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Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: English and Italian Dress

From The Bankside Costume Book by Melicent Stone. London: W. Gardner, Darton & Co.

Plays. -- Richard II, 1398-1400.
Henry IV, 1402-1413.
Henry V, 1414-1420.
Richard III, 1471-1485.
As You Like it.
The Merchant of Venice.
The Taming of the Shrew.
Romeo and Juliet.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The Tempest.

Section I. -- MEN'S DRESS.

The general characteristics of the dress of this time were extreme richness and elaboration of trimming and decoration; patterns were much used, and rich and varied colouring, with furs, jewels and embroideries, the greatest height of absurd and extravagant fashion being reached perhaps in the reign of Richard II.

Hair and Head-covering. -- The hair was worn rather long, parted in the middle or with a fringe -- moustaches not being worn except with short beards. In the reign of Henry V the hair was cropped in a very ugly fashion above the ears and nape of the neck, but as this cannot well be imitated, even with wigs, the boys' hair must be worn as short as possible instead. The most common head-dress was still the hood, or capuchon (see Fig. 3), but in the reign of Richard II the fashion arose of wearing it in all manner of odd ways. The head was thrust through the face-opening and the liripipe wound round the head, or the whole hood was bound on by the liripipe, or by the skirts of the cape, tightly twisted. No doubt some of the hats thus suggested were afterwards made in these forms; they were called Chaperons.

Henry IV wore the Roundlet, a stuffed roll of cloth joined into a circle, with a long strip of cloth laid across it, a long end hanging down, and a short one standing up in a cockade or drooping. This hat was common in Italy, where also the Fez-shaped cap (generally red) was worn in the fourteenth century. Royal personages wore circlets of gold with ordinary dress. Kings wore their crowns on State occasions, and a circlet or small crown over their helmets when armed.

In the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III a fashionable form of cap was that in which those kings were generally painted; it was of black velvet or cloth with a full low crown and a stiffened brim turned up all round, hiding the crown and sloping outwards, ornamented on one side with a jewel. The Bycocket belonged to the same period, and was a hat with a high round or pointed crown and a brim peaked at back and front, the back peak being turned sharply up against the crown. An upstanding feather or quill was often worn in it.

Sometimes the brim was without peaks and turned up all round. Another cap very common in the fifteenth century in England and Italy was a very high fez, generally of black velvet and either stiff or soft. All these head-dresses are quite easy to make, with the help of buckram.

Tunics and Cloaks, -- There was a great variety of tunics in these centuries, but the "primitive" style still prevailed. From about 1380 to 1415 the Houppelande was the fashionable garment for men of position: this was a long robe, sometimes trailing on the ground, sometimes reaching to the ankles, opening in front, with enormous sleeves, "dagged," i. e. cut out in points or scallops, and with a very high collar. (See Fig. 20) The shoulders were cut without a seam and the large sleeve joined on low down on the upper arm (Fig. 21). A close tunic was worn under the Houppelande, with sleeves either long and tight or very loose.

The Houppelande was lined with a contrasting colour or with fur; a belt was generally worn round to the waist of it, with small dagger, and Gipsire, a pouch of various shapes, attached. At a rather later time the sleeves were rather smaller and gathered closely at the wrists into a band, often of fur, as described in Section 2. When not wearing these long garments, the "fashionables" of the day went to the other extreme and wore tunics which still had the long sleeves and high collars, but which had their skirts cut off extremely short, and were worn with chausses made just like modern tights, all in one from foot to waist.

This tunic was called a Paltock, and was worn with a waist-belt, and was quite full on the body and hips. Older men wore a similar tunic, but it reached to the knees and was often slit up at the sides nearly to the waist, or up the back of the skirt.

