Making the 16th Century Flemish Working Class Woman’s Gown Part 1: The Documentation

This gown or overgown was worn as the outer most piece of full body clothing in the 1540’s to 1560’s by working class Flemish women in Antwerp, the largest city of Flanders at the time. This first note of two will describe the features of this specific type of 16th century Flemish gown. Since no extant gown from this place, time and social class exists (as far as we know), I’m mainly using paintings done by two artists who painted many portraits of Antwerp’s working class. Pieter Aertsen’s and Joachim Beuckelaer’s paintings captured so many aspects of the working class’s life. Through these, we can glimpse the everyday activities of a class of people that are rarely noticed.

My second note in this series will focus on how I made my version of the gown.

On left: Pieter Aertsen, Cook in Front of the Stove
On right: My gown

Let’s start with the top of the gown and work our way down.

Straps

  • Seam on shoulder nearer the back than the front
  • Loose fitting: the outside edges are not necessarily form fitting

Bodice

  • Possibly constructed using a solid piece of fabric and cutting the armhole out of the top middle. No side or back seams present.
  • Inside edge skirts the outside of the breasts adding some support to the bosom
    • Joachim Beuckelaer’s “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”

  • Tapers inward on the laced part
    •  Joachim Beuckelaer’s “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” – above
    • Pierter Aersten’s “Vegetable Vendor”

  • Laced edges do not meet & are laced together using metal or fabric loops
    • Pierter Aersten’s “Vegetable Vendor” – above
    • Joachim Beuckelaer “Allegory of Negligence” – above
  • Spiral laced
    • Joachim Beuckelaer “Allegory of Negligence” – Above
    • A great tutorial on spiral lacing is Jen Thompson’s The Zen of Spiral Lacing

Under the Apron

  • What goes on under the apron is less evident.
  • Looking at details from Hieronymus Francken’s “The Witches’ Kitchen.”
    • The front opening seems to be open down past the navel, almost to the groin. Yet it only has lacings for the area from the waist to the top.  You can also see this in Johann Theodore de Bry’s illustration.
    • by Johann Theodore de Bry

    • Hieronymus Francken’s “The Witches’ Kitchen.”

       

Skirt

  • Gathered in the back with large, loose pleats
    • Bueckelaer’s “Flight into Egypt”

    • Pieter Aersten’s “Cook in Front of the Stove”

And that is all.

Coming soon . . . How I Made My Gown