For many years, I've been an admirer of the anal-retentive detail in the paintings of the Flemish masters of the mid- to late 15th century. The clothing they depicted is so real-looking that you can almost feel the pile of the velvets and see the sunlight glinting off the brocades. But when I read about these garments in costuming texts, the authors never sounded like they were describing the items I saw in the paintings.
This was my first experience with questioning the supposéd experts on the subject. Their explanations for the fit of the V-necked gown and the pleating of the man's overrobe just did not make sense to my three-dimensional mind. I realized that the motivation of these costume experts was to create costumes for the stage, not to replicate period garments. My motivation was different.
The dearth of period garments from the 15th century doesn't make our task easy. But the detail and precision with which the Flemish masters painted even the most insignificant clothing element gives us a great amount of information. A painting is still not a photograph, but many of these masters painted from life and the information gleaned from the outfits (particularly of the donors) is invaluable.
Plus contrary to popular belief, there are a few extant garments from this time period that should not be ignored. There is no better source than a surviving artifact and we would do well to learn from the textiles that have come down to us.
However, laboratory experiments are no good if you cannot test them on real live subjects. Although I reenacted many periods of history, the latter 15th century was not one of them. And although there are some amazing 15th century reenactors around the world whose armour and accoutrements look like something from a museum, I'd still never seen clothing that looked precisely like the pictures. I needed a place to test my theories, warm bodies upon which to try my reconstructed clothing.
Well wouldn't you know it, a bunch of my friends decided they wanted to reenact scenes from King Rene's Book of the Tourney. Finally I'd acquired my clothes horses...
Inside these pages, you will read about my theories and experiments with getting the right look for mid-15th century English, French and Burgundian clothing. Also planned are treatises on a variety of related subjects such as the role of a noblewoman in a 15th century Lord's household, the social status of secular priests, what you should be carrying in your pockets, how to pronounce Middle English, and what every 15th century reenactor should know, among others.
[caption id="attachment_36844" align="aligncenter" width="194"] Get more on the 15th century with our Getting Dressed Guide
© 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.