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Clothing Of The Fifteenth Century

( Originally Published 1928 )


LATE in the century a vast array of portraits by Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and other painters guide us to the prevailing fashions of the time.

During the first half of the century young men wore tights and the cote-hardie, surcoats edged with fur, belts, pointed shoes and wide-sleeved houppelandes. Their hair was long and curled. In Venice, the hose began to offer the first suggestion of the pantaloon.

In the second half, the broad-shouldered, knee-length cloak with hanging sleeves bordered and heavily collared with fur, known as the petti-cote was worn over a tunic, at the top of which a circular necked, pleated shirt was visible; on the head was placed a round crowned hat with its brim upturned and cut in squares. The shoes had wide toes. Christopher Columbus was thus attired.


Early in the century a form of simarre was cut open on the sides and sleeveless, one jewel catching it together on the bosom ; below showed the undergown. The sleeve of the latter was puffed at the elbow; small puffs were laid about the armhole extending down the back seam to the wrist. With it was worn the caul in many varieties.

Later on gowns were made with round or square low necks. The material of the dress was gathered to a fine embroidered band; above it showed a chemisette of fine linen or lace, its edge delicately outlined in black or gold. An enormous elbow-length sleeve had its wide end turned back as a cuff, the lower arm covered by an undersleeve of lace or linen caught to the wrist by a ruffled band. Sometimes a dark inner sleeve, made much too long, was pushed back in tiny folds as in the Mona Lisa. A full white underbodice was frequently worn, its upper edge showing above a velvet waist cut with a very low round neck. The mantles were voluminous, trimmed with broad fur collars.

The hair was parted in the middle and hung in curves or waves over the shoulders; crespines (cauls), jeweled fillets, wreaths, veils and the like adorned it. The portrait of Beatrice d'Este by Leonardo da Vinci which hangs in the Brera at Milan shows a golden crespine.

Ladies carried handkerchiefs.



The Roundlet.—This hat made in imitation of the chaperon was worn with the fur-edged, fur-collared houppelande, which dragged in a train. It had an up-turned, stiffened brim on one side of which was fastened a cockade; a long streamer depended and was thrown carelessly about the shoulders.

A very tall brimless hat, also a cap with upturned brim and a long feather in front or hanging from the side, appeared. Enormous plumes decorated helmets throughout this century, and also the sixteenth.

When the houppelande was made with only a short frill below the waist, enormous sleeves were set in at the shoulder. Almost the whole of the tights showed.

Long-toed shoes and poulaines were used all the early part of the century; a shorter-toed variety was known as "poulaine de varlet."

In the latter half of the century, sleeves hung to the knees; in them were slits through which emerged the arm, covered with a tight inner sleeve of another color. Much brocade was used. The skirts of the cote-hardie were cut full and stiffened, reaching to the knees, the edges bordered with fur.

Tight boots to above the knee had lacings on the sides from ankle-bone to calf. Some had crosswise slits below the knees to give freedom of movement. Ankle-high shoes had turned back, pointed flaps on each side reaching to the sole. With the petti-cote, came square toes as in other countries.


The hennins, also the heart and steeple headdresses, were worn with the charming cote-hardie, a short-waisted, long-trained gown following, whose low-cut shoulders were edged by a broad band of material running to a crossed V at the waist line in front, its huge winged sleeves reaching the floor and showing a lining of fur. Toward the end of the century these great sleeves were turned back over the forearm. A hood of black velvet replaced the high headdress.

"As You Like It" is timed during the reign of Louis XII, in 1498. Touchstone wears a parti-colored tunic and tights, a hood with two peaks or ears, carries a bauble or folly stick in his hand while bells trim the costume at all points.

Jeanne d'Arc, born in France in 1412, dresses in plate armor of the period. Winifred Lenihan as Saint Joan wore a full cloth skirt gathered about the waist, a dark, sleeveless, low cut bodice of cloth closing up the front (not laced) ; a plain round-necked shirt with elbow sleeves.

