Lovely Limbs: Modern Stockings with Historical Style

Completely Hosed on Hose

Some women are obsessed with shoes. I love them, too, but my love affair with shoes is more practical than fantastical. My love of stockings, however, has grown exponentially over the years. Not only are they fun, they completely alter the way shoes fit. A shoe that is too big or even too small becomes much more comfortable with the right stocking. Keeping you warm as the weather turns chilly is a huge bonus as well.

Kittens and tea also help greatly.

When I talk about stockings, I don’t mean our modern idea of stockings– the sheer, skin tone nylons or the cutesy sock-shapes we hang up at Christmastime. Though they are both rooted in historical stockings, they are like the two seperated halves of the stocking story. Stockings in the past were knit or sewn, and while silk can be made very sheer, our ancestors valued its ability to hide skin just as much as it reveals the shape of the leg. Stockings in the historical sense are more akin to what we consider modern dress socks, and they aren’t just for ladies. Even while men were busy showing off sexy gams in tight-fitting stockings it was unseemly to show leg skin, so stockings were a necessary part of everybody’s wardrobe. Historical stockings ranged from thin silk to heavy wool, midcalf to thigh high, and plain white to wildly patterned. They’re a great way to add extra personality to any historical outfit!

The most basic of historical stockings is plain white. They were worn by men and women alike and generally reached the knee or just above it. A good pair of modern knee-high trouser socks will work nicely for almost any era from 1600-1900. I wear a pair of finely knit knee-highs I found at Dollar Tree and I love them!

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Dressed for the 1960s…

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..and 100 years “earlier” with my 1850s slippers!

To fit larger feet and calves, like Christopher’s, I purchased some “thigh high” knit tube socks. Since his legs are so massive, the stockings only reach his knees, but they still work.

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I don’t remember his calf measurement, but his thighs are 27 inches around (same size as my waist in a corset!) and those are size 15 EEEE feet, if that’s any indication. In contrast, these stockings fit my scrawny legs at thigh level, as you can see in my garter tutorial. Our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of spandex, so they used garters to hold their stockings in place. If you use modern stockings, you don’t need to worry as much about “losing your legs,” but some tall stockings still work best with garters, plus they look so pretty!

Historical stockings also came in many solid, natural colors. My go-to historical stockings are O-Basics from Sock Dreams. They come in a variety of nice colors and are great for keeping warm in winter:

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BAM! My beloved O-Basics in Rust.

Colored stockings were fairly common, especially reds and blues. The color of your stockings can be an important clue to your historical persona. For example, the Blue Stockings Society was an 18th century organization that promoted women’s education and intellectual hobbies. While Bluestockings did not necessarily wear blue stockings, the name indicated the informality and progressiveness of the club. Proper, fashionable, rich folks at the time often wore black or other expensively-colored silk stockings. Worsted wool stockings, in this case blue stockings, were considered to be informal and unfashionable. The term “bluestocking” indicated that a woman (or man) was more concerned with personal intellectual pursuits than the whims of fashion, but it was also used pejoratively around the turn of the 19th century to mean an ugly, frumpy woman (much like the word “feminist” is twisted today, sadly. It’s amazing how little things have changed in 200 years).

  If you’re looking for stockings with character, there are plenty of stunning stocking options to consider! This isn’t a complete list of hosiery types by any means, just  some of my favorite styles of fancy historical stockings and a few modern options that closely match.

Open Work Stockings – 19th Century

For an extra pretty pair of stockings, consider the texture as well as color. Victorian stockings are often knitted with lacy openwork designs that stretched open, revealing tiny peeks at the flesh beneath. A tad scandalous? Maybe to the ultra-conservative, but during this era of long skirts and ladies’ boots, openwork stockings offered some cool relief during warmer months.

Kitted Cotton Stocking with Double Zigzag Pattern, circa 1830

These stockings in the MFA Boston collections are very similar to this pair, dated nearly 50 years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Linen Stockings with Triple Zigzag Pattern, circa 1875-1900 (“last quarter the 19th century”)

While it’s possible that one or the other is mis-dated, the similarity is indicative of the popularity of this style throughout the era. This homemade pair of knitted socks from the middle of the century has a similar openwork style, but this time horizontally;

Cotton Stockings with Scallop Pattern, circa 1860-69
Mid-19th century stocking are often shorter than stockings found earlier and later in the century. These hit mid-calf rather than over the knee. Others hit right below the knee.

There are TONS of modern stockings that feature openwork knit patterns in every color of the rainbow! The most common colors during the mid-Victorian era were black and white. But don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. There were some pretty wild stockings out there! Colors like plum, navy, and mustard are the perfect accompaniment for a ballgown in the 1850s or a walking dress from the color-crazy 1890s . Dainty, repeating open work patterns that are more geometric and abstract rather than floral are perfect for just about any costume from 1825 to 1900!

Super Stripes! – 1850s to 1890s

The 1890s were the heyday of wild stockings!  Bold colors and bolder designs were in vogue, especially the iconic striped stockings we know and love.

Cotton Stockings, circa 1890-99

Silk Stockings, circa 1880-99
The 1970s…is that you?!

