(alternate title: Hey Karinne, don’t you own an iron!?)

A few weeks ago I attended an event north of Sydney and wore an outfit that was the culmination of a decade of thinking and observation and making and testing. This one:

a lady wearing a franco-flemish gown at a medieval event
I’ve written posts in the past on the construction of gowns like this. In fact this is the Gaudete gown constructed in 2007, and its dress diary is on this site. I’ve also written about a recent re-make of this gown, where I took its train off to create a “round” gown instead. I’m pleased to report that the removal of the train has been a marvellous success1. I now love this gown, it is  comfortable, it is well-made and when I wear it I feel like a lady of the courts or cities of Flanders and Brabant in the early 1500s. Success all round!

However, whilst its construction is of interest to some of our readers, perhaps what I wear to create this look is equally of interest. Hence this article: what I wear to pull this look together. Note: I’m not going to be pulling up contemporary pictures to demonstrate my conclusions. You’ll need to look elsewhere to verify my conclusions. You could start with my pinterest board, of course.

Getting the full view

Before we go any further we should talk about what I am trying to achieve when I pull this together. Aesthetics of clothing don’t just relate to fabric and colour choice.

The Franco-Flemish style is a sumptuous style. It is rarely blingy, with even the royal families of France and the Low Countries wearing a minimal amount of jewellery compared to their descendants in the mid-late 16th Century. Its sumptuousness is achieved through the amount of fabric and a strong aesthetic of drape.

This is what I aim for when recreating this style – how to achieve the soft bulk that you can see in many portraits. Here’s this outfit in three views, what do you think, did I get there?

3 views of a Franco-Flemish gown

3 views of a Franco-Flemish gown

The first thing to notice is that taking a dress in a suitcase to two consecutive events without giving it a press in between is perhaps not a good idea. Probably should have taken the time to do this, but it was a busy month! The second is the pleats are rounded and flow nicely – like some of the tapestries from the time. Thirdly, my chest is rounded, not flat like you get with a corset.

The pleats are padded, but there is more going on here. So, let’s unpack it.

The Layers

1. A smock

Like all medieval and renaissance clothing, we start with a shirt or smock. In this case I wear a simple tunic with a wide neck:


a simple smock – in need of an iron

2. An underskirt – NOT the historically accurate option

I live in Australia, where our weather is generally hot. This dress already has a layer of wool, cotton canvas and a heavy cotton lining. So, for this dress, I choose to not wear an underdress. I do wear an underdress for other ensembles (like this one), but for this dress it’s less necessary. Instead, I wear my favourite under-skirt:

smock & skirt

Adding in the skirt, which hasn’t seen an iron since its last wash

I have absolutely no evidence for separate underskirts in this time. There is plenty of evidence for kirtles and other underdresses, so it historical accuracy is important to you (and you don’t like a hot country) then I encourage you to make a complete kirtle to wear under this gown.

This style does need at least one, if not two layers of skirt. It provides the rounded butt look that is a feature of the style. I used to wear a small bum roll, but it gave a sharp shelf rather than the rounded look you see in images. This skirt is a heavy-ish linen. It is a rectangle shape pleated into a waist band with two clip sizes to accommodate different outfits that I wear.

3. A partlet – conjectural

I then add a black velveteen partlet, which fills in the back of the gown (cut in a V) and the decolletage of the gown – modesty is a virtue after all.

Smock & skirt & partlet

Adding the partlet. Which does not need an iron, one from four!

This partlet is conjectural, both its shape and its existence. We see a similar item 3 decades later worn by Flemish women, but I’ve not seen one in the late 1400s or early 1500s. It’s possible that the black in-fill seen on dresses at this time is an under-dress. I do think it’s actually a partlet for a variety of reasons, including that most kirtles of the time have a square neck, as well as a lack of black kirtles in the visual evidence.

The partlet contributes to my smooth rounded chest look, as it provides another set of layers to keep the area in tension from a couple of directions.

Here’s the parlet by itself:

possible franco-flemish partlet

The gown then goes on at this stage. Generally I need a friend to get the gown over my shoulders and ensure the parlet doesn’t ride up. If I had a kirtlIe could pin the partlet to the kirtle, but even then I’d need a friend to pin the back. Then it is a juggle between keeping the front of partlet in the right place whilst also doing up the dress. The hook and bar setup I have helps as I’m smoothing over a shape rather than pulling a shape in tight which is what happens with lacing.

The final items are a sash (missing from this picture as I left it at home), which sets off the waist and hides the waist seam, a hat/hood and any jewellery as appropriate.

Next week: Making that black hood

  1. This phrase brought to you by the David Attenborough documentary which is on TV right now