Category Archives: Dictionary Definitions

Vernet Project: A Witzchoura Tangent

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.

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Fashion plate showing a Pardessus from 1811.

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.

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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’.

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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.

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Example of a Pelisse from 1815, showing the armholes that would allow movement.

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A slightly later example of a Pelisse in a similar style. This is from 1821.

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.

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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.

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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!

Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Hair Decided

I’m quite busy sewing up a storm to get my sacque finished in the last few days I have before heading out on my trip. Therefore this is just a quick post to document my progress.

In the last few weeks I had two hair trial days. The first was a bit frustrating, because I did my hair twice and wasn’t satisfied either time. I was experimenting: figuring out what worked and what didn’t, what was becoming and what wasn’t, fashioning and refashioning the support for the style, and making permanent and detachable buckles (see below for a description of a buckle, from Cunnington’s The Dictionary of Fashion History).

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The second day was much more successful. The buckles were already made, I knew what shape I wanted to achieve, and I had a clearer idea of how to get there. Eventually I plan to share more details about creating the style, but for now, here are pictures of the style on trial day #2 with another sneak peak at my sacque in the process of having its trim added.

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I also played with powdering my hair on day #2. I was unsure about it before I tried it, but the powder helps the real greys (ahem) blend in and helps the false hair of the buckles with their sheen blend better, too. For the actual event I’ll have to do a better job making it even so I don’t look like I have a streak!

The sacque is so close to done that I’m crossing it off, too. It needs one more sleeve flounce layer and an under sleeve flounce layer added, but that’s it! And trim. Pinning the trim is taking a lot longer than I imagined it would because I am a perfectionist about the placement. I don’t expect that sewing it will be as slow, but I’m not there yet. Ahh! Off to sew!

  • Panniers
  • Petticoat
  • Robe a la francaise (with a subset of trimming)
  • Hair
  • Shoes

1899 Gibson Girl Coiffure

I was very pleased with my hair for the 1890s ball! One of the reasons I liked the idea of an 1899 dress is because it is close enough to the turn of the century that a Gibson Girl hair style made sense. My hair loves cooperating in poofy styles, so this was perfect!

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I created the super poof using a pad made from one leg of a pair of tights. It’s stuffed with cheap “wizard beard” hair that would otherwise have gone in the trash. Being stuffed with synthetic hair, the pad is pretty warm. And I did struggle a bit to get bobby pins through the tights–I need to add loops to the ends for next time I think. Aside from those things, though, the pad was perfect!

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I also created a new hair ornament to finish off the coiffure. I had originally thought of bleaching the ostrich feathers to create an aigrette*, like this, but decided that I liked the ostrich feathers as is and didn’t feel like dealing with bleach. There are two feathers: a grey and a white. I found that the white helped create definition for the grey on my dark hair. The sparkly bit is a cheap eBay brooch. I sewed the feathers to it and then used the pin part to bobby pin it in place on my head.

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Success! Look at that haughty Gibson girl look (like this)!

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*An aigrette is a spray of feathers from an egret. Confusing!

Vernet Project: Toque de Velours

Today, I’m going to share more information about the unusual hat in my Vernet fashion plate.

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The caption reads “Toque de Velours.” I already had a rough translation in my head, basically “Hat of Velvet,” but thought I should double check the definitions before deciding on materials.

Toque:

1:  a woman’s small hat without a brim made in any of various soft close-fitting shapes

2:  tuque (a warm knitted usually pointed stocking cap)

3: a tall brimless hat worn by a chef —called also toque blanche

Velours:

1:  any of various fabrics with a pile or napped surface resembling velvet used in heavy weights for upholstery and curtains and in lighter weights for clothing; also  :  the article of clothing itself

2:  a fur felt (as of rabbit or nutria) finished with a long velvety nap and used especially for hats

Well, the hat does rather resemble a chef hat, doesn’t it? My rough translation was confirmed! Luckily, I had black silk velvet in my stash, which perfectly suited the project.

The hat base is buckram in the simple shape of an oval to fit my head with a flat tip on top. I don’t have pictures, but imagine the shape of a straight sided Lincoln-like top hat without the brim and you’ll have the right idea. The buckram is mulled with cotton flannel and wired around the head opening, tip, and partway up the side. The buckram support is about 8″ tall.

In addition, there is padding to support the poof on top. I chose to use polyester batting–it’s not at all accurate, but I had it on hand and it isn’t seen. There are concentric ovals on top that diminish in size with each layer as well as a few layers around the top of the buckram on the side to provide support for the tucks/pleats.

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The “stacked” pleat is on the right.

The poof is a large circle that is flat lined with a piece of muslin to help provide the support for the pleats. The pleats are about 1″ wide knife pleats that are then folded back on themselves to create a double pleat (this website calls this type of pleat a stacked pleat and is the source for the image). To determine the type of pleat, I played around with my fabric until I found a method that created an effect like the fashion plate, which is like fans or slices (you can see it in this post). Then I eyeballed how many to do, pinning and re-pinning until the pleats were evenly spaced and the poof fit into the side of my hat (no math here, I avoid it as much as possible most of the time).

The definition on the sides (at the head opening and about 1.5″ up from the head opening) was created by inserting “cording” under the velvet. My “cording” is actually modern acrylic yarn in sunshine yellow (like the batting, I made this choice because I had the materials on hand, it worked, and it will not be seen–but it is not accurate). I believe there are two or three lengths of yarn in each single section of “cording” to get the right thickness to show under the velvet.

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We took this photo specifically to capture the detail of the hat construction (usually the black all washes together, eliminating evidence of all the detail).

The rest is just sewing! The hat is entirely hand sewn, with the layers of velvet either tacked to the mulling or stitched through to the interior of the buckram base. Once I had finished the exterior sewing, I whipped up a lining of black silk  to tidy up the inside.

