16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Research

The sixteenth-century Vasquine / Basquine: A corset, farthingale or Kirtle?

In her 2001 book The Corset: A Cultural History Valerie Steele claimed that vasquines and basquines were early types of corsets:

“The other precursor of the corset was the basquine or vasquine, a laced bodice to which was attached a hooped skirt or farthingale. The vasquine apparently originated in Spain in the early sixteenth century, and quickly spread to Italy and France.”[1]

But were they?

As many of you may already know, my book on early modern foundation garments, Shaping Femininity, is currently under contract with Bloomsbury (anticipated release is mid-2021). Although my book primarily analyses how bodies and farthingales shaped the lives of women in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, during my PhD I also began to examine the French context of these garments too.

Vasquine and basquine are not terms one comes across much in sixteenth-century English sources, and as a result I don’t really talk about these garments in my forthcoming book. However, they are very common in sixteenth-century French and Spanish sources, and so I thought that I would address the question of what they are (or at least what I think they are) here on my blog.

Basquińas and Vasquinas in Spain

Let’s start at the beginning – Spain.

In Spain the basquińa was, as Spanish fashion historians Carmen Bernis and Amalia Descalzo have outlined, a type of skirt.

“The basquińa was an overskirt that had neither openings nor a train. Judging by the patterns provided by Alcega, it was gathered or pleated at the waist and was fuller at the back than at the front. Some of the basquińas shown in Alecega’s book are paired with a sleevess low-necked bodice (cuerpo bajo).”[2]

In Alcega’s pattern book, published in 1580, the garment is spelt “Vasquina” and it appears that this was a common spelling variation. As you can see from the images below, taken from Alcega’s manual, the Vasquina could be a skirt or a skirt with an attached bodice.

vasquina
Pattern for a Vasquina of silk for a Woman, by Juan de Alcega (1580), from World Digital Library
vasquina with bodice
Vasquina of wilk with a low-cut bodice, by Juan de Alcega (1580), from World Digital Library.

So, in Spain it was type of skirt that was sometimes accompanied by a bodice called a cuerpo bajo. There is no indication that the bodice of this garment was stiffened with bents or whalebone, although by the end of the sixteenth century it certainly could have been.

What about France?

Vasquines and Basquines  in France

The term becomes a little more complicated when you look at the French sources, where, like in Spanish it was also spelt with an interchangeable v[asquine] or b[asquine]. Indeed, in contemporary French sources this garment is always mentioned alongside the farthingale so it would be tempting to think of this garment as a corset, another stiffened garment.

Take, for example, two published denunciations of fashionable dress from sixteenth-century France.

Besides the hilarious title of this work – The complaint of Mr Bum against the inventors of farthingales – the complaint mentions vasquines alongside farthingales, although it does not really describe what they are or what is so bad about them:

Mauldiectz soient ses beaux inventeurs
Ces Coyons ces passementeurs
De vertugalles and vasquines [3]
Execrable are these handsome inventors
That believe these lies
about farthingales & vasquines

The next is a French Catholic clerical remonstrance from 1563 called Le Blason des Basquines et vertvgalles that pleads with women to stop wearing these garments. The text begins by stating that “Vous dames et damoyselles, Qui demontrez qu’estes rebelles A Dieu, vostre Pere et Seigneur [You Ladies and girls who demonstrate rebellion against God, your Father and Lord]”, connecting the wearing of such items specifically with rebellion against God. It goes on to say:

Que vous seruent ces vertugalles,
Sinon engendrer des scandalles?
Quel bien apportent vos basquines
Fors de lubricité les signes?
Quel fruit vient de vos paremens? [4]
 What use are these farthingales,
If not to generate scandal?
What good are your basquines
Other than to indicate lust?
What fruit comes from your adorning trickery?

Again, no description of what basquines are, just that they were associated with farthingales and they were clearly provocative garments (in the eyes of this moralist anyway).

So, vasquines/basquines seem to have been garments that were commonly worn with farthingales. But this does not mean that they were a type of early corset.

In 1611 Randle Cotgrave’s French to English dictionary described these garments as:

“Basquine. A Vardingale of the old fashions; or a Spanish Vardingale; see Vasquine.”
“Vasquine: f. A kirtle or Petticoat,; also, a Spanish vardingale.”[5]

By the time that Cotgrave wrote his dictionary, these garments had been around for more than 50 years and so it’s meaning may have changed many times during that period. He also seems to reiterate the confusion of earlier descriptions that associate these garments with farthingales.

