Garb Seemly and Proper, Part V: Burgundian Modes

by Jehanne de Huguenin


The fashions of the fifteenth century were notable for their extravagance, exaggeration and general splendour. From the middle of the century, styles were heavily influenced by the court fashions of the Burgundian Dukes in France, themselves following Italian fashions.

Henry V in ceremonial houppelande, 1415.

Generally, the tight-fitting womensí styles of the 14th century gave way to a high-waisted, voluminous look, while head-dresses became extremely elaborate for both sexes. This is the age of the houppelande, a magnificently full overgarment with exaggerated sleeves; it was worn by both men and women, men having the option of wearing it either very short with hose, or very long. The wide sleeves were replaced by bag-sleeves as the century progressed. Fabrics were often heavy and rich - wools and velvets - to support the sweep and fall of long skirts and sleeves.

Menís clothing

Menís houpelande, short version and long version.

The houpelande featured a high collar, which was rolled down laterin the century. The garment was worn either very long, almost ankle-length, or very short, with a full flare at the hips and striking parti-coloured hose. Earlier in the century, sleeves flared enormously at the elbow, and were elongated to hang below the knees. Fur edgings and linings were very popular. Later, the fullness of the sleeve was confined tightly at the wrist to form a bag sleeve.

Hair was worn cropped short, and shoes, while gradually losing their exaggerated points during the course of the century, were often parti-coloured to match hose and houpelande.

Under the Yorkist kings the doublet and jerkin came into fashion. The doublet was worn to hip length only and had long tight sleeves; it was often padded by gathering the fabric into folds held by the belt. Slashing to reveal the embroidered under-shirt was popular in this period. After 1480 it could be open in front and loosely laced. Over the doublet was worn the jerkin, also hip-length, but with loose sleeves slit to form hanging sleeves. With the hose was worn a codpiece.

Hats were numerous and elaborate, including versions of the turban, the small round rondelet with a long streamer, the brimless sugarloaf or its shorter fez-like counterpart.
The classic Burgundian male silhouette, with long sleeves and elaborate hat.

Womenís clothing

The long, back-laced, tight-fitting gowns of the fourteenth century endured into the first part of the fifteenth, with the tippets becoming particularly long and flowing. Thereafter, however, womenís gowns were uniformly high-waisted and full-skirted, with an exaggerated train and a fur-trimmed v-neck. Sleeves were tight-fitting or, later, full and confined at the wrist to form a bag-sleeve. Belts were often broad, and the full skirt was trimmed with fur. By 1480, the v-neck had become square, baring most of the shoulders. The sideless surcoat persists from the 14th century throughout most of the 15th, its front bodice piece (the planchet) often reduced to a mere strip of fur.
The variety of womenís styles: high-waisted houpelandes and sideless surcoats in the same picture. Note the extravagant hats!

Head-dresses were enormous and wildly extravagant. The most common were the hennin, a tall steeple-shaped or truncated cone with a floating veil hanging from its tip, and the horned head-dress, a development from the wire cylinders of the reticulated head-dress.

The heart-shaped headdress was achieved by piling and padding the hair into graceful curves. Later in the century, the butterfly head-dress was developed, with a floating veil stretched on wires extending from the back of the head.
The feminine Burgundian silhouette: high waist, long, full sleeves and coat, and an elaborate headdress.


Phyllis Cunnington, Costume in Pictures (1961). Dutton Vista.

Mary G. Houston, Medieval Costume in England and France (1939). London: A&C Black.

Francis M. Kelly and Randolph Schwabe, A Short History of Costume and Armour (1931). Batesford.

Herbert Norris, Costume and Fashion

Nevil Truman, Historic Costuming (1936). Pitman Press.

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