The fashion wasn’t just for can-can dancers and other “ladies of the night” (who are, in fact, depicted wearing plain black stockings more often than patterned ones). Fancy stockings went well with fancy opera boots, reflecting the indulgent, candid attitude of the era– the more fancy you could squeeze onto your person, the better!

Another era that might surprise you with its hosiery is the 1850s:

Cotton Stockings, circa 1850-70

While considered a somewhat dowdy era, the 1850s saw a whole plethora of underwear trends emerge. Indeed, you almost call it the Era of Underthings! Lots of revolutionary supporting garments emerged during the era, including the pin and loop busk which allowed women to easily put on and tighten their own corsets (and marked the beginning of modern corsetry) and the iconic hoop skirt. Alongside these fashion innovations were some entertaining undergarment trends, bright red petticoats and cheerfully colored socks among them! Children’s socks were commonly patterned, showing candy stripes from under adorable little dresses throughout the Victorian era:

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Tintype of Two Children, circa 1880
Source: eBay

Modern horizontally striped stocking are easy to find anywhere, especially around Halloween. Many stores like Walmart carry them, though often they are toe socks. Athletic tube socks with a banded top are also a good option, plus they come in a wide variety of colors and heights, are easy to launder, and look ridiculously cute with a Victorian bathing or cycling outfit!

Back and White Over the Knee Striped Athletic Socks from Sock Broker

Stockings with Contrasting Clocks – 1600 to 1820

One of the most iconic historical style of stocking is the clocked stocking. Clocked stockings have decorative bands and flourishes ascending from the heel or decorating the ankle. Earlier clocked stockings have a contrasting wedge shape that begins at the ankle and goes up the outside of the leg, sometimes nearly to the top of the stocking. Clocked stockings of this sort were in style for over 200 years until about 1820:

Silk, Silver Gilt, and Cotton Stockings, circa 1610

Spanish Embroidered Silk Stockings, circa 1750-70

Italian Silk Clocked Stockings, circa 1780-1825

If you are looking for a classic, upper-class 18th century or Regency stocking, American Duchess offers fine modern reproductions of classic contrast clocked stockings:

A.D. Clocked Stockings in White and Black

Victorian Floral Stockings, circa 1830-1900

From the wedge-shaped clocked design came the flourish of the Victorian years. Solid-color stockings often featured pretty woven or embroidered decoration on the front of the foot and ankle. Contrary to popular myth, ankles weren’t strictly taboo during the Victorian era, so long as they were covered with stockings. In fact, dancing and walking frequently provided glimpses of a lady’s ankles, especially when ladies wore slippers.

Cotton Stockings with Embroidered Embellishment, circa 1860
These stockings are dated to the 1860s, but are more 1870s in style.

Finding modern socks with the design localized like this at the ankle is a bit tough, but once again, American Duchess swoops to the rescue:

A.D. Edwardian Silk Stockings
Though dated as Edwardian, these stocking will work well for late 19th century, too. American Duchess also has other styles with flourishes at the ankle.

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These fancy Floral Chain over the knee socks are a new from Sock Dreams! I love all the rich color choices, but this pretty beige is my fave.

If you feeling super crafty, you can make your own pair of embellished Victorian stockings! For example, the Dreamstress made a pair of silk stockings then used a bit of applique to accent her ankles:

Click here for her blog post.

For all the pretty without having to sew your own stockings, you could applique, embroider, or paint your chosen design onto a pair of pre-made stockings of your choice. However, if you’re feeling REALLY sassy, you can use one of the many stocking knitting patterns available online. The Antique Pattern Library, for example, has numerous Victorian instruction booklets that detail how to knit your own pair of stockings, including several editions of the Nonotuck Silk Company’s “How to Use Florence Knitting Silk” booklets from the 1880s.

Early Patterned Stockings – 17th Century

While most portraits from the 17th century show people wearing solid-colored stocking (usually in white, black, or shades of red), there are surviving examples of livelier stockings, like these:

Knitted Silk and Silver Gilt Stockings, circa 1600-1670

Child’s Silk and Gilt Stockings, 17th century

These pretties are usually child sized, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little inspiration from them! Combine the knitted design with the embroidered motif from these luxurious adult-sized stockings of the same era, and you get these gorgeous stockings:

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S.D. Dreamer Jacquard Flowing Vine Stockings in Dijon and Navy

Can you imagine how fabulous these stockings would look with some American Duchess Stratfords or Virginias?!

The Three Shoes Every (Penniless) Historical Costumer Needs

For Every Cinderella Without a Fairy Godmother
A.k.a “Shoes for Stepsisters”

It may be impossible for a fashionable woman to have too many shoes, but what if your problem isn’t a lack of closet space, but a lack of funding? As lovely as it is to get a fresh pair of shoes for every new outfit, it’s not always feasible. Historically accurate shoes can be expensive. If you don’t like to tie yourself down to one specific stylistic decade, buying all the necessary historically accurate boots, slippers, and heels can really drain your bank account if you’re not careful. I love historical reproduction shoes, but between needing a new corset, buying sewing supplies, and having the annoying habit of needing food to survive, I don’t really have enough money to buy a new pair every time I change costuming eras. Instead, I have built up a core set of three shoe types that can mutitask across time periods.

