European women’s fashion in 1400–1450

Fashion in 15th-century Europe was characterized by a series of extremes and extravagances, from the voluminous gowns called houppelandes with their sweeping floor-length sleeves to the revealing doublets and hose of Renaissance Italy. Hats, hoods, and other headdresses assumed increasing importance, and were swagged, draped, jewelled, and feathered.

As Europe continued to grow more prosperous, the urban middle classes, skilled workers, began to wear more complex clothes that followed, at a distance, the fashions set by the elites. It is in this time period that we begin to see fashion take on a temporal aspect. People could now be dated by their clothes, and being in “out of date” clothing became a new social concern. National variations in clothing seem on the whole to have increased over the 15th century.

General trends
Dominance of the Burgundy Court
With England and France bogged down in the Hundred Years War and its aftermath, then the English in the Two-Roses war through most of the century, European fashion north of the Alps was dominated by the Duchy’s court of Burgundy. After adding the Netherlands and Flanders their domination, the dukes of Burgundy had access to the latest fabrics from Italy and Eastern and English wool exports through the great trading cities of Bruges and Antwerp. Fabric purchases by Italian merchants, such as Giovanni Arnolfini. Especially in Florence, where the sumptuary lawsprevented citizens from wearing luxurious clothes on which the city’s fortune was built.

Fabrics and furs 1400-1500
Wool was the most popular fabric for all social classes, followed by flax and hemp. The woolen fabrics were of a wide range of qualities, this cloth was one of the pillars of the English economy and was exported all over Europe. The woolen fabrics were dyed in rich colors, including red, green, gold and blue, although the blue color was achievable with pastel (and less frequently indigo ).

The silk weaving was established around the Mediterranean at the beginning of the century, and the bristles are increasingly views on Italian suits and dresses elites throughout Europe. Fur was used, mostly as a lining, by those who could afford it. The gray and white squirrel furs of the Middle Ages, vair and petit gris, first for men and for women, the furs of the new fashion were dark brown, sable and martes. Towards the end of the century, the fur of wild animals such as the lynx became popular. The ermine remained the prerogative and mark of royalty.

In the first half of the 15th century it was a time when Gothic style fashion which is a representative medieval costume was completed. Gothic clothing was characterized by a distinct coloring, unusual decoration, exaggerated body shape.

The woman made an isosceles triangle silhouette with a long skirt and square shaped hat, and the waist position was rising just below the chest. A woman at that time idealized a style that draws a supple S-shaped line when seen from the side, elements like a belly that gently rounded from the stomach to a small breast separated from the left and right were elements common to the beauty of those days.

Meanwhile, the merchant class, which increased greatly in the latter half of the 14th century, demanded increased production of products in order to conduct more active commercial activities. Until that time, products were made individually at individual workshops and monasteries, but by creating labor and equipment in one place, a mechanism was created to supply large quantities of products with stable quality. This is the budding of factory industry.

Women’s fashion
Clothes that clearly outline the line of the body from this era became mainstream. Costumes that were farmers ‘ women’s costumes tied in front of themselves and costumes to wear can be worn preferentially in relatively rich classes. Also, costume wearing sleeveless covering the waist corresponding to the current bodys liked to the upper class.

In France, a crown appeared directly as an ancestor of the current corset which puts whale bone in the bodice and tightens her waist.

Gown, kirtle, and chemise
Women’s fashions of the 15th century consisted of a long gown, usually with sleeves, worn over a kirtle or undergown, with a linen chemise or smock worn next to the skin. The sleeves were made detachable and were heavily ornamented. The long-waisted silhouette of the previous period was replaced by a high-waisted style with fullness over the belly, often confined by a belt. The wide, shallow scooped neckline was replaced by a V-neck, often cut low enough to reveal the decorated front of the kirtle beneath.

Various styles of overgowns were worn. The cotehardie fitted smoothly from the shoulders to the hips and then flared by means of inserted triangular gores. It featured sleeves tight to the elbow with hanging streamers or tippets. The tight fit was achieved with lacing or buttons. This style faded rapidly from fashion in favor of the houppelande, a full robe with a high collar and wide sleeves that had become fashionable around 1380 and remained so to mid-15th century. The later houppelande had sleeves that were snug at the wrist, making a full “bag” sleeve. The bag sleeve was sometimes slashed in the front to allow the lower arm to reach through.