An outstanding figure of dramatic and romantic interest was Chevalier Bayard, born in 1477 and dubbed "sans peur et sans reproche." He should be costumed in late fifteenth-century attire.

The kings of France were: Charles VI, 1380-1422; Charles VII, 1422-1461; Louis XI, 1461-1483; Charles VIII, 1483-1498. Louis XI dressed in shabby, patched clothes and wore a dilapidated felt hat; his courtiers disported themselves in the richest brocades, velvets and cloth of gold.


Silk, also a woolen fabric called "Spanish cloth," was manufactured. Tiraz was the name given a handsome silken material interwoven with inscriptions, names, etc. Spain and Portugal were both famous for woolen products.


The costume resembled the French. Some hats had wide rolled brims like turbans, a Moorish note.


The hair was arranged to give the impression of great length. This was accomplished by covering the whole pendant braid by a veiling of gold webbing caught together in puffs at regular intervals, and extending below the actual length of the hair. White veils were also in use.

Sleeves were very large and puffed below the elbow. A tight-fitting bodice had a round neck; above it a full white linen chemise was gathered to a band. A full skirt was worn. A large mantle of brocade was made with slits through which the arms were passed. Spanish shawls were embroidered and fringed.

The opera of "I1 Trovatore" is laid in Aragon and Biscay in the fifteenth century.



The class corresponding to the troubadours during the first half of the century wore a cote-hardie laced up the front with full sleeves gathered to an opening at the elbow. From there a long round end with a foliated edge fell to the knee. A full, white undersleeve emerging at the elbow covered the forearm to the wrist. These sleeves were typical of the period in Germany. The cote-hardie and the tights were parti-colored. Their caps were trimmed with foliated tabs on each side, some crowns resembling bunches of leaves.

Hoods were made with knee-length capes, slashed up the sides and rounded so that the arms could be used with freedom, or carried beneath the folds. Large hats of fur were placed over the hood. Surcoats had fur edging. Ankle shoes were worn.


There was a great variety in headdresses, especially during the second part of the century. Very heavy braids rested on the shoulders ; a stuffed band covered with gold webbing, silk ribbon and jewels, was placed about the forehead; at the center, directly over the middle of the brow, was planted a small bow ; a chin band was carried up over the roll and then placed under it at the back of the head with two long ends crossing and lying on the shoulders.

A headdress like the rolled pompadour of the Byzantine women had a wimple fastened by a brooch to its center.

A rolled turban, reminiscent of the Orient, with long folds brought through and hanging each side of the face, had cascades of gold tassels corresponding to the strings of pearls worn by the Byzantine women. The top of the turban was of a different color.

Another turban had a high gathered crown with a gold band jeweled at the center about the brow; over it was draped a white wimple. The edges of the wimple were embroidered and set over a stiffened forehead band. A few heart-shaped headdresses were used. For full dress, a high affair somewhat resembling the hennin and topped with plumes was worn.

At home a noble woman removed the fancy head covering and wore a white cap very like a Quaker bonnet.

Later in the century a round topped headdress, covered with gold webbing having two flaps of the same material at each side of the face, and finished with a black velvet forehead band, rose like a great orange. This was the largest headdress worn in Germany.

Elderly women used a cap with a rolled band ; a jewel was placed at one side and a fold of linen descended to the left shoulder; they also had the gorget and wimple.

The gown corresponded to that worn in Italy and France during the middle of the century. Broad bands of embroidery were used as borders ; the sleeves were tight fitting except for puffs let in at the elbow. Some sleeves were cut wide and much too long, so that the hands could be carried in them.

The houppelandes were made with enormous sleeves whose wide ends were foliated in streamers almost a foot deep; one variety was long and tight fitting, finished with an accordion pleated frill which hung many inches below the hand and completely hid it.

With the houppelandes was worn a headdress with foliated edges surmounted by a cluster of black cock feathers.