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My Three Favorite Costuming Shoes

These shoes may not be historically accurate, but they are historically appropriate. There are only so many ways to shod the human foot, so while materials and decorations may have changed, there are a few basic shoe styles that have cycled through history in different incarnations. We are blessed that modern fashion is so all-encompassing: we have every imaginable shoe type available to us! It’s just a matter of finding the right one for the right price. With a little legwork and luck, you can squeak by in nearly any era with only three pairs of shoes!

I chose the following shoes for their comfort, simplicity, ease of availability, and ability to be worn as everyday modern shoes as well (Huzzah for raiding your own closet for historically appropriate shoes!).

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Low-Heeled Mary Jane or T-Straps
Wear them for: Elizabethan and Stuart (1590-1630), Victorian (1860-1900), and Edwardian (1900+) Costumes

My pair:

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T-Strap Shoes by Angel Steps

My pair takes the Mary Jane style a bit further by being a t-strap, but both styles are workable. This is my favorite pair of shoes! Angel Steps brand is marketed by Amerimark and comes in many different variations and styles. The company, however, can be difficult to work with. You can read more about that adventure and see these shoes in action in “Halloween Thrifting Challenge: Early Stuart Era (1603-1625)

Mary Janes are shoes with a strap over the instep. They were popular in the Elizabethan era, and can be used for mid-Victorian shoes. The heyday of the strappy Mary Jane, however, was definitely the Edwardian era.
There are many variations of the Mary Jane style: wide straps, thin straps, t-straps, or multiple straps over the instep. For the most versatility, though, a single strap or thick t-strap is the easiest to blend into multiple eras. The key to the historical appropriateness, however, is the low heel. Modern women love towering high heels, but historically speaking, “high heels” weren’t very common and usually maxed out around 3 inches. For the most bang for your buck, choose a neutral color like black, white, or brown. These colors will work in all eras and are the most authentic, especially for earlier costumes.

Extant Examples:

Elizabethan/Stuart
Leather Shoe, circa 1600

Elizabethan shoes had a long tongue with straps over them that tied in place. This style of shoe is very hard to find (unless you buy recreations or find the miraculous modern incarnation), but you can modify a pair of modern Mary Janes to mimic the look by wearing a fabric rosette on top. Rosettes were super trendy during the early 1600s and were rather large. Simply slip a rosette onto the strap of your Mary Janes and you’re good to go! Both men and women in this era wore this style of shoe, so if you are a dainty-footed gentleman, take a peek into the ladies’ shoe department. Just remember that women’s shoes run smaller than men’s, so order up about two sizes (an 8 in men’s is about a 10 in women’s). Surprisingly, side buckles existed, but likely just on children’s shoes.

Victorian
Women’s Bar Shoes (Mary Janes), circa 1880-85

Mary Janes were known as “bar” or “strapped” shoes during the 19th century (Mary Jane was a patented shoe name in the 20th century) and were very popular, especially during the 1890s.

Edwardian, Flapper, and Beyond
Bar Shoes (Mary Janes), circa 1919

Once the 20th Century hit, Mary Janes and T-straps were all the rage! Multiple thin straps were especially popular and usually had long, pointy toes, but simple rounded toes were still used for utilitarian working and walking shoes.

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Pointed-Toe Louis Heel
Wear them for: 18th century, Late Victorian (1870-1900), and 20th Century Costumes

My Pair:

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My Sexy Suede Heels!
I found these at the local Thrift Town second hand shop. They were $3 and are really REALLY worn in (they need new heel tips right now). Suede isn’t historically accurate for 18th century shoes, but unless you get really close, it doesn’t really matter. The shape is uncommon, but not unheard of.

The Louis heel is a curvy heel. Technically, a Louis heel has a very specific curve and other variations have other names. However, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to call all appropriately curvy heels Louis heels because when you’re poor like me, there’s no point squabbling over details, especially since a good curvy heel is so hard to find anyway.
Louis heels are named after King Louis XIV and Louis XV of France. Both loved heels and show off their collections in many of their royal portraits. Many of the heels on Their Majesties’ shoes are blockier than later incarnations. The curvier heels seen on lady’s shoes has also been attributed to Madame Pompadour, King Louis XV’s mistress. Once she started wearing curvy heels, so did every other 18th century lady of fashion!
Heels went out of style during the French Revolution, but were revived in the late Victorian era. The American Bicentennial in 1876 created a rococo revival. 18th century styling, including buckles, can be found on many shoes of the era. The Louis heel stayed fashionable into the 20th century, but other heel styles like the mid-century stiletto pushed it out of the limelight and into obscurity. However, finding a good curvy heel is still possible, especially at second hand shops and online. Pretty much any color or heel height under 4 inches will do, but choose a color and heel height that that you feel comfortable wearing often.

