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Women’s fashion in Western Europe 1530–1550

Fashion in the period 1530–1550 in Western Europe is marked by voluminous clothing worn in an abundance of layers (one reaction to the cooling temperatures of the Little Ice Age, especially in Northern Europe and the British Isles). Contrasting fabrics, slashes, embroidery, applied trims, and other forms of surface ornamentation became prominent. The tall, narrow lines of the late Medieval period were replaced with a wide silhouette, conical for women with breadth at the hips. Sleeves were a center of attention, and were puffed, slashed, cuffed, and turned back to reveal contrasting linings.

The 16th century, the age of the Renaissance and the Reformation and time of spiritual change, also brought a transformation in the costume. The costume was no longer intended to wrap the body tightly, but to allow for a comfortable movement and to appear free and dignified at the same time as the earlier time.

In the Reformation period, the costume of women changed. The skirt was round or square cut at the chest and showed the shirt or an embroidered insert. Women wore the bonnet, since 1520 the calotte and on going out the beret in the manner of the mercenaries.

European fashion in the first decades of the 16th century was marked by the rivalry between Henry VIII (reigned 1509-1547) and François I st of France (who ruled from 1515 to 1547) for welcome the most glittering courtyard, culminating during the festivities of the Camp du Drap d’Or (1520). But the rise was that of Charles V, King of Spain, Naples and Sicily from 1516, heir to the style and wealth of Burgundyand Roman Germanic emperor from 1530. The newly unified influx of gold and silver from the New World to Spain has changed the dynamics of trade throughout Western Europe, marking the beginning of a period of increased opulence in clothing, tempered by the Spanish taste for the dark wealth of dresses that would dominate the second half of the century.

Women’s fashion

Women’s fashions of the early 16th 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 high-waisted gown of the late medieval period evolved in several directions in different parts of Europe. In the German states and Bohemia, gowns remained short-waisted, tight-laced but without corsets. The open-fronted gown laced over the kirtle or a stomacher or plackard. Sleeves were puffed and slashed, or elaborately cuffed.

In France, England, and Flanders, the high waistline gradually descended to the natural waist in front (following Spanish fashion) and then to a V-shaped point. Cuffs grew larger and were elaborately trimmed.

Hoop skirts or farthingales had appeared in Spain at the very end of the 15th century, and spread to England and France over the next few decades. Corsets also appeared during this period.

A variety of hats, caps, hoods, hair nets, and other headresses were worn, with strong regional variations.

Shoes were flat, with broad square toes.

German fashion
In the first half of the 16th century, German dress varied widely from the costume worn in other parts of Europe. Skirts were cut separately from bodices, though often sewn together, and the open-fronted gown laced over a kirtle with a wide band of rich fabric, often jeweled and embroidered, across the bust. Partlets (called in German gollers or collars) were worn with the low-cut bodice to cover the neck and shoulders, and were made in a variety of styles. The most popular goller was a round shoulder-capelet, frequently of black velvet lined in silk or fur, with a standing neckband; this goller would remain in use in some parts of Germany into the 17th century and became part of national dress in some areas.

Narrow sleeves were worn in the earliest years of the century, and were later decorated with bands of contrasting fabric and rows of small panes or strips over puffed linings. Skirts were trimmed with bands of contrasting fabric, but were closed all around. They would be worn draped up to display an underskirt.

From 1530, elements of Spanish dress were rapidly adopted in fashionable Germany under the influence of the imperial court of Charles V.

Dress in Holland, Belgium, and Flanders, now part of the Empire, retained a high, belted waistline longest. Italian gowns were fitted to the waist, with full skirts below.

The French gown of the first part of the century was loosely fitted to the body and flared from the hips, with a train. The neckline was square and might reveal the kirtle and chemise beneath. Cuffed sleeves were wide at the wrist and grew wider, displaying a decorated undersleeve attached to the kirtle. The gown fastened in front early, sometimes lacing over the kirtle or a stomacher, and the skirt might be slit in front or the train tucked up in back to display the skirt of the kirtle.

As a fitted style emerged under Spanish influence, the gown was made as a separate bodice and skirt; this bodice usually fastened at the side or the side-back with hooks and eyes or lacing.

From the 1530s, French and English fashions featured an open, square-necked gown with long sleeves fitted smoothly over a tight corset or pair of bodies and a farthingale. With the smooth, conical line of the skirt, the front of the kirtle or petticoat was displayed, and a decorated panel called a forepart, heavily embroidered and sometimes jeweled, was pinned to the petticoat or directly to the farthingale.

The earlier cuffed sleeves evolved into trumpet sleeves, tight on the upper arm and flared below, with wide, turned back cuffs (often lined with fur) worn over full undersleeves that might match the decorated forepart. At the very end of the period, full round sleeves (perhaps derived from Italian fashions) began to replace the flaring trumpet sleeves, which disappeared by the later 1550s.

Fabric or chain girdles were worn at the waist and hung down to roughly knee length; a tassel or small prayer book or purse might be suspended from the girdle.

