Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Costume of the 17th C. -Red Kontuz and Golden Sash

Magdalena Bartkiewicz - Polish Costume to 1864

Translation  RB, Gentleman, ©2006

Polish Costume 15th C.

Polish Costume 16th C.

More Costume Stuff


Overview & Men's Fashion

Female Dress - Part II 

Wealthy noblewomen of the court wore luxurious garments of simple ornament, but rich embroidered and imported fabrics from Persia and Turkish ‘shot’ (zlotoglowiu).[1] They wore satin (atlas) and velvet.  Typically the skirts / petticoats were finished with satin, and the bodice with dark or black velvet; the whole of the skirt was covered by a pattern of silk decorations or appliqué. 

P.93 (this section’s translation is draft)

Women who were less wealthy sewed their own garments out of lower quality cloth, but in the cut and general appearance of high-society clothes. Instead of costly velvet, they used poorer cloth made out of cheaper yarns.  (Tabl IX)

Petticoats were executed with fine-yarn mohair (goat wool) fabric, made in the east in the Turkish fashion, or with locally produced fine mohair.  The striking two-color contrasting construction of the upper class garment was paralleled by the townsfolk, trimmed and decorated with ribbons or lace of one color. (tabl. VIII). Another fabric, also often mentioned in townspeople’s records, was ‘czamlet,’ of which was sewn light clothes for summer wear, or pants and petticoats. Czamlet petticoats were often lined with kirem or bagazja in order to fall better, or to better complement the letnik.

If the wealthy townsmen liked the typical Polish fashion, their women generally did not seem as entranced with Sarmatism. Wealthy townswomen preferred to copy the western styles (tabl VII) [2]

A significant influence on the evolving feminine silhouette among the fashionable set in the 17th C. is the farthingale (fortugal), a circular frame of stays that spreads out the dress from the belted waist. (fig 116,117)

The wide petticoat drapes over the farthingale decorated following western fashion with ties with points and lace, often silver and gold. The usual manner was to have matching bodice and skirt. The western fashion was called by Poles Alamode (in reference to the French expression for fashion.)  The Alamode style was worn by urban ladies, and also as wedding attire, but other people based their wardrobe on quality cloth and the characteristic (western style) details.

Fig. 116 Two illustrations of western-influenced costume of elegant married noble women. 

a-      Dress arranged in pleats over a farthingale. Stanik (bodice) is finished similar to a man’s kazjaka (jacket or doublet).  On her head she wears a stiff linen coif.

B – Smooth petticoat on farthingale. The front of the bodice is stiff and elongated, and adorned with embroidery in rectangular figures.  A short cloak covers the shoulders.


For example noblewomen used velvet, decorated the collar with ruffs and various types of lace (koronkami).  The influence of western fashion is testified by the preserved votive pictures, in which appears a similar striped jacket (kazjak) with leather gloves, under which one can see orange, decorated ribbons (wstążkami).  Lace decorates the sleeve of the shirt (fig 118)

Less luxurious clothing was customarily decorated for wealthy ladies with Holland and Venetian lace with gold Passementerie adorning the front and sleeves of the bodice (stanikow)  and robes, with a generous display of lace reaching to the hands, called “angazantow’ (engagement) (fig 119).  Starting in the late 1680s, ladies useP46.jpg (19524 bytes)d lace to P45.jpg (216549 bytes) pin up a high headdress known as ‘frontage’ (photo 45) or made up a flat/narrow bonnet with the ends loosely falling over the shoulders, an example can be seen on a portrait on a noblewoman’s casket of the 17thC. (fot 46). Venetian Lace is pleated evenly under a fur hat, covered with black taffeta kerchief (chustami). (fot 47).

The styles of woman’s dress could vary markedly.  City life allowed interaction between women frP47.jpg (18801 bytes)om the town and nobility, and those who could travel to or purchase their cloths in town were more attuned to novelty and current fashions.  Those who stayed at their rustic villas, preoccupied with family and husbandry of their estates, had their own styles.  

Fig 117 Dress of Cracow townswoman – over a shirt with a stiff lace ruff is a sleeveless bodice, the petticoat is decorated with stripes, the other layer is an apron. The kolpak fur hat is worn over a starched bonnet.

Fig 118 Dress of Lvow Townswomen.  A – jacket (kazjaka) with short sleeves and bonnet with fur lining.

