Burgundian V-neck Gown – research

My second attempt at a Horned Hennin. This hat is made of dark red cotton velvet and embellished with faux pearls and metal billaments.

15th century horned hennin. In this photo you can see the length of this particular veil.

To accompany my new horned hennin, I want to make a V-neck Burgundian gown. This has actually been on my wish-list since 2014, so this is a good time to start looking at the styles.

This is specifically for the elevation of my friend Philippe to order of the Laurel this spring. Philippe is a lawyer in 1431 Paris. Based on my brief look at visual sources for the style of horned hennin I made, I’m placing it 1400-1460. This means I’ll be looking for V-neck Burgundian gowns from the same era.

From my previous post dating the hennin, I found these V-neck Burgundian gowns worn with the horned hennin similar in style to what I’ve made.

Depiction (see above chart for links) Garments worn WITH horned hennin Description and link Notes
  V-neck Burgundian gown Portrait of Isabella of Portugal (wife of Philip III Duke of Burgundy) from the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden

Dated between circa 1445 and 1450

This painting is a copy painted from an original by Rogier van der Weyden
  V-neck Burgundian gown Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden


Detail (to left)


   V-neck Burgundian gown Isabel of Portugal with St Elizabeth, by Petrus Christus


“This is the left wing of a triptych. The original triptych with the Mater Dolorosa in the central panel and St Catherine in the right wing was part of the collection of Margaret of Austria. The small triptych was probably commissioned by Isabel of Portugal who ordered the triptych at the time of her retirement to a Franciscan convent in Nieppe, France, in 1457.” – Web gallery of art

Saint Elizabeth of Aragon/Portugal was born in 1271, died in 1336, and married Denis of Portugal in 1288, becoming queen.

… so this is an allegorical painting depicting Isabel being guided by the ghost (erm?) of the long-dead queen.

   V-neck Burgundian gown Women Builders (detail). Roman des Girart von Roussillon

c. 1447

   V-neck Burgundian gown Historiated Initial 

Reconstructing History dates the V-neck Burgundian gown as 1440s-1480s, and indicates that the earlier styles were looser and pleated, while later in the era the style became smoother and more fitted. While the blue, 1447 visual above looks like the looser, pleated version, the remaining styles (1445-1460) appear to be somewhat smoother.

On the Cerrid Wen Creations website, the author writes that over the 50 year period that the style was popular (an extra ten years beyond Reconstructing History’s) the shape of the gown changed. It evolved from the houppelande, and originally had that same looser, pleated shape. It evolved to a more fitted gown, and further evolutions had a wider and rounder neckline near the end of the century. Mistress Corisander Seathwaite examines the speculative patterns that would create the Houppelande and V-neck Burgundian gown,

Given that I like the narrow deep v-neck (shown above in my inspiration images) instead of the wide rounded V-neckline… and feel that abundant pleating won’t be flattering, I’ll be splitting the difference… aiming for something closer to the depictions shown 1445-1460.

Visual source breakdown

This is possibly depicting Isabel of Portugal, Queen consort of Castile and León, who was born in 1428 and died in 1496. She was married to John II of Castile. He died in 1454, and was succeeded by his son from his first marriage. Isabel and her two children were sent to the Castle of Arévalo where they lived austerely, and she suffered from mental illness, believing she saw ghosts. (Source: Wikipedia)

I don’t believe this is intended to be a portrait of  Isabel’s daughter, Isabella I of Castile, as she was only born in 1451.

This could also be a portrait of Isabella of Portugal, Duchess of Burgundy. (b. 1397, d. 1471)She entered the court which was much more extravagant than Portugal, wearing loose clothing to hide her pregnancy, appeared ‘dowdy’ in 1430 with this loose clothing.  (I suspect either a Houppelande, or the earlier version of the V-neck Burgundian gown).
By 1457 she had left the Burgundian court and had distanced herself from her husband to align with her son. She took refuge in the castle of La Motte-au Boi, possibly to lead a more devout and quieter life. (Source: Wikipedia)

In a nice large version of this painting, she is wearing the V-neck gown with:

