Be Fashionable in Flanders with this easy pattern!
Buy our full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for 1560s-70s English Lady's overgown and kirtle known as a "Flanders Gown". Included are overgown, boned kirtle and decorative sleeves.
Kirtle fits busts 30½"-48" and waists 23"-41". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.
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Kirtle, Overgown and Sleeves: light weight to coat weight wool, velvet, brocade, light linen or silk for lining
Kirtle or Overgown: 6 yds 45" or 4½ yds 60" wide
Lining (optional): 6 yds 45” or 4½ yds 60” wide
Sleeves: 1 yd 45” wide
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
Loose Gowns, Flanders Gowns and Ropa
The Folger and Stowe Inventories of Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe mention loose gowns and night gowns that also appear in the warrants and Gift Rolls of the time. “Loose Gown” is taken as the generic name for gowns that fall from the shoulders, front and back, but also include more fitted gowns that show the kirtle beneath. These may have sometimes been called “Flanders Gowns” and “Night Gowns”. The term “Night Gown” may have its origins as an early 16th century bedroom garment, and the earliest Night Gowns were made of woolen or worsted fabrics. Henry VIII’s reign brought satin, velvet and taffeta Night Gowns trimmed with gold and silver lace and lined with shag, plush and fur. These came to be worn during the day for extra warmth. Christina of Denmark was painted in a loose gown by Holbein as early as 1538. References to loose gowns and Night Gowns continue through to the 1620s when they went out of fashion.
Loose gowns that closed in front and sported short, puffed sleeves and wide guards around the armholes, on the sleeves and collar appear as early as the 1550s and continue in popularity until at least the 1580s in England. Elizabethan Costume Historian Janet Arnold in her seminal work Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d substantiates that these are the defining characteristics of so-called “Flanders Gowns” as referred to in Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts. The Queen’s tailors’ bills also use this name for loose gowns of similar description.
François Boucher, in 20,000 Years of Fashion, calls the same gowns “ropa” and assigns a Spanish origin to them. Boucher posits that the ropa is Oriental in origin and is characterized by padded rolls at the sleeve-tops and the lack of a waist seam. He further suggests that this gown came to be called a simarra in Italy, a marlotte in France, and a vlieger in Holland. However, we have nothing more than Boucher’s word to support these assignments.
While it is true that the closed loose gown bears an unmistakable resemblance to the braid-encrusted caftans worn in Turkey during the 16th century, similar styles are seen from Russia to North Africa throughout costume history.
However, the ropa or closed loose gown does feature prominently in Spanish tailors’ books of the late 16th century. Libro de Geometria pratica y traça by Juan Alçega in 1589 shows a number of pattern layouts for loose-fitting garments with short, puffy sleeves. Burguen’s book Geometria, y traça from 1618 shows similar pattern drafts. Contemporary woodcuts show similar garments worn by Belgian, French, Spanish, and Italian women among others.
The political relationship between Spain and the Low Countries in the later part of the 16th century would explain the idea that a gown of Spanish origins came to be called a “Flanders Gown” in England. And the influence of the Moors in Spain may have brought the caftan-like garment there in the first place. Of course this is pure speculation. Regardless, the closed front loose gown became a popular feminine style all over 16th century Europe.
Our tour of period portraiture starts with a painting of Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal painted by Antonio Moro circa 1552. This painting, which hangs in the Prado, Madrid, is often cited as proof that the Closed Loose Gown was a garment for older, less shapely women. Her black gown of figured silk is adorned with gold cord and braid. Passementerie buttons close the slashes on her chest and sleeves as well as the front of her gown, the top four of which struggle to close. Although the hang of the garment in this painting certainly makes it appear that Queen Catherine has put on some weight since having her tailor execute this fine garment, it cannot be surmised that this style was restricted to older or overweight ladies, as our next example will show.
Hans Eworth’s painting of Lady Anne Penruddocke from the collection of Lord Howard de Walden shows a slight woman aged 20 in 1557. Her black satin gown is decorated with black velvet guards bordered with decoration consisting of black cord and narrow braid. The gown fastens to waist level with hooks and eyes hidden by black satin ribbon bows. Her slashed sleeves are red satin broken up with bands of darker red velvet which are embroidered with lighter red silk. Red silk embroidery also decorates her neck and wrist ruffs.