Extant Examples:

18th Century
Latchet Shoes, circa 1760-75
and
Mules, circa 1740

18th Century Louis heeled shoes had latchets–two straps that crossed over the top and were held in place with a buckle. Outside of reproductions, these criss-crossing latchets aren’t available on modern shoes. With a little bit of creativity and some pretty fabric, you can recover shoes to create latchets, but another option that requires no alteration is the mule (backless heels). Mules with pointy toes were very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so there’s usually a good selection available second-hand.

Late Victorian
Rococo Revival Style Pumps, circa 1890

By about 1870, the modern pump was already beginning to be recognizable. Many evening shoes of the era were just like a pair of pumps you would find in your neighborhood shoe shop today. If you find a pair of leather pumps with a curvy Louis heel, you’ve struck Victorian gold!

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Flats
Wear them for: Medieval (5-14th century), Renaissance to Stuart (14th century to 1630), Regency (1790-1832), and Victorian (1832-1860)

My Pair:

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Green Velvet Semi-Flats
My flats aren’t perfectly flat (they have a 1/2 inch heel), but they have a nice high vamp and rounded-point toe that works well with lots of different costumes. Plus, they are comfy. I bought them second-hand for $2 with Regency costuming in mind. You can see them in action (sort of) in “Transforming Edwardian Nightwear into Regency Daywear.”

Flats can be as basic or fancy as the occasion demands. Really, you could pretty much costume every era with flat shoes. There are small nuances for different eras– the Medieval poulaines, Tutor cowmouths, Regency’s knife-sharp pointed toes, and squared Victorian slippers— but a gently rounded toe will get you through almost every era without trouble. Flat shoes can also very easily be made at home if you’re feeling crafty! The only caveat for flats is that they shouldn’t show “toe cleavage” over the top of the vamp. Also, make sure they fit over stockings (stockings can help hide toe cleavage in a pinch as well!). Almost any color or decoration will work depending on your outfit, but a good leather or satin flat in a natural tone will work through more eras. Simple ankle boots made of leather or cloth can work for all of the eras listed above, too! In college, I had a pair of flat Rocket Dog ankle boots that worked well for medieval. It was heart rending when they wore out.

Extant Examples (too many to count, but here are a few):

Medieval
Saxon Shoe, 6th-9th century
and
Child’s Ankle Boot, circa 1350-1400

Besides flat slippers, flat-soled ankle boots were nearly universal. You can make reproductions of Medieval shoes from leather if you plan to do lots of medieval costuming.

Renaissance
Slashed Leather Shoe, circa 1500-1550
and
Slashed (finished with buttonhole edges) Velvet Shoes, circa 1550-1575

Slashed shoes matched the Renaissance trend for slashed sleeves and other garments. Just as a sleeve’s slashes allowed luxurious poufs of fabric to show through, slashed shoes allowed brightly colored stockings to peek out. All those slashes would fill your shoe with pebbles in no time! These slashed shoes were for the rich nobles who did not have to walk or work in the dust often. Lower-class shoes looked much as they had since ancient times.

Regency
Spangled Silk Shoes, circa 1793-98
and
Leather Walking Boots, circa 1795-1815

If you love wearing flats, this is your era! Heels (except the tiniest kitten heels) were out of fashion. Ankle boots were gaining popularity again after being completely out of fashion in the 17th and 18th century and now had front laces. Flat shoes of this era and the Victorian era could be made in leather or cloth by a craftsman or at home. In 1790-1810, pointed shoes were in style. They start transitioning to square toes around 1820.

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Early to Mid Victorian
Cotton and Silk Shoes, circa 1845-60
and
Silk Satin Boots, circa 1830-1850

Shoes during the first half of Queen Victoria’s reign rarely had heels and were generally made with a very noticeable square toe. However, since many women made their shoes at home from patterns out of fashion magazines, middle and lower class shoes, especially for daytime wear, are usually more rounded.

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Going Beyond the 3 Shoes

While these three shoes will let me wiggle by in nearly every fashion from 1590 to now, it is a very limited shoe wardrobe. It’s better to think of these three shoes as three shoe types instead. I’ve collected a few variations of each shoe type for specific outfits, like this pair I plan to use when I finally get my Edwardian dress project off the ground:

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These 1990s Purple Pumps were $4 at Goodwill.
I think I may have a “thing” for suede shoes…

These pumps are a variation of the first type of shoe in this list–the Low-Heel Mary Jane–with a bit of the second type–Pointed-Toe Louis Heels–mixed in for a good dose of Edwardian spice! As soon as you learn to recognize the major characteristics of historical footwear, you won’t feel as overwhelmed when you’re digging through shelf after shelf of shoes because you’ll be able to instantly judge whether the shape is historically appropriate or not. After that, all the little nuances like materials, decoration, and color fall into place easily!

Portraits for Your Pockets: More Handpainted Portrait Miniatures

What Have I Been Doing? Painting and Procrastinating.

I am so excited! Perhaps you remember this little fellow, my second attempt at portrait miniaturism:

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Well, someone loved him enough to give him a new home! I am so giddy for both him and his new owner!

I have another handpainted portrait miniature in my shop now, this time a young lady:

“Portrait of a Young Lady” is available in my Etsy store.

