I have recently signed my contract so I am so delighted to announce that my first book based on much of the research that this blog showcases will be published by Bloomsbury Academic/Visual Arts.
Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale study of the materiality, production, consumption, and meanings of foundation garments for women in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. The desirable body during this period was achieved by using four types of foundation garments: bodies and busks and farthingales and bum-rolls. It was this structured female silhouette, first seen in sixteenth-century fashionable dress, that existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond until the early twentieth century. By utilising a wide array of archival and early printed materials, visual sources and material objects, as well as historical reconstruction, Shaping Femininity reorients discussions about female foundation garments by exploring the nuances of these items of material culture in the context of their own times. It argues that these objects of material culture shaped understandings of the female body and of ideas of beauty, social status, health, sexuality, and modesty in early modern England, and thus, enduring western notions of femininity.
I’m very excited to be publishing with Bloomsbury and to bring audiences an accessible academic book. At the moment it is early stages, but make sure to keep an eye on this space for more details about release date, etc.
I was recently asked to be an allied researcher on the ACIS project Textiles, Trade and Meaning in Italy: 1400-2018, particularly in relation to the clothing and textiles at the court of Mantua under Isabella d’Este. As part of this project I was asked to write a short piece on Isabella’s underwear, as part of a collection of short essays that will accompany the portrait of the Marchesa by Titian on the Isabella D’Este Archive (IDEAS).
Now Isabella was living at the time in the early sixteenth century when the undergarments that my work usually focuses on – bodies and farthingales – were not yet found in the wardrobes of Italy’s elites (although bodices as an outer-garment were certainly available). So that left me to write about Isabella’s main undergarments – her chemises or smocks.
To write about this topic firstly I needed to get an idea of what sort of chemises Isabella actually owned. This is where this great edited volume came into play:
The volume contains many inventories relating to the Gonzaga family of Mantua, including Isabella’s household and wardrobe inventories that were taken after her death.
My contribution to the project is not up on the website yet, but in the meantime I wanted to share my English translations of some of the chemises in Isabella’s post-mortem inventory from 1539. Please note that these are my english translations of some of the text from the Gonzaga volume, so all credit goes to Daniela Ferrari for transcribing and publishing these records from the original papers.
Camise (from Stivini, Le Collezioni Gonzaga, 234)
Una camisa da bagno de banbaso, lavorada de oro
A bathing chemise of linen, wrought with gold
una camisa de cambraglia granda, lavorada de oro
A large cambric chemise, wrought with gold
una camis da homo de cambraglia, lavorada de oro
one men’s cambric shirt, wrought with gold
due camise de bambaso, lavorate di seda negra suso le crespe
two linen chemises, with black silk trimmings under the pleats/folds
una camisa di tela batiza lavorada di seda negra, inzipado il colar
one chemise of fine linen cloth with black silk work, around the collar [tela batiza = cloth used for baptisms, so a fine linen cloth]
una manica de camisa de cambralia, lavorata de oro seda de più colori,
one sleeve of a cambric chemise, wrought with gold silk of more colours
quatro grombiali di cambralia, lavorati cum oro, listadi al longo, videlicet uno di seda negra,
four cambric smocks, wrought with gold thread, striped vertically, one of which is black silk
uno par de maniche large, listade cum lavorerii di seda negra
one pair of large sleeves, with stripes of black silk
Of interest here is Isabella’s bathing chemise. These chemises may have resembled those worn by the bathmaids in the image from this fifteenth-century bible from the Library of the National Museum in Prague. Perhaps the gold work in these chemises refers to the neckline and straps that are visible on these garments. Isabella may have worn this chemise or one like it when she visited the hot springs at the thermal spa of Abano south of Padua in 1532 (Shaw, 275).
Camise (from Stivini, Le Collezioni Gonzaga, 240)
Due camise di tela de renso, lavorate di seda zizola, videlicet una a traverso e una al sbiasso,
Two chemises of Rheims linen, worked of silk dyed with the fruit of the jujube, one embroidered crosswise and the other biaxially
due camise di tela di renso, lavorate di seda cremesina, videlicet una al longo e l’altra al traverso
two chemises of cloth of fine linen, wrought of with silk dyed with kermes, one with the embroidery lengthways and the other horizontally (sideways).
