In Dressing for Ye Fest, Parte One, I talked a little about how far I want to go in my quest for authenticity on this project. The result is somewhere between “mostly patterned like authentic sources”, “what Rae is claiming could be authentic patterning, sewn on a sewing machine” and “whatever Rae cooks up after getting frustrated.” But since I haven’t even made it to the sewing part of things yet, let’s talk about my inspiration pieces for this project, and construction thoughts we can pull from the artwork.
So with setting and stature in mind, I turn to design. I have yet to get my hands on any of Janet Arnold’s seminal tomes of costuming, so my research is mostly based on that of other costumers available online and period art.
Finding information on middle-class Elizabethan is proving challenging. Many authoritative costumers, like Drea Leed, Kass McGann, and Jen Thompson have done much research into Flemish working women’s clothing based on paintings by Aertsen and Beuckalaer. In some of their research, they’ve been able to show connections to other parts of Europe and England/Ireland but I need to find some English sources. There are four main works I’m going to base my design on.
Fête at Bermondsey
A Fête (Wedding Feast) at Bermondsey by Joris Hoefnagel shows a village in full celebration circa 1569. The great thing about this image is the span of classes shown. Working classes, gentry and nobles are all shown, providing a great glimpse at differences in style. Here are a few details from the image:
Flemish ex-pat Lucas de Heere made a sketch of London Gentlewomen in 1570 that also gives a glimpse of middle-class dress. The country woman on the right is wearing a front-lacing gown similar to the ones known as “Flemish Working Woman” dresses. The other women are of a slightly-higher city-citizen stature, and are dressed as such. I’m especially interested by the woman to the left and the one in the back (middle-front’s daughter) whose sleeves seem to belong not to the overdress but an under layer.
The Hay Harvest
One of Bruegel’s paintings, The Hay Harvest (1565) also strikes me, despite not being English. The detail here shows a group of women. The one in the forefront is wearing a front-laced gown, but it’s bit different than the contemorary Flemish ones: there’s no boobage here—the bodice comes up over the breasts, flattening the body rather than stopping just below the breasts as seen in paintings by Aertsen and Beuckalaer.
Civitates Orbis Terrarum
The Civitates Orbis Terrarum is a map of European and English cities published in 1572. Each map is accompanied by sketches of citizens of the area. The working women from Nonesuch Palace hints at some of the detail we can see in other sources, particularly the looser split over dresses seen in de Heere’s sketch.
So, where does that take us?
My inspirational pieces give me a direction to take—something along the lines of the leftmost woman in de Heere’s sketch or detail 3 from Fête at Bermondsey:
- Linen shift with long slender sleeves, attachable ruffles at wrists.
- A partlet with a high ruffed collar, of the tucks-into-dress-neckline type.
- At least one petticote.
- Tight sleeves that attach to a kirtle-type dress.
- A kirtle-type dress to attach aforementioned sleeves to.
- An front-opening overdress that has short puffy sleeves attached, with an open skirt.
- An apron.
My problem is with part five—there are still many unanswered questions. For instance, does the middle layer kirtle lace up the front? If so, do the skirts lace? If not, how does one get into the skirts, as we can see from the front that there doesn’t seem to be as much gathering there as in the back. This seems to be an ongoing mystery. From my estimation, Thompson has the best theory, even if it doesn’t pertain precisely to English gowns: the dress is laced in the front the length of the bodice plus some of the skirts. In the link, she explains her reasoning, which I agree with. I’m also going to make a few assumptions, but I feel content in this construction as I have yet to see research that either proves or contradicts it:
- Posit 1: Women of the lower and middle classes would not have help clothing themselves. Thus, they would need to have front-lacing gowns that they could put on without aid. Extant garments that show back lacing typically belonged to nobility, who had aides to lace them up. My reasoning does allow for side-lacing kirtles.
- Posit 2: Clothing was expensive and time-consuming. Considering women typically bore many children throughout their adult lives, it makes sense to have clothing that can easily adjust to the changing shape of a pregnant body. A front-lacing gown that can be pulled entirely closed or be loosely laced will allow for that, as seen in the detail of Thomas More’s pregnant daughter. This same construction would allow for easier breast-feeding post-partum.
I feel safe in my decision to make a front-lacing kirtle that continues lacing into the skirt. My remaining decisions? To wear a paire of bodies and farthingale or not. I need to do more research for the corest question. At the least, I would probably need to make the front-lacing gown stiffened—I will need support. At that point in history, I am still not sure if a corset would be appropriate for my station, but there is obviously shaping happening. Plus, I would like to try my hands at recreating the Effigy Bodies. As for the farthingale, I think it would provide a little too much shape for my stature, but perhaps a nice corded petticote would give the appropriate shape to the skirts.
…are saved for part three, coming soon.