November 12, 2014

Closet Histories #3.1 : The Continent

Last time on Closet Histories, which was admittedly weeks ago now, we began discussing fashion in the 17th century. I tend to have focused (so far) on primarily English fashions, probably because I am somewhat obsessed with English history. That doesn't mean interesting things weren't going on in fashion in the rest of Europe, it just means I am biased. Anyway, today I thought we would take a short look at some of the other styles popular in the 17th century over on "the continent" of mainland Europe.

Fig. 1 (1628)                                                Fig. 2 (1632)                                                 Fig. 3 (1641)
These ladies in black are all Dutch and share a pretty similar outfit choice. Black fabric was very expensive to dye and make which is primarily why it was such a popular choice both to wear and to be painted in. We have to imagine that people were being painted in their Sunday best, in this case including a rich black silk gown, a goldwork embroidery stomacher, and a large stiffly starched fine linen ruff. It seems that the ruff held on in Holland longer than in other areas, as evidenced by the smiling woman in Fig. 3 who's portrait dates to 1641. All three women are also wearing white linen and lace cuffs and each holds a hand fan suspended from a gold chain at the waist. Linen and lace hair pieces or caps also seems to be in vogue, the style in both Fig. 1&2 being particularly interesting. I can't tell if it is a high collar or a separate headpiece. If someone knows more please enlighten me!

Fig. 4 (1667)
Looking lovely in white satin and gold metallic lace here in Fig. 4 is Lucia Wijbrants, the second wife of wealthy Dutch cloth merchant Jan Jacobszoon Hinlopen. I have to imagine having a cloth merchant husband must have been a good way to get some excellent silk gowns. It looks like Lucia's bodice is boned (probably with whalebone/baleen) as opposed to her wearing a set of stays underneath her gown. Her gown's neckline is so wide and low that it is almost off the shoulder. The sleeves of her bodice barely reach her elbow and the chemise poufs out from the sleeve opening. Her underskirt seems to be of off white satin embellished with wide metallic gold lace, whereas her overskirt/gown looks to be of jacquard or brocade, again in off-white. I would love to see what this gown looked like in life, all of that metallic lace shining. She wears pearl bracelets, large pearl earrings, and a pearl necklace, along with holding a jeweled golden book (probably a prayer book or bible). She also has a bow shaped diamond brooch at the front of her bodice and a jewel bracelet/armband worn further up her arm. The entire ensemble screams wealth and opulence, as does the setting with the richly colored rug, silver wares and velvet armchair behind her. A prosperous middle class had developed in Holland as a result of Dutch trade interests and this portrait of Lucia is a great example of how the wife of one of these wealthy merchants would have dressed.

Fig. 5 (1653)                                                Fig. 6 (1665)                                                      Fig. 7 (1653)

Hoping down to Spain we see a rather unique style of dress. Though Spain had been a fashion leader during the 16th century, Spanish styles began to lag slightly behind in the 17th century. This could be because Spain as a whole was a more conservative country at the time, and older styles like the ruff and the Spanish farthingale held on longer. The most unique feature of 17th century Spanish dress was the gaurdinfante, the wide oval shaped farthingale seen in the portraits above. Similar to the earlier French farthingales, the gaurdinfanta was popular with Spanish women from mid 17th century. The large wide skirts, though a derivative of an earlier and narrower French style making them old fashioned in their time, actually seem miles ahead when you know the large paniers of the 18th century are just around the corner. The style was part of formal court dress and was not necessarily a mainstay of everyday dress, most women would wear smaller versions of the style or simply pad out the hips of their skirts.

Fig. 8 (1666)                                                     Fig. 9                                                          Fig. 10 (1650)

Now lets talk a bit about the French, those foremost fashionistas. After all, the Baroque was the time of the Sun King Louis XIV and the building of Versailles! The ladies in Fig. 8&9 were both mistresses of Louis, Louise de La Vallière and Catherine Charlotte de Gramont. The lady in Fig. 10 is Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans who was one of the wealthiest heiresses in history. All three ladies are wearing the popular more "casual" style of the mid 17th century. The wide off the shoulder neckline are accented with find linen handkerchiefs or collars. The white linen chemises pouf out, sometimes with frilly lace cuffs, at the ends of the sleeve. All three wear a stiff conical shaped bodice which is embellished with jeweled buttons or pearls. Each has an accessory in "flame" orange, the favorite color of the king. The color was popular at court, and you can spot it in many portraits from the time as ribbons, wraps, feathers or as the main color of a gown.

Fig. 11 (1661)
Even Louis' oft neglected queen, Marie Thérèse of Spain, got in on the flame orange action. Here she is pictured with her son the dauphin and both are wearing rather elaborate ensembles including flame colored feathers. They may be in fancy dress for a masquerade, as Marie Therese has a black moretta mask in hand. Whether her gown is a costume or not, it is quite fabulous and opulent! The shape follows the popular silhouette of low wide neckline, conical bodice, layered open skirt and puffed elbow length sleeves. The textiles seem very embellished and richly ornate for the time, in a contrast to the simpler untrimmed satin gowns from the same time period. She is layered with metallic laces in silver and gold and her ensemble is dotted with jewels and large pearls. She also wears feather trimmed gloves, and feathers too embellish her waistline, shoulders and cuffs. For a woman who was seriously neglected, at least it seems she looked fabulous!

I realize this post is rather stunted in its coverage of 17th century continental fashion. Though I could go on and find more examples of French, Italian, Austrian, Polish....etcetera fashion from the 17th century, I simply am not that devoted to the 1600's! It is pretty and interesting, but my heart belongs to the 18th century and I am eager to push on into the 1700's as soon as possible! That doesn't mean we are done with the 17th century though, I still have an extant gown to show you, the Puritans to talk about, and the later part of the century to cover. It is funny how some eras of fashion have more appeal to us individually than others do isn't it? In any case, more historic fashion coming up soon, even if I have been out of the swing for a few weeks! I'll find my footing again and on we'll go!

 More on 17th century fashion here, also a great portrait resource I abuse in these posts can be found here.

All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits used to illustrate today's post are credited to either the museum where they reside (whenever possible) or the source where I found them, and are linked via their fig. # underneath. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!

Thanks for reading! 


  1. My word, these are ravishingly beautiful paintings and ensembles. I am head-over-heels with the whisper soft blue gown from 1667 (and 1661's black and red stunner at the end as well). You do such a marvelous job of highlighting your informative historical fashion texts with just the right images, dear Bianca. They make me long for a time machine and the next installment in this series in equal measures. :)

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you Jessica, as I do end up spending quite a lot of time on these post between sourcing images and then writing everything up, that means a lot to me!


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