due camise di tela di renso, lavorate cum seda turchina, listadi al longo
two chemises of cloth of fine linen, wrought with turquoise blue silk and striped vertically
una camisa di tela di renso, lavorata cum seda incarnada
one chemises of cloth of fine linen, wrought with bright red silk
una camisa di tela di renso, lavorata cum seda morella,
one chemise of cloth of fine linen, wrought with mulberry red silk
due camise di tela di renso, lavorate cum seda turchina, videlicet le cositure maestre,
two chemises of cloth of fine linen, wrought with turquoise blue coloured silk on the front.
quarantaotto camise di tela di renso, da notte, lavorate cum seda negra,
Forty-eight nighgowns of Rheims linen, wrought with black silk
decesette camise di tela di renso, all spagnola, lavorate cum seda negra
seventeen chemises of Rheims linen, Spanish style, wrought with black silk
due camise di tela di renso, all spagnola, lavorate cum seda biancha
two chemises of cloth of fine linen, Spanish style, wrought with white silk
The chemises embroidered with silk threads of various colours around the collars and cuffs may have resembled a contemporary men’s shirt in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Daniela Ferrari, Le Collezioni Gonzaga: L’inventario dei beni del 1540–1542, ed. Daniela Ferrari (Milan: Silvana, 2003)
I’m delighted to announce that my new article was published on Friday! It’s about the experimental reconstructions I did as part of my PhD – some of which are documented here on this very blog. It talks about why historians should engage in experimental reconstruction, and what we can and can’t learn about artisanal knowledge and practices, as well as embodied experiences.
So far, only my article is available on early view. However, if you are interested in historical reconstruction as a research practice, please make sure to check back to the journal over the next few weeks as my colleagues’ papers will also appear. I will link them in this blogpost as they are released:
Now that the article is out I’ll be doing a more layman’s blogpost series about how I made the French wheel farthingale. But if you’d like to read the article please click on the link below to get institutional access. If you don’t have access but would still be interested to read it please get in touch and I will see what I can do!
This article showcases experimental dress reconstruction as a valuable research tool for the historian. It presents a case study detailing how two underskirts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, French Farthingale Rolls and French Wheel Farthingales, were reconstructed using historical techniques and experimental methodologies. The first section outlines my methodological approach to reconstructing these ephemeral garments, exploiting archival and printed records, visual sources, and knowledge of seventeenth-century sewing techniques. The second section focuses on the experience of reconstruction and shows how this process allows the historian to form tacit knowledge. This section also raises questions and provides answers about artisanal design practices such as reflective rationality, embodied experiences, and tacit skills that cannot be accessed in other ways. Finally, this article shows how reconstruction can inform understandings of the embodied experiences of dressing and wearing. Dressing the female body in the reconstructed underskirts discussed in this article made it possible to observe the garments’ practical realities and challenge polemical historical sources concerning fashionable sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European dress.
Did you know that much of the full body plate armour that we think of as being medieval is usually not medieval at all?
If you type “medieval armour” into google images then chances are that something like this will appear:
Yet the majority of examples of armour shown here are in fact from the Renaissance, or the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, which is when plate armour reached its zenith in Europe. In fact, during much the medieval period men did not really wear the full body suits of plated armour that the general public have come to associate with the “Knight in Shining Armour” stereotype from film and television.
As Tobias Capwell, curator of the Wallace collection, has mentioned, “in the fourteenth century they couldn’t make [the] big pieces of iron and steel” that characterise the suits of armour in the google search image above. Rather, they found other ways of protecting the body: chain mail or padded textiles, such as the jupon of the Black Prince.
Now you could spend years debating when the medieval period ends and the Renaissance / early modern starts. For example, historians of England would argue that the medieval period ended in England after the War of the Roses in 1485, while historians of Spain would say it did end there around 1510 with the deaths of Isabella of Castile or later, Ferdinand. The Renaissance is generally categorised as lasting between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, although Renaissance is quite a regional term that most often applied to Italian city states. Generally though, it is agreed that the early modern period, which is a little broader in scope than Renaissance, started in 1500 and ended in 1800.
For the sake of this post though, it is my opinion that the majority of plate armour in the popular imagination of the general public is more characteristic of the later Renaissance period, than of the medieval (although I could be wrong, tell me what you think below!).