B – jacket with short sleeves, on her head is a black embroidered kerchief (chusteczka)


Best dressed were the women of Magnate families or those with foreign sources of income to pay for luxuries. We see in the portrait of Jadwiga Tarlow Topot Mniszchowej (died 1629) the dress’s collar is sewn of lace, with sleeves hanging to the rear , the whole arm of the shirt may be seen. On her head is an embroidered hat with aP48.jpg (51879 bytes) hoop wrapped with a fringe of pearls. A rantuch (headscarf) is thrown over this. (fot 48)

Similar dresses, with the shirt’s collar and pleated sleeves appearing under the bodice, were owned by Krystyna Lubormirski and Katarzyna Ostrogski.  The dress worn by Lubormirski is made of rich red velvet, piled on two high peaks of great ornament, undoubtedly of Venetian derivation. She distinguishes herself with a clinging shaped girdle or understructure (ksztalcikiem[3])- without sleeves, with ferret fur trim lying casually around the shoulder.  Under the girdle we see a delicate linen (płótno) shirt with collar. The petticoat wasP49.jpg (51466 bytes) arranged over the farthingale (bell-shaped under stiffened linen), velvet fabric cascades over the wide frame. Completing this fine outfit is a bouquet of flowers. (Fot 49)

Ostrogski’s portrait shows a very structured silhouette.  The white dress has an even cone-like form, created by the structure of the farthingale. The fabric is laid out with symmetrical pleats and decorated with cuts (like cut velvet, not pinks) and colored embroidery regularly repeating the motif of a scroll with oak leaves and twigs, and every free spot filled with figures: bears, birds, dogs, even fountains. 

119.jpg (43927 bytes)Fig 119. Polish lady in French fashion, gown trimmed with gold lace, passementerie and fur.  Across the arms is the ‘angażanty’ lace.  



On her arms is draped a velvet cape with fur.  The bonnet is slid low to the rear of the head, and is finished with an edging of pearls and gems, on which is a garnet bauble. This sort of motif for a bonnet is seen in many Polish portraits, attached by servant with a thin head covering like a small shawl (rantuch) (fot 50) p50.jpg (31936 bytes)

Rańtuch:  Scarf from wide cloth, a kind of shawl worn by women.  Usually made from expensive tissue-like fabric and embroidered.

Rantuchy are often found in 17th C. woman’s fashion as a head-covering bonnet.  They typically were made with rich, embroidered decorated edging.  Generally they are embroidered with a floral motif, finished with silk in several colors, with gold and silver thread.  (fot 51)P51.jpg (19844 bytes) One can find simply–executed Rantuchy in the inventory of women who decorated it themselves with black or red silk (using a silk embroidery method of a luxurious kind called ‘red stitching’ or ‘black stitching’). Rantuchy among women of the Royal Court were so fine as to be translucent (fot 48), and came into use starting in the 1650s.   Indeed some rantuchy were made with fine Flemish linen originally intended for church altercloths. People dressed in the new style of rantuchy more.  It was decorated with artistic embroidery, an ornament that does not seem characteristic of the 17th C. to modern eyes.

Wealthy women usually had a substantial jewelry chest, especially bracelets (mamelami), zausznicami, gold neck chains (lancuchy, pro. Wan-cuch-y) and belts with sewn-on pearls and other stones. Men and women were adorned with chains, usually made of gold and often featuring the king’s face or religious emblem.  Usually these represented a major investment of capital. In style of workmanship the gold would interchange with silver, for example gold writing on silver ground on a wroth buckle or clasp (spinka).  Some used fake gold jewelry. Some wore watches (sort of like early ‘pocket’ watches) hanging to the chest from neck chains, others had crosses.  In the beginning of the 17th C. the fashion was to have small often cross-shaped boxes hanging from chains with perhaps religious messages or instructions within. Gradually these became more often oval in shape. After 1650P52.jpg (60122 bytes) these adopted various shapes – usually fruits, butterflies, stars, flowers, and shells. (fot 52)

P. 97TabVII_IX.jpg (487844 bytes) TabVII


Tab IX



P. 98


120.jpg (27560 bytes)fig 120 kerchif line121 copy.jpg (17946 bytes)n covering the neck, worn in the home or under fur kolpacks

Fig. 121Fur kolpack worn over two-part bonnet, white around the neck and black wrapping the hair.


Exciting novelties marked woman’s dress in the 2nd half of the 17th C.  Fashionable fans had silver hilts and ostriches feathers.  Necklaces were also valued for accessorizing female dress, and the chains often included gems and pearls

Popular among women were headcovers which were in the  first half of the century stiff linen kerchief-like bonnets  (czepce) (figs 116a, 120a, b) over which, before leaving the house  they would put fur kolpaks (figs 111, 116b, 117, 120c).  Kolpaks were seated on a set of two stiff czepce which covered the head and neck, as on sepulchral monument of Zoffi Zolkiewski in the church in Zolkwi.  (fig 121).

P53.jpg (48512 bytes)In the second half of the 17th C. nobles and townsfolk adopted the fashion of an under kerchief covered by a kolpack as a fur roll. Very popular as well as velvet embroidered czepce, often true masterwork of embroidery (fot 53) Other types of czepce had the appearance of gold embroidery with lace around the face with fur eyelets and also would pass under the chin.  Worn with this czepce of Cracow style was satin finished with ties bodice/waist, under which comes out puffy, decorated with lace to the hands, or with pink, silk petticoat and sewn below belts or ties (fig 122).

Noble ladies did up their heads not only with czepece with fur or gold galloon.  Younger ladies built up larger sizes with stiffening (??zausznice).  Fashion of this sort of  stiffening had to be very popular in Poland.

