown. I actually finished sewing the trim on both garments about two months ago. Yay me, for being ready for a ball a full month ahead of time!
I wore both garments this year at Fezziwig’s Ball, hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, just as I did last year. Last year, however, I didn’t have enough time to trim them like I wanted to and I didn’t really have time to look into proper hair styles either. So this year, in addition to adding trim, I also decided to try out a different hair style that would be much more early 1820s.
I looked at lots of fashion plates and noted what elements made the styles look 1820s. This is the look, from 1823 (also pictured a little farther down). The style required a new hair wreath, so that was the only last minute sewing for this year’s event. I did the same style as the fashion plated: crossed braids on top of my head and little curls around my hair line. When you have long hair and no bangs like me it’s quite a challenge to get curls around the hair line. I managed to make the little curls happen, but I still want to improve my methods. The hair wreath was essential for hiding my long hair and only showing the curly ends. It is made of wired millinery flowers sewn to a length of millinery wire. The front bits are small flower sprays and the back is velvet leaves.
I was amused throughout the night that people kept commenting on how much they liked the sleeve appliques on my green dress. I didn’t realize they were so exciting, but I do think they balance out the skirt nicely. By the end of the night my curls were looking a bit crazed… but it was fun, and I do enjoy wearing these garments and the style of the 1820s, in general. Oh, and I was able to wear my refreshing apron, too, though we were too busy refilling refreshments to take pictures. So yay for completion! It’s nice to get these things off the sewing list to make room for other fancily trimmed things!
…It’s only been a year! Or pretty close to a year. I posted an overview of my early 1820s project last November. The project included a petticoat, 1824 ball gown, 1822 walking dress, muff, tippet, bonnet, and chemisette. Some of these things are still in the UFO pile or on the to do list, but I’m super pleased that this post is about the completion of the 1822 walking dress!
The image below is my inspiration for the now complete walking dress. I wore it last December to go caroling outside before Fezziwig’s Ball, but at that point my time had run out and though the construction was complete there was no trim. Below the image of my inspiration is an image of the walking dress as it looked last December with no trim. And below that is an image of the now completed walking dress with trim! It certainly fits me better than the hanger, but you’ll have to wait a few months to see it on me.
Before I share some close ups of the trim and construction, let me share the facts:
Fabric: 4-5 yds of dark pink wool, 4-5 yds of ivory super soft and thick cotton twill, 1/2 yd-ish of lavender polyester velvet, 1/2 yd-ish of lavender silk shantung, and a bit of canvas for the collar.
Pattern: Adapted from my 1822 green ball gown pattern, I think. It’s pretty much exactly the same except that it has a higher back, collar, and sleeves. The ball gown pattern is based off of a pattern in Janet Arnold.
Notions: Pink and lavender thread, polyester batting in the hem, and hooks for the waist.
How historically accurate?: Very, having used modern materials and a few very nice looking modern fabrics . The pattern is from Janet Arnold, so you know it is good on accuracy and the trim scale and pattern is taken from a fashion plate from 1822. As a historic costume I give it 98%.
Hours to complete: Oh goodness… I’m sure the main construction took at least 40 hours and the trim took probably 50ish hours to cut, press, and hand sew. I didn’t keep track at all on this project.
I actually had forgotten that I’d taken these construction shots. In fact, I had totally forgotten the method I had used to construct my sleeves until I saw the picture again! These pictures where the wool looks more pink than maroon show the color best. It’s really much more vibrant, and much less brownish, than some of the pictures make it look.
And just in case you want to read more about my entire project from the early 1820s, here’s a link to that category of entries on my blog. As I continue to finish up other bits and pieces I’ll keep adding them to that category, and it’s neat because the category filters only those posts so there’s a nice continuity.