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Buy our downloadable pattern with complete instructions and historical notes for 15th century Woman's accessories including open hood with and without liripipe, shift or smock, veil, wimple, and instructions for wrapping your hair in linen in 15th century style.
Fits busts 27"-50". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.
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light weight to coat weight wool for hood
light to medium weight linen for shift, veil, wimple, linen headwraps
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
Women’s Underwear and Accessories in the 15th century
The biggest question of the clothing historian is often “What did they wear under their clothes?” Linen, a vegetable fibre, does not survive the passage of time and exposure to the elements in the same way the animal-derived fibres like wool and silk do. Linen was also used in the production of paper. As underwear got dirty and worn out, it was sold to rag merchants who shredded it for paper production. So in many cases we are forced to rely on pictorial evidence to round out the knowledge obtained from a very few extant garments.
Between “naughty” pictures and depictions of martyrdoms and executions where women are stripped to their underwear, we can get a good idea of what the 15th century shift looked like. At right is a picture of the daughter of a wealthy family in the 15th century taking off a red overgarment. She wears a fairly shapeless mid-calf-length white shirt under it.
At left we have a reproduction of a 1430s illumination of Astyages’ wife and mother (and a third woman) ridiculing the Persians by “mooning” them. Their overgowns and shifts are thrown up over their hips and their knee-high hose are visible.
Other information on underclothing is provided by picture of peasants at work. Peasants are seen threshing wheat, milking goats, eating dinner, crushing grapes, et cetera. At their most vigourous work, it is not unusual to see the women clad in a calf-length shift and a straw hat without hose and sometimes even without shoes. But please do not assume from this evidence that it was socially acceptable to wear underclothing wherever one pleases. In the first place, these are working-class people: peasants. In the second, even these peasants only dressed this way while undertaking strenuous labour. Other pictures of these same peasants show them wearing hose or chausses and upper garments of colour. They did not appear in public in their underwear. They simply disrobed to perform their heaviest work.
So underwear for women: pretty simple. They wore white linen shifts. Let us now move onto the other items that completed a woman’s ensemble.
If there is one accessory that marks the 15th century, it is the wide variety of unusual and extraordinary headdresses worn by women. From hoods to headlinen to hennin, the variety and all-out weirdness of 15th century headdresses is vast. First we will discuss the hood.
We are aided in our understanding of the construction of hoods by the Greenland finds. In May 1921, Poul Nørlund travelled to Greenland to lead an excavation at Herjolfsnæs church ruin. All told, 70 pieces of textile were excavated from this site comprising seven distinct types of wool gowns, two types of hoods, wool hats, cloth stockings, and other fragments and smallwares, all dating to the settlement of Greenland.
The Greenland digs produced two general types of hood, called “Type 1” and “Type 2” by Østergård. Type 1 consists of a hood with a shoulder cape. This cape is sometimes cut one with the hood (in one instance, the whole hood is cut on the bias). Most of the time, the shaping is provided by a gore under the face opening in front. Sometimes extra width is added by a larger gore at center back. This type of hood pulls on over the head. It can have a liripipe cut in one with the hood or sewn on from another piece of fabric. There were four of this type found in Greenland and others were found elsewhere. Despite their rarity in the extant record, they are the hood most often seen in medieval portraiture. However, we almost never see this style on women in the 15th century.
Type 2 hoods tend to be much shorter but full shoulder capes are seen on a few. Some have liripipes cut one with the hood, some have them attached, some were clearly there once but are missing and others have no evidence of liripipes at all. The hoods are shaped with a single gore inserted into a slit on either side of the hood. The Greenland examples (of which there are 12) are either sewn closed at center front or were worn open. The London hoods that resemble them, however, are closed under the face opening by cloth buttons. It has long been assumed that buttoned hoods were feminine items, but men are depicted wearing buttoned hoods as well. The face openings tend to be stab-stitched and the hems sewn down with overcast stitches. The Greenland Type 2 and London hoods are the variety most often seen on women in the 15th century.