About the year 1400 Henry IV revived the sumptuary laws. No man unless of high estate was permitted to wear cloth of gold or cloth of velvet or crimson, large hanging sleeves open or closed, or gowns so long as to touch the ground; the use of ermine, lettice or marten was forbidden to all such. No one having less than two hundred pounds in goods and chattels, or twenty pounds per annum, could wear ornaments of gold and silver. It was also decreed that no man, no matter what his condition, should be permitted to wear a garment cut "or slashed into pieces in the form of rose leaves, letters and posies of various sorts under the penalty of forfeiting the garments, and causing the imprisonment of the tailor who made them."

From all accounts, these sumptuary laws regarding costume seem to have been treated with no more respect than the Eighteenth Amendment.


Dagged edges were used on wide turned-back cuffs. The foliated work was for two centuries called "cut work."

Parti-colored tights and long pointed shoes were worn.

The Hair.—Short hair and mustaches were in favor. Beards appeared on older men. Henry IV had a short chin beard resembling a Van Dyck but arranged in two out-turned curls.


Clothes were plainer than in the previous reign, the hair often being left unbound.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" is dated in this reign. The costumes usually resemble those of the reign of Richard II. Chaucer describes that of a physician of the time as being of scarlet and well furred, "as such a one ought to be." He dresses another one in purple and light blue lined with taffeta and cendal.

In the recent production of "Henry IV" by the Players' Club, the king and various earls wore houppelandes mostly fashioned of gold and silver brocades with high-standing turned-over collars of red, pink, green, etc. The long and foliated wide sleeves were lined with the same colors.

Prince Hal disported himself in the rather old-fashioned cote-hardie and tights. His shoes were black with a short pointed toe, their tops turned back showing a facing of blue and silver to match his costume. The hat had a peaked brim in front. The gold armor worn by him in the last act was royal and stunning.

Hotspur wore a cote-hardie of gold and black brocade with huge puffed sleeves tapering to a tightly fitted fore-arm (a cut slightly in advance of the contemporary style), gold-colored tights and black shoes with turned-over gold-faced cuffs. Prince John wore a short houppelande with long wide sleeve-ends and tights.

The ladies displayed the regulation trained gowns with cauls, jeweled bands and hoods on the head. Dame Quickly's costume was comprised of a full skirt with a well fitted tan bodice, both garments banded with stripes of a deeper tan; a white cap on her head.

Otis Skinner as Falstaff was dressed in a red and tan cote-hardie, red tights, high tan boots with wide tops and a huge felt hat whose long, crazy feather swept across the front.

In the last act, surcoats in vivid heraldic designs were worn over the armor, which was mostly plate ; some, however, was of mail.

HENRY V, 1413-1422


Houppelandes were worn over armor.

Turbans, also a huge cap fastened to a rolled brim with the crown falling over one ear, were ornamented with one large jewel.

No beards were seen save on old men, and mustaches rarely. The hair was cut short and shaved about the back and over the ears resembling a vulgar style of recent years.

The Horned Headdress.—This was the first of the enormous headdresses to be adopted in England. The horns, of wire covered with gold webbing, jewel-studded, were placed at either side of the head. They attained great length as the fashion gained in popularity. The effect was somewhat softened when a wimple of lace or fine silk was laid over the whole. In all of the large headdresses, the hair was completely hidden by a cap of gold webbing.

The "orange" was the caul inflated over a huge wire frame completely covering the ears and hair. It was edged with a jeweled band.

The cote-hardie was made With a wide band of fur, usually ermine, running from neckline to hips in front. A full-trained skirt completed this charming costume.

HENRY VI, 1422-1461


Tall hats had brims upturned and cut in squares ; fur was also used as a brim and to edge the face-openings in hoods. These high hats were placed on top of hoods that ended in shoulder capes. A turban with a rolled brim had a curtain of the material falling across the back of the neck, suggesting the Arab. Roundlets were also worn.

