Have you ever experienced the phenomenon where you learn a new word, and suddenly it seems like you see it everywhere? Apparently this is a cognitive bias called Frequency Illusion, and it happens to me all the time when browsing medieval paintings. One day you see a cool picture of a dude carrying some wares on a stick over his shoulder, then next day you see three more, and realize you need to make new Pinterest board. Or a friend shares a neat hat they made, and you soon realize that there’s tons of period depictions of them, you just never noticed until now.
This phenomenon happened to me several years ago. One day I noticed an interesting painting by Rogier van der Weyden where a woman in the middle had her over skirt wrapped around her thighs, revealing the dress beneath. I thought it was neat, but just a way for the artist to expose the fur lining, and create some visual interest. As I looked more of his works, I found several paintings with women wearing their skirt tucked up, presumably to keep them out of muck, or perhaps to get a bit more breeze on their legs. I noted the curiosity, pondered on how to do the same on my own skirts, but never succeeded.
More recently, I made a late 14th/early 15th century over gown, and while researching it I found many more of the tucked skirts. As one does, I started a Pinterest board and collected as many as I could.
In approximate chronological order, I found the following:
There are 35 examples from 1338 to 1500 AD, which is no small amount. It looks like around 1450, we start seeing the tuck on primarily religious or story figures, which means it might have already started phasing out of actual use, but whether that is true or not, it definitely dies out around 1500. Maybe because skirts had gotten fuller and the technique was no longer effective?
I have some thoughts on how this might be done with a belt, although I have not been very successful in making it look just like the pictures. So I am calling on all my awesome costuming friends to give it a try with your own 14/15th century gowns and see what you can come up with! I would love to see someone solve the tucked skirt mystery technique!