Clothing the Low Countries

Researching & Re-creating Flemish and Netherlandish clothing from 1480-1620

Clothing the Low Countries Goes to the Movies!

It’s not very often that English language movies are made about our favorite time and place, but this year’s Tulip Fever is a rare exception. (It’s set in 1636, so close enough.) Based on Deborah Moggach’s novel of the same name, the movie follows the tangled love lives of a young wife of Amsterdam and her maid against the backdrop of tulip mania, one of the world’s first speculative investment bubbles. I’m going to attempt to avoid discussing the plot as much as possible, except to say that it did have a fair bit more tulips in it than you might have expected of a romantic movie. I was mostly there for the costumes.

Costume designer Michael O’Connor really does deserve and A+ for his efforts. There’s very little that beats the pleasure of seeing a costume on the screen and knowing exactly which extant example served as its inspiration. The entire production is lovely, and I spent a great deal of the movie being charmed by the open weave baskets for carrying chickens, the carpets on the tables, the box style beds, and the scales used for weighing tulip bulbs.

For the majority of the movie, the main character, Sophia, wears outfits in this style. Slight variations on this look were in style from the 1610s though the early 1630s. By 1636, this might be a little out of fashion, but this is my favorite look so I’m happy they went with it. It consists of a skirt and a very long waisted stomacher worn under a very open black gown. And, of course, a giant ruff. The ruffs, when worn, are definitely the best part of the movie’s costumes. When Sophia does wear a hat, it is more modest than the Frans Hals painting, but it is made up of both an under and over cap, so I was pretty pleased.

When Sophia and her husband commission a portrait, she also has a new dress made. This dress is in the style that I normally associate with the 1630s, and there is a distinct break from the fashions of the previous decade. In general, it is characterized by the much higher waist, the lower neckline and the fuller sleeves. This is not a look that I am personally interested in reproducing, but it looks like they did a reasonable job.

Unfortunately, once the romance heats up, the costumes start to suffer. There are a great many of scenes that involve sneaking around in various states of undress. There are also a number of scenes in an ale house which serves as the tulip exchange. (I was skeptical, but it turns out that tulips were not allowed on the official exchange market and really were bought and sold in taverns.) The lower class costumes are okay, but not particularly special. There was a fair helping of what I’d call the standard historical movie sins: men in just shirts or vests over shirts, too much undressed hair, and not enough hats. Sophia generally did have her hair up, but while she owned hats and some fabulous ruffs, she often skipped them.

Still, the movie is very pretty and the upper class costumes are very well done. I was impressed. It’s definitely worth watching for the clothes. There’s just one thing that I can’t help but get nit-picky about: huiks. Huiks, the Dutch veil, are particularly near and dear to our hearts here at Clothing the Low Countries. Normally I’d have just been ecstatic to see them in a movie at all, no matter the quality. But this particular huik isn’t just in the background, it’s serves as a major plot device. Not once, but twice. And it makes a couple of mistakes.

These Wensceslaus Hollar prints give you a fairly good idea of what huiks looked like around the 1630s. The huik in the center is the descendant of the duck billed huik, and the one on the right is the final iteration of the pot lid version. The 1630s mini-lid is objectively silly, and the one in the movie was… more so. I cannot find a movie still to illustrate the problem, but it kind of reminded me of the old style bathing caps that you might see in a 1950s synchronized swimming film. The huik belongs to Sophia’s maid, and it probably would have been more appropriate for her to wear the simple veil or the duck billed version. The huik is also, inexplicably, lined in a bright blue, shiny material. Thankfully, the lining somehow never shows from the front while the huik is being worn, and visually it remains its proper all black. Finally, in the movie, the huik is so unique that it is used twice to identify someone. Which is pretty odd because most crowd scene paintings have half a dozen.

Tom Hollander and Alicia VIkander in Tulip Fever

Alicia Vikander in Tulip Fever and Portrait of Aletta Hanemans by Frans Hals, 1625

Christoph Waltz and Alicia Vikander in Tulip Fever and Portrait of Amalie zu Solms-Braunfels, 1631-32

Wenceslaus Hollar: Servant Maid of Cologne, Citizen of Holland, and Woman of Cologne of Good Quality

Detail, Carnival on Ice at the Kipdorppoort Moats in Antwerp by Denys van Alsloot, 1599

New Resource: a timeline of artists and the social classes they painted

I woke up this morning to a question in the Medieval Low-Countries Reenactment group on Facebook:
“I’m looking for references for Netherlandish clothing, and keep running into walls and dead ends. Anyone familiar with the Netherlandish styles and how they compared to German Renaissance and other low lands cultures?”