Armour design and armourers thrived in the first half of the sixteenth century. This was due to one central conflict that raged throughout Europe during the first sixty years of that century: the Habsburg-Valois Wars, also better known as the Italian Wars (1494 – 1559). These were a series of conflicts between the rival French Valois dynasty and the Spanish-Austrian Habsburg dynasty, primarily fought over territory in the Italian Peninsula. Although many of the battles were fought in what is now Italy, the rivalry involved much of Western Europe at the time, and drew in nations such as England, Scotland, as well as the German and Swiss Provinces. The fact that this conflict lasted decades meant that practical armour was not just required, but the rivalry between Renaissance monarchs such as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the French King Francis I required magnificent ceremonial armour that displayed their military prowess, wealth and importance.
In fact some of the most famous plate armourers in history were Renaissance artisans who were patronised by key figures of the Italian Wars. As Silvio Leydi has explained, from “the French invasion of 1499 to the peace with France in 1559” Milan was “at the centre of every war between the Habsburgs and the Valois”, and it was successively occupied by various forces throughout the conflict. This involvement with the conflict was capitalised on by Milanese artisans and talented family workshops, such as that of the Negroli family, was established, the most famous of who were Filippo and Giovan Paolo.
The Negroli family boasted customers such as Emperor Charles V, King Francis I, Henry II of France, and Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. We know this because much of the armour they created bears their makers mark and has survived in royal armoury collections.
Talented armourers also arose in Habsburg territories such as the Seusenhofer brothers, Hans and Konrad, from Innsbruck in Austria. In fact, their workshop was the court workshop of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of Austria, and the Emperor regularly commissioned armour for both himself and as gifts for others. Many iconic pieces by the Seusenhofer brothers, and Han’s son Jorg Seusenhofer, appear in various armour collections across Europe such as those of Maximilian I, Charles V, Henry VIII England and Francis I.
As part of my postdoctoral work on fashion during the Italian Wars I travelled to Austria, Spain and France to view a lot of Renaissance armour. Although this is somewhat out of my usual expertise (although there are many parallels you could draw between armour and fashion during the sixteenth century), I found this learning experience helpful to understanding the connections between armour and fashion, as well to key aspects of Renaissance thought such as their conceptualisation of classical antiquity. This was also when my idea of a medieval knight and shining armour was challenged.
Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll outline some of the main styles of Renaissance armour that were prevalent during and advanced by the events of the Italian Wars.
What should we call the torso-shaping female foundation garments of the seventeenth century? Were they pairs of bodies? Bodices? Stays? Moreover, how were they worn? Were they underwear or were the outerwear?
This post was inspired by a question that I saw written on an Instagram post uploaded by the very talented Morgan Donner about a pattern from the new Patterns of Fashion 5:
“17th Century things are so 😍… one thing I’m curious about is that I’ve seen boned bodices for gowns, and then stays, and then stays with sleeves. I assume the latter are basically worn as “tops”, and that boned gown bodices obviously wouldn’t have stays under them… so are the stays only for under the lovely embroidered jackets and such?”
As I did my PhD on bodies and farthingales, and my upcoming book looks at these garments and the way they shaped ideas of femininity, this question inspired me to make this post to clear the air. Not just about terminology, but also in an attempt to answer this question as it is much more complicated than it seems!
Why then do I not use the term stays when so many others do? Well, in my almost six years of archival research I have never seen the term “stays” used in historical documents to refer to these garments until at least the 1680s.
The term stays does appear in the records from the middle of the century, however, it always refers to the stiffening in the garments that are being made – not to the garments themselves. Artisan’s bills will often quote a total price for the garment and then break down the price of each component of that garment. For example, a tailor’s bill might look something like this:
A pair of bodies of crimson satin bodies with silver lace ______ 00 – 00 – 00
for 1 yard 1/2 of silk at 11s the yard ________ 00 – 00 – 00
for calico to the lining __________ 00 – 00 – 00
for silver lace to them __________ 00 – 00 – 00
for stayes and stiffenings __________ 00 – 00 – 00
for making and furnishing ___________ 00-00-00
Therefore, “stayes and stiffenings” refers to the materials used to stiffen these garments like whalebone, not to the actual garment itself. Additionally, “stays” referring to stiffening does not just appear in women’s clothing bills. I have also found references to “stay and buckram” in tailoring bills for menswear, such as a suit and coat from 1680 on this occasion.
This is why in my own research I use the terminology “bodies” or “pair of bodies” when I refer to these garments that would later come to be called stays and corsets. For me it is important to use the terminology that was used at the time, otherwise we are placing slightly anachronistic modern assumptions onto this clothing. This becomes especially important when it comes to answering the next question of this blog entry regarding the ambiguity of bodies as under or outer wear in the seventeenth century.