By the early 15th century, hoods appear to have become the headcovering of the peasant, not the noblewoman. They also appear to be exclusively worn open in front and made out of stiffer wool so that they project sideways from the face. Boccaccio’s Decameron, detail pictured at right, shows one of these hoods adorned with buttons and yet worn in such a way that the buttons must have been purely decorative. A peasant shearing sheep in a field in the Duke of Berry’s Très Riches Heures (shown at left) wears a similar hood and we can see that the long liripipe was still a desirable effect. Again, the fronts of the hood project out in a way we did not observe in the previous century. Although these pictures are from the first decades of the 15th century, we continue to see this style throughout the period as evinced at right by the dancer from the 1470s.
In addition to the hood, lower class women are often depicted wearing their hair simply wrapped in linen. The 1425 illumination by Gentile da Fabri of “The Poor Maidens” shows this at left (as well as the wearing of cloth hose).
We should not assume, however that linen headwraps are exclusively the headdress of the poor. In an era when fine linen was a luxury, linen headwraps could also be a statement of wealth. Indeed many of the depictions of linen headwraps show far more linen that is necessary to cover the hair, even far more linen than it is comfortable to pile on top of one’s head all at once. Some detailed observations reveal fine needlework adorning the front or back edges of the linen, another indication that headwraps are not the sole province of peasants. While the people shown in period portraiture are not of the noblesse, there are still some fairly important women shown wearing linen headwraps.
Some headwraps show tiny ruffling along all the edges. Close inspection reveals that this is not an attached edge but contiguous with the body of the linen piece. It can only be guessed that the linen was shaped in this manner by some laundry treatment which is lost to us. When one considers the elaborate measures taken to shape linen ruffs in the late 16th century, it is not out of the question that wealthy women in the 15th century instructed their laundresses to pay special attention to their linen. This author’s experiments have shown that this ruffled effect can be achieved with a modern crimping iron. It is entirely conjectural, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that the late medieval laundress heated an iron and crimped her mistress’s linen veils.
More structured linen headdresses also existed in the 15th century. The veil and wimple continued in use from the 14th century. The stunning effect of pins and ironing can be seen in Rogier van der Weyden’s photo-realistic 1435 portrait of an unknown young woman, shown at right. Her veil is more rigid than those in the previous century. Her wimple is less strictly covering. It also appears that she wears a structured cap under her veil and the veil is pinned to it. Nothing more is known about this cap as it is never seen alone. It could be the progenitor of the coif and white linen caps worn in later eras.
A pseudo cap we term “the proto-coif” appears on common women in the 15th century. Reproduced at left from the Heures of Charles d’Angoutlene, this white linen cap at first appears structured, but other pictures of it reveal its origins in the wrapped linen headdress. Taken together, the various 15th century pictures of this headcovering reveal a rectangle of cloth sewn into a coif shape in the back while retaining its rectangular shape in the front. The proto-coif appears to cover and hold up the hair by virtue of being crossed over at the nape of the neck and tied on top of the head. The front of the rectangle is then sometimes flipped back (as seen at left) but sometime not, revealing the tie on top of the head. Bits of white visible under coloured hoods could indeed be this proto-coif, holding the hair out of the way and keeping it clean.
This discussion of 15th century headgear leads us increasingly towards the structured hats that define the period millinery: the hennin or “steeple headdress”. This cone-shaped hat has come to signify medieval headwear even in the minds of people unaware of the vast majority of clothing styles of the Middle Ages. This is the headdress replicated to a greater or lesser extent in every “princess” costume every Halloween. Sometimes long and pointy, sometimes framed with lappets, the hennin has become the ubiquitous medieval headgear.
The hennin was never so beautifully portrayed as by Rogier van der Weyden in his 1455 portrait of an unknown lady, reproduced at right. This lady wears a short or “truncated” gold hennin with its customary black loop on the forehead and sheer veil covering it. Careful inspection shows that the veil comes so low on the lady’s face that it covers her eyebrows. Creases in the veil are apparent and are evidence of the use of a linen press, an expensive piece of furniture not everyone owned and therefore, the creases may be meant to display wealth.
