What did burghers wear in Medieval Lithuania?
Clothes, just like tableware, were a form of demonstrating the social prestige of certain individuals. In Lithuania, clothing could reveal a person’s social standing yet not always. No costume specific to city residents developed as the members of the elite followed the fashions set by the nobility. Poor city residents effectively dressed the same as peasants.
Rather scarce iconographic sources and the post-mortem inventories of possessions provide the bulk of information on the outfits worn by the wealthiest burghers. The inventories usually list clothing after cash, gold, silver articles, and various vessels made of tin and copper. That was the way of singling out the most luxurious garments worn for special occasions that also served as symbols of Sarmatism, the term that the Polish szlachta used to describe their lifestyle, customs and world-views.
Clothes of the Rich Vilnius Residents
The residents of the Lithuanian cities loved wearing żupans that was in fashion from the beginning of the 16th century. These long and comfortable outer garments, decorated with e. g. lynx or fox fur, were worn buttoned up to the neck in front and featured a slimmer waistline. From the 16th century, żupan was a male garment still worn occasionally as late as in the 19th century. Just take a look at the 1590 portrait carving of Stanisław Sabina, the wójt (mayor) of Vilnius, and his five sons and you will see all of them wearing long żupans tailored of patterned fabric with no other outer garments on. Snug-fitting neck to waist and widening noticeably from the waist down, the żupans feature high collars, slim sleeves and waist-belts. The folds visible in the lower part of the garment indicate that the żupans are made of a medium-thick fabric. Some of them are decorated with loops. In the late 17th century, Jakob Fries, a merchant from Kaunas, wore a lemon-coloured żupan with a huckaback lining and yellow loops, while Jonas Feltneris from Vilnius sported two black żupans lined with white roughage; one of them was decorated with silk loops while the other featured pleated loops. Another city resident had a white-lined żupan featuring 21 golden buttons with garnets, and stripes of different fabric sewed down. The representatives of the Vilnius ruling elite usually had two to four żupans in their wardrobes, sometimes up to seven, each valued 20 to 50 złotys. White, black, light blue, pomegranate- or lemon-coloured fabrics were used to tailor the garments decorated with silver or gilded buttons and silk bows; the żupans were usually lined with roughage of various colours. The wealthiest city residents had several żupans worth up to 300 złotys made of fabrics imported from Western Europe and lined with expensive fur.
In the middle of the 17th century another outer garment, the kontusz, became popular. The male part of the nobility wore this piece of clothing over żupans. It usually was tight at waist with widening lower part; its sleeves featured a large opening from armpit to wrist. The kontusz usually was girdled with a special belt. Smart kontuszes features sable or lynx fur lining. The members of the Vilnius elite wore these fashionable garments since the 1640s. Paweł Kosobucki, a merchant from Vilnius, had two kontuszes in the 1680s, a brown clown-coloured one lined with squirrel fur and a purple one lined with fox fur. The inventory of clothing belonging to Piotr Kazanovich, the wójt of Mogiliov, suggests that kontuszes were very popular. The inventory lists as much as 12 garments of that type, all decorated with different fur and silver buttons.
Local and Foreign Fashions
Long coat-like garments called dolmans also enjoyed considerable popularity among city residents. They could be worn over all outer clothing. The city elite sported dolmans tailored of expensive fabrics. Stepan Lebiedzich, who was the burgomaster of Vilnius in the middle of the 17th century, had a light blue dolman with 30 tiny silver buttons and plentiful decorations. Many ordinary city dwellers wore cheaper dolmans as their everyday pieces of clothing. They also wore delias, another kind of male outer attire that looked like pelerines and were growing in popularity throughout the 17th century. The delias were usually worn buttoned up neck to waist, both hands inside the sleeves. Alternatively, one could stick his hands through the shoulder-level openings to leave the sleeves hanging on the back. The delias were particularly popular as overcoats. Lebiedzich, the aforementioned burgomaster of Vilnius, had a sumptuous black delia decorated with nine silk loops and sable lining. The 1664 will of Kondrat Parfianovich, the resident of Vilnius, also features a delia. A looser kind of overcoat, a ferezia, featuring a lining but without a collar was also coming into popularity in the 17th century. Jakub Chodyka, the resident of Polotsk, had a ferezia lined with wolf fur in his wardrobe in the 17th century. The epitaph of Pavel of Nosk, a merchant from Vilnius, also provides examples of ferezias. Both the merchant and his young son who stands nearby wear light knee-long ferezias over short żupans. Other popular garments included pea-jacket-style kabats with inwrought backs, jumper-like caftans, and oponczas, the mantles worn on rainy days. The wealthy city dwellers also wore fur coats but the historical information on that type of attire is rather fragmented. Lynx and fox fur coats are included in several post-mortem inventories of the members of the Vilnius ruling elite in the second half of the 17th century.
The top officials tried to follow the European fashions with their wardrobes featuring Italian, French costumes or special shirts, such as pludres. The portrait of Paweł Boim, the burgomaster of Vilnius, painted around 1680 reflects one stage in the late spread of the French costume in Lithuania. The black garment of that man is only buttoned neck to waist while the sleeves of his shirt are open and visible, furrowed at wrists. Wristbands are missing and lavish laces replace the collar. The differentiation of garments into the local-style attire and the clothing originating in Western Europe was particularly evident in the 18th century and especially as the "German fashion" was seeping through during the period of rule of the Saxon dynasty. Żupans and kontuszes became the basic garments of the time. The English-fashion attire emerged as a newcomer in Lithuania in the late 18th century alongside the traditional local-style and "German" garments. The 1797 picture of Vilnius by Józef Peszka reveals the changes in the city fashion as only Jews and several representatives of the nobility are still wearing long old-style clothing. Almost all smooth-shaven men feature short haircut and wear modish blue, green and black tailcoats supplemented with waistcoats and white or light yellow trousers.
Daily Clothing of City Residents
Ordinary city residents would opt for a more modest attire. Slim-waist župicas widening waist to knee were a popular outer garment. Tailored of baize or leather, they featured plenty of tiny buttons neck to knee. Overcoat-like jermiak was a light and simple outer garment that the city residents liked. Apart from their wrist-long sleeves, open-chest jermiaks were tailored of a single piece of fabric and had no lining. The garment for everyday wear, it became popular among peasants in the first place. The garment, mostly grey and black, is closely related to the use of home-made kersey that is grey if undyed. The home-tailored jermiaks usually had no collars. Ordinary city residents would also wear a more expensive overcoats made of baize and called rudinė (In Lithuanian literally: a brown overcoat). They featured a more sophisticated cut and, occasionally, coloured fabric. Slim-fit trousers were in vogue for a long time but the ordinary city dwellers usually wore wider types that were easier to tailor. They would also wrap their shins and feet with cloth above the trousers in order to wear naginės, the simple plain-sole footwear made of animal skin.
City residents wore a variety of headgear. The wardrobes of the elite featured various caps made of satin, silk velvet as well sable and fox fur. The wealthy also sported luxurious silk waist-belts. The footwear depended on income too. Ordinary city residents and representatives of the nobility wore shoes made of natural-coloured or black-dyed leather while some wore naginės.