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2009 | 57 | 1 | 19-37

Article title

A 'DELIA' AND A HAT, OR ON THE PHENOMENON OF MIXED COSTUME IN OLD POLAND (W kapeluszu i w delii, czyli ewenement stroju mieszanego w dawnej Rzeczypospolitej)


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A portrait of king Vladislaus (Wladyslaw) IV Vasa (circa 1635) from the Regional Museum in Ilza is a testimony of the old-forgotten custom of combining Polish national costume with some elements of Western fashion. The latter was shaped by the ethos of chivalry, the so-called emblematic sentimentalism, the etiquette that forbade to lower one's hand too much and to straighten one's elbow, and finally the practice of courtly dance. The Polish 'Sarmatian' fashion was rooted in the mediaeval tradition of gesture and in the gentry life style favouring riding and hunting. In the West a muscular, slender, well-proportioned leg was treated as an attribute of the knightly elite, an evidence of riding, fencing and dancing skills. Apart from legs, Western fashion highlighted male hips (through the use of a padding called bourrelet); the pubic area was accentuated with a V-shaped basque or the horizontal lines of the tails, but primarily with a protruding codpiece, which after 1603 gave way to a fly decorated with a row of buttons or a bunch of braid (tablier de galants). The national costume of the 'Sarmatians' hid the intimate parts, since it was not supposed to serve erotic allurement. National-style breeches were usually tied, Western-style ones were buttoned and tied up with straps and hooks. 'Sarmatian' footwear was much simpler, with flat soles and metal semicircles instead of heels. In spite of some similarities, colours were also used differently. The Polish fashion preferred textiles with large ornamental motifs, which were emphasised by the cut of garments; it also relied on jewels to a lesser extent. In the Polish costume a greater role was assigned to the vertical axis and to symmetry; it relied much more consistently on conical shapes and on emphasising the shoulders. Even greater discrepancies can be found as regards underwear and perfumes. Finally, the Polish costume was never affected, effeminate or directly influenced by female fashion. Some historical sources confirm that kings of the Vasa dynasty often wore mixed costumes. For example, on the occasion of the homage of the Elector of Brandenburg in 1611 both the King and Prince Vladislaus wore red Polish overcoats and large feathered hats. The False Dimitri and Duke Janusz Radziwill (d. 1620) had their portraits painted in that convention. In probate inventories of Polish burghers Western style garments and accessories (hats, trunk hose, breeches, doublets, ruffs, stockings, rapiers, etc) are usually marginal in comparison with the numbers of Polish-style garments (delie, ferezje, giermaki, dolomany, kontusze, magierki, bekieszki, etc). Yet, in the second half of the 17th c. 69% of inventories from Warsaw, 57% from Cracow and 50% from Poznan include items that may be connected with Western fashion, even if these are only accessories. Inhabitants of Lublin, especially when travelling abroad, used garments that were described as 'a French coat with large buttons' or 'azure breeches of fine woollen cloth with narrow grey braids'. He affluent citizens of Przemysl, Jaroslaw, Nowy Sacz, Lutomiersk and Poznan had many Western-style garments in their wardrobes (various doublets, jerkins and vests, Spanish breeches, silk-embroidered French boot cuffs, lace ruffs, etc). Burghers wore full Western dress for public ceremonies. Alternating national and Western dress depending on the occasion was an accepted social custom in Old Poland, even among the gentry, especially in the second half of the 17th c. The national costume was mostly worn on festive occasions. Mixing the two styles was a everyday practice, with elements of Western fashion used for convenience. Regardless of the model's motifs (the climate, health or propaganda purposes) the costume depicted in the portrait from Ilza reflects the rivalry of the two styles which must have been known to Vladislaus IV since his early childhood, as well as the syncretism of the Old Polish culture, which was open to both Eastern and Western trends.









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  • Jacek Zukowski, ul. Waflowa 6a, 02-971 Warszawa, Poland


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