Around 1450, the dress of northern Europe developed a low V-neck that showed a glimpse of the square-necked kirtle. The neckline could be filled in with a sheer linen partlet. Wide turn-backs like revers displayed a contrasting lining, frequently of fur or black velvet, and the sleeves might be cuffed to match. Sleeves were very long, covering half of the hand, and often highly decorated with embroidery. Fine sleeves were often transferred from one dress to another. The term robe déguisée was coined in the mid-1400s to describe garments reflecting the very latest fashions, a term which endured into the 16th century.

In Italy, the low scoop-neck of the early decades gave way to a neckline that was high in front with a lower V-neck at the back at mid-15th century. This was followed by a V-neckline that displayed the kirtle or gamurra (sometimes spelled camorra). Sleeveless overgowns such as the cioppa were popular, and the gamurra sleeves displayed were often of rich figured silks. A lighter-weight undergown for summer wear was the cotta. A sideless overgown called the giornea was worn with the gamurra or cotta. Toward the end of the period, sleeves were made in sections or panels and slashed, allowing the full chemise sleeves below to be pulled through in puffs along the arm, at the shoulder, and at the elbow. This was the beginning of the fashion for puffed and slashed sleeves that would last for two centuries.

The partlet, a separate item to fill in a low neckline, appeared in this period, usually of sheer fabric (linen or possibly silk) with an open V-neckline. Some partlets have a collar and a back similar to the upper part of a shirt. Burgundian partlets are usually depicted worn under the dress (but over the kirtle); in Italy the partlet seems to have been worn over the gown and could be pointed or cut straight across at the lower front.

Two uniquely Spanish fashions appear from the 1470s. The verdugada or verdugado was a gown with a bell-shaped hoop skirt with visible casings stiffened with reeds, which would become the farthingale. The earliest depictions of this garment come from Catalonia, where it is worn with pieced or slashed sleeves and the second new style, a chemise with trumpet sleeves, open and very wide at the wrist.

The sideless surcoat of the 14th century became fossilized as a ceremonial costume for royalty, usually with an ermine front panel (called a plackard or placket) and a mantle draped from the shoulders; it can be seen in variety of royal portraits and as “shorthand” to identify queens in illuminated manuscripts of the period.

Hairstyles and headdresses
A variety of hats and headdresses were worn in Europe in the 15th century. The crespine of Northern Europe, originally a thick hairnet or snood, had evolved into a mesh of jeweler’s work that confined the hair on the sides of the head by the end of the 14th century. Gradually the fullness at the sides of head was pulled up to the temples and became pointed, like horns (à corné). By mid-15th century, the hair was pulled back from the forehead, and the crespine, now usually called a caul, sat on the back of the head. Very fashionable women shaved their foreheads and eyebrows. Any of these styles could be topped by a padded roll, sometimes arranged in a heart-shape, or a veil, or both. Veils were supported by wire frames that exaggerated the shape and were variously draped from the back of the headdress or covered the forehead.

Women also wore the chaperon, a draped hat based on the hood and liripipe, and a variety of related draped and wrapped turbans.

The most extravagant headdress of Burgundian fashion is the hennin, a cone or truncated-cone shaped cap with a wire frame covered in fabric and topped by a floating veil. Later hennins feature a turned-back brim, or are worn over a hood with a turned-back brim. Towards the end of the 15th century women’s head-dresses became smaller, more convenient, and less picturesque. The gable hood, a stiff and elaborate head-dress, emerged around 1480 and was popular among elder ladies up until the mid 16th century.

Women of the merchant classes in Northern Europe wore modified versions of courtly hairstyles, with coifs or caps, veils, and wimples of crisp linen (often with visible creases from ironing and folding). A brief fashion added rows of gathered frills to the coif or veil; this style is sometimes known by the German name kruseler.

The general European convention of completely covering married women’s hair was not accepted in warmer Italy. Italian women wore their hair very long, wound with ribbons or braided, and twisted up into knots of various shapes with the ends hanging free. The hair was then covered with sheer veils or small caps. Toward the 1480s women wore chin-length sections of hair in loose waves or ripples over the ears (a style that would inspire “vintage” hair fashions in the 1620s and ’30s and again in the 1840s and 1850s). Blond hair was considered desirable (by Botticelli for one), and visitors to Venice reported that ladies sat out in the sun on their terraces with their hair spread out around large circular disks worn like hats, attempting to bleach it in the sun. Chemical methods were also used.