Through the conversation we established the original poster didn’t yet have a handle on his preferred timeframe, but did understand the social class he was looking at – “merchant class”. So as step one in helping him I was inspired to complete an idea I’ve had for a while – a table of artists I refer to when considering Flemish, Netherlandish and Brabantish styles of clothing in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Et voila! It is now live and available under the Styles menu.

Artists are sorted by time they were producing works, so if you recognise one artist, then artists clustered around that will likely be good sources for you. Clicking on one of the artists linked will take you to a wikimedia commons page showing some of their works for a quick glance through they style. I built it to have filters, which sadly haven’t come through in the embed process. Otherwise I hope this is useful.

2016: our year in review

Two costumers, 7 questions…

1. Favourite outfit of the year:


My favorite outfit this year is definitely the one I made for Twelfth  Night, 2016. It’s my most ambitious project to date. The Hendrick Avercamp painting it is based on is one that I have been staring at for years, and I spent a long time deciding on every detail. I’m fairly pleased with the results.  I intend to write a proper article about this outfit and have it to you in time for Twelfth Night 2017.margaret_avercamp_outfit


My favourite outfit isn’t a new one, per se, rather it’s a gown that I amended to be more convenient to wear, and then added a more appropriate hood to complete the look. Cutting the train off my gaudete gown made it easier to pack for travelling to events, and easier to wear at the event. Surprisingly it also made me “feel” right – like a well-to-do townswoman in her late 30s, so that was a plus. This ensemble will definitely be getting a few more outings in 2017


2. Most satisfying thing to make:


Exploring the Noord Holland “Cheese Girl” look was surprisingly satisfying.   I had looked at it for a number of years, but dismissed it as being almost too silly, with its short skirts and crazy (even by my standard) headdress.   But it turned out to be comfortable and fun to wear.

Margaret in Noord Holland market dress at the Antwerpan market.Karinne

A new hat set for my husband. I started by making him a new bonnet after we thought his pervious one was lost, but it was too large for his head 🙁 I could fit my hand under the hat to give him a head rub… This was a week before an outdoor winter event, and he hates to not have a hat for those events (something to do with his shaved head getting cold). I thought I’d have to start over again, with a smaller size which would be un-fun. HOWEVER, on perusing my favourite image source book, I discovered that men of the 1480s and 1490s often wore a double hat ensemble. Thus my problem, and Geoff’s, was solved. He loves the combo, which is also satisfying from a makers perspective.


Also, I have just realised that I never wrote up this make and inspiration… I think my articles might be a little behind.

3. I wish I’d made/finished…


There is another batch of portraits living in my head that I had intended to use as inspiration for Twelfth Night 2017.   (In my SCA Kingdom this event takes place in a hotel and functions more like a convention, so it is the most suitable event for fancy outfits). Unfortunately, my husband’s work schedule changed and I won’t be able to attend the event.   So this outfit never got past the buying supplies stage.   Hopefully I can have it done for next year.


A furry hat for my husband. I found these AMAZING images of men in the late 1400s with white furry hats, and as I have some fake white-grey fur in my stash that was inherited from a friend… 🙂

4. Favorite SCA event of the year:


The best SCA event this year was “Golden Beltane”, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the backyard party that started it all.   It was a ten day event, which means there was plenty of time for all sorts of activities.   People built clay ovens on site and cooked feasts.   They held themed events like a Roman picnic, a 16th Century sewing circle, and a  Flemish market.  They read plays, held yard sales, and coaxed some of our founding members out of retirement to honor them.   They even marched to protest the modern world, which apparently was a feature of the original party.   I was only able to be there on the weekends, so one of the best parts for me was that I got two weekend events but only had to set the tent up once!


POLIT UNIVERSITY!!! 2.5 days full of all the classes! Despite freezing at the feast (4C overnight) it was well worth it for all the knowledge, the gathering of people enthusiastic about Arts & Sciences, the food and the atmosphere. Definitely planning to go again this year.

5. That moment when you felt like you weren’t in the modern world:


To be honest, I’m too modern of a girl for this to happen.   So I’m just going to use this question as an excuse to talk about my experience going to the Renaissance Faire in Southern California.   Somehow, I found myself as a guest member of the court, in the company of a couple of lovely ladies that I had previously only met through the Facebook Elizabethan Costume group.   Which makes yet another good thing that group has given me.  I was playing a daughter of the famous Flemish miniaturist Simon Bening, which forced me to do more persona research than I have in the SCA.   And while I certainly didn’t forget that I was in the modern world, actively pretending to be someone from the past does make you relate to your clothes and to other people differently.