To me, it doesn’t make sense to me that French sources would refer to the Spanish farthingale (the only type known of at the time that the previously mentioned French denunciations were published) as both a vertugalle and a basquine.

So what was a vasquine or basquine? Was it a corset? A type of farthingale? A bodice?

It would appear that Cotgrave’s definition of this garment as a petticoat or kirtle is the most accurate, and this reflects the meaning of this garment in Spain.

Mary queen of scots vasquine kirtle
François Clouet, Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), c. 1558-60, watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, Royal Collection, RCIN 401229. In this portrait Mary likely wears a vasquine underneath her gown.

The records of Mary Queen of Scots shed more light.[6] The 1562 wardrobe of Mary Queen of Scots, who had been raised at the French court until her return to Scotland in 1560 and so dressed in French fashions, gives a clearer idea of what these garments were. Her inventory is recorded in French and it contains many vasquines, described as:

Les Vasquines de Toile Dor et Toitie Dargent
Vasquines of cloth or gold and cloth of silver.

Vne vafquine de toille dargent frisee bordée de passement d’argent
A vasquine of cloth of silver trimmed with curly silver lace

Vne vafquyne de fatin blanc auecq le corps
A vasquine of white satin with the bodice

Vne vafquyne de fatin noyer auecq le corps et les bourletz
A vasquine of black satin with the bodice and the rolls

Most importantly, in these accounts vasquines are mentioned separately to farthingales, so they are not the same garment. They are also mentioned as having “bodices” so they could not have been a corset in the true sense of the word.

This seems to be confirmed by the very source that Steele quoted as referring to a corset. François Rabelais wrote sometime before 1553 that:

Au dessus de la chemise vestoient la bella Vasquine de queleque beau camelot de soye: sus icelle vestoient la Verdugale de tafetas blanc, rouge, tanne, gris, &c.[7] Over the chemise is worn a beautiful vasquine of pure silk camlblet, and over this is worn a verdugale of white, red, tan, grey, etc.

The first garment any woman wore over her chemise before 1550 was a kirtle or petticoat, and then a farthingale could be placed over the top of this.

So, what were these garments? 

In summary: vasquines and basquines were not corsets, rather, they were a style of petticoat or kirtle of Spanish origin, that often consisted of a skirt with an attached bodice. It is possible that the bodices of these garments were stiffened with bents or whalebone, especially by the end of the sixteenth century. However, they were not corsets in the true sense of the term and so should not be labelled as such.

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A Tudor Kirtle and petticoat pattern from the Tudor Tailor

References

All translations of French sources are my own.

[1] Valerie Steele, The Corset: A Cultural History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 6.

[2] Carmen Bernis and Amalia Descalzo, ‘Spanish Female Dress in the Habsburg Period’, in Fashion at the Courts of Early Modern Europe, Vol. 1, edited by José Luis Colomer and Amalia Descalzo (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2014), p. 44.

[3] Anon., La complaincte de Monsieur le Cul contre les inventeurs des vertugalles (Francoys Girault, 1552), p. Aii (5).

[4] Anon, Le Blason des Basqvines et Vertugalles: Avec la belle remontrance qu’on faict quelques dames quand on leur a remonstré qu’il n’en failloit plus porter (Lyon: Benoist Rigaud, 1563), reprinted by A. Pinard (Paris: 1833), A iij r.

[5] http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cotgrave/

[6] Joseph Robertson, Inventaires de la Royne Descosse, Douairiere de France: Catalogues of the Jewels, Dresses, Furniture, Books, and Paintings of Mary Queen of Scots 1556 – 1569 (Edinburgh: 1863), pp. 60-74

[7] François Rabelais, Oeuvres de Maître François Rabelais avec des remarques historiques et critiques de Mr. le Duchat. Nouvelle édition, ornée de figures de B. Picart, etc… augmentée de quantité de nouvelles remarques de M. le Duchat, de celles de l’édition angloise des Oeuvres de Rabelais, de ses lettres et de plusieurs pièces curieuses et intéressantes, Volume 1 (Amsterdam: J.F. Bernard, 1741), p. 181