  • Ermine collar. It’s a shawl-style collar and does not appear to have a seperate break. The widest part of the collar at the shoulder is approximately as wide as the span of the whole hand, perhaps slightly narrower. The neckline is not shown below the belt, but based on the angles of the collar, it likely goes below the belt like the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece visibly shows. The neckline is open to the point where it meets the belt.
  • Ermine cuffs (likely. There are very few blacks dot visible on the cuffs) The cuffs are lined with the same material – in the far arm you can see inside the sleeve which is white. The cuffs are slightly longer than the span of the whole hand.
  • The sleeves aren’t extraordinarily tight – they aren’t enormous either… but look ‘comfortable’. There is a good two-fingers width of room in the cuff, and I suspect there’s at least this much room throughout the sleeve.
  • The gown is black (or blue-black) with gilt gold, likely brocade. It appears to be a very large circular ring medallion (floor to mid-thigh on the standing figure) with a pomegranate and leaf pattern.  It may also be an S-shaped design instead of a medallion. The medallion(?) is divided by a flower, which may also exist within the centre of the medallion. The fabric placement has a “line” going down the outside of the sleeve (the outer edge of the medallion? or perhaps a separate fabric?)
  • The gown front does not appear to be extraordinarily full – there are two pleats(lines) on the near side of the neckline going into the belt, but they appear very shallow as they don’t disrupt the pattern of the brocade. Since this is an allegorical painting though, this may suggest that the depiction of the flower was more important than realism. The skirt on the other hand is very full – I’d guess at least a full-circle cut. There are no visible seams… though again this might be the artist’s choice.
  • The belt is smooth green, I would go with a silk taffeta, with a gold-tone hardware which is visible under her far arm. The lower edge of the belt isn’t visible, so it’s hard to tell how wide it is. It appears to sit right below her breasts.
  • The hem at the front is not visible. (She’s kneeling on a tasseled pillow.) However, it’s visible at the back, and has a guard of ermine – however it’s fairly narrow compared to the fullness of the skirt. I’d estimate it at 2.5-3 fingers wide.
  • I am not sure about her under garment – I THINK it looks like a V-neck partlet in white with black trim… but the kirtle/cotehardie under it isn’t visible… and I don’t think that it’s a v-neck cote/kirtle… It could also be a line suggesting a long lariat necklace.

Oddly… a painting of Saint Catherine converting the Scholars, shows the ermine trim on the outside of the FRONT of the skirt, but not on the back of the skirt.

For the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece detail, there are two women with horned headdresses.

The one on the right has a brown set of horns topped with an opaque and richly ruffled veil (I think…) There is trim at the base of the horns. The horns go outwards, rather than upwards, and do not cover her ears.

She wears:

  • A solid red gown
  • Cuffs trimmed in grey (fur) about 1.5 fingers wide.
  • The sleeves appear slightly bagged – the cuffs are narrow but the sleeve is fuller in comparison.
  • The collar visibly goes below the belt, by about 2.5-3 fingers wide length.. I anticipate the opening to be slightly above belly button based on the curve of her body and the placement of  her hand. The collar is grey (fur) and at the widest point is about 3 fingers wide. The V-neck is much more narrow than her companion’s is…
  • Her belt is green-brown-gold and patterned rather than solid and smooth. Hardware is not visible. The belt appears to be about 4 fingers wide
  • She appears to be wearing a high-necked partlet though this is really hard to tell. This may also be a long lariat style of necklace.

The one on the left has an all-golden set of horns topped with a sheer white veil. You can also see the wire supporting the hennin on her forehead. This set of horns go upwards, rather than outwards, unlike her companion.

The one on the left wears:

  • A solid black/blue-black gown
  • The sleeves are loose like the painting above, and the cuffs are brown (fur). It looks to be about two-fingers wide.
  • Her belt is black and about four-fingers wide, and sits directly under her breasts it appears.  Hardware is not visible.
  • The gown has mild pleating at the bodice and more at the skirt, though again it doesn’t look extremely full.
  • The v-neck appears go to under the belt.
  • The collar, like the cuffs is brown (fur) and the widest part at the shoulders appears to be 2.5-3 fingers wide.
  • She wears a v-neck partlet (or just a neck band?) in white, over a cote/kirtle.. possibly with visible lacing.
  • She also wears two necklaces. One is a lariat style (or with a long narrow pendant) while the other is either a shorter beaded or chain necklace.