My friend Eilis’ Laurelling at Rowany Festival. A tent full of people, after dark, and she is carried in on a shield by 4 men of her household. Eilis was being Laurelled for her Norse clothing research and skills, and this was a fitting ceremony for one of my oldest friends. It had been choreographed really, really well. The atmosphere was spot on. There may have been some tears as well, since she was so deserving of the accolade and honour.

6. This year I am most proud of:


Getting to be part of this blog.   I finally have a place to put all the information that’s been rattling around in my head for years.   So my thanks again to Karinne for inviting me aboard, and for taking care of the technical parts of the website.


My apprentices, all three of them. Eoife has made excellent 14th century gear, pretty much all by hand, so she could participate at St Ives medieval faire. She has kept her historic food blog going whilst finishing her Honours thesis and been published on the Sydney historic houses trust blog as well. Ana has continued to pursue her passions in German clothing (tackling a very good rendition of the Lengberg bra), and commencing work on a thoroughly researched and theorise skin-out Saxon gown outfit, as well as continuing to enthuse and educate Lochac in Ancient Greek clothing. I had many people talk to me at Rowany Festival on how much they had enjoyed Ana’s display at Laurel Prize and in the costumers forum. Finally, Safiya completely surprised me with a 16th century Persian ensemble she made for Rowanye Festival with no input from me at all – well fitted and well researched. Go Safi!

7. Goals for next year:


The “things I want to make” list is, as always, a mile long.   One of the first things I want to do is to finish my own duck bill huik.  Then there are a couple of must have items on my list: a narrower ruff, a set of wrist cuffs, and a loose gown that truly commits to the all-black aesthetic.   Finally, there is a particular style of hat brim and a particular kind of shoulder roll that I’m still trying to master.   If I manage more than half of that, I’ll consider it a good year.


Men’s clothing. More articles on this blog, finally getting the ideas and knowledge in my head written up in a format to share with the costuming community. Maybe a late 1400s craftswoman’s outfit. Generally more comfortable clothing rather than flashy clothing. Maybe those cork-soled mules I’ve been ruminating upon for a while.

10 new-to-me hovetcleet portraits

This is not the post you were looking for promised, but last night my husband REALLY wanted to see Rogue One, and I REALLY wanted to support his initiative to do something fun. So that ate up the time I was planning to spend on the post on what was happening in the Low Countries in the late 15th and early 16th century. Instead, I present to you one of the costumer’s favourite pastimes: Looking at old pictures!!

Like many costumers I’ve spent A LOT of time looking at images in books, and on websites, and with the advent of pinterest, hours and hours and hours and hours re-pinning items that come across my feed (This pinterest board is my catch-all dumping ground for 15th & 16th century probably Low Countries clothing images). But still I can find pictures that I’ve never seen before, and perhaps change one of my theories, or remind me of an idea I had once upon a time but sort of forgot. One source for these images for me in the last year has been the History of Fashion tumblr, which is where all of these images are pulled from.

So, in lieu of the social and political situation post (which would take more time that is available to me on New Year’s Eve) I present: 10 new-to-me images of hovetcleets from the Low Countries and surrounds. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I did (especially nos. 2, 4, 7 & 10)

(not sure about some of the terminology in this article? Check out our 16th century Dutch Clothing Terms page!)

read more…

Overview of 16th Century Dutch Women’s Clothing

On the 4th day of new content the Clothing the Low Countries Ladies brought to you: Margaret’s class notes on Dutch women’s clothing through the 16th century. (25MB PDF file)A slide showing a portrait of a 16th century woman and 3 dot points

Margaret ran this class a month ago at Collegium Occidentalis, the annual fall A&S event for the West Kingdom of the SCA. It provides an overview of style changes by decade for well-to-do women of Holland (and occasionally Flanders and Brabant).

It’s a great place to start if you’re curious about the variety of clothing worn in this century, or if you want to see how it changed, or if you want to peruse the styles for inspiration


Patterns for a Franco-flemish formal black hood

Once upon a time, in a post a fair way away I promised some measurements for the formal black Franco-flemish hood* that I constructed. This one to be precise:

3 views of the hood

A Franco-Flemish hood, as worn for my Laurel ceremony

And lo, here they are:

diagram of

Measurements for the layers of the hood

These measurements are for the following three items:

The 4 elements of the franco-flemish hood

The layers of the hood

A description of how I assemble this hood can be found towards the end of this post.

*Called a French Hood in the historical costuming community, for reasons that I think are anglo-centric and historically incorrect. They appear in the Low Countries’ courts at the same time as they appear in the French ones, and the Burgundian court was lauded as the leaders in court etiquette and fashion at the time.