She’s another imaginary character, but her attire has a mix of historical elements from different locales: her red and black gown is decidedly Italian while her plumed hat was inspired by the wild German hats in Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits (her hat ornament was inspired by one found in the Museum of London). I’d place her style at mid-16th century, but she could pass easily with garb anywhere between 1550 and 1610.

I have been more motivated to paint than sew recently, so I made a few more little portraits to fill the time. I even bit the bullet and began painting portraits of real folks!

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The first portrait is of my sister, a gift for her graduation (Sorry, Minnie, if you are reading this. Just act surprised when you see it!).

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Staring contest with Mr. Roosevelt!

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“Portrait of Amelia” in its pendant frame.

I based her portrait off of a photo I took for the 1840s headdress tutorial, but I changed the flowers and added details to her dress for an 1840s-1860s look.

The next two portraits were a gift to Becky, my mother-in-law, for her wedding anniversary:

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A not-so-pretty-penny and a very pretty lady!

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I did this portrait in an 18th century style for fun. I didn’t have a reference photo, so I made it up as I went along. I really want that hat now, though!

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Becky’s husband, Billy, is in his modern black pearl-snap shirt. There are three things you don’t mess with: rattlesnakes, Texas, and pearl snaps!

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Blue backgrounds have been common in miniatures from the very beginning of the art. Blue compliments most skin tones, helping the facial features stand out. In this case, it also helped highlight Billy’s eyes.

Though these were done as gifts for people I knew would love me even if I botched their likenesses, they have given me a little more confidence to work on more direct likenesses in the near future. They are much more work than imaginary people, though!

I haven’t felt motivated to sew at all recently even though I have a stack of new patterns (99 cent sale at Hobby Lobby!) and plenty of new fabric. Nothing seems to “click” right now. I have great patterns, but none of my fabrics seem right for them, while I have tons of great fabrics, but no patterns I feel match them. In reality, I’m probably just a little too perfectionist, but it does put a damper on costume production. So instead, I will continue to focus on painting miniatures, re-stocking my Etsy shop, and dreaming/scheming up the next big project!

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More of My Portrait Miniatures:

Portraits for Your Pockets: Handpainted Portrait Miniatures

Halloween Thrifting Challenge: Early Stuart Era (1603-1625)

Reforming Modern to fit the Reformation!

I am a mad thrifter. In fact, I rather prefer cobbling my costumes together from recycled raiment rather than sewing them from scratch. It’s an exercise in patience– a cycle of search, discovery, rejection, appropriation, and reinvention.

Some eras just lend themselves to being thrifted– Edwardian costumes, Regency costumes, 1920s costumes, even Medieval costumes– but 16th, 17th, and 18th century costumes are more difficult.

“Portrait of a Woman Holding Gloves” by Paolo Caliari, circa 1560

“Portrait of Odilia Van Wassenaar” by Abraham van den Tempel, circa 1660

“Mary, Countess Howe” by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1764

These eras (much like the Civil War era as well) often involve massive amounts of fabric, especially for upper-class costumes. Modern clothing just doesn’t have that kind of volume outside of wedding and other formal dresses. Another challenge is the fit. During these three centuries, the “pair of bodies” and “stays” became premier undergarments. Stays are much different from a bra and 19th century corsets. Stays have a conical shape and flatten the chest, a style that is almost the antithesis of the 21st century silhouette!

Sewing a gown like these from scratch is a daunting task even for a dedicated seamstress, but by using a few tricks and a keen eye, one need not master patterning and stitchery before making a decent historical costume. For the casual costumer, there is the magical world of thrift shopping…

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As evidenced by many of my previous posts, I am enamored with the 17th century, particularly the first half of the century. Informal portraits and blackwork are my absolute favorites. I wanted to make something similar to these portraits:

“Elizabeth Craven, Lady Powis” by an Artist of the British School, circa 1622

“Lettice Knollys, Daughter of Henry Knollys” by Unknown Painter, circa 1620
I am not sure if this painting is properly attributed. This women looks nothing like the famous Lettice Knollys. Perhaps they share a name? If you know who this lovely lady is, please let me know!

“Margaret Layton” by Marcus Gheeraerts, circa 1620
This portrait is famous for having the matching jacket along with it!

During the 17th and 18th century, there was a huge market for cast-off clothes. Once the higher nobles got tired of their older finery, they would sell it to lesser nobles, who in turn would pass it on to merchants, and so on until it passed to lowly peasants such as myself. So in the spirit of 17th century thrift, I set myself the challenge of finding just such an outfit!

A few guidelines to thrifting a successful historical costume:

First, thoroughly research what time period/decade/character you wish to emulate. Familiarize yourself with popular fabric patterns, trims, and most importantly, silhouettes of the era. You cannot construct a historical costume if you don’t know what the finished product should look like!

Second, browse through everything, including what you already own. For the “easy” eras mentioned above (Edwardian, 1920s, Regency, etc.), little to no alteration may be needed to make a garment look period, but if you find something too big, it’s easy to take it in. Keep in mind what you learned during your research. You may find the perfectly shaped skirt, but if it’s lime green splashed with orange roses, you may have to pass on it. Other situations can be remedied with a little work: Can you re-cut that jacket? Would that too-small dress work if you were wearing a corset or girdle? Should you dye that maxi skirt a darker color? Can you use that ugly skirt for a petticoat? Could that old pillow be used as a bustle? Goodwill always has loads of silk and linen shirts for cheaper than buying yardage!