I’ll just be looking at the three smoother and dated paintings, so the third is Portrait of Isabella of Portugal (wife of Philip III Duke of Burgundy) from the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden.

By 1445-1450, she would have already have had her son Charles (b. 1433), but would not yet have left the Burgundian court.

The inscription at the top (suggesting Isabella as a type of oracle) and the wood background were later additions to the painting.

Here the lariat necklace is FAR more visible, and gives extra information to the other paintings. A nice large version of this painting shows that she has a horned hennin made of a gold and brownish richly embellished brocade. It could be entirely beaded. The hennin does not cover her ears, and I’m unsure what the band in front of her ears is… likely it’s wired to support the headdress. The band with the black loop to support the hennin under it is red.

She wears:

  • A richly gold and red cut velvet gown. The motif is floral and appears to have pomegranates.
  • The collar is ermine, and at the widest point at the shoulders is about 5 fingers wide. It goes below the belt, and has a square end.
  • The belt is a checkered damask/jacquard in green. The belt appears to be a full hand’s width if not a little wider, and there is no visible hardware. The belt appears to sit right below the breasts.
  • She appears to wear either a nearly-sheer white v-neck partlet or perhaps just a neck band.
  • The sleeves are very full, though the cuffs do not appear to be very full. They also appear to be longer than needed. This could be a matter that the sitter only folded back a small amount of sleeve to cuff the gown, instead of the amount that it might have been designed for to have the sleeve end at the wrist bone. The J. Paul Getty Museum notes that the artist didn’t match the pattern on the sleeves “as would have been customary during this period. ” “In fact, the duchess never actually sat for this portrait, which may account for the misunderstood representation of her clothing. Scholars believe that the artist copied Isabella’s likeness from a lost portrait by Rogier van der Weyden.”
  • The cuffs themselves are ermine as well, and are about 2.5 fingers wide.
  • Under the gown she wears a cote/kirtle with visible lacing.
  • The lariat necklace looks like 5 silvery beads between large pearls.
  • The gown bodice shows two pleats at the front, which are deep enough to distort the pattern of the cut velvet. The skirt is not visible enough to show the fullness.

Originally I was seeing a lot of greenish belts, so I also looked at other depictions of this gown, and saw red, black, and brown as well. None seemed to coordinate with headwear, kirtles/cotes, or the dresses themselves, so I’m seeing this as an entirely mix-and-match wardrobe…


Outer gown fabric choices

On A Damsel in Distress, the author writes that the cut for upper and lower classes would be the same, but fabric choices would be vastly different. Less affluent women would wear more simple woolen garments in brown, russet, pale blues, and greens.

  • More wealthy women would have more vibrant colours and cloth of a higher quality.
  • Very wealthy women would wear silks and brocades, with silk or fur linings and trim.

Since I’ll be wearing this as a court gown for the elevation, and am able to represent everything except royalty… I would opt for silk brocade if I have any in my stash… though I think I may need to interline it to get the fullness. Alternately a cut velvet (not in silk or wool I’m afraid) would be lovely, (not to mention super warm..) or finally a very smooth plain wool.

For the trim, I’m a bit torn between using a velvet, or using faux fur. Most of the furs depicted in paintings seem to be quite low pile.. and most of the furs I have are deeper pile.

For colours of the outer gown and it’s collars and cuffs I’ve seen:

Solid Collar/ cuffs Brocade Collar/ cuffs
Red  grey (fur?)  Red & gold  ermine fur
 Black/blue-black  brown (fur?)  Black & gold  ermine fur
 Blue  grey (fur?)  Pink & gold  white (fur?)
 Pink  brown (fur?)  Black & gold  red
 Blue  white (fur?)  Gold & gold  brown (fur?)
 Red  brown (fur?)  Pink & gold  white
 Yellow  brown (fur?)  Blue & blue  white (fur? velvet?)
 Blue  brown (fur?)
 Grey  black
 Green  gold
 Pink  grey fur
 Blue  white fur
 Yellow  black
 Green  grey silk
 Red  grey

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list – just a list of the different illustrations or paintings I’m working from. The unlinked colours represent images found in this article, while the links go to other images. The vast majority of collars and cuffs is fur, or what I think is fur, but fabric seems to be an option as well.