Cloaks were worn with these short tunics, and were either long and circular, opening at one side, or buttoned on one shoulder, or were Tabard- shape (Fig. 22), reaching to the knee and often having the edges dagged. In the fifteenth century, both in England and Italy, the most usual kind of tunic was one fitting closely on the shoulders and chest, but widening out downwards under the arms, so that it was loose in the waist and very full in the skirts. (Fig. 23) It was belted rather low. The sleeves were of different shapes, but always large; a tight-sleeved vest was always worn underneath; the outer sleeve was generally wide, gathered at shoulder and wrist, or cut in one with the tunic, with an opening in the front seam, through which the arm was passed, leaving the sleeve hanging empty from the bend of the arm. (Fig. 23)

Another outer sleeve was just a wing, or cape over the arm, reaching to the edge of the tunic: this was generally decorated with a pattern, often of large scales, and was stiff, widening out at the bottom. Sometimes it was all cut in strips. This sleeve was more common in Italy than in England, where the hanging sleeve (Fig. 20) was more often worn. Skirts, wrists and necks were edged with fur or embroidery. The inner sleeve can, of course, be stitched to the armhole of the tunic, to avoid making a complete vest. The tunics were sometimes cut a little round at the neck, showing the under-vest, which either showed a tiny frill of white under-shirt or had a narrow neck band.

There was very little change during Henry V's reign; both long and short garments were still worn. In the times of Edward IV and Richard III the full doublet grew shorter and tighter, and it was opened to the waist in a V to show a new addition, the Stomacher. This was either of pleated linen or rich brocade, velvet or embroidery, and was about six inches wide at the neck: the tunic was cut away to display it, and was often laced across it with cords or strings of pearls; it came right up to the throat, just showing an edge of frilled shirt.

It was often, of course, only the sleeved vest described previously, but when the sleeves of the tunic were closed, needing no under-sleeve it was probably merely a strip of material to the edges of which the tunic was fastened. Youths still wore the very short paltock, but it was tight at the waist, and the fullness was pleated more formally into a point at the waist there and spread out again at front and back of the skirts. The sleeves of these tunics were either, little shoulder capes, giving the width at the shoulders which was fashionable, or they were tight-fitting, opening once or twice down the back seam, or horizontally slit at the elbow (Fig. 30), to show the large white shirt sleeve, and often laced or tied across it.

These white shirts were always worn, and should be made like (Fig. 1), very loose, with necks and wrists gathered into narrow frills. They should be of nainsook, or even of unbleached calico, never of fine muslin or chiffon, as the lawn and linen of those days was rather thick. A kind of Houppelande was still worn, but it was open either all down the front or from the armhole at the side, had no longer the high collar, but was cut in a small V back and front; it hung in full pleats to the ground, these pleats being sometimes apparently inserted into a pointed yoke; it was worn either loose or belted (over the short tunic), and the long sleeves were merely long tubes straight at the lower edge, and rounded to fit the armhole (which was large), and with a long oval cut in the upper side (beginning about four inches below shoulder), through which the arm could be put, though sometimes the hand was put through the end, and the superfluous length wrinkled on the arm.

In the fifteenth century in Italy Tabards were worn; and these were oblong pieces of brocade, widening out at the bottom, stiffened, hollowed out for the neck and tied on the shoulders : they were worn over a short full-skirted tunic with large full sleeves. Another Italian tunic was a closely-fitting sleeveless jerkin with large arm- holes, and with a closely-pleated frill about twelve inches long sewn on at the waist-line (this must be well stiffened to make it stick out well), the skirts being edged with a band of trimming; velvet or fur. This tunic was worn over a tight vest of a different coloured satin, with long tight sleeves and small neck-band: the join at the waist was hidden by an ornamented belt. Cloaks, circular, or merely large oblong pieces of stuff, were much worn in Italy.

Hose and Shoes, -- Longer chausses were now worn, often parti-coloured, i.e. one leg red and one blue, or striped in wide stripes of two or three colours. They ought to be of cloth, as woven hose were not yet invented, but would be too difficult to make, and woollen or cotton tights, or long opera hose must be used instead. Bathing-drawers can be worn over them, if the tunic is too short to hide ordinary short breeches. Long women's stockings can be used for small children (white cotton ones can be easily dyed any colour), and can be stitched in down the seams to fit the leg closely, and cut off at the toes. All stockings should have loops sewn on the tops, and a buckled belt of webbing should be made, to which tapes are sewn, and these are passed through the loops, and the stockings tightly tied up. Felt socks, such as are worn inside shoes, can be sewn to the soles of stockings when the effect (fifteenth century) of feet clothed only in hose is wanted.