Third, accept that unless you are lucky enough to find a period piece that fits you, your costume will not be “historically accurate.” You are taking modern (or vintage) clothing and manipulating it to look historical, so construction and materials will probably not stand up to museum scrutiny. In this case, it’s all about looks. So do not worry if you find the prefect 1970s-does-Edwardian dress, but it’s made from nylon lace. If it looks the way you want it, buy it! Polyester is not a pariah in the presence of a pragmatic penny pincher!

By following these rules, I hoped to gather up a respectable 17th century facade. I already had my “Universal Undergarments” in order:

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My Universal Undergarments consist of my cheap eBay corset, two tank tops (one for a corset liner, the other as a corset cover), a 1980s cotton skirt as a petticoat, and my thigh-high O Basics stockings. Since I would be costuming for the 17th century, I also needed a bumroll which I cut out of the fabric left over from making my 18th century embroidered stomacher:

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I just cut a crescent shape out of the fabric, sewed it like a pillow, and stuffed it full of fabric strips and scraps (hence the lumpy appearance compared to a roll stuffed with polyfill or cotton). The ties are double-fold bias tape left over from making my coif.

I particularly like my cheap eBay corset because it is pretty tubular. Normally this tubular shape would be a detriment to a corset’s function, but in this case, the conical shape works very well. It’s the closest thing to mas-manufactured stays I have found! I also donned my slightly-too-small blackwork coif.

My next step was planning the outfit. I would need a suitable jacket and skirt to make up the bulk of the outfit. The skirt/petticoat was the easiest part. Long, full skirts with drawstring waists are popular wedding attire in India and I found a beautiful vintage one on Etsy:

This is the seller’s photo. She makes belly dance costumes and is very nice!

To go with my skirt, I really wanted an embroidered jacket like one of these:

The Maidstone Pea-Pod Redwork Jacket, circa 1620
Laura Mellin made a beautiful jacket based off this one by hand! It’s truly incredible!

Polychrome Embroidered Jacket, circa 1616
This one gave me shape inspiration.

After a day or so, I found THE PERFECT JACKET, but after winning the auction and making squee noises, the seller sent me a refund and a note stating that she must have already sold the jacket (I assume in a brick and mortar store) because she could not find it. I won’t lie, I was crushed, but no one said thrifting online was easy! The polychrome-on-white style of embroidery popular in the 17th century isn’t really in vogue right now, and most of the examples I fawned over were expensive designer pieces, but black and white are pretty timeless. I soon found a suitable replacement:

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The embroidery pattern isn’t particularly accurate for the period, unless you count this jacket at the V&A or this one from Manchester, both of which are 10 years after the period I was trying to work within. We’ll just say that my 17th century self was ahead of the fashion curve! The materials aren’t “history kosher” either. It’s made from nylon and spandex with a little viscose for flavor cooked up by the designers at Laura Ashley. However, it was a Petite Large, which turned out to be exactly what I needed! It started off baggy, but by turning it inside out, putting it on over my “stays,” and pinning it to fit tightly from my waist up, I achieved a pleasing jacket shape with a flared bottom. I used big ol’ ugly backstitches to sew it together, trimmed the excess from the seams and was done with it! I didn’t take any pictures of that, so instead, bask in the glory of this crudely-drawn rendering of what I did:

jacket

The grey areas indicate what I removed from the jacket. Modern clothes fit really loosely, especially under the arms. I had to go back and take even more out of the armpit to make sure it fit smoothly!

Other than that, I did very little alteration. I even left the invisible zipper up the front of the jacket. Affixing my blackwork bow to the front helps hide it even further.

Trim Challenge Bow

The 17th century was all about bows!

A few more accessories and one hastily-constructed backdrop later, here’s the result:

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I enjoy wearing all my jewelry all at once (especially my second-knuckle rings)! I still need to make a pair of cuffs for the sleeves.

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I was worried about finding some proper shoes, but as it turns out, these simple t-straps (“Jean” by Angel Steps) are just perfect! They have a low heel and come in wides, plus the elastic isn’t obvious and provides great comfort when walking. Many of the reviewers had ordered them to dance in. I had some difficulty ordering them since they went out of stock and no one at the company notified me. They also call you with a pushy sales pitch for insurance which I promptly declined. If you can find someone other than AmeriMark/BeautyBoutique to buy from, let me know! I love these shoes, but I don’t love the company.

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The Breakdown
This is a list of everything that went into making this costume and how much it cost.

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I’m only including items unique to this outfit since almost every outfit I wear has the same basic undergarments! All the jewelry is from my collection.