The 1560 portrait of Elizabeth FitzGerald, Countess of Lincoln, painted by Steven van der Muelen is shown at left. She wears a deep purple or warm brown gown lined with fur which is visible at the front opening, neckline, and through the “poufs” in her sleeves. Unlike the underadorned Anne Penruddocke, shown above, the Countess’ Flanders gown is decorated with gilt passementerie and gold toggles in geometric patterns all the way down the front opening and on the sleeves. It is unclear whether she has separate sleeves of a different colour (the end of her elbow-length sleeves is demarked by fur) or long sleeves. It is also unclear whether her gown has a waistseam. It fits the body in the torso, but does not flare out so much in the skirts to indicate a waist seam.
Differing from our previous example, Hans Eworth’s portrait of the Duchess of Norfolk, Margaret Audley from 1562 (shown at right) almost definitely shows a waist seam. Although the colour of the gown obscures this detail, the extremely fitted shape of the bodice compared with the width of the skirts indicate that a waist seam was employed. Margaret’s black gown is adorned with gold toggles similar to Elizabeth’s in the previous example, but there is very little other decoration on this gown. The decoration is instead carried out on the gold-edged ruff around her neck and wrists, her dark green and gold brocade forepart (and partlet?) and her gold-encrusted sleeves.
A portrait of lady possibly of the Wentworth Family by Hans Eworth in 1565 hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. Her black velvet loose gown is guarded with gold thread embroidery and gold braid and couched gold cord. The sleeves of her loose gown appear so heavily embroidered and couched that they are stiff and stick out in points adorned with round passementerie buttons. The gown closes straight to the waist but flares beneath to show the underskirts or forepart. Underneath her gown we see pink silk embroidery. It is impossible to tell if this is a full gown underneath or simply a matching forepart and sleeves.
Lord Tollemache’s collection at Helmingham Hill in Stowmarket contains a portrait of unknown lady aged 43, painted by an unknown artist in 1567. This lady’s front opening and sleeve slashes are closed by toggles seen commonly in portraiture of this type of gown. Her loose gown is open above the breast and the revers folded back like a collar, a fashion we will see among less noble women. Underneath it she wears a sheer decorated shift through which we can see her arms. Puffs of blackworked material peek out of the slashes on her sleeves, but we cannot identify this as a garment from anything else in the portrait. It may just have been the stuffing for the puffed sleeves.
The Marquess of Tavistock and the Trustees of the Bedford Estates, Woburn Abbey, own a portrait of Lady Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick, painted around 1569. She wears a loose gown remarkably similar to that in the painting above except that hers is only closed by one toggle at the breast. The collar above and the rest below are left open although they have the same type of toggles by which they can close. Puffs of blackworked linen peek out from the slashes in her sleeves. She wears transparent gauze sleeves over a second set decorated with blackworked stripes.
In a departure from all the gorgeous portraits in the previous examples, we turn to a 1570s sketch by Lucas de Heere. De Heere’s work reports to depict English townswomen. Those reproduced at right are the more wealthily-dressed of the lot. The caption above these ladies’ heads indicates that they are bugher’s wives or the wives of merchants. They appear to be wearing fine wool gowns guarded or lined with black or another dark colour. According to the descriptions in Elizabethan inventories, guards were an essential element of Flanders gowns. These gowns also have high necks turned back into revers. The one on the left has short sleeves over more elaborate undersleeves. The one on the right appears to wear a long-sleeved gown. Both have openings in their skirts, but only the one on the right appears to wear a fancy forepart. The one on the left simple shows the skirts of her kirtle it seems. Both wear ruffs at the neck and wrists and caps. The one on the left wears a forehead cloth and apron as well.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620. 1985: Macmillan, London.
Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d. 1988: W.S. Maney & Son Ltd., Leeds.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500-1914. 1996: Harry N. Abrams, New York.
Boucher, François. 20,000 Years of Fashion. 1987: Harry N. Abrams, New York.
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This information © 2004, 2009 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History