18 June 2013

Pink lower class dress: finding inspiration

I've been meaning to make another 1370s lower class dress for some time now. My mainstay reenacting dress is a pale green one in coarse linen, which was my first ever sewing project (ignoring the shift that goes under it). While it has held up remarkably well to both 6 years of reenacting wear-and-tear and my increasing knowledge of actual medieval dress construction, I'm often cold when wearing it (stupid Welsh weather...).

So, it is time for an overdress. A nicely made one, despite it being lower class, incorporating all the knowledge I've gained, plus using WOOL so that I will be nice and toasty. 

This project has been cooking for quite some time. I actually bought the wool from Bernie the Bolt maybe 3 years ago. Due to various annoying Real World things, I have only just got around to making a start with it. It is pink. Quite pink...

It looks quite pink here, but in some lights it is almost terracotta.

At the time, I'd mostly chosen pink as our reenactment group had an overabundance of blue and green dresses. I'd been hoping to find a madder exhaust shade, like Sally Pointer's Basic Medieval Dress, but settled for this after Bernie revealed that he over-dyes anything he buys that is remotely that colour as otherwise it would never sell... However, I'm going to pretend I chose this shade because it mimics the 'brown-pink' shade seen in some manuscript illustrations, e.g. the garments here:

Dance in the Garden of Deduiz (Delight).
Roman de la Rose, c. 1365, France.
Univeristy of Chicago Library, MS 1380, f. 4v.
To find a good lower class inspiration image, I've been trawling the wonderful Roman de la Rose Digital Library, which lists all of the known extant copies of the Roman de la Rose and has digital facsimiles of many of them. I'd originally been looking for representations of the allegorical figure Poverty, thinking that would be a good place to start. Unfortunately, up until the late 14th Century, she's usually depicted as a stock image - naked woman in a cloak, showing her breasts - not much good to base a costume on!

Typical "stock image" of Povrete (Poverty).
Roman de la Rose, 14th Century, France.
Bibliotheque L'Arsenal 5209, f. 4r.
However, I noticed that, in rather awful medieval stereotyping, all of the negative allegories which L'Amans comes across before entering the Garden are usually depicted as poor women, whilst all of the positive allegories are always portrayed as fashionable upperclass women... 

So, there's Haine (Hate), Felonie, Vilanie, Covoitise (Covetousness), Avarice, Envie (Envy), Tritesce (Sorrow/Misery), Vielleice (Old Age/Senility), Papelardie (Religious Hypocracy) and Povrete (Poverty). Many manuscripts illustrate 9/10 of those (usually having Felonie or Vilanie depicted). So, even when you remove Povrete (no proper clothes) and Papelardie (usually depicted as a nun), there's still a lot to work with. Even more conveniently, the Roman de la Rose website has a page where you can search by illustration title, eliminating much of the leg work of looking through the facsimiles.

One thing quickly became clear: loose, fairly shapeless dresses with a simple oval neckline, often pouched up over a belt, are near-ubiquitous on these characters. This is true in the 13th Century, when even fashionable dresses were loose-fitting:

Haine (Hate).
Roman de la Rose, 13th Century, France.
Bibliotheque Nationale de France, fr. 1559, f. 2r.
It remains true throughout the 14th Century, despite the evolution in fitting occurring in fashionable clothing:

Haine (Hate).
Roman de la Rose, 14th Century, France.
Bibliotheque L'Arsenal 5209, f. 2r.

And it is still true in several (but not all) of the 15th Century depictions too, arguing against a universal "trickle down" of the fashionable fitted silhouette into middle- and lower-class dress (unlike what many proponents of the Gothic Fitted Dress theory claim).

Haine (Hate).
Roman de la Rose, 15th Century, France.
Bodleian Library, MS Douce 332, f. 2v.

Haine (Hate).
Roman de la Rose, c. 1400, France.
Bibliotheque Nationale de France, fr. 380, f. 1v.

Haine (Hate).
Roman de la Rose, c. 1440-1480, France.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Philip S. Collins Collection, 1945-65-3, f. 2r.

So, loose and fairly shapeless is evidently the way to go for depicting a 1370s commoner. This is going to require a certain amount of bravery, as most 14th Century (and even earlier) reenactors make their dresses quite fitted (though rarely supportive), even when such fitting is highly anachronistic. It will be a bit awkward being the rarity going for a) lower class over upper class and b) authenticity over modern aesthetics, but ah well...

Anyway, the image that really caught my eye most was this one:

Haine (Hate), Felonie and Vilanie.
Roman de la Rose, c. 1365, France.
University of Chicago Library, MS 1380, f. 2r.
In particular, Felonie, who is wearing the typical loose-fitting dress. It's pouched over a belt, completely obscuring the belt. It has an oval neckline and is probably floor length or a tad shorter. The only concession to fitting is the lower sleeves which, in the manner of the fashion of half a century earlier, are tight once they pass the elbow. She's also wearing a typically lowerclass form of wrapped veil, with a knot at one temple, which I'd like to replicate.

So, having found my inspiration image, I need to determine the cut and construction methods. But that is a story for another day...

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