Shoes and boots can be made in the way described in Chapter IV, Section I. Old thin shoes are easily covered with stuff or soft leather, cut like slippers sold for embroidery, and high tops can be sewn on round the ankles, lacing up part of one side, for the long boots often worn. In the early part of Richard IPs reign and in that of Richard III the shoes called Poleyns were worn; they had enormously long pointed toes, stuffed with wool or moss, which were sometimes hooked up, for convenience in walking, to a band and loop round the leg. The shoe cut open at the ankle was fashionable in the fifteenth century. (Fig. 24) Excellent imitations of these can be bought very cheaply (see Chapter IX, p. 141). Thick furnishing-tapestry is good to use for shoes, as it wears well, and patterns were much worn; thin felt will do also, or velvet and brocade, but these should be lined with an inelastic material to prevent stretching.

The costume of this class changed little during four centuries. The capuchon was constantly worn and sometimes a slouched hat. The tunic was long and loose, belted, and of sober colours and coarse stuffs; its skirt and the cape of the hood were generally dagged. Thick bright-coloured chausses and black cloth or felt boots were still worn,

Section 2. -- WOMEN's DRESS.

Hair and Head-dress. -- In England, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the women invariably concealed their hair. The wimple was still worn at the beginning of this time, but the most general fashion was the Reticulated, or network head-dress. This was of different shapes, but always consisted, roughly speaking, of a small crown, called a Crespine, two side-pieces of metal-work called Cauls, and a gold net covering the back of the head; a short veil was generally added. The hair must be parted from brow to nape of neck, brushed forward and plaited in two plaits, which are looped up close to the cheeks (so that their fronts are flush with the face) and firmly pinned: or they can be wound round in spirals partly over the ears.

Over these projections of hair were fixed half-cylinders of gold network, called cauls (this, when the hair was looped, not rolled). These can be imitated by covering buckram with gold tissue or coloured silk and sewing gold braid across in a net-work pattern, adding pearls and jewels at the meeting points and in the spaces between: a gold net was drawn across the back of the head, and joined to the cauls: a short transparent white or yellow veil was laid on the head, and over this was placed the crespine, shaped like (Fig. 25) the small circles covering the tops of the cauls. Another headdress was (Fig. 26). There the crespine is round and high (the upper part could be of satin and the lower of simulated gilt metal). The hair was looped, and the back again covered with a net, and two stiff wings of metal and net-work were fastened to the crespine. A veil was worn under it. When the hair was rolled in a spiral the cauls were of the same shape. Sometimes two long horns of wire projecting to the sides and upwards at the ends were added to the head-dress in (Fig. 26) (probably fixed to a narrow head-band), and a large veil, just falling over the forehead, was thrown over them, and the crespine perched on the top. In this case the cauls would have to be fastened to the head-band, and they were sometimes square instead of triangular.

The effect of these head-dresses can be got with less trouble, though less accuracy, by wearing an ordinary coronet and veil over the looped-up hair, or a strip of stuff (the bordering sold for curtains will do) can be bound under the chin to top of head, behind the plaits, with another crossing it low on the forehead and round the head. Nets can be made of narrow gold braid, and there are many gold galloons and gold tissues sold which when stiffened will give good imitations of metal bands and crowns.

In the fifteenth century the crespine and veil were worn without the large cauls, and a turban, shaped just like an oriental one, of twisted silk or muslin was introduced, but the great innovation was the Hennin, which appeared about 1460 (Fig. 29). This was a tall "sugar-loaf" or "steeple" of buckram covered with silk or brocade; the wide end was covered by a deep band of black velvet which fell on each side of the face to the shoulder; this was called a Frontlet, and it was lined with thin steel or fine wire netting to make it grip the head and support the weight of the steeple.