There doesn’t seem to be any sort of trend in colours of the gowns themselves, though brocades are almost always a colour with gold, and only in one instance is a gold/gold brocade, and in only one case in my overview is a tone-on-tone blue fabric.

Valerie Steele writes that colour language during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries evolved from heraldic origins. She reports that Philip the Bold provided livery to his servants and bedected his court in the colours of his house – red and light green. “These were made of velvet and silk for the nobility and satin and serge for the servants.” She also writes about “chic black” worn for fashion, mourning, or as a sign of religious piety.  (Source: Paris Fashion: A Cultural HistoryBloomsbury PublishingSep. 21, 2017)

In Authority and Spectacle in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of Teofilo F. Ruiz (Yuen-Gen Liang et al. Taylor & Francis, Jan 20, 2017) Hilario Alonso writes that blue and black became popular with the dukes of Burgundy in the mid 15th century before spreading to other courts. Blue was a colour associated with the Virgin Mary, while black represented austerity, dignity, authority, and chivalry.  As the 15th century progressed, “sales of red, yellow, and brown coloured fabrics fell as did those of multicoloured fabrics” overtaken in popularity by other shades including blue and purple. This suggests to me that a ‘trend setter’ in the 1460s might wear blues, blacks, and purples, rather than reds or yellows…  though it might take more dating of images teamed with the status of the person portrayed to get a clearer picture of this. (Since many of my reference images included a lot of red…)

The 1400-1500 European Fashion Wikipedia article suggests that fur colours had their own fashion trends. It states that grey and white furs which had been common previously, went out of style among the general population, and remained only fashionable for those at court. These were ‘vair’ (squirrel) and ‘miniver’ (ermine without the black spots). More fashionable were dark brown sable furs and yellowish to dark brown marten furs. Near the end of the 15th century, wild animal furs like lynx gained popularity. Throughout the 1400s ermine remained the hallmark of royalty.

Cut of outer gown

There is a bit of discussion online about how different looks were achieved, but given my choice for the narrow V-neck, and the notion that I feel I can see a front-laced kirtle/cotehardie under the outer gown in at least one of the reference images, I’m going to skip the “placket” conversation entirely. (Another set of options here)

Collar and neckline

So that brings me to the cut of the V-neck and the collar itself. The black and white image shown here (direct link from Pinterest) from the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant (page 158) is a detail from Scene from mass baptism, (1468, Flemish/Burgundian) shows that the gown is open all the way past the waist (I’d say to crotch level based on the man behind her) and the collar is a facing or lining folded back. This will require a centre front seam to make it hang correctly, though I’m curious how that works with the squared off end I see in some of the other paintings.

The gown itself looks very loose and unfitted – the fitting is done entirely with the belt it would appear.

This illustration also shows the hem of the gown puddling on the ground. For practicality sake I would rather my gown graze the ground but not puddle… there’s a lot of “taking three steps back” in court… and a train is a huge pain in the butt…

Back when I was originally thinking of this gown in 2014, I copied some information about the collar/neckline from Reconstructing History. The information is no longer on their website, and I suspect the content has been moved into their Getting Dressed Guide – OR- Kass McGann has reassessed the content and simply removed it. I don’t have a copy of the guide to confirm the former. I’m presenting it here in my original copy-and-pasted format:

Direct link from Wikipedia

Direct link from Wikipedia: The Tiburtine Sybil’s prophecy to the Emperor Augustus / Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl or Jacob Willemsz / c. 1480-1495

“The collars of these gowns are a natural product of the way the neck opening is cut. They are not added on but rather the lining pulled up and turned to the outside. This is strikingly obvious from viewing the few pictures of the gowns in dishabile like the 1480 painting of the Sibyl of Tibur prophesying about the Emperor Augustus and the 1476 statue in the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon. In both works, the overgown is unbelted and the fact that the “collar’ is simply the lining turned to the outside at the shoulders is clear. So the neck must be cut in such a way to produce this effect. This indicates a front-to-back slit rather than a left-to-right one. If we mentally un-turn the neckline of these pictures, it will close at center front. Christus’ 1470 “Portait of a Young Girl” (at left) shows this treatment very clearly. The stress wrinkles on the fur lining can be seen on the shoulders and the way the bottom of the “V” tapers away to nothing shows that it is a simple slit.” – Reconstructing History