Re-styled Embroidered Jacket – $7.25 on eBay
Bullion Embroidered Skirt – $20.95 on Etsy
Angel Steps Jean Shoes – $24.99 on AmeriMark
Lace Ruff – $12.56 for 8 yards at Walmart
Coif – less than $3 made from a second-hand shirt

Total cost of unique costume elements: $68.75

It took me about three months to assemble everything for this costume. It was a labor of both laziness and love. I hope to keep adding to it, perhaps making cuffs, fashioning a classier ruff, adding a hat, making an apron, and adding either a shoulder drape or one of those sleeveless overdresses you commonly see worn in portraits of ladies in embroidered jackets!

Sepia

Portraits for Your Pockets: Handpainted Portrait Miniatures

I’m Painting Again!

For a long while , I’d been contemplating the idea to paint portrait miniatures. I have over 10 years of experience as a dollhouse miniaturist, mostly in 1:12 and 1:144 scales, and I’d done a lot of sculpting and paper construction, but not much painting in the traditional sense of the art. I focused on fantasy items or micro miniatures. I’ve lost most of the pictures of my previous work (like my micro-scale fairies the size of a grain of rice) as well as a bit of my eyesight, but the love of the super tiny is still there!

MiniatureCrest

1:12 Scale Dollhouse Family “Coat of Arms” Plaque
(measures 1.5″ by 1.5″)

MiniatureMask

Miniature Leather Masks for Tonner Dolls
(measures 1.5″ by 1″)

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1:12 Scale “Bisque” Doll made from Paper and Clay
(measures 2″ long)

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Under 1:144 scale Paperstock Houses
(measures under 1 inch tall)

It’s been well over two years since I seriously picked up a paintbrush thanks in part to wonky work hours and my world being turned topsy-turvy. Now that my Lake Worth apartment is only a few blocks from a Lobby of Hobbies, the artist in me has reawakened!

During my artistic slump, I had amassed a “collection” of miniature portraits on Pinterest. My favorite paintings featured people actually wearing a portrait miniature: a painting within a painting.

Portrait of a Lady by an Unnamed Venetian Painter, circa 1780s
I would love to have a chat with this lady about her extensive intaglio/cameo collection!

The old saying “You use it or lose it” may not apply as heavily to art as it does to, say, algebra, but my skills have atrophied a little over the years. Picking up an 18/0 brush, however, brought back a hint of familiarity to my fingertips and I dove into my first miniature portrait attempt:

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Can you guess the model?

Not very smooth, but not bad either! I was trying to mimic the wide-eyed look popular during the early 19th century, but I’m not very good at it…yet. I’m too frugal to buy new paints until my older acrylics are used up, so most of the unpolished brushwork is from the paint being too thick. It’s all acrylic on heavy paper which I then mounted between glass in a steel frame. Period miniatures were usually watercolor, but I prefer to work with oils or acrylics.

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I painted the year on the reverse side of the paper along with a floral flourish so when the pendant flops around during wear, there’s always a “pretty side up.”

As you may have guessed, my portraiture skills are not very impressive; however, I had so much fun painting the first miniature, I wanted to try again. I had been admiring Elizabethan-era portrait miniatures for the longest time. I had painted larger, Renaissance-style portraits before, so I feel a little more comfortable in that era than any other. There are plenty of miniatures of adults from this period, but few children, so naturally I took it upon myself to fill in the gap. This time, I decided to forgo a direct portrait in favor of letting the persona develop itself as I worked. I ended up with this little fellow:

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Before being cut to frame

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These little cases are 1.25 inches in diameter, a bit bigger than an American quarter.

Even though he’s still a tad lumpy from my well-aged acrylics, I figured out a better thinner-to-paint ratio to help lay the paint more smoothly. This little guy is 100% made up from his lace collar to curly red hair, but I did take clothing and style clues from various late 16th and early 17th century portrait miniatures, especially these:

Portraits of Two Unknown Girls Aged 4 and 5 by Isaac Oliver, circa 1590

Portrait Miniature of James I by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1610

Miniature Portrait of a Woman by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590

Portrait of a Young Man, probably Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1588

The magnificent Nicholas Hillard was one of the Elizabethan master miniaturists and I admire him greatly! I can only dream of one day being as masterful as he, but for only my second attempt at miniature portraiture, I am rather pleased. I like to fancy him the young son of an exceedingly proud gentleman…

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Portrait miniatures came in many sizes, ranging from palm-sized to tiny Stuart Crystals the size of a thumb nail. They were often gifts or love tokens. Others revealed political affiliations, like the many miniature portraits of Queen Elizabeth and James I. 16th century miniatures have a distinct “look” to them, often because the emphasis is much less on a person’s likeness, but rather focuses on his or her clothes and hairstyle. Until the 19th century, portrait miniatures were an indulgence for the wealthy. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, science and industrialization made pigments much less expensive, making production much less expensive. Enameling, another method of portraiture, became easier and portraits on porcelain became popular accessories. After the advent of photography, the need for true portrait miniatures decreased, but as an interest in romanticism and history bloomed during the late Victorian period, “portrait miniatures” (typically a generic beautiful woman or a romanticized 18th century-inspired scene) continued to thrive as art pieces. These less-personal-but-no-less-beautiful miniatures were in high demand. Mass-production of printed images and porcelain transfers kept pace with the trend, but portrait miniatures as a true portrait faded from fashion.