New resource: Women’s head coverings 1460-1530

Announcing: 31 pages of analysis and examples of women’s headwear between 1460 and 1530. (18MB, PDF file, click link to download)

This is the handout from a class I taught at Rowany Festival in 2014. It covers eight types of headwear with images of each, an explanation of who wore them in what circumstances, and where I’ve made a version, how I did so.

Keep in mind two things:

  1. My interpretation of the construction of the hovetcleet and the formal black hood has changed since this class. You can find these updated ideas in these posts: hovetcleet||black hood
  2. Most images are not labelled with an artist and title. The work to caption every image is what has held this up from being published for 3 years. So, caveat emptor, if you want to know where an image is from I encourage you to do a google image search, if you get stuck then contact me and I will try to help. I will try to have a fully captioned PDF up at some stage, but I have no idea when.

As part of this work I pulled all my art books off the shelf and counted the types of headwear I could see in each image of each book. This gave me a graph of changes in fashion and particular styles over time and anchors the paper – by realising what style is most prevalent in which 5 year period we can be more deliberate in ensuring our Low Countries wardrobes have the appropriate headwear.

Chart of frequency of 15th and 16th century headwear in France and the Low Countries

6 days of content

On the first day of content the Clothing the Low Countries ladies gave to me…

An update on where they’ve been and an overview of the series

Where we have been

Hi! Well, the last 4 months have been a bit quiet here at Clothing the Low Countries, we hope you didn’t miss us too much. The end of 2016 caught us both by surprise in our own special way.

Karinne got married, whilst simultaneously dealing with a few stressful months at work. Which meant that any down time was spent recovering and recuperating, rather than writing blog posts. Also, all her sewing mojo was tied up in sewing her wedding dress.

3 people standing in a garden

The wedding ceremony

Lessons learnt while sewing the dress:

  1. Modern sewing is easy after years of making renaissance gown
  2. French seams are the bomb!
  3. Ironing a bias wave into a sheer fabric sucks
  4. Knowing how to handsew when you have to is calming

Margaret’s children started a new school, which has meant some re-adjustments to the family routine. She was also indulging (if that’s the right word) in her other geek hobby: US politics. So, understandably was QUITE distracted over the last few months.

6 Days of Content Series!

Anyway, we’ve both had enough recovery time from those pursuits (we think), so expect content to start appearing again.

Here’s the plan.

26 December – this post

27 December – Karinne’s hat class PDF from a few years back that she’s been meaning to post up for a very long time

28 December – An article containing the measurements from the two a formal black hoods that Karinne has made in the last 2 (3?) years, so you can try to recreate the look

29 December – A PDF from Margaret’s most recent class: A survey of style change in women’s clothing in Holland during the 16th century

30 December – Karinne’s gleanings on what was happening in the Low Countries in the late 15th and early 16th century. This article is the beginning of some work on cultural changes leading to clothing changes which Karinne has been working on for a while

31 December – our costuming and SCA year in review. Two ladies, 7 questions. What did we love, what was challenging!

Then on 1 January (pending celebratory hangovers) we’ll let you know about some new ideas we’ve got for the site, and give it a bit of a facelift. This is mostly to address some coding issue that the site has, with a benefit of being able to ticker with some design settings that could be better.

Hope you enjoy the content as much as we enjoy bringing it to you!

Recreating “Flemish” Caps and Veils: Part Three- Ear Irons (Oorijzer)


Ear irons on display in paintings by Werner van den Valckert and Rembrandt.

Ear irons on display in paintings by Werner van den Valckert and Rembrandt

First of all, what is an ear iron? An ear iron is a metal frame that passes behind the nape and drops over the ears, ending at or slightly below the level of the ear lobe. It is held in place with ribbons which are tied on top of the head in front of the braids. It’s purpose is to help hold the under cap into place, and/or to give shape to the outer cap and veil.

Ear irons in the Boijmans museum.

Ear irons in the Boijmans museum.

The earliest examples are simple wires with some sort of balls on the end of the “legs”. They have a loop at the top of the leg which the ribbon passes through. Occasionally there is a twist of smaller wire at the bottom of the leg which helps keep pins from sliding up. As the style progresses, the legs becomes wider and more decorative. Many have pin holes which allow the pin to go through, rather than around, the ear iron. By the 1620s, some even have pendants dangling, earring-like, from the end of the leg.

