Antwerpen Dress

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:


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Uncovered hair by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Uncovered hair by Pieter Aertsen.

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.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

White caps or coifs by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

White Caps/coifs by Pieter Aertsen.

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.

Antwerpen Dress Research on


Antwerpen Dress Research on

White Veils by Beuckelaer.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Veils by Pieter Aertsen.

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.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Straw hats by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Hats by Pieter Aertsen.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Other hats by Beuckelaer.

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.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Shift necklines and sleeves by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Shift necklines by Pieter Aertsen.

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.

Antwerpen Dress Research on


Antwerpen Dress Research on

White partlets by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

White partlets by Pieter Aertsen.

 The white partlets are also wonderfully Antwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comconsistent.  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.





Antwerpen Dress Research on

Black partlets by Beuckelaer.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Black partlets by Pieter Aertsen.

Antwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comThe 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.




Antwerpen Dress Research on

Stomach lacing by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Stomach lacing by Pieter Aertsen.

Beuckelaer’s women are almost all shown wearing Antwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comoutfits 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?

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Smooth piece under lacing by Beuckelaer.

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.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Wrinkled piece under lacing by Beuckelaer.

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.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Keukenstuk., Pieter Aertsen, 1560 – 1565. Click for full image.

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.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Braunschweig (Brunswick) Monogrammist, 1550’s.

Antwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comAntwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comThe 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.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Peasant Wedding – Martin van Cleve 1550ish

Antwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comAntwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comMartin 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.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Pieter Aertsen’s The Cook, 1559.

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.


Pinned Sleeves

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Pinned on sleeves by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Pinned on sleeves by Pieter Aertsen.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

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

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Sewn on short sleeves by Beuckelaer.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

Sewn on short sleeves by Pieter Aertsen.

Antwerpen Dress Research on

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!



Antwerpen Dress Research on

Over jackets by Beuckelaer.


Antwerpen Dress Research on

Jackets by Pieter Aertsen.

Antwerpen Dress Research on MorganDonner.comI 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.



Antwerpen Dress Research on

Antwerpen Dress Research on


That’s it for now!  You are on your own when it comes to the socks and shoes.   I did this picture research in preparation for making a new dress, and I have finally finished it!  Click on the picture below!



15 thought on “Antwerpen Dress”

  1. Vanityfairy says:

    Awesome research!
    My two cents after having recreated my version:
    My Flemish doesn’t show the two straps, that I’ve noticed.
    I have a full wool underdress, but on hot days I use only a stomacher underneath the laced wool overdress. It’s such a flexible outfit overall with sleeves and partlets galore, and by assuming that both underdresses and stomachers were used, they are even more so. It makes sense I think.

  2. Mylla says:

    great work! so happy I found this cause that means someone is agreeing with me on the middle layer!

  3. Jess says:

    Thank you for putting so much detail into this survey! I’ve been trying to do something like this in a haphazard way with pinterest, but you are before me, and laying them all out into groups like this is so very helpful! I look forward to the rest of the items. :)

    I’ve also been trying to determine whether the skirt of the laced gown is often split, or if there are only one or two examples … I’d be interested in your opinion of how these ladies are hitching and wearing their skirts! My impression is that it’s a closed skirt, often hitched up at the back to show a contrast lining.

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      I am glad it’s useful!

      As far as I can tell, most dresses seem to be solid fronted. With nearly all of the different ways I have seen the skirts flipped or tucked up, I could to the same thing with a closed skirt, no need for a split. I do understand how the split skirt is modernly appealing, but they appear to have worn aprons over the front 99.9% of the time, so what’s the point of that pretty split then? As for lining, most of the time that you can see the underside of the skirt, it’s lined with a contrasting color. I did see some that looked like they might not have been lined (or just lined in the same color).

  4. Kelly Blais says:

    Fantastic job!! I’ve done the same research and came to the same conclusions, but you’ve laid it all out in the single best explanation of this style!! Are you in the SCA? Very much worthy of reprint!

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      I am glad you like it! I am indeed SCA, currently playing in An Tir.

  5. Desirée says:

    I am utterly inpessed with your blog post. :D thank you so much for all these lovely details. Thou at the moment I have no time or need to make a dress like this, you make me want to ^_^ My family comes from around Maastricht, and thou that is the Netherlands I never much liked the typical Dutch historical clothing.I could not imagine that what the fishermens wives were Wearing was the same as the clothing that would have been worn around Maastricht. Ofcourse I knew that from a historical perspective Maastricht is not part of the netherlands for that long yet. And saying it feels utterly foolish, (for not figuering this out before now) but you compleetly inspired me to look in to old paintings and find out the ways people did dress around Maastricht. Thou other then for fantasy fairs or mostly fantasy larps, I would not know were or when I would were clothes like this. Like I said, I have no real need for these sorts of clothes. But thank you, I very much enjoyed reading your blog post.

  6. shelly says:

    i think i start to get it and then i do more research and get myself confused…

    so its – shift, underdress or stomacher, overdress with laces? both are usually sleeveless?
    and optional pin on sleeves, partlet, jacket, apron

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      I think that sounds right! It’s hard to say for sure, since we don’t seem to have any pictures of them mid-dress! That sure would be handy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 + 17 =

Related Projects