The Gaudete Frock – a French Gown with a Dutch twist

Back in 2007 I decided to make a gown that would have been worn by a well-to-do woman in the Low Countries, a prosperous merchant’s wife or woman of the gentry. I perused the images of women depicted in triptychs of the time to see what would be expected.

Not surprisingly these gowns emulated the French gowns that were popular at courts across Western Europe at the time. However, there were subtle differences. Wealth and taste was shown through the cut and use of heavy, sumptuous cloth lined with fur.

There was minimal decoration, perhaps a string of beads, or simple gold chain, but women did not display the showiness of the French and Tudor courts of the same time.

The paintings of Gerard David depict women in this style as well, so in some ways this became a chance to try some ideas to improve my ‘Curtain Frock’.

I also decided to have a go at making an early style Beguin hood (or French hood, depending on what tradition you use to describe this style). As the images I looked through showed women in both styles.

I has a good length of Italian wool and some lovely patterned cream upholstery weight cotton in my stash, and so the dress came together.

The gown

This is what I came up with:

me in the Green French Gown with a Dutch twist

It’s cut with 4 panels through the bodice. The front panels then drop through to the hem (i.e. no waist seam), with a triangle gore in the front. The back skirt is cut in a long train which is shaped with an ovoid curve, cut long enough for me to tuck it back into the belt, as is seen in images of French women at the time.

The sleeves are a simple bell sleeve.

It is made of a lovely Italian wool fabric, which gave the frock its name. The words Pura Lana Virgine were woven into the selvedge. You can just see them in this picture. This phrase reminded us of a line from a latin song of the period “Gaudete”, which was hummed when I was constructing it, and so the name stuck.

It is closed with a hook and tape method. I stitched a thin woven tape down on the right hand side, with gaps so the hooks on the left hand side could hook the dress closed. This gives a very flat line through the front of the dress.

Overall I am very happy with the gown’s cut and construction – it gives the image of wealth and refinement that I think the paintings of women at this time were projecting.

The hood

The hood turned out reasonably well for a first go at a construction theory. It’s comprised of two layers:

1. A woolen cap, which emulates a very, very short truncated hennin, in order to give some shape to the back of the hood. This cap is lined in metallic gauze that was pleated to replicate the pleats seen in almost every instance of this hood. I cheated by sewing some hair slides into the cap so it would stay on my head – I have quite fine hair and most headgear eventually slips off if I don’t secure it this way. It’s better if my hair hasn’t been washed, but I’m often not willing to take that to the lengths necessary to keep heavy hoods on my head.

I’ve sketched a rough pattern for the undercap. This is a completely conjectural pattern, and if I was to make it today, then I would make a cap similar to the one on this page.

2. A semi-circle of velvet lined with silk as the ‘hood’. This is secured to the cap by three pins and given some shape with a further pin to tuck the drape of the semi-circle into a tube.

The first photo gives the look I was after, the second less so – the hood is too open, it should be much closer to my face, although I suspect this is because I didn’t look at a mirror before the photo was taken, not because the cut was wrong.

After some bling? Look at Flemish tapestries

Story of David tapestry David Sees Bathsheba Washing

Visual evidence for clothing of the Low Countries comes from a variety of media. Paintings are the most obvious and well-known, however there are also the engravings and drawings of Lucas van Leyden, illuminations from various Books of Hours especially those of the Ghent-Bruges school, and finally there are the magnificent tapestries from Flanders.

These tapestries were prized for their detail and quality, often hanging in the halls of some of the largest and richest establishments in Europe.

They also show a very opulent style of dress, more opulent than is seen in any other source. So, if you are craving a way to add some glamour and shine to your projects from this era, I’d recommend checking out some of the tapestries from the period. I’ve desired these dresses for quite a while, and will be tackling a couple once I have become more proficient and comfortable with some of my other theories – or when I need a gorgeous court dress.

Kimiko Small recently got the flemish tapestry bug, and as part of her research for the project has scanned in images from the David et Bethsabée tapestries that were made in Brussels around 1515.  She has set up a slide show so that others can peruse the tapestries (thanks Kimiko).

One point to note when looking at tapestries:

It’s unclear whether the embellishment, hats and cuts of some of the dresses are a reflection of the artistic needs of the tapestry makers, or whether they are allegorical i.e. depicting a biblical story and the clothing communicates the artist’s idea of exotic clothing of the biblical era, a fair amount of Turkish influence tends to indicate this. Other contemporary images don’t show these styles they show women and men dressed in more sombre colours, with minimal decoration, and wearing either a french hood style hat, or a hovetcleet.

So, if you’re going for something ultra-documentable and period, then these tapestries are probably not where you should be looking. However, if you want a highly embellished court gown which is not-quite-Tudor then this is certainly a great place to look.

Mathilde’s making a hat

painting of an affluent lady of Holland in the 1500s

My friend Mathilde is living in the Middle East for a while, so decided to start a large embroidery project for the quiet times.

She’s chosen to recreate the headgear from this portrait of a Dutch woman from the late 1550s, from a painting by Anthony Mor. It’s a typical headdress of this period, an evolution of the hovetcleet, and will look fantastic.

You can follow her progress on her craft blog.

Using Bruegel for research, and, what do those colours mean?

I recently took over the position of Arts and Sciences officer for my Barony[1], and so last I was trawling ‘teh internets’TM last week to see what was out there that may be useful for novice costumers as it had been some time since I’d last surveyed the online costuming space. (Since last this site was live, and prior to the ubiquity of blogging and social media, to be precise).

Of course I turned up a number of interesting collections and blogs, one of which has some articles that are complementary to this site.

The Renaissance Clothing blog has a generic heading, and I suspect its author planned to explore the breadth of clothing worn by people in Europe in the middle ages, however at the moment it only has 9 (rather good) articles, with lots of references. Its author has set up an archive arranged by theme, which you could jump to directly to see what interests you.

In relation to this site, was particularly interested in:

I expect I’ll be using a couple of those articles here, and in other documentation or papers I’ll be writing in future. To the author of Renaissance Clothing: thank you for compiling those articles.


[1] SCA terminology:

  • Arts and Sciences relates to all research and craft types activities that members of the SCA may perform or be interested in. The Arts and Sciences officer is generally responsible for fostering these interests within their group through organising events, venues, connections and collaborations.
  • A Barony is a group of people who have a certain threshold of members, with strong group participation. I belong to the Barony of Rowany, the group that covers most of Sydney, Australia (ond other parts of New South Wales).