Whenever I am thinking of making a new dress, my first step is always to search out as many similar dresses as I can and study them. I look for things that are universal or common to most of the paintings. Things like common colors, hem lengths, where the neckline goes, where the shoulder strap rests, accessories, hairstyles, and so on. In Antwerp, between 1550-1575, we have tons and tons of paintings of women in the market place by Pieter Aertsen and his nephew Joachim Beuckelaer (plus a few from Aertsen’s son, Pieter Pietersz). Not just many paintings, but several women in every painting, wearing clothes in all sorts of interesting variations. It starts getting overwhelming very quickly! So figured I’d share my organization process with you!
Quick warning though: I am usually very good about linking to a reputable source for the images I reference on my site, but there are just way too many for me to do this time. But I can at least sort out which artist they are by, and I should have all of them pinned on this Pinterest page. So if you see one that you want to know more about, you should be able to find it there.
I’ll start at the top and work my way down. First:
The hairstyles in Antwerp seem to be wonderfully consistent! The ladies are universally depicted using white ribbon to put up their braids around the back of their heads. Always center parted, sometimes pulled severely close to the head, sometimes parted with looser curls allowed to frame the face (much like northern Italian hairstyles of the same time period). It is interesting how the white often spirals around different braids/twists, rather than the usual hairtaping method which would go around all of the braids at once, binding them close together and close to the head.
After seeing all those braids wrapped around the women’s heads, it’s easy to see how the coif is supported and stays on because of those braids. It’s a bit hard to tell, but I think there is a detail on the center top of these coifs that reminds me of English coifs, meaning that it might be a rectangle that is gathered at two ends, and tied to the head, just in front of the braids. Or it might be a circle gathered into a band, which you squeeze past the braids, then the ‘bag’ covers the braids. Or it could have been done both ways by different ladies. /shrug.
The veils appear to be worn over coifs, perhaps pinned in place to keep them from shifting around. It looks like most of them are just rectangles, around 21×25 inches. Some are of the ‘heart’ shaped variety, where the center is dented in, and the bumps of the heart curve around the head. I think the face-framing bumps are formed with starch or a wired edge, or both.
Most of these hats are made of straw, but some at the bottom are wool I think. The sizes vary, but mostly stay in the wide brim area.
The shifts are nothing exciting, kind of delightfully plain actually. The neckline seems to be round, sometimes slightly squared off. The sleeves are plain, no cuffs or ruffles, and wide enough to easily roll up above the elbows.
The white partlets are also wonderfully consistent. They are nearly all ruffled, fairly short and full. They are just long enough to go under the bust, all edges seem squared off. I have often seen reenactors create a channel at the bottom of the partlet for a cord to run through, then they pull it tight beneath the bust. I love this method, I have used it several times and it works very well for keeping the partlet in place, and slightly supporting the bust, but I can’t say that I really see a lot evidence of it here. There are genre paintings by other artists that support the idea though. I think the various corners are pinned in place, but it is difficult to say for sure.
The over partlets are black and often worn over a white partlet. There appear to be three varieties: one that is V shaped in the front, one rounded like a german gollar, and the last square, much like the white partlets. Unlike the white kind, these come in different lengths, from underbust to nearly above the bust.
Beuckelaer’s women are almost all shown wearing outfits that have lacing over the stomach. The laced garment is typically a different color from the garment covering the stomach, and both are different from the color of the lacings themselves. They seem to be made of a flat ribbon or tape in the higher-quality images I’ve seen. The lacings are only visible over the stomach, I have not seen any images where it extends over the bust as well, and the apron always covers everything below the waist, so we have no idea if it continues down past the waist. I cannot see any signs that eyelets were used on these dresses, looks like it’s lacing rings all the way.
What’s under the lacing?
Ah, and now we come to the garment beneath the lacing. It’s a curious subject, usually with two possible answers among reenactors: a full under dress, or a loose piece of fabric, just big enough to cover the stomach area (often called a stomacher or placket). Looking at the images above, the women appear to have fairly well supported busts, and the under garment seems pretty smooth, lending themselves to the idea of a semi-supportive under dress.
But then we have several ladies like this, where the section under the bust is very loose and wrinkled, and could not possibly be supporting them at all. It even looks like the under garment is nearly falling out at the top in some images. A dress could sort of look like that if it were very large and loose, but then we come up against another problem: we never see any sort of second strap around the shoulders. I think it is possible to get a perfect fit so that the shoulder straps never move about, and if an under dress’s straps a cut a smidge smaller than the over straps, then they should never show, right? I am very split on this issue.