If the attached painting is the one Kass McGann is referring to – I can see that the green gown is clearly unbelted (the black one may or may not be) but I definitely do not see that it’s clear that the collar on the green gown is folded back to show the lining. It could very well be constructed like a Peter Pan collar, though since there is a slight lip on the shoulder, it is not a contrast trim. Likewise I scrolled through other paintings attributed to the same artist, and could not see clear evidence of this statement. It’s notable that this painting illustrates the shorter, wider V-neckline than what I’m intending to make as well. The artwork is dated after the period I want to represent.

Direct link from the Rijksmuseum / Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475 - c. 1476

Direct link from the Rijksmuseum / Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475 – c. 1476

In contrast, one of the brass “weepers” from the Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, attributed to Renier van Thienen, c. 1475 – c. 1476 currently on display at the Rijksmuseum does appear to show the neckline as a folded back shawl-collar type of construction – though it lacks evidence of a centre-front opening/seam that would permit this as a construction method I’m more familiar with. This brass is interesting as it shows short sleeves on the over gown. The undergarment is visible at the neckline (or a partlet) with the front-laced kirtle worn over it; visible at the neckline. Her headdress is described as a “V-shaped bourrelet” – it looks like the hats I’ve been referring to as heart-shaped headdresses. Like the above artwork, this neckline is also a shorter, wider neckline than what I intend to make. The artwork is dated after the period I want to represent.  It is worthy of note that the 24 original figures (only 10 remain) are intended to represent mourning family members and ancestors of the deceased… so a question could be asked about the representation of fashion…. did the sculptor dress ancestors in apparel contemporary to when they were alive… or in the fashion that was popular during the lifetime/at the time of death of the person they were meant to be mourning?

Direct link from Rijksmuseum / Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475 - c. 1476

Direct link from Rijksmuseum / Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475 – c. 1476

Additional female weepers include this woman in a high-necked Houppelande with a dramatic rolled and dagged headdress and large angel sleeves. There is also this woman in a high-necked, unbelted Houppelande with a beaded necklace and a puffy-back cap. Next there is this woman (attached) in a horned hennin with a butterfly veil, V-neck Burgundian gown belted with the buckle at the front (no keeper) with straight, cuffed sleeves, a narrow fur trim, and fur collar. She also wears a floral pendant necklace, and some type of v-neck under dress. There is also this woman in a high-necked Houppelande with a collar with high-low bagged sleeves exposing the underdress with sleeves with very long cuffs. She wears a flared headdress with beading.

Direct link from Wikipedia / Portrait of a Young Woman, Petrus Christus, c. 1470. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Direct link from Wikipedia / Portrait of a Young Woman, Petrus Christus, c. 1470. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Finally, Kass mentions Petrus Christus’ Portrait of a Young Woman c. 1470. She wears a black kirtle (side lacing?) with an almost sheer white partlet. I say partlet, because there is a slight cross-over at the centre front where it is pinned to the neckline of the kirtle. The gown is tone-on-tone blue, with a wide, short V-neck with a shawl-collar looking cut which appears to be white short-nap fur or velvet (there is a bit of “fuzz” on her shoulder which suggests a nap). The portrait is not long enough to distinguish a centre front seam or not.  I DO adore her necklace as well… this may be something worth considering reproducing to complete my outfit…. when I get to this point. Like Kass’ other examples, the neckline is too short/wide for my taste, and the portrait dated later than I intend. Still.. it does speak to neckline construction.

“Undoubtedly there were other ways to cut a gown. Other contemporary pictorial evidence contradicts this idea. There are clearly separate fur or velvet collars being added to gowns by the 1460s. The round tabs seen at the bottom of the V-neck in back in illustrations of gowns viewed from the back cannot be achieved with this cutting method either. Their construction will be dealt with in another pattern. However the turnback treatment is the version dealt with in this pattern so our discussion is limited to that variant.” – Reconstructing History

So… that leads me to the cut of the collar in the back.