16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Elizabethan, Farthingales, Jacobean, Manuscript / Archival Research, Research, Tailoring

Talk: Body-makers and Farthingale-makers in Seventeenth-Century London

Hot on the heels on my talk on whalebone and early modern fashion, I recently gave another presentation about the work I’ve been doing on farthingale-makers and body-makers in late sixteenth and seventeenth-century London. This paper was given at a University of Melbourne lunchtime seminar and and I’ve made it available for everyone to view below:

 

More information about the talk:

 

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Farthingales, Jacobean, Manuscript / Archival Research, News and Media, Research

Talk: Whalebone and Sixteenth-Century Fashion

Recently I gave a talk on the use of whale baleen (otherwise known as whalebone) in fashion in sixteenth-century Europe, particularly England.

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The talk was recorded and is now online via the University of Melbourne Early Modern Circle website. I’ve also uploaded a version below:

 

 

 

 

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Rebato Collar, reconstruction, Tutorial, Uncategorized

Rebato, c. 1600-1625 | Part Five: Finishing the Rebato

  1. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part One: Brief History and Materials
  2. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Two: The Pattern
  3. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Three: Making the Wire Frame
  4. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Four: Making the Linen Collar
  5. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Five: Finishing the Rebato

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1. Pin the collar to the frame and check that it looks correct. Try it on!

 

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2. Wrap fine wire around the outside edge of the frame, weaving in and out of the lace trim as shown.

 

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3. Weaving the wiring in and out of the lace (every 2-3 points) to create ^ ^ ^ shapes will help the lace to stick out and maintain its shape.

 

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4. Finish attaching the outer edge of the collar by whip stitching the linen to the metal frame.

 

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5. Hem the inner edge of the collar. Pull the linen taught over the frame. Fold inner edge of linen collar over the inner edge of the frame and pin down.

 

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6. Sew this inner edge down using a whip stitch.

 

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7. Done! You can attach a little bit of ribbon (choose one that matches your outfit) to tie the sides together when wearing the rebato.

 

Finished Product

 

 

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Tutorial

Rebato, c. 1600-1625 | Part Four: Making the Linen Collar

  1. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part One: Brief History and Materials
  2. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Two: The Pattern
  3. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Three: Making the Wire Frame
  4. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Four: Making the Linen Collar
  5. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Five: Finishing the Rebato

 

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1. Place and cut the pattern. I’m using a lightweight semi-transparent linen.

 

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2. Hem the outside edge (narrow hem) of the collar. Pleat the inner band of the linen collar.

 

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3. Check that the pleats are even and the shape looks like this.

 

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4. Check that the linen collar fits the rebato frame. Sew down the pleats and iron flat.

 

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5. Choose a decorative lace trim. Here I’m using 3cm wide guipure lace, which is a type of bobbin lace

 

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6. Sew the lace on.

 

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7. And your collar is finished.

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Rebato Collar, Stuart, Tutorial, Uncategorized

Rebato, c. 1600-1625 | Part Three: Making the Wire Frame

  1. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part One: Brief History and Materials
  2. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Two: The Pattern
  3. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Three: Making the Wire Frame
  4. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Four: Making the Linen Collar
  5. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Five: Finishing the Rebato

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1. Using my pattern, draw out the shape of the rebato collar on tracing paper (or baking paper as I’m using here). I took size inspiration from looking at portraits from the period.

 

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2. Place the paper on your mannequin or even a styrofoam head to check the size. Adjust as needed.

 

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3. For the intricate loops and inner frame I chose to use two sizes of copper jewellery wire, as this was easy to bend and mould into any desired shape. I twisted these into loops with long stems as shown. They should look a bit like spoons 🥄 🥄

 

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4. I placed these loops onto my pattern to check for size. It also gave me an idea of how many I would need to make, how long they should be, and how far apart they would be spaced.

 

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5. For the outer frame of my rebato I decided to use a relatively thick galvanised tie wire that I picked up from my local hardware store. This was to make sure that the rebato would be sturdy and keep its shape. Again I kept comparing with my pattern piece to check to shape and size.

 

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6. Place the loops on top of the outer frame to check placement.

 

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7. Once you’re happy with the placement start to attach the stem of the loops by wrapping the excess wire around the frame. To secure the loops themselves use thin jewellery wire, winding it around both lots of wire as shown.