The last step was to trim the hat with the immense ostrich feathers depicted in the fashion plate. I ordered my feathers from Lamplight Feather, which I highly recommend (quick shipping, good quality, and great selection). The hat has 6 total feathers, each 17″-21″in length. Each plume is two feathers sewn together along the central stem before being shaped and sewn to the hat. The trickiest part was shaping the feathers to achieve the shape in the plate. Each plume is shaped so that it does an 180 degree turn (the plumes are attached to the hat standing up, but then are turned downward) in addition to the side sweep shape. As you can see, the wind occasionally blew lots of feather fluff into my face during the photo shoot, but it was totally worth it, to wear such lovely feathers.

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Feathers!

I constructed the hat such that it would sit almost horizontal across my head. It’s pretty light in terms of weight and is not uncomfortable to wear, being sized perfectly to fit my head. It also comes down far enough to be quite stable: even with the breeze and moving my head around there was no fear of it falling off.

As fun and silly as it is, I don’t really see a use for it in regular Regency wear. I will likely remove the feathers to use for another project someday (also partly because it would be hard to store the hat nicely with the feathers still attached). I’ve toyed with the idea of removing the poof (and maybe making a tam or turban or something out of it, or just sticking it back in my stash with the rest of the velvet) and using the buckram base with the velvet sides to make a shako style Regency hat. I have no immediate plans to put these ideas into action, except for removing the feathers, which I really should do soon, so I can put the hat away!

Vernet Project: Witzchoura Images

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).

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Costume Parisien, 1812

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Costume Parisien, 1813

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Costume Parisien, 1818

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Costume Parisien, 1820

Vernet Project: Further Witzchoura References

Last post relating to witzchouras, we looked at basic definitions of the word, determining that the garment and its name developed from Polish and French influences, that the garment was popular c. 1808 to 1835, and that the chief qualifications are that it is an outer coat or mantle lined and trimmed in fur. But let’s not stop there: here are more references to the witzchouras from the early 19th century.

In 1817, La Belle Assembleé has multiple mentions of witzchouras. The following excerpt tells us a good amount about this style:

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Side note: A Louis d’Or is a French gold coin first struck in 1640. These were promoted by the French kings to fill the need for a large denomination coin, since the franc and livre silver coins were greatly decreasing in value. In 1726, France developed monetary stability and the Louis d’Or was established as being worth 24 livres, a value that remained static through the French Revolution. At the time of this quote in 1817, a Louis d’Or referred to a 20 franc gold piece, also called a Napoleon, so named because Napoleon coopted the idea of the French kings before him. (Sources: Merriam Webster, the OED for louis d’orNapoleon, and livre, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.)

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Louis d’Or from 1709

Throughout the 18th century, a franc was similar in value to a livre, and about 20 of either of these coins equalled one Louis d’Or. La Belle Assembleé tells us that a witzchoura in 1817 was worth 30-90 Louis d’Ors. What I’m driving at here is the relative value of one of these garments.

The OED gives us an idea of the value of a livre over time: in 1746 one captain was paid 120 livres a month (6 Louis d’Ors). Extrapolate that for a year, and that captain was making 72 Louis d’Ors, just enough for a witzchoura or two and nothing else! Another example from 1797 sounds outraged that an English sea officer was charged 300 livres for eight days of lodging (15 Louis d’Ors). That’s almost 60 Louis d’Ors per month, which would easily be a witzchoura, though I doubt that sea officer would need a witzchoura instead of lodgings! The takeaway message is that, as La Belle Assembleé says, witzchouras were costly and worn only by the wealthy.

It is worth noting that there are fur lined pelisses mentioned which do not qualify as witzchouras in the eyes of La Belle Assembleé. I’ll be examining these almost-witzchouras in a later post.

Moving along some years, The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine describes fashionable witzchouras in 1833 (the OED had quoted part of this in their definition of witzchoura that we looked at in my last post):

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As we established before, by the 1830s the shape of the witzchoura had changed to accommodate the changing fashions of dresses under them: becoming more cape-like, with collars and loose sleeves rather than being fitted like a pelisse as they were in the earlier years of their popularity. Again, we are reminded that witzchouras are made from expensive fur, and the more expensive the fur the more likely to see it displayed as much as possible.

Moving forward once again, C. Willet Cunnington mentions witzchouras in his book English Women’s Clothing in the 19th Century referencing a year as late as 1849: “The Witzchoura Mantle, for the carriage, lined and trimmed with fur.”

This quote from La Belle Assembleé in 1849 could be the source for Cunnington’s mention of the style, as the phrasing is quite close to Cunnington’s description:

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Here there is a mention of another garment similar to a witzchoura: in this case a burnous. According to the OED again, a burnous is a woman’s cloak or mantle from the 19th century resembling an Arabian upper garment of the same name. It is interesting to note that by the 1830s and 1840s a witzchoura is described as heavy, cumbrous, and very ample instead of the more fashionable and positive descriptions from the decades prior.

One final mention of the witzchoura is from The Outdoor Girl Of A Century Ago, published in 1922:

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This is the second mention in this post of a similar (or possibly the same) garment of Russian origin. In addition to the specific evidence of the Polish origins of the witzchoura in name and relating to Napoleon himself, I’ve also come across multiple mentions of the witzchoura style being brought back to France from Russia by Napoleon’s forces. Both of these influences fit in with the dating we’ve established and lead me to wonder if these are two separate and unique garments. Perhaps, though I suspect that if they were indeed separate styles in name they would have been variations on a similar theme, just like the fur-lined pelisse mentioned earlier in this post.

Vernet Project: Basic Witzchoura Descriptions

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.

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Costume Parisien from 1813

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!