There are scant few depictions of gowns from the back to begin with, and this style is no different. Given that there are paintings showing multiple gown styles all worn at the same time by different individuals, it’s also not 100% to say that a gown IS a V-neck Burgundian gown when it’s seen only from the back. The headdress and other attire give a suggestion… but it’s not precise.

In a quick search, I found four images that depict the back of what is LIKELY a V-neck Burgundian gown. I haven’t researched more of these images, and all are directly linked from Pinterest.

This first one shows a bright blue gown with a white cuffs and collar. The gown is heavily gathered which suggests it could be an early Burgundian gown or a Houppelande. The collar doesn’t appear to be very wide at the shoulders – which suggests to me it may be a Houppelande instead. The back of the collar is a long dip – all the way to the belt.

The next image shows a more fitted bodice, suggesting a mid-later Burgundian gown. The shawl collar is equally wide to the centre back where it dips down into a low ‘tongue’ which hangs all the way down to the bottom of the belt.

The spacing across the shoulders suggests that this MIGHT be a wider-neckline style than what I intend to represent, though it’s difficult to tell without a front view.

In this next image the shawl collar is as wide at the centre back as the shoulders for the most part, with just perhaps a slight dip.

If the yellow gown which is shown from the back is the same design as the red gown however, this is a later period, wider neckline than what I have in mind. The bodice appears to be somewhat fitted, though it’s hard to tell at this resolution.

Next, the image below shows a rounded back neckline on the pink gown. The shoulders match the overall collar in width, which is rounded as well. The back of the gown shows pleating, suggesting this is an earlier style. If the pink gown is similar in style to the blue one, this has the longer neckline (the edge extending to below the bottom of the belt) but still seems to be wider than the style I wish to represent.

Finally, the depiction of the death of Anne of Bohemia, c. 1470-72 below.  The bodice and sleeves of the gown seem quite tight, and teamed with the date, I suspect this depicts a later iteration of the gown design.

Here the main part of the collar is approximately as wide as the shoulders, and a slight dip in the centre back. However, it has a low V-neck at the back. If the grey dress is similar in style to the green one, it has a shallow, wide V-neck rather than the deep and narrow style I want to represent.

This survey suggests that there are a wide variety of representations of the collar shape itself, however none of these are necessarily the narrow, deep V-neck I want to represent. Most also show quite a wide or deep back neckline (apart from the first image which may be a Houppelande).

But now… practicality…  while the collar-part of the neckline can be any shape we want… with a low v-neck front, the actual construction of the back neckline on a loose, unfitted can’t reasonably be as low as some of these depictions suggest without either a) the garment falling off the shoulders, or b) an internal support to keep it upright (ex: a fitted lining, or the gown laced/pinned to a fitted kirtle). Neither solution seems particularly useful.  I think that the back neckline has to be higher than is suggested in these images… but the collar piece can dip lower if desired.

Next… belted front or back?

In one of the paintings from my original inspiration, it appears that the hardware for the belt is visible under the arm of the wearer. In A Portrait of a Lady by Van der Weyden, the buckle is also shown at the front.  However, none of the remaining depictions from the front show hardware.

Direct link from Rijksmuseum / Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475 - c. 1476

Direct link from Rijksmuseum / Ten weepers from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475 – c. 1476

The bronze figure from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon (described above), the belt is buckled at the front, and has no keeper.

From the illustrations of the back of the dress – two shows the area where the belt meets – the blue gown that may be a Houppelande, and the pink gown. This suggests that the belt was fastened in the back, with a slight dangling tail. It will require either a wide buckle, which may be difficult. The hanging end suggests there’s no keeper. Since the belt is flat across the underbust, it can’t be tied in the back – this would create wrinkles.

Finally (?) the hem and hem trim.

A painting of Saint Catherine converting the Scholars, shows the ermine trim on the outside of the FRONT of the skirt, but not on the back of the skirt. This… doesn’t seem right to me. The other depictions above show a narrow band of trim on the skirt hem, likely  part of the hem facing started on the right side of the gown and then pulled to the back. This would either require cutting fabric on the bias, or doing a lot of tucks in the facing of a curved hem. As previously mentioned, I don’t think I’ll do a gown that puddles on the ground the way it’s most often depicted, just for practicality.