Women’s footwear
Women from the 14th century wore laced ankle-boots, which were often lined with fur. Later in the 15th century, women also wore “poulaines”. They used pattens to protect their tight shoes.

Style gallery – Northern Europe 1400s–1450s

1 – 1410–11

2 – 1410–11

3 – 1410

4 – 1430

5 – 1439

6 – 1443

7 – 1445–50

8 – 1445–50

9 – 1445–1450


1.Image of Christine de Pisan in a cotehardie. She wears a wired “horned” headdress with a veil. France, 1410–11.
2.Christine de Pisan presents her book to Queen Isabeau, who wears a figured houppelande lined in ermine with a broad collar and a heart-shaped headdress. Her books stress that women should dress appropriately to their station in life, as her own less sumptuous headdress here reflects.
3.This woman wears a houppelande of dark blue figured fabric with a narrow belt. Her hair is shaved back from her forehead, and she wears a blunt pointed cap (now over-restored), France or Flanders, c. 1410.
4.Modestly dressed woman wears a linen headdress and a grey gown lined in black fur confined with a belt at the high waist. Her veil is pinned to her cap, and has sharp creases from ironing, Netherlands, 1430.
5.Margarete van Eyck wears a horned headdress with a ruffled veil called a kruseler. Her red gown is lined in grey fur, 1439.
6.Overgown with fur-lined bag sleeves, Bruges, 1443.
7.Two women at a baptism, Seven Sacraments Altarpiece (likely godmother and mother) wear heart-shaped headdresses with veils and belted, fur-lined gowns open at the front to display the chemises beneath, Burgundy, 1445–50.
8.Isabella of Portugal, Duchess of Burgundy, wears an elaborate embroidered and jeweled headdress with a sheer veil. Her gown is made of an artichoke-patterned red velvet on a gold ground, lined with ermine, and laces at the front opening. She wears a sheer linen partlet and a checkered belt, c. 1445–50
9.Margaret of Anjou, Queen consort of Henry VI of England. She is wearing the close-fitting cotehardie with gold buttons and tight gold sleeves. Her red mantel is richly embroidered at the neck and clasped with a brooch.
10.Mary of Burgundy wears a headdress comprising a truncated-cone hennin, a jewelled padded roll, and a sheer veil.

Style gallery – Italy 1400s–1450s

1 – 1423

2 – 1440

3 – 1445

4 – 1450

5 – 1465–70

6 – 1468–70




1.Italian headdresses. The woman on the left wears a veil twisted into a turban. The woman on the right has her hair held in a long, thick braid encased in sheer fabric and twisted around her head. Her simple gown laces up the front with a single lace, 1423.
2.Woman at a casement wears a fur-lined red gown with a belt at the high waistline and full slashed sleeves over dark patterned undersleeves gathered to the elbow. Her headdress features a red chaperon, Florence, c. 1440.
3.Bianca Maria Visconti is depicted in c.1445 this portrait as the Virgin Mary with her son Galeazzo as the infant Jesus. She is wearing a high-waisted dress of embroidered gold with tight-fitting sleeves. Her blonde hair is partially covered by a long black veil.
4.Italian sleeveless dress of mid-15th century has an obvious waist seam and a skirt pleated to the bodice. The figured underdress has a high front neckline and wide upper sleeves. Her hair is lightly covered with a cap and veil twisted into a turban.
5.Battista Sforza, Duchess of Urbino wears her hair wrapped in ribbon which is coiled at her ears and covered with a ruched veil. Her black gown is high necked in front and lower at the back, typical of Italian fashion at this time, and is worn with floral sleeves, probably attached to an underdress, 1465–70.
6.Italian fresco showing women with their hair braided or twisted and wrapped around their heads, secured with ribbons laced through the coils, 1468–70.
7.Full-bodied houppelandes with voluminous sleeves worn with elaborate headdresses are characteristic of the earlier 15th century. Detail from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.
8.Bold pomegranate- or artichoke-patterned silks are characteristic of the 15th century, as are richly coloured velvets and woolens. Fine linen was important for headdresses and for the shirts and chemises revealed by new lower necklines and slashing.
9.Fur-trimmed Burgundian gown of mid-15th century has a V-neckthat displays the black kirtle and a band of the chemise. Hair is pulled back in an embroidered hennin and covered by a short veil.

Source from Wikipedia