A dress in Burgundian style.
Text: Martin Ciszuk, Photo: Laila Durán.
In the first half of the 15th century the duchy of Burgundy in north eastern France became extremely rich and influential through political and mercantile strategies. One of the main incomes for the dukes was the control of the production of broad cloth, which was one of the most important goods of trade between the European cities. Broad cloth is a woolen fabric that has been brushed, fulled, shorn and pressed to become dense, firm, shiny and waterproof. The production was organized as a cottage industry, where a merchant handed out raw material to craftsmen and got products back which was passed to next step of refinement in several turns before it was sold. Starting with the preparation of wool and continuing with spinning, weaving, dyeing, brushing, fulling, sheering and pressing. The production was based on craft, but had an industrial scale and needed big capital investments. The wool came from Italy, the broad cloth was woven and finished in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Burgundy made use of its geographical location and the political situation. The Burgundian court rivaled kings and emperors in power and influence and also lead the development of culture and fashion in northern Europe. The great wealth was manifested in extravagant clothing using Italian silks, precious broad cloth and fur. Particular details of the costume were given extreme proportions and became a profitable aim for sumptuary laws, religious moral sermons, and satiric depictions and texts.
The printed silk Margareta in Durán Textiles historic collection is modeled after an Italian gold fabric from the beginning of the 15th century. (Durán Textiles Newsletter 3-10, May 2010). Similar fabrics were used in the Burgundian costumes, and as the design now is printed in a new color way of silver, we decided to present it as a Burgundian dress. No complete dresses of this type have been preserved, but by combining the evidence from depictions, written records, and other preserved garments it is possible to reconstruct the cut and construction of these garments.
A plain long linen shift is worn close to the body. On top of this is a dress, in French named cotte, made of violet silk. It has a close fitting body, long narrow sleeves, a relative high neck, and is closed in the back by lacing. Bodice and skirt are cut in one piece and the width of the skirt is achieved by inserting gores in centre front, centre back and in the sides. The dress is only visible in front at the neck, below at the sleeves and at the hem when the skirt of overdress is lifted. Over the dress a voluminous overdress called “houpelande” is worn. It is made from the printed silk, which has been doubled with a cotton fabric to achieve an impression of the heavy original silk with metal wefts. The over dress is constructed from four big panels, widening in centre front, centre back and in the sides. The width is held together at the waist in deep pleats, which are fixed to a tight bodice lining of strong linen. In front the houpelande is closed with hooks and eyes, concealed under the wide decorated belt. The sleeves are wide, and like the collar they are lined with fur, in this case imitation of lynx. Precious furs was used for warmth in wintertime, but was also a symbol of wealth and status. In this case there are only fur trimming, but garments completely lined with fur was not unusual, which consumed enormous amounts of fur skins. The length of the over dress make it necessary for the wearer to lift her skirts when she is walking. This makes the heavy fabric fall in deep decorative pleats and gives a glimpse of the hem of the violet dress worn underneath. The back of the dress is elongated to form a long train.
The head dress has an extreme shape which in combination with the train accentuates the elongated gothic silhouette of the costume. The origin of this strange creation is the same coiffure that is shown on the depictions of Queen Margareta (Durán Textiles Newsletter 3-10, May 2010). The hair was gathered in pleated rolls on the sides of the head; a roll of false hair was put on top of the head and covered with a veil. In the Burgundian variant of this hairdo, the hair was covered in a decorated hair net and shaped like high horns on the sides. The roll was shape into an elegant scroll and the veil only covered the top of the head, falling down at the back. The horns of hair were originally built up with false hair and metal wire, but as the coiffure was made higher they were replaced by a stiff, decorated frame that supported the roll and the veil. The roll, which originally was of false hair wrapped with ribbons, was later made from silk fabric filled with wool or horsehair and decorated with beads and precious stones.
The costume is completed with a wide decorated belt, a necklace and a ring with precious stones. Ear rings were not worn in Western Europe in the middle ages.
The great amount of fabric used in this type of garments is in itself a demonstration of economic wealth. For the overdress almost 10 meters of silk was used. The reproduced fabric has a width of 140 cm, but in the 15th century the patterned silk had only half of this width. 20 meters of metal woven silk would then have been needed. Together with plain silk, fur and precious stones the value of the costume would equal a fortune. To move elegantly in the dress, with good posture lift the skirts in front, control the train in the back and not get entangled in headdress and veil, needed education and practice. This was a manifestation of the high social status of the wearer. The Burgundian dress gives us a vision of a climax in medieval style, where fashion and exclusive materials were powerful cultural expressions.
A Burgundian dress made from the printed silk MARGARETA in a silver color way.
The wide overdress extends at the back in a long train.
The skirt of the overdress has to be lifted by the wearer when she walks.
Ten meters of silk was used for the overdress.
The violet silk dress is showing when the skirt of the overdress is lifted.
The headdress consists of a stiff frame that carries a decorated padded roll and the veil.
Detail of a 15th century tapestry showing the Burgundian fashion.
A 15th century painting showing scenes from the Burgundian court