 

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8. Thread other wire through the loops,, following the semi circular shape of the outer frame. This will add stability.

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9. Once you’ve done that the frame is finished!

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, pattern, Rebato Collar, Stuart, Uncategorized

Rebato, c. 1600-1625 | Part Two: The Pattern

  1. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part One: Brief History and Materials
  2. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Two: The Pattern
  3. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Three: Making the Wire Frame
  4. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Four: Making the Linen Collar
  5. Rebato, c. 1600-1625 Part Five: Finishing the Rebato

My rebato is based on a pattern drafted by myself using the rebato from the Musée national de la Renaissance-Chateau d’Écouen in Paris as inspiration (see previous post).

The linen standing collar was based primarily on a portrait of a young French woman in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Etienne_Dumonstier_-_Portrait_of_a_Woman_-_65.2642_-_Museum_of_Fine_Arts
Étienne Dumonstier, Portrait of a Woman, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 65.2642

I also used the standing collar pattern in The Tudor Tailor as a guide and took much inspiration from the rebato made by the Couture Courtesan on her blog.

Pattern

17th century rebato pattern jacobean bendall

Click here to access a printable PDF version of the pattern. 

The pattern will make:

 

16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Elizabethan, Farthingales, Jacobean, Research Publications, Stuart

Shaping Femininity – Forthcoming monograph with Bloomsbury

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.

Figure 9

Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale study of the materiality, production, consumption and meanings of foundation garments for women in 16th and 17th-century England, when the female silhouette underwent a dramatic change. With a nuanced approach that incorporates transdisciplinary methodologies and a stunning array of visual and written sources, the book reorients discussions about female foundation garments in English and wider European history. It argues that these objects of material culture, such as bodies, busks, farthingales and bum-rolls, shaped understandings of the female body and of beauty, social status, health, sexuality and modesty in early modern England, and thus influenced enduring western notions of femininity.

Beautifully illustrated in full colour throughout, this book offers a fascinating insight into dress and fashion in the early modern period, and offers much of value to all those interested in the history of early modern women and gender, material culture, and the history of the body, as well as curators and reconstructors.

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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.

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Farthingales, French Farthingale Roll Reconstruction, French Wheel Farthingale Reconstruction, Jacobean, Object Research, Research Publications

The Farthingale, Gender and the Consumption of Space in Elizabethan and Jacobean England | New Research Article

Abstract:

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.

Publication Details:

https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12537

 

Click here to view Read-Only Version

* Please note that the read only link only works on desktops and laptops.

This read-only version has been shared in accordance with Wiley’s article sharing policy
16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Stuart

Back to Basics: The Smock in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

As many of you know, during my PhD I decided to reconstruct 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. Indeed they had been the base layer of dress 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. For a description of the chemises owned by Isabella d’Este and recorded in the inventory made upon her death in 1539 click here. 

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.

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Examples of early embroidered frill on cuffs and neckline.  Man’s Shirt, c. 1540, England. T.112-1972. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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.[1]

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Woman’s Smock, c. 1615-1630, England. T.2-1956. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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.[2] 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.[3] Therefore the whiteness of smocks and shifts, rather than the body itself, was linked to cleanliness during this period.[4]

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.[5]

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.

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A Seamstress sewing a Linen Garment . The Virtuous Woman, Nicolas Maes, c. 1655. Wallace Collection, London

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.

Woman Bathing - Rembrandt
A Woman Bathing in a Stream, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1654. The National Gallery, London.

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.

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Chemise belonging to Mary Queen of Scots in which she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle, c. 1580s. NT 135702. Coughton Court, Warwickshire

This style of smock would have been worn with a court style of gown that required a low neckline, such as the French gown.

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The Ditchley Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c. 1592. The National Portrait Gallery, London.

NPG 6918; Anne of Denmark by John De Critz the Elder
Anne of Denmark, John De Critz the Elder, c. 1605-1610. The National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

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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.

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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:

[1] 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.

[2] Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness, p. 3.

[3] Kathleen M. Brown, Foul bodies: cleanliness in early America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 31

[4] Georges Vigarello, ‘The Skin and White Linen’ in Textiles: Critical and Primary sources, Catherine Harper (ed.), (London, New York: Berg, 2012), p. 377

[5] Brown, Foul Bodies, p. 32.