The low neckline of the dress could be filled with a partlet. Black velvet partlets lined in white with a high, flared neckline were worn pinned over the gown. Partlets of the same rich fabric as the bodice of the gown give the appearance of a high-necked gown. Sheer or opaque linen partlets were worn over the chemise or smock, and high-necked smocks began to appear; toward 1550 these might have a small standing collar with a ruffle, which would become the pleated ruff of the next period.

Hats and headgear
In France, England, and the Low Countries, black hoods with veils at the back were worn over linen undercaps that allowed the front hair (parted in the middle) to show. These hoods became more complex and structured over time.

Unique to England was the gable hood, a wired headdress shaped like the gable of a house. In the 16th century gable headdress had long embroidered lappets framing the face and a loose veil behind; later the gable hood would be worn over several layers that completely concealed the hair, and the lappets and veil would be pinned up in a variety of ways.

A simple rounded hood of the early years of the century evolved into the French hood, popular in both France and England; its arched shape sat further back on the head and displayed the front hair which was parted in the center and pinned up in braids or twists under the veil.

German women adopted hats like fashionable men’s baretts early in the century; these were worn over caps or cauls (colettes) made of netted cord over a silk lining. Hats became fashionable in England as an alternative to the hood toward the 1540s. Close fitting caps of fur were worn in cold climates.

Linen caps called coifs were worn under the fur cap, hood or hat.

In warmer climates including Italy and Spain, hair was more often worn uncovered, braided or twisted with ribbons and pinned up, or confined in a net. A Spanish style of the later 15th century was still worn in this period: the hair was puffed over the ears before being drawn back at chin level into a braid or wrapped twist at the nape.

First-time brides wore their hair loose, in token of virginity, and a wreath or chaplet of orange blossoms was traditional. A jeweled wreath with enameled “orange blossoms” was sometimes worn.

Jewelry and accessories
Women of wealth wore gold chains and other precious jewelry; collar-like necklaces called carcanets, earrings, bracelets, rings, and jeweled pins. Bands of jeweler’s work were worn as trim by the nobility, and would be moved from dress to dress and reused. Large brooches were worn to pin overpartlets to the dress beneath.

Dress hooks, of silver gilt for the wealthy and of base metal for the lower classes, were worn to loop up skirts.

A fashionable accessory was the zibellino, the pelt of a sable or marten worn draped at the neck or hanging at the waist; some costume historians call these “flea furs”. The most expensive zibellini had faces and paws of goldsmith’s work with jewelled eyes.

However, it should be noted that not all women or men were allowed to wear jewelry because of the sumptuary laws that restricted wearing certain types of jewelry and luxurious fabrics, such as purple velvet, to first royalty and then nobility. The newly wealthy merchant classes who were not aristocrats could not wear jewelry on their clothing or fabrics restricted to nobles.

Gloves of soft leather had short, sometimes slashed, cuffs and were perfumed.

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Beauty Ideals
Portraits produced during the Renaissance provide an invaluable resource for visualizing and understanding the beauty ideals of the period. Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, painted between 1480-1490 depicts Venus as the ultimate amalgamation of female physical beauty. Her face is perfectly symmetrical, her skin is unblemished and pure white, her hair is light in color and slightly waved, her forehead is high, her eyebrows are severely arched, her lips are red and full and her abdomen and hips protrude slightly under her thin garment.

Women often applied toxic substances to their faces and chests such as mercury, alum, and ceruse to lighten the skin and remove freckles. However, these products, such as ceruse, a lead derivative severely irritated the skin, leaving women’s faces blemished and burned. Although safer alternatives existed, women preferred the consistency and coverage offered by ceruse. Not all cosmetics were dangerous, many women relied on lotions and balms containing almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, bread crumbs, eggs, honey, rosewater and snake fat to clarify and cleanse the skin. Red lips and rosy cheeks were achieved primarily through the application of vermilion; ceruse mixed with organic dyes such as henna and cochineal (a powder made from the ground exoskeleton of insects). In Italy especially, women sought to achieve the light tresses that were viewed as the ideal. Women applied mixtures of lemon juice, alum and white wine and sat in the sun to lighten their hair. In order to produce loose curls, women wrapped hair saturated in gum arabic or beer around clay curlers. Finally, the appearance of a high forehead was achieved by plucking hairs along the hairline, and severely arching or removing the eyebrows altogether. Although at this time, women could not cosmetologically alter the symmetry of their face, or the structure of their nose in order to obtain the ideal, the products available allowed them to come close.