Underwear or Outerwear?
As you can probably tell the early modern term “bodies” sounds an awful lot like the modern term “bodice”, and that is because the term bodice is derived from bodies! Anybody that has read early modern English sources before knows that was little to no standardised spelling at the time, and so words were regularly spelled different ways (even when they were only sentences apart). Thus, these are terms that are regularly conflated and used interchangeably in the archival sources from this century, there appears to be no rhyme or reason for most of the century as to what a “bodie” is vs a “bodice”, or whether one is an under garment or an outer garment.
In the seventeenth century there was not as firm of a distinction between under and outer wear as we see in later centuries when it came to bodies, or other items of women’s dress like petticoats. So “bodies” could be either outerwear or underwear, it all depended on a woman’s social status, the occasion she was dressing for, or maybe her own personal taste. Some surviving bodies from this century contain detachable sleeves (that are laced on with points), indicating that the uses of this garment were flexible, and its use could be easily manipulated depending on the situation it was worn in.
For example, for a formal event these pink bodies from the Victoria and Albert Museum may have been worn with sleeves and a skirt, but on other occasions the sleeves may have been taken off and the bodies worn underneath what we would now call a jacket (but at the time was known as a waistcoat). The use of detachable sleeves was probably borrowed from their use in sixteenth-century petticoats (which consisted of a skirt that was attached to a bodice, ie. “petticoat bodies”). For example, in the Dutch genre painting by Pieter de Hooch below, the woman standing in centre wears a waistcoat possibly over a pair of bodies, the woman sitting in front left wears a boned bodice and skirt, and finally the household servant in the background wears what appears to be a petticoat that contains a pair of attached yellow petticoat-bodies over her smock.
The particular decade of the seventeenth century being investigated is also important. For example, the 1660s saw the rise of the very rigid bodices that were retained for court wear in countries like France well into the eighteenth centuries. The highly boned nature of this garment meant that separately boned bodies were not needed or worn underneath. However, I would be hesitant to claim that this means that under-bodies were discarded during these centuries – as this highly boned style was not universally worn, nor would it have been worn all the time, even by elite women.
Overall, there doesn’t seem to have been any hard or fast rules for how to wear bodies during the seventeenth century, and there definitely was not the major distinction between underwear and outerwear like there is in regards to stays later in the eighteenth century. However, there is still a lot to uncover, and I hope to tackle this question in my book that I am currently working on, so who knows, maybe soon I will have a better answer!
Farthingales were large stiffened structures placed beneath a woman’s skirts in order to push them out and enlarge the lower half of the body. During the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in England criticisms of these garments increasingly focused on their spatial ramifications, decrying their monstrous size and inconvenience. Nonetheless farthingales served important social and cultural functions for women in early modern England, shaping and defining status and wealth in both court and urban spaces. Using surviving textual and visual sources, as well as engaging with the process of historical dress reconstruction, this article argues that spatial anxieties relating to farthingales were less about the actual size of this garment and more related to older fears concerning the ability of farthingales to create intimate personal spaces around the female body, mask the appropriation of social status, and physically displace men. In turn, these anxieties led to the establishment of a common and enduring trope regarding the monstrous size of these garments as women in farthingales were perceived to be challenging their social and gendered place in the world.
As many of you know, during my PhD I decided to reconstruction four items of female structural dress from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, in order for the reconstructions to be worn during photoshoots the most basic female undergarment of the the early modern period was needed: the smock.
The Smock – A Brief History
Smocks or shifts (‘chemise’ in French) were the most basic undergarment of all women and men (men’s were referred to usually as shirts) in sixteenth century Europe, and indeed had been so for hundreds of years and would remain so, in one form or another, until the twentieth century. During the early modern period they were made from linen, sometimes silk, and later cotton, and sat closest to the historical body. Smocks and shirts were worn underneath every type of clothing, and as a result even the poorest person owned a few smocks, and rich elites often owned dozens.
Throughout the seventeenth century various styles of smocks and shifts developed – from those that were intricately embroidered such as the one below, to those that had elaborate frills around the cuffs and neckline. Interestingly, it was these frills that would eventually turn into a separate accessory in the second half of the sixteenth century – the ruff.
