Early Tudor Project — The White Band

I cannot leave this discussion without mentioning The White Band, an enigmatic feature of English gowns of the 1520s, first brought to my attention on Hope Greenberg’s excellent website.

In every instance above, the white band is seen in connection with fur-lined, voluminous sleeves that only come as far as elbow length.

But not on Mary, below. She wears tight sleeves that are attached.

Looking at the big sleeves in the paintings from the other day that look like a “shrug”, I can’t help but see this white band not as a stand-alone accessory, but as the silk edging of these sleeves. If you made a “shrug” that looks like these sleeves and was held on by the width of your back, it would look just like this. The drape would be the same as we see on these women. The white band looks to me to be attached, not a strap to hold up skirt or anything else.

I mean, if you were sitting for your portrait with a famous painter like Holbein, would you wear the ugly white suspender that you use to hold your skirts out of the mud? Why would you? You’re not outside? You’re sitting for a portait. Why would you have it in the portrait at all?

Unless it’s attached to your outfit. Unless it is so integral to your outfit that you cannot take it off without taking part of your outfit off. Unless is is actually part of your sleeves.

(And no, I don’t have any reason why it would have to be white. I can’t come up with any ideas why it wouldn’t match the fabric of the sleeeves.)

In the portraits of the More daughters where you can see their skirts, none of their skirts are being held up. So if the band is for holding up skirts and their skirts are not held up, why keep it on?

It’s clear that the white band has nothing to do with the skirts but are associated with the sleeves.

(Even though the white band isn’t present in Sittow’s portrait of Katherine of Aragon, I’m going to test my “shrug” theory as I construct her overgown.)

And contrary to popular belief, I don’t think we’re seeing the same white band on Holbein’s Young English Woman:

I think in this instance, the white band is a device to help keep skirts out of the mud. I just don’t think it has any relationship to the white band in the other portraits. The Englishwoman in this sketch of Holbein’s is a whole different class than Sir Thomas More’s daughters and Lady Mary Guilford. She is common and they are gentry or nobility. They are having their formal portraits painted by Holbein while the Englishwoman was probably sketched by Holbein anonymously, a passerby in the stresst.

Tomorrow: Back to Katherine of Aragon — The Overgown…

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