From the pointed end of this floated a long veil, which was either gathered into the tip or thrown over the steeple; a tiny loop of velvet was added, in the centre of the forehead, and the hair was completely hidden. A later form of the Hennin had the pointed end cut off, leaving a cylinder about eight inches long, and instead of the frontlet a stuffed roll of brocade, with sharp-pointed ends, was attached to the lower edge, separating over the forehead, so that the ends stuck up about six inches, pointing towards each other.

For the Italian plays the hair can be worn loose, by maidens, with a small wreath or metal circlet, or bound with ribbons at intervals into one long tail, or in one plait, intertwined with pearls or gold braid. A thick stuffed roll of rich stuff bound round with braid can be worn, rather on the back of the head. A little net-work cap, the shape of the coif in (Fig. 19), was another fifteenth-century fashion. It was edged with large pearls and had a gold ribbon run through it, round the head and low over the forehead, where a jewel hung from it: with this the hair was plaited or bound in a tail.

Partings must be always in the middle, and though the hair may be waved it must lie flatly and naturally over the ears, and not be rolled or pinned back behind them, an entirely modern fashion, which has spoilt many correct costumes on the stage. Old women wore a sort of wimple or white drapery, with sometimes a black velvet hood over it. This list of head-dresses does not exhaust all those of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; many others may be seen on Italian pictures, in old manuscripts, or on tapestries, but I have described those which are easiest to copy.

Gowns and Mantles. -- The ladies in England wore the Houppelande too (Fig. 20), but it was very long, the sleeves were plainer, and it buttoned all down the front (buttons were bead-shape and much used), with a belt round the waist, from which hung the little bag of leather gathered round the neck with long strings, called an Aumoniere, or the larger gipsire, which had an oval metal top, to which the bag was gathered on. The most usual sleeve for the Houppelande was the "bag," cut in one with the gown, very large at the armhole and gathered into a band at the wrist.... The high collar was often unbuttoned and turned down (Fig. 26). In the fifteenth century waists became much higher, and the Houppelande was belted almost under the arms. In the reign of Edward II women adopted a style of dress which lasted, with modifications, till the time of Henry V. This consisted of two garments, called the Cote- hardie and Super Cote-hardie.

The former was a very long dress, with long tight sleeves, fitting the body very closely (laced down the back) but very much sloped outwards and gored below the waist, so that the skirts fell in full folds; a belt was worn round the hips, and the neck was cut low. This dress was at first worn without any over-dress, but later on the super cote-hardie was added. It is difficult to tell, even from the stone monuments which are the chief sources of information, how the cote-hardie was really made, as the fullness in the skirt is so disproportionate to the tight bodice, but certainly the easiest way is to make a long tight bodice (Fig. 27) on the principle of Fig. 1 round the bottom, closely pleated or gathered on to the bodice, keeping the joining line on the hips, and hiding it with a broad belt. With this dress a long oblong cloak was often worn, fastened by brooches to points and tied across as well with cord and tassels. An aumoniere and tiny dagger should be attached to this belt. The super cote-hardie was generally of large-patterned stuff, or it was decorated with heraldic designs, or sometimes it was half of one colour and half of another (divided vertically down the front).

It was a long, loose sleeveless dress, and the sides of the bodice part were entirely cut away, leaving only an inch or two of shoulder and a strip down the chest (Fig. 28). These enormous armholes were outlined with broad bands of fur or velvet ; the dress was long in front and behind and was held up to show the under-dress. The fullness on the hips must be pleated into the bottom of the armhole, hiding the pleats with the fur trimming. The garment needs no fastening as it can be put on over the head.

For this costume it is not really necessary to have a complete under-dress of good material. A straight gown of cheap cotton can be made, with sleeves of brocade, and pieces of the same sewn on where the large armhole exposes the under-dress, and as an edging of six inches deep on the skirt, to show when the super cote-hardie is lifted.