On A Damsel in Distress, the author writes that the kirtle (or cotehardie) worn under the gowns had tight bodices and were laced at the front, back, or sides. For the first half of the 15th century, the skirts flared out from the waist (no waist seam) for a full skirt. The sleeves could be long or short, however even kirtles with short sleeves would have long sleeves of nicer fabric pinned on.

Near the end of the 15th century she writes that sleeves could have been non-existent, though the long sleeves were still pinned on. For the second half of the 15th century she also shows garments with waist seams and more complicated bodice construction.

A number of the paintings she shares show round necklines front and back (lower back necklines as well) along with lines that look a LOT like a facing at the neckline. This detail from the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece also shows set in sleeves and a back centre seam on the bodice.

(Image taken from the Damsel in Distress website) Note the golden embroidery on the hem of the red cote/kirtle. Also note the plaid lining on the blue gown and what looks like a damask green kirtle/cote under it.

For this garment I think I’ll go with something very simple – I want to do something that will work with any of the overgarments I make for this era (specifically the sideless surcotes). Because of that I’ll make it long -sleeved, and likely stick with the earlier period construction without the waist seam. For ease of dressing I’ll likely do a front-lacing dress. I’ll likely go with plain wool, and as much as I’d love red… red wool suiting is nearly impossible to find, so I’ll likely go with black, blue, a super-dark grey, or green.

The court of Burgundy: The Cradle of Style

So.. the STYLE is called “Burgundian”, which suggests that it arose out of the Burgundy court. In Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, (Oxford University Press, 2013) Marina Warner writes that in 1360, the Valois and Burgundian courts rivalled one another. This rivalry created “wild and eccentric fashions in what constitutes the first manifestation of the rapid changes in taste and style that have since become the norm.”

While man different regional courts in France including Provence and Anjou had their own types of proto-fashion in the late 14th century, Valerie Steele notes that the court of Burgundy was especially stylish, called “the cradle of fashion” and “the most voluptuous and splendid court in Europe, Italy included.” Elaborate ceremonial court fashion created a “cult devoted to a monarch set up as an idol”, using luxury and fashion as tools and symbols of power. She notes that in the 14th and 15th centuries, the dukes of Burgundy were wealthier and more powerful than the kings of France. (Source: Paris Fashion: A Cultural HistoryBloomsbury PublishingSep. 21, 2017)

From the end of the fourteenth to the end of the fifthteenth century, Burgundian Netherlands included the low countries in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and northern France. These territories were possessed by Burgundian dukes who were descendants of French royal House of Valois. (Source: Met Museum)

The duchy was one of Europe’s richest centres of cloth production, a major trade hub, and attracted and supported some of the most talented Renaissance artists. The dukes liked to travel from residence to residence, so although the large court was based in Brussels, patronage (and likely opportunities for the upper class to socialize and share ideas) was widespread. It wasn’t until 1477 when the duchy of Burgundy reverted to French rule.  (Source: Met Museum)

While the “glitter of the fabulously wealthy” Burgundian court was so lavishly impressive that “other European rulers aspired to imitate it”, not all courts were so influential. In Viewing Renaissance Art, Kim Woods relates that Louis XI, King of France from 1461-83 underestimated the importance of pomp and pageantry, and was upstaged by Philip the Good during his entry to Paris in 1461, although only a duke. Philip was viewed as a ruler to “envy and respect”.

Philip the Good was duke of Burgundy from 1419 until his death in 1467. (Source: Wikipedia)

In contrast, the Medici family reportedly acquired a vast collection of art and artefacts in private, keeping a cautious public display, suggesting that the wealth of the Burgundian court may have been the enviable aspect; not their lavish display. (Source: Viewing Renaissance Art)

In Realms of Ritual: Burgundian Ceremony and Civic Life in Late Medieval Ghent, (Cornell University Press, 1996) Peter J. Arnade writes that the Burgundians linked their political power to their public appearance; paying attention to luxurious clothing to heighten prestige of dukes and duchesses. Lavish display of fabrics, jewels shoes, the cut of sleeves and headwear was exhibited at “public entries, jousts, and banquets”. “Constantly attuned to sartorial lavishness, the Burgundians often seemed akin to political mannequins, regularly sporting new and different outfits.” He writes that Burgundian styles were notorious “in an age that tolerated and endorsed aristocratic splendor”, noting embroidered velvets, long elaborate pointed shows, ceremonial gowns embellished with pearls, sapphires, rubies, and gold bells. He mentions hats trimmed with peacock feathers, gold spangles and jewels, and brocade dresses with long sleeves and ermine trim. Lavish attire was shared by both men and women in his descriptions.

