16th and 17th century Polish Dress — Kontusz

Possibly in response to recent wars in Europe and related shortages in fabric, Polish dress became fairly uniform around the 1630s and 40s and remained so until the end of the 18th century. The kontusz replaced the delia completely as the overgarment worn with the zupan. And this combination  zupan and kontusz  was de rigeur until around 1760.

The kontusz is another garment of obvious Eastern origins. It is distinguished by a back with no center seam and the insertion of gores over the hips to widen the skirt. It greatly resembles Russian, Baltic, and even Greek coats in construction.

Early in the evolution of the Kontusz, the coat was simply a more economical cut of the Delia, fur-lined and closing only at the throat as seen in the portrait at right.   It even imitated the Zupan in its appearance of pushed-up sleeves.   However the back of the garment marked it as a Kontusz  beyond the waist, the back it cut into a single strip of fabric and gores make up the remainder of the skirts.   See the line drawing of an extant Kontusz below for details.

The front of the Kontusz is seamless and generally decorated with passementerie loops and braids that came ot be the hallmark of Polish style.   The fronts of the coat overlap right over left and are secured with passementerie buttons.   The sharply pointed collar was worn turned down not unlike modern suit revers (lapels).   Sleeves open at the front seam and can be thrown back in a style known as wyloty or lapcie which was a very popular way of wearing them in the second half of the 17th century, but should be shunned for an impression of the first half of the century.   The sleeve ends were shaped into points and came to the knuckles.   Buttons kept the sleeve closed at the wrist.   Knee-high side vents decorated with passementerie adorned the lower side seams of the garment and allowed ease of movement.   ?Death and the nobleman? stucco relief, ca. 1640.

kontusz as worn in the 4th quarter of the 17th century
Hetman of the Crown Stanislav Koniecpolski (1646)wearing a red kontusz

Extant Garments

extant kontusz
line drawing of back of the same kontusz

 

Bibliography

Bartkiewicz, Magdalena. Polski Ubiór do 1864 roku. Wroclaw, 1979.
Bockenheim, Krystyna. Dworek kontusz karabela. Wroclaw, 2002.
Brzezinski, Richard. Osprey Men-at-Arms Series #184, Polish Armies 1569-1696, pt. 1. London, 1987.
Januszkiewicz, Barbara. Klejnoty i stroje. Warszawa, 1995.
Mozdzynska-Nawotka, Malgorzata. O modach I strojach. Wroclaw, 2002.
Olszewski, H., and Wojciech, S. Marszalkowie sejmow I rezeczypospolitej. Warszawa, 1993.
Sieradzka, Anna. Tysiqc lat ubiorow w Polsce. Arkady, Warszawa, 2003.
Stefanska, Zofia. Polskie Ubiory Wojskowe. Warszawa, 1964.
Turnau, Irena. Ubior marodowy w dawnej Rzeczypospolitej. Warszawa, 1991.
Turnau, Irena. Slownik ubiorow. Warszawa, 1999.


© 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.