The hair was still worn short above the ears and cropped about the neck.

The same general lines appeared in the costumes, which now were of very rich materials; velvets and brocades of beautiful design made in Italy had become quite common.

Shoes had shorter toes and were laced up the sides.

The War of the Roses began in 1455; the House of York was always represented by white roses; that of Lancaster by red.


The Heart-Shaped Headdress.—This was made by placing a padded roll in the form of a heart upon the head, with the curved ends over the brow. As in the "horned" much gold webbing, as well as jewels, appeared in the fabrication of this conceit. Wimples of linen, lace or silk covered the heart pad through the indented top and floated over the shoulders.

The gown during the middle of the century was cut low; a collar encircled the shoulders, crossed in front and disappeared into a high waistline. The sleeves, wide and long, were often turned back to the elbow. Trains were long and shoes pointed.

Plays dealing with Joan of Arc are dated in the reign of Henry VI of England.

EDWARD IV, 1461-1483


Footgear.—The length of the shoe was restricted by law to two inches beyond the toe. Failure to comply meant a fine of twenty shillings or a cursing by the clergy. This ruling must have been treated with open defiance, for clogs were in general use with a projecting support for the long toe, which was stuffed with moss or tow to stiffen it. Shoes reached to above the ankle, cut open on each side. High boots opened and laced down the entire length of the leg.

The hair was worn longer and bushy at the sides, with flat curls pasted to the forehead. Small round caps of black velvet, skull-shaped, often adorned by a small feather on the side, were affected by young men.

In this reign tights showed almost to the waist.

The tunic opened wide in front; this and the full sleeves slashed open from shoulder to wrist were held together over the white shirt by gold lacings, drawn very tight to make the waistline small and the forearm slender. Such decoration was termed "hatched" and continued to the end of the next century. Another variety of tunic was allowed to hang loose to just below the waistline.

The tall hats of the previous reign were still seen. A long streamer of dagged ribbon was allowed to fall from the brim, a reminder of the old liripipe.

In the reign of Edward IV, only lords and their superiors could wear cloth of gold, purple silk, or sables ; velvet, damask or figured satin was forbidden unless the income was one hundred pounds a year. Only lords might wear shoes with peaks more than two inches long, also the extremely short jackets. No yeoman was allowed to "stuff his doublet with wool or cotton." This must not cause confusion; the period of extreme padding occurred in the reign of Elizabeth. As the pictures in the reign of Ed-ward IV show no eccentric form in the doublet, the fore-going is merely an allusion to the padding which tailors have always been wont to use in the sleeves of a man's coat.


The Steeple Headdress.—This was sometimes a yard high. A veil attached to its top floated down over the shoulders and train. The steeple was set back at an angle and finished with a velvet band around its lower edge ; each side a flap of the velvet hung as low as the chin line, while a loop of the same material, known as the frontlet, was placed over the middle of the brow. The steeple was sometimes fashioned with a hanging brim of gauze held out by a wire very much like the transparent chiffon brims on modern hats.

Addison in The Spectator discourses on the steeple head-dress. The sumptuary laws of Edward IV permitted wives and daughters of men possessing the yearly value of ten pounds to use frontlets of black velvet or "of any other cloth or silk of the color of black." Princesses of the House of Tudor had frontlets of gold.

RICHARD III, 1483-1485; EDWARD V, 1485-1487 MEN

The tunic, reaching to the knees, was cut very full and arranged in box-pleats.

The Petti-cote (so called from the shortness of its skirts).—A broad-shouldered, knee-length cloak, fur-edged with an enormous collar of the same, began to make its appearance; at first, the long loose sleeves hung free from the elbow.

White shirts, elaborately pleated about their tops, rose to a low round neck line.

Shoes were no longer pointed but were gradually becoming wide and square across the toes, with very low sides somewhat resembling bedroom slippers.