We do have a couple tantalizing hints that the stomacher might have been used, at least sometimes.
In this nifty image by Aertsen, the woman wears a grey/blue dress, shoulder straps quite visible in the full image, with a white partlet over the bust, and a red squarish piece of fabric over them both. The wrinkles show that it is not particularly stiff. It clings oddly between the breasts, I am not sure why: could be the artist’s depiction, could be attached in someway there to an underlayer.
The Brunswick Monogrammist is a bit of an odd duck, since he’s an unknown painter, and therefore it’s harder to say where and when exactly he was painting, but most articles I can find on him say that he was from the Netherlands, and some even specifically say Antwerp (which would be just perfect for us!). But even if he is actually from another nearby city, the brothel and tavern scenes he paints are very similar in dress fashion to Aertsen and Beuckelaer, and only about 10-15 years earlier on average. The sitting woman above wears a red dress with a black garment over the front. It looks as though it might be pinned in place on the upper two corners, and tied around the waist. If you had her put on another dress over this outfit, of the stomach laced sort, then you might get something pretty close to the other Antwerpen dresses above. If this was actually done by some women, then I still wonder why we don’t see the underdress peaking out near the shoulder straps. But if we somehow don’t see any shoulder straps, then I suppose this could work.
Martin Van Cleve was another painter who likely spent some time in Antwerp painting, around 1550-1570, which is around the same time Aertsen and Beuckelaer were active, and yet again, also painting the working class folk. But his style is so different from theirs, and the clothing he paints on women are much closer to Bruegel than A&B. But he has done some paintings similar to the guys above, and this is an interesting picture, so let’s take a look! When I first saw this image, I thought it was showing an orange/red dress with a teal lining, showing on a squared off section flipped over in the front. But I thought that it might instead be a separate stomacher that is resting in the dress’s opening. Can’t say for sure, but I think both ways are possible.
A quick note on Bruegel: you might be wondering why I am not including his work here, since he was also a painter associated with Antwerp, and lived from 1525 to 1569. I am not including him because A&B appear to be painting women in bustling city streets (Antwerp), while Bruegel is always painting peasants in farm fields and little villages. This might only be on the outskirts of Antwerp, but the fashions are drastically different! I think that the working women of the city see the middle-upper class ladies with their servants walking about the markets much more often than Bruegel’s women, and were perhaps influenced by their style of dress. Aertsen and Beuckelaer’s women are wearing clothing reflective of the richer fashions: tight fitting bodices, skirts gathered into waists, ruffled collars, starched/styled white hoods/veils and such. Also, Bruegel did most of his paintings between 1556 and 1569, and lived in Brussels, not Antwerp for the later half of that period.
I am including this picture here because it is the only image I have found that might be showing a second set of straps. I am a little dubious, since it looks like the second strap is the same color as the outer dress (they are nearly always a different color) and the white shift has been painted over it. I wonder if the strap was originally placed there, and Aertsen changed his mind, painting the strap higher. Maybe the white paint just faded over time? Or maybe the strap is really there, and the thin shift is poofed up over it? I don’t know! But it’s worth noting, whatever it is.
The sleeves are quite simple. No signs of a front seam, which means it’s likely a one piece pattern, rather than the less wrinkle prone two piece (bent elbow) pattern. It looks as though the last inch or so of the seam might be left unsewn: that’s a common feature of fitted sleeves, but normally they will have a button or two to close that open section after one puts their sleeve on. I have not seen any buttons.
Sewn in Short Sleeves
Most of the dresses with sewn in short sleeves appear to be the main over/outer dresses, but in at least one case (woman in the bottom-right Aertsen set) the underdress has the sewn sleeves. It’s neat that you can make either style of dress, and wear either one over the other if you make both! In some cases, the longer sleeve under the short sleeve matches the color of the woman’s under skirt, suggesting that they are wearing a long sleeved underdress, with a short sleeved overdress. Nifty!
I love these jackets! Beuckelaer painted many red jackets, while Aertsen has a bit more variety, with tan, brown, grey, and dusty reds. It looks like most of them have a bit of a collar, similar to the black overpartlets. They have a few different possible patterns. They are all fairly fitted and smooth around the shoulders and chest, but the stomach and hips look like they have a varied level of tightness. They could have hip gores like many of the early 17th century embroidered English jackets, but none of the B&A images show the triangular hip seams. Or they could be shaped like Bruegel’s jackets, made of four pieces that all flare at the hips.
To be continued! I still plan on adding socks, shoes, heuke, and aprons.