As mentioned earlier, other styles of hennin existed in other decades and other countries, some tall and pointed, others sitting on the head at odd angles. Basic similarities to can der Weyden’s lady’s hennin remain: the hair pulled tightly back from the forehead and the curious loop at the front. One might wonder if the hennin was ever worn alone. Our investigation of this question answers in the positive but with a caveat: veilless hennins seem to appear only on girls not yet of marriageable age in the portraiture. As shown in Memling’s 1484 “Triptych of the Family Moreel”, two girls in the background wear hennins without veils. They also appear to have their hair hanging loose behind them, indicating that their hennin do not continue around to the backs of their heads, a feature we know is not true of adult hennins because of the plethora of pictures of them from behind. In all other ways, these hennins are worn in a manner identical to the adult hennin. But it is clear the going without a veil is restricted to children.
Another variation of the hennin is the presense of lappets around the face, a feature often called “The Burgundian Hennin” since it is seen so often on noblewomen from Burgundy in this period. This appears to be a later development of the hennin, but the lappetless hennin can still be seen in contemporary pictures, so one style did not replace the other. In this style, the veil moves farther back on the hennin and black lappets frame the face of the wearer in their stead. Futher exploration of contemporary manuscript illuminations and portraits reveal that this may not be lappets attached to the hennin but rather a hood worn under it, much like the earliest French hoods of the Tudor period. In a few pictures from the period, the same woman is shown in the same clothing sans hennin with a hood in the same colour as her lappets on her head. This, along with the evidence of hoods in the following decades, leads this researcher to believe that the lappets were hoods worn under the hennin at least some of the time.
Finally we come to that curious loop that appears without fail on hennins of all styles. In the picture at left, we see the donor of the work’s wife, Barbara van Vlaenderberch, wearing her hennin with its forehead loop. Behind her, her children kneel, some wearing hennins like hers, some wearing veils, others wearing simple black or gold brocade bands over their pulled-back hair. All of them have black loops on their foreheads. A 1471 picture by Loyset Liedet (first seen on Cynthia Virtue’s website, listed below, and reproduced as plate 40 in Piponnier, see below for citation) shows this looped band on a young girl in profile with her hair in a ponytail. Experiments by the author and others have demonstrated the effectiveness of this looped band in holding the hennin (or other heavy headdress) in the proper position on the head and allowing quick adjustments without the need of removing the headdress and repinning. One cannot be sure of the purpose of this loop, of course, without a period account of its use. However experimentation has shown it to be a very useful addition to headdresses of all types and it can be conjectured that this was its purpose until more evidence comes to light.
Other headdresses existed in the fifteenth century, and exhaustive exploration of them would produce volumes. The most common styles for peasant through noblewoman are described here. We encourage the reader to use the bibliography as a place to begin further study.
Boucher, François. 20,000 Years of Fashion. 1987: Abrams, Inc., New York.
Crowfoot, Elizabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4 - Textiles and Clothing circa 1150-1450. 1992: HMSO, London.
De Vos, Dirk (ed.). Rogier van der Weyden. 1999: Mercatorfonds, Antwerp, & Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.
McGann, Kathleen. Unpublished notes made at the National Museum of Ireland, July 1998, and July 1999.
Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland. 2004:Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, Denmark.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume. 1965: Harper Collins, New York.
Piponnier, Françoise and Perrine Mane. Dress in the Middle Ages. Caroline Beamish, trans. 1997: Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
Walther, Ingo F. and Norbert Wolf (eds.). Codices illustres. 2001: Taschen, Cologne, Germany.
http://www.wga.hu/index1.html and pictures in the author’s collection
Looped band first seen on: http://www.virtue.to/articles/headband.html
Looped band ideas concurred with those of Marie-Chantal Cadieux as explained here: http://cadieux.mediumaevum.com/burgundian-loop.html
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This information © 2009 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History