The reticulated head-dress, or crespine and veil, would be worn with this dress, and with the next one described, the Hennin. being worn contemporaneously with the cotes-hardies. The easiest way to make it is to make a short tight bodice with long sleeves, cut in a V to the waist at back and front, the spaces between being filled up by pieces of velvet or brocade; the neck is low, the V is outlined by wide fur or velvet; round the high waist is a broad stiffened band. The skirt is very long and full, cut in straight breadths, and pleated on to the bodice, and is trimmed with fur and embroidery. It is raised to show a rich under-skirt, which can be simulated by a deep edge of brocade sewn on to an old skirt.

In Italy the dresses of the fifteenth century were different. The Tabard was worn over a loose under-dress, which often had sleeves of the same material as the tabard, attached as in (Fig. 30), with loops or buttons, or lacing round the armhole. A white chemise, with long full sleeves, was worn, and these were drawn through the space between armhole and sleeve and at the elbow and wrist (Fig. 30).

The tabard was cut as in Fig. 30, A, and must be interlined with stiff muslin and linen, and it was laced widely over the hips with cords or braids; small bone rings can be sewn on to the under edges instead of making eyelet-holes. The shoulders were often tied together with ribbons. Another tabard, rather later, is cut as in Fig. 30 to give fullness to the skirt; it was not laced on the hips and the shoulders were joined; it is open in a deep V, showing the square-cut under-dress. Another late fifteenth-century under-dress was a very short tight bodice cut round and very low, generally opening over a white under-skirt and laced widely over it with contrasting sleeves, opened all down the back and laced or tied at intervals over the white ones, or as in Fig. 30, C. The skirt was long and straight and rather full, gathered into the high waist.

With these dresses any of the Italian head-dresses described can be worn. Old women in Italy wore a version of the Houppelande, with hanging sleeves: this could be worn by Juliet's nurse. A real white chemise or "smock" is not necessary; the white sleeves can be sewn into the armholes, or, 'with care, puffs can be sewn into the sleeves, but these must always be stitched in at a distance from the openings, as shown by dotted lines, a, b, c, d in Fig. 30 or they will look stiff and unnatural (see "Slashings," Chapter VI, p. 77). A thin frill can be worn round the neck.

Shoes. -- These are so little seen, owing to the long full robes, that accuracy is hardly required. The stuff shoes described in Chapter IV, Section 1, will do very well. Very long toes were not worn by women. Leather slippers were worn in Italy, with a strap across the instep.

This dress was almost unchanged from the thirteenth century in England. The gown was sometimes laced down the front and turned up over the knees to show a short coloured or striped skirt. Stuffs were often "rayed" or striped horizontally. Citizens' wives would wear a plainer version of the ladies' dress, with a veil or wimple with a small open hood.

Aprons, called Barmcloths, were worn. Bodices were tight and plain, with long tight sleeves. The wimple and couvrechef were worn by the lower ranks, sometimes surmounted by a conical felt hat, and the hood with liripipe was still in fashion. Such characters as Celia and Phebe in As You Like It might wear the hair in one or two long tails or plaits, with a slouched felt or straw hat, and a plain cote-hard ie drawn up through a band round the hips and looped up as described in Chapter IV, p. 47.

Audrey's dress would be scanty and shapeless, probably just a skirt and plain chemise, called a smock, and her feet and head bare. An Italian waiting-maid could wear a stuff dress with tight sleeveless bodice laced down the front, showing smock sleeves to the elbow, with a skirt gathered on to the waist and pulled up through a leather belt to the hips to show a short skirt. A piece of white drapery would be twisted round the head, with long ends hanging down the back. She would wear coloured stockings and leather shoes. Cheap brown shoes of the right shape can be bought and look like soft leather; the heels must be very low.

How to cite this article:

Stone Melicent. The Bankside Costume Book. London: W. Gardner, Darton & Co., 1900. Shakespeare Online. 20 July. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


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