Round crowned hats had upstanding brims cut out in squares or scallops and fastened up by jewels or buttons. The hair was long and bushy; faces clean shaven.


The Hennin.—At first this headdress rose high in the air. Over a cap of gold webbing studded with gems, billows of the finest lawn, lace-trimmed, were held up by a wire frame set about the head. Gradually the shape spread backwards, like two great sails or wings. The hennin was popular on the Continent long before the craze for it attacked England.

HENRY VII, 1487-1509

As Henry of Richmond, he defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485, thus terminating the War of the Roses. By marrying Elizabeth of York he united the White Roses with the Red. This was the commencement of the Tudor Period.


The materials in use were very rich. The collar of fur became very deep and square at the back, running down in long revers to the waistline in front. Large coats reached to the ground. Sleeves fitted the shoulders but became very large and hung in folds on the forearms.

The petti-cote was now an established fashion; combined with a girdle and a handsome, often jeweled, stomacher, also called "placcard," lacing up the front.

Slashing (also called Blistering) .—This became a craze and extended to all parts of the costume. The gallants of the day wore "bulwarks," a name given to their slashed and puffed knees, adopted in imitation of the Swiss soldiers. Slashes in the stomacher gave glimpses of the white shirt beneath.

The low round neck of the preceding reign gave way to a high line ending in a neckband.

Striped tights were worn.

Broad-toed shoes of velvet or leather were slashed across the toes to allow a puffing of white or of a contrasting color to show. A sandal consisting of a flat sole with a covered toe piece was much worn ; this was attached to the foot by a single leather strap across the instep.

The berretino was a round crowned hat with square-cut brim into which was stuck a feather. A high feathered bonnet was worn on one side of the head over a skull cap and fastened by a strap under the chin. Feathers were used in profusion.

The Order of the Garter.—In 1504 a decided change took place. Following the fashion of the time, a collar was put on the tunic, which was of purple velvet lined with white silk (sarcenet or taffeta). The embroidering of garters was discontinued.


A square-cut neck was filled in by a pleated white chemise, the gown fitting well with a long train attached. Sleeves were tight to the elbow, ending in a very broad hanging cuff which was often made of fur. Fur was also used as borders and lining for trains. These last were sometimes turned up and fastened to the waist in order to exhibit their elegance.

A tight-fitting cap of linen or colored material covered the hair. Over it was worn a baglike cap usually of black, which hung down over the shoulders. A wide stiffened band of material, embroidered or sewn with pearls, was then bent in the center and placed over the hood so as to border the face and hang to the shoulders.

Black caps or hoods were very popular. These were slit at each side behind the ear; the front flap then turned or buttoned back on the main section, allowing the edge of a snug-fitting linen cap to show about the face. Cauls of gold wire in imitation of the German fashion were used at the end of this reign. For old ladies and widows, the barbe of pleated linen covering the lower face and chin was customary.

Materials.—Linsey-woolsey, a coarse woolen fabric; drugget, used for common clothing and resembling baise; dowlas, a linen used by the lower classes; canaber, a linen cloth of which hose were made; stamium, coarse worsted; tabby, a thick silk with a soft nap; champeyn, a fine cloth (reign of Henry VI) ; cadace, the name given stuffing of silk, cotton, wool and tow, were new materials used.

Christigrey was the name of a fur; mink was written "mynke." The broad-toed shoes were termed "duck-bills."

Famous people of dramatic interest during the fifteenth century were : William Caxton ; Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond; Stafford, Duke of Buckingham; Fox, Bishop of Winchester; Jean Gutenberg; Ferdinand and Isabella; Christopher Columbus; Sebastian Cabot; Jane Shore; Michaelangelo; Raphael; Darer; Da Vinci; Botticelli; Fra Filippo Lippi; Pope Alexander VI.

The Theatre.—Moralities succeeded the miracle plays about the middle of the reign of Henry VI. At the close of the fifteenth century, mythological masques and "interludes" were popular forms of entertainment.

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