Style gallery – German States and the Low Countries 1530s–1540s

1 – 1538 Mourning

2 – 1538–39

3 – 1539

4 – c. 1540s

5 – 1542

6 – 1542

7 – 1545

8 – 1548

1.Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan in mourning wears a black robe with a fur lining over a black gown. She wears a close-fitting black cap, 1538.
2.German fashion includes a high-waisted gown with wide sleeves trimmed with bands of contrasting fabric worn with a wide belt. Undersleeves (probably attached the kirtle) have ruffled cuffs lined in red. A black parlet is worn. The headdress consists of a decorated cap and a short, sheer veil turned up in “wings” at either cheek, 1538–39
3.Anne of Cleves wears a red gown with a high waist confined with a belt. Her sleeves have broad puffs at on the upper arm and wide, open lower sleeves. Her cap or hood has a sheer veil draped over it, 1539.
4.Anne of Cleves wears a front-laced full-sleeved gown of bands of red-gold brocade and black with ruffled cuffs that display the chemise cuffs beneath. Her headdress consists of a short sheer veil and embroidered hood; a red undercap or forehead band is visible at the temples, 1540s.
5.Woman holding a silver rosary wears a linen headdress and veil. Her gown is confined with a wide belt at the high waist, and she wears a black partlet that reveals a red kirtle over her high-necked chemise trimmed with gold embroidery, 1542.
6.Flemish costume of 1542 features turned-back trumpet sleeves lined in fur and a black partlet. The high-necked chemise of fine linen has ruffles at the wrist, and a linen hood with a veil is worn.
7.Christoph Amberger’s Unknown Woman wears a finely pleated partlet or high-necked chemise with a high collar and small ruff beneath her gown. Her close-fitting cap may be similar to that worn by Anne of Cleves under her veil, c. 1545.
8.Self-portrait of Caterina van Hemessen show the painter in a black overpartlet and red velvet undersleeves, 1548.

Style gallery – Italy and Iberia 1530s–1540s

1 – 1530

2 – 1530–35

3 – 1536

4 – 1538

5 – 1540

6 – 1545

7 – 1548

1.Eleanor of Austria, Queen of Portugal and France, wears a floral cut velvet gown with fur-lined oversleeves over full, striped slashed undersleeves caught up with jewels, 1530.
2.Foschi’s Italian Lady wears a pink gown with puffed upper sleeves and contrasting velvet lower sleeves, both trimmed with fur. She wears a high-necked chemise (or possibly partlet) trimmed with blackwork embroidery at the neck and front opening. Her girdle of knotted cord has a tassel at the end, 1530–35.
3.Titian’s Italian Lady wears a gown with puffed upper sleeves over contrasting slashed lower or undersleeves. She wears a jeweled girdle at her natural waist. Her hair is done up in intricately knotted braids, 1536.
4.Eleonora Gonzaga wears a black gown with puffed upper sleeves. A “flea fur” with jeweled gold face is suspended from her knotted and tasselled girdle. She wears a partlet with a high collar and small ruff, and her hair is confined in a black cap, 1538.
5.Lucrezia Panciatichi wears a rose gown with intricately ruched or gathered puffed upper sleeves. The tight gathers of her skirt can be seen at the front waist, 1540.
6.Eleanora of Toledo, wife of Cosimo de’ Medici, wears a gown of a boldly patterned silk with matching sleeves. She wears a gold lattice-work partlet studded with pearls and a matching snood or caul. The blackwork embroidery at the edges of her square-necked chemise can be seen beneath the parlet, 1545.
7.Empress and Queen of Spain Isabella of Portugal wears a gown with wide bands of trim. Her bodice is slightly arched over the breast and slightly pointed at the waist, and her long, wide sleeves are open down the front and caught together with jeweled clasps or pins. She wears a high-neck partlet with a small ruff, 1548.

Style gallery – England 1530s–1540s

1 – 1536–37

2 – 1536–37

3 – 1535–40

4 – 1540–41

5 – 1543

6 – 1544

7 – 1545

8 – 1546

1.Jane Seymour wears a gable hood and a chemise with geometric blackwork embroidery, 1536–37.
2.Detail of the embroidery on Jane Seymour’s cuff.
3.Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee wears a patterned brown or mulberry-colored gown with full sleeves and a matching partlet lined in white, 1540 (perhaps after an earlier drawing).
4.Elizabeth Seymour wears a black satin gown with full sleeves and black velvet partlet. Her cuffs have floral blackwork embroidery, 1540–41.
5.Lady Margaret Butts wears a high-necked chemise with a band of blackwork at the neck. The lappets on her gable hood are solid black, and she has a fur piece draped around her shoulders, 1543.
6.Henry VIII’s daughter Mary Tudor wears a brocade gown with red sleeve linings and a red French hood with a black veil. The edge of her square-necked chemise is visible above the neckline of her dress, 1544.
7.Catherine Parr wears a red loose gown with wide bands of applied trim. She wears a white cap with pearls and a pleated forehead cloth under a hat with an upturned brim and a feather. The collar of her gown is lined with patterned (woven or possibly embroidered) silk, c. 1545.
8.Elizabeth Tudor at age 13 wears a rose-colored gown over a forepart and undersleeves of cloth of silver with patterns in looped pile. Her French hood matches her gown, 1546.

Source from Wikipedia