For further research

I found reference to a few other books that might be worth looking into, however they did not have online previews on Google Books. These include:

So…onto drafting and construction- Bloggers & books

The Damsel in Distress website has a very nice walkthrough on her construction methods. She does not appear to use a back gore for her gown, and opted to mount the contrast collar to the lining, rather than lining the entire gown with the fabric for the fold-back collar. There is a huge amount of fullness in her gown even without the back gore, which makes me believe that she cut each half-front and half-back out of a single layer of fabric. Her recommendation of 8m for the main fabric and 6-7m of the lining would support this theory. Her neckline seems wider than I’d like to go for, and it does not go down to or past the belt, so this is a difference from the gown I’d like to make as well. She notes the pattern in The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant for reference (pages 158-161)

The blogger at Atelier Nostalgia (who is a fellow member of the Historical Sew Monthly challenge!) shows how she adapted her kirtle pattern to make the pattern for her V-neck Burgundian gown. She went with a wider neckline than I have in mind. She cut out her front and back on the selvage of folded fabric, and opted to reverse the direction of her fabric for her back gore to save fabric. She used Catrijn’s (A Dressmaker’s Workshop) suggested layout, which apparently only has the front, back, and back gore, “the angling of the front pulls the fullness forward, draping in folds at center front with the side seams pulled forward from the normal vertical line. The big gore in the back then replaces all the fullness that the front is stealing, making it even.” – (A Dressmaker’s Workshop) Originally Atelier Nostalgia started the gore at (about) the tailbone, but then moved it up to the waist which was more successful. She opted to mount the contrast collar to the lining, rather than lining the entire gown with the fabric for the fold-back collar.

Catrijn of  A Dressmaker’s Workshop made an unlined gown in wool melton (wow.. that would be heavy!) with silk velvet trim. She used the layout as recommended above – the front and back pieces supplemented with a back gore. She notes that her neckline goes to below the bottom of the belt, and that she has a few lacing rings on the inside to hold these edges closed. She opted to cut her sleeves on the bias for a closer fit (as shown in her layout linked above). Again, her neckline is wider than what I have in mind, and she’s used a placket. She notes in her blog though, that the neckline has a tendency to “pull out wider than I like”, so she pins it to her undergarment. I suspect that the wide neckline teamed with the extra weight at the back of the gown might account from this, if the belt she wears isn’t tight enough to ‘cinch’ the gown in place. I’ve also found this when I wear garments with too-wide shoulders… so this might be an area to be careful with in my own drafting and construction.

Cover of Patterns for Theatrical Costumes, direct link from Amazon.ca

Cover of Patterns for Theatrical Costumes, direct link from Amazon.ca

The pattern in Patterns For Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915, Feb 1 1993 by Katherine Strand Holkeboer shows a separate bodice and skirt, with a separate collar – nothing like the other examples I’ve examined. Given the other evidence for pattern drafting, I don’t intend to use this as a reference.

The pattern in The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant: Making Common Garments 1200-1500 by Sarah Thursfield calls the V-Neck Burgundian Gown a “Flared gown, early to late 15th century” (Page 158). She writes that it was cut like the early gown, though the “extended shape of the back collar appeared towards 1450.” This suggests to me that a less exaggerated collar might still be appropriate for earlier in the century. She continues that the fashionable neckline was low enough to show the kirtle in the early period of this fashion, while later a stomacher was seen instead. “The front opening extended to hip level and was often clearly visible.” She notes that it had no fastenings, no waist seam, and had either straight fitted seams or earlier wider forms. As the style evolved, it had a smaller collar and looser sleeve, but was worn more by older and less fashionable women in this form at the end of the 1400s. Her pattern suggestion has only a front and back, both cut two (not on the fold) and not the back gore recommended by the bloggers/costumers above.




3 comments on “Burgundian V-neck Gown – research

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