16th and 17th century Polish Dress — Giermak

The mente bears a strong resemblance to the earliest wide-spread garment that can be considered ?Polish dress? — the giermak. The giermak was the most widespread Polish garment in the 16th century. It was marked by the use of passementerie decoration all down its front opening. Matter of fact, this style of decoration came to be regarded as distinctively Polish and both Queen Elizabeth of England and King Gustavus II of Sweden owned garments decorated ?in the Polish style? in this way.

The giermak was a simple coat, often adorned with a fur collar or lined entirely with fur. Unlike the mente, the sleeves tapered to the wrist, although they could be thrown back and not worn on the arms at all. Descriptions often state that giermak are always buttoned to the hem, but quite a few contemporary illustrations survive of giermak that button only as far as the waist.


Warsaw burgomaster Lukasz Drewno
wearing a giermak circa 16th century

Polish infantry, from de Bruyn’s Habits de diverses nations, ca 1581.

The variation in decorative techniques for the giermak was great and the giermak was worn by all levels of society, from nobleman and king to peasant and soldier. Above you can see giermak as worn by Polish infantry in de Bruyn?s Habits de diverses nations, circa 1581. The three men on the left of the illustration wear giermak while the man on the right wears a strange, shortened version. He is a Hungarian and his clothing should be disregarded for the purpose of this study.

You can see the variation in the style of giermak very well in this picture. The man in the center wears short, full sleeves while the man on the left has flung his behind him. The ensign on the right either wears no sleeves or his are hidden behind him. Their collars are all square and folded down, but as we saw in the period pictures, there can be variety there too. You will notice that the backs of the giermak on the Polish soldiers are hanging lower than the fronts. According to my sources the Hungarian mente was often worn in this way. But other pictures of the giermak do not show this variation. Therefore it is possible that it was a military affectation or simply a personal design choice.

Polish men in woodcut by Georg Braun, 1572       woodcut example of Giermak

Giermak worn by soldiers circa 1521

Bibliography

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© 2004 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.