P.99 (this section’s translation is draft)

Many are testified to in Jakub Wancznowolski rhymed work: Nowe zwierciadlo modzie dzisiejszego stroju akomodowane damon polskie (1678):

            In this year, where ... (translators note: could not make this out... ąęł áâ é ćç ŕś ůúý źžż ó.)

In the whole of this work the author listed exceptional woman’s fashion underlining the lack of critical discretion of polish women when it came to novel French fashions.


In short, so our girls fashion beguiles...

that whichever way the French sway

no matter how dear the price, the Poles pay


However Jakub Haur in Ekonomii Ziemianskij in 1683 regards as sinful the high fashion crown bonnets - called fontage:” they were so towering that they became downfalls”.  Lace of the type called ‘czubach’ was in general dammed as third rate, yet residents of Warsaw wore these still at the beginning of 18th c,


It should be understood that the women cared not only about fashionable dress and decorative jewelry and other valuable garnish but also cared about possessing as valuable and to beautiful undergarments, which was discreetly under their dress.   Undergarments were mostly shirts, Giezłami (?) or Czech style, which were either of one-piece or two-piece style.  The one-piece Shirts were inconvenient for poor women, which got them dirty quickly which required much washing.  They preferred less fancy 2-piece shirts, of which the lower part, the vest, has been made up mostly with coarse hemp or flax material produced locally.  The upper collar, bosom, and sleeves could be made with the best imported linen.  The source was mostly Colon, Flemish, Dutch and Silesian  and sometimes even Chinese linen.  Women decorated their shirts with many stitches, and lace and other fancy additions sewn to the sleeve.


Undergarments include woman’s stockings.  On the subject of stockings S. Lam wrote:

there are stockings pinkish and with style, design, and the color.  Wool with fluffy or uniform pile, kastorowc, silk; fat and thin, plain, red, black and white. Certainly, they stitched with silk a lot themselves, which they loved, because finest, on their feet they pass with daintiness. (??)”

Jarzemski also in 1643 tells us of “stockings with gold embroidery decorated with sewn-on pearls.”  


Servants helped to fasten stockings with garters (suspenders) with ties of silk, usually of fine china silk “kitajek” highlighted sometimes with gold and silver.  From the 1630s, estate inventories start mentioning “garters with embroidered lace” Usually red and black

Womans’ footwear  (obuwie) took on various styles and forms, usually imitations of western fashions.  We find the first mentions of high womans’ boots in 1626, by a Wroclaw cordwainer (szewcow). The national museum at Worclaw houses a pair of original 17th C. lady’s boots with high heels with an attached sole joining the heel and front (fot 54). Slippers (pantofle) or low shoes (trzewiki) worn P54_P55.jpg (45351 bytes)by women around 1624 were sometimes buskins (e.g laced or otherwise fastened over the ankle but with open toes) and their cut increasingly followed established trends.  One could find during these giddy and optimistic times openwork trzewiki with heels wrapped in stretched leather, and by the end of the decade shoes were embroidered with silk, sometimes without heels, or sometimes with high heels and pointed toes (fot 55).

Vanities and ostentatious excesses in Polish clothes were not much influenced by the difficult economic conditions in the middle of the century.  The economic situation of the nation (especially after the Polish –Swedish wars) was difficult, underlain by a drop in production of cereal crops plus the effect of added excise taxes and anti-luxury statutes. The economic crisis certainly most affected the poorer strata of society, peasants and poor townsmen, but did not much suppress the luxurious tastes of the court, magnates, and richer nobles and even townsmen. Patricians and commoners alike continued to dress in the most fashionable and expensive styles, and nothing could stop them.


The proliferation of fashion in the 17th C. is best characterized in Pamietnikach (Memoirs)  by Jan Christopher Pasek, who said:   "How many continuously changing styles I remember in frocks, caps, boots, swords, harness, and in every other kind of military garment and household utensils, as well as in hair styles, gestures, walking and greeting habits!  Oh Almighty God! one could not manage to list them on ten ox skins!.  ....  The outfits which I bought abroad would have lasted me a whole lifetime - even my children would have profited by them - had they not gone out of fashion and become unstylish in a year or less.  These outfits had to be taken apart and restyled, or else had to be sold in a second hand market.  (If one did not purchase new ones) people would rush at you like sparrows at an owl:'look look!' they would point their fingers at you.  They would say that the outfit reminded them of the days of the Deluge ('Potop', 1650s).  About the ladies and their fancies I shall say nothing because I could fill an entire book."

Conclusion section TBD

[1] Zlotoglowiu or shot: cloth that achieved a shimmering appearance through the use of different color threads in the warp and weft.

[2] M.B. suggests that by avoiding copying men’s fashion some perhaps also sought to protest what many perceived as the bad influence of Sarmatian culture.

[3] ksztalcikiem –girdle.  Part of feminine underwear according to fickle requirements of fashion shaping the bosom /bust line. In Poland for this purpose 16th century tight and shaping garments were made from firm fabrics sewed and stiffened with whalebone or metal wires.