Smocks and shirts served two main purposes during the sixteenth century. During the early modern period outer garments, especially those made from luxurious fabrics such as silks and velvets, were rarely laundered in order to maintain the condition of the fabric. It was the smock then that absorbed sweat and other body excretions, and it was this item that was regularly cleaned and laundered instead. Medical theory during this period also viewed the skin as porous and weak and the hot water from public baths or full immersion bathing was believed to create openings for disease such as plague to slip through. Linen, as a porous fabric, therefore replaced the role of skin in bathing practices, as it was believed to absorb dangerous matter that could then be laundered and removed away from the body. Thus, instead of cleaning the skin one would simply remove and clean their ‘second skin’ – their smock.
Cleanliness by the seventeenth century therefore was not focused on the body of skin and flesh, but measured by the cleanliness of linen and the display of objects and garments in external appearance. Kathleen M. Brown has noted that “a clean linen shirt, complete with ruffs and lace at the neck and wrists, indicated not only the wearer’s refinement, attention to fashion, and wealth, but his access to the services of a laundress”, and his attention to cleanliness. Therefore the whiteness of smocks and shifts, rather than the body itself, was linked to cleanliness during this period. This idea is probably best exhibited through the following instance: at one point yellow linens became so popular in London during the early seventeenth century that critics were quick to associate them with the uncleanliness of the Spanish courtiers who used saffron dye as a way to deter vermin, and with the neglected hygiene of those Europeans in hot climates whose sweat and lack of access to laundering turned the colour of their white shifts to yellow.
All smocks during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century (and beyond) were similar in construction, they were made from a collection of basic geometric shapes: rectangles, squares and triangles. These pieces were cut from standards lengths of linen. Although regional differences could exist. Smocks and shirts were usually sewn in the home by women, or female seamstresses were employed.
Smocks also changed in style throughout the early modern period in England depending on the styles of outer clothing worn. Necklines could be high such as on the smock above, or fashionable bodices and gowns that had necklines cut horizontally off the shoulder during the mid-seventeenth century would have required smocks that also had this scooped neckline (such as in the Rembrandt below). Unfortunately, very few seventeenth century English women’s smocks survive in museum collections. So it is hard to establish a chronology of styles during this period.
Tudor and Elizabethan-era Smock Construction
The pattern I used for my smock came from Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies’ wonderful book, The Tudor Tailor. As the title indicates, the smock pattern provided only date until the end of Elizabethan era. However, Jacobean fashions were similar enough that this style would work for this era as well.
The book provides patterns for two types of women’s smocks, and five types of men’s shirts. I decided that in order to get the most use of my smock that I would make option g) a “smock with simple hemmed neck and sleeve.” So no fancy period specific neck or wrist cuff, or embroidery. However, the neckline is very similar to the neckline of the smock that Mary Queen of Scots supposedly wore to her execution in 1587 which is now held by the National Trust.
This style of smock would have been worn with a court style of gown that required a low neckline, such as the French gown.
Because the basic shape of the smock contains no curved lines (except the neckline), the pattern was easy to scale up onto my chosen pattern paper (which is actually the inexpensive baking/parchment paper from the baking aisle). I decided to use a lightweight white linen that I already had in my supplies. It is not as fine as the Holland linen that would have been used by wealthier people during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but it does the trick.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of time of my smock, and as it’s not actually one of my reconstructions there was no need for it to be hand sewn. As a result, the smock was easily and quickly put together. Again, as this is not one of my reconstructions, I decided not to use period specific construction techniques in regards to hemming and seams (as it would take too long) – so I just did those the same way I would do on a modern garment I was constructing. The only difficulty I had with the smock was sewing the gussets under arms as this is quite an historical sewing technique that is rarely used in modern clothing. However, after reading some information on gussets they went together well.
The primary reason I made this smock was for my models to wear it underneath the reconstructions that completed as part of PhD (bodies and farthingales). The garment looked fantastic on them and I’m really pleased with how it photographed, and it ended up working for both an Elizabethan pair of bodies and an off-the shoulder civil war-era pair too!
I’m also pleased with how it sat underneath my Jacobean gown that has a low cut doublet bodice.
So all in all, I think this is an excellent pattern, that, while not strictly historically accurate for these eras, is also suitable for most Stuart dress too.
For further reading on the linen smock, see the footnotes below:
 Georges Vigarello has explored this idea of the ‘second skin’ in his work on hygiene in France. See: Georges Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France since the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 54.