Top: Veils with folds that suggest an ear irons in paintings by Anthonis Mor and Willem Key.. Middle: Caps with simple ear irons in paintings by Frans Pourbus and Gortzius Geldorp. Bottom: Elaborate ear irons in paintings by Rembrandt and Barent Fabritius.

Top: Veils with folds that suggest an ear irons in paintings by Anthonis Mor and Willem Key..
Middle: Caps with simple ear irons in paintings by Frans Pourbus and Gortzius Geldorp.
Bottom: Elaborate ear irons in paintings by Rembrandt and Barent Fabritius.

When in use, ear irons are often obscured by the hat or veil, so it is difficult to be sure when they were first worn. Using the ear iron with a veil creates some distinctive folds, and those folds can be seen at least as early as the 1550s. Obvious use of ear irons shows up in the pictorial record from the 1580s on, when the ends start to poke out from under the headdress. The extant record appears to begin at about the same time. The earliest actual date I’ve seen from a museum is 1575, although many are (unhelpfully) labeled “16th Century”. Sometime around the 1660s, styles change enough that the ear iron drops out of formal portraits. They continue to be seen occasionally in pictures of country people, and they remain today as an import part of modern Dutch folk dress.

How to Make an Ear Iron

Unfortunately, I lack any actual metal working skill, so some of the more elaborate ear irons are out of my reach. I live in hope of finding a jeweler willing to create them for the re-enactment crowd. Until then, a down and dirty version can be made with material available in your local craft and home improvement stores.

Supplies for building an ear iron.

Supplies for building an ear iron.

You will need:

Beads: These will go on the end of the ear iron’s “legs”. The wire will be passing through the hole in the bead, so you need something with as big of a hole as possible.

Wire: So far I’ve had the best luck with buying bare copper wire in the electrical section of my local hardware store. I use the biggest wire I can get through the beads, so about the size of an old metal coat hanger.

Craft wire: Smaller wire to form the coil around the bottom of the leg. This is optional, but helpful.

Pliers: To cut the wire.

Craft glue: I like E6000.

Masking tape: Helpful for marking the length of the leg.

Bowl: Or some other helpful household object for smoothing the wire and bending it into a curve.

Ribbon: For tying the ear iron on. Something that doesn’t slip is best.

Assembling Your Ear Iron

First, dress your hair up in braids as discussed in the previous article. This step is very important because the ear iron doesn’t clamp onto your head, and it does not rest of your ears like sunglasses. Rather, it is suspended from a ribbon which is tied in front of the braids. Next, measure from about an inch above your ear, around the back of your head under the braids, and up to the identical point on the other side. Then add ten inches. Or, if approximating, I’ve found that a total of twenty-two inches gets you in the right ballpark.

Forming the wire for the ear iron.

Forming the wire for the ear iron.

Straighten the wire out as much as you can, and then use your pliers to cut a piece twenty inches long, or whatever your measurement was in the previous step. Measure in five inches from each end and make 90 degree bends. Next, use the bowl to round out the center portion.  Then tie the ribbons onto the wire at the bends. Most extant ear irons do have some sort of hole or added loop for the ribbons to pass through, but that would probably require soldering. Luckily, I haven’t really had any problems with the ribbon slipping out of place without it.

Fitting the ear iron on to the head.

Fitting the ear iron on to the head.

Carefully fit the ear iron into place with the hoop of wire passing under your braids at your nape. Tie the ribbon in front of your braids at the top of your head. The legs will almost certainly be sticking straight out, so bend them back until they run down the side of your face right in front of your ears. Use your masking tape to mark the end of the leg, which should be just a little below the bottom of your ear lobe.

Adding the wire coil and gluing on the bead.

Adding the wire coil and gluing on the bead.

Take the ear iron off and even up your measurements. Cut both legs to length. Then take the smaller wire and wrap it from top to bottom to form a coil around the leg. Ideally, the hole of your bead will be big enough for both wires to pass through it. In that case, end the coil in a straight section. If the bead is too small, as has so far generally been the case for me, simply crimp off the end. Even if the coil itself can slide slightly, I have still found that it helps keep the pins in place.

Finally, glue on your beads. I like to use a disposable plate to keep the mess contained. Apply glue to the ends of the legs, put the beads on, and then set the legs upright on the plate. This position helps make sure that the wire passes all the way through the bead but doesn’t stick out the other side. Allow the glue to dry completely.

Congratulations! You now own an ear iron. As promised, this is just a down and dirty version, but it is functional. (Luckily, when you wear it, the only part that will show is the bead.) Your hair and the ear iron create the structure for a wide variety of caps and veils.

Next in this series: constructing the hat.

Looking for the rest of the series? You can find the articles here:

Looking for previous articles?