For more on Portrait Miniatures:

Portrait Miniatures on Wikipedia – Details many artists and famous collectors.

Portrait Miniatures at the Victoria and Albert Museum – Comprehensive articles about the history and creators of portrait miniatures, from settings, to style, to the evolution of the art.

How to Make Miniature Portraits with American Duchess – A fun, easy project to create your own wearable art.

Artists and Ancestors: Miniature Portrait Art Collection – A lovely blog that archives antique portrait miniatures from the 17th to 20th centuries (listed by country of origin) and advice about collecting them

P.S. Miss Choll, if you’d like to have your anime-eyed likeness, send me your address on FB and I’ll get it mailed to you!

Playing Dress Up: Kid’s Clothing in the 17th century

Historical Children’s Clothing in the 17th Century

“A Boy And A Girl With A Cat And An Eel” by Judith Leyster, 1635

Children didn’t always wear “kid’s clothes.” Setting children’s clothing apart from adult clothing is a relatively new concept developed in the last 100 years or so. In modern times, we still dress our kids in scaled down, more “cutesy” versions of our own clothes, but with a much more definitive line between what is kid-appropriate and what is adult-appropriate. In the past, parents did not raise children; they raised tiny adults. Younger generations wore in their youth the same clothes their parents were wearing–with few alterations for smaller, growing bodies. There are a few exceptions to the adult-clothes-only rule, including toddler dresses, coral teething necklaces, and pudding caps which were all made specifically for toddler-aged children.

Boys in Dresses

2005 vs. 1659

Some children’s trends from the past may seem quite strange to us. Today, little boys are expected to wear pants, but up until the late 19th century (and sometimes beyond), boys under the age of 5 wore dresses. Gender issues make up a major portion of our modern fashion sensibilities. Girls wear pink. Boys wear blue. Girls wear skirts. Boys wear pants. It’s become a major source of conflict both socially and politically. For years now, there have been movements to abolish these gender-defining guidelines. It is now acceptable for girls to wear pants and even shorts, but boys are still expected to shun skirts.

Young Boy by Jan van Bijlert, 1640-1660

In 17th century Europe, the sight of a little boy in a fluffy pink skirt wouldn’t have been frowned on in the least. Boys wore skirts from the time they could walk until the age of 6 or 7. Since zippers and elastic were centuries in the future, a 17th century mom couldn’t just slip a pair of pants over her squirming toddler’s legs. Breeches required buttons and buckles to hold them in place: two nimble, dexterous activities that toddler hands cannot perform on their own. Until a boy was considered mature and independent enough to handle his own dressing, he wore skirts. Unlike breeches which required a fitted liner, skirts did not need underwear. A dress allowed toddlers to easily use the chamber pot or lift the fabric out of the  way to pee. Toddlers also grow rather quickly, needing new clothes in a matter of months. Skirts could be hemmed and let out as the child grew, a much more economical option than paying for a new pair of breeches every 4 months. The addition of a full-length apron protected the dress from all the drips, drizzles, and mishaps little boys always seem to get covered in!

Portrait of King Louis XIV and his Brother, Duc D’Orleans, 1640s

Sometimes it can be quite hard to tell a little boy from a little girl in portraits. Many, if left unlabelled, still stump art historians! Usually the only major difference between toddler girls and toddler boys is the lack of flowers or jewelry, though many wealthier families decked their children’s gowns with heaps of pearls, coral strands, collars, lace, and flowers regardless of gender.

Beads, Baubles, and Bells

“Susanna de Vos” by Cornelis de Vos, 1627

Would you give your 3 year old child a string of beads to chew on? In a world dominated by recalls and warning labels for small parts, we’ve become accustomed to keeping small things out of our children’s grasp. In the 17th Century, toddlers were often given strands of beads to play with and chew on. Coral was considered healthful, a talisman to ward off sickness and disease–a big threat in a world without vaccinations and other modern medical advancements. A common baptism gift to an infant was a string of smooth coral beads which the child continued to wear until they married and had children of their own. The coral beads would then be passed on to the next generation.

The portrait of the little girl is Susanna de Vos, the daughter of the Dutch painter Cornelis de Vos. He painted many pictures of his changing family over his lifetime, from his oldest children to Susanna, his youngest. You can see that she is wearing a pair of coral bead bracelets. Here’s a painting done 3 years later in which you can see that she is still wearing her coral bracelets (along with her cross necklace):

“Self-Portrait Of The Artist With His Wife Suzanne Cock And Their Children” by Cornelis de Vos, 1630

You can also see that her elder sister is wearing a coral bracelet of her own. If you look at an earlier portrait, you can see that the bracelet is actually made from a long double strand coral necklace given to her when she was still a toddler! In addition to her coral bracelets, Susanna is holding a silver rattle on a chain. Her sister keeps her close by on a braided silk leash. Accessories like this helped keep track of where a rambunctious young one was. Many portraits show small trinkets dangling from cords and chains on the waistbands of children’s aprons. One of the most common is a rattle or a bell.

Detail of “Portrait of  Doña Antonia de Ipeñarrieta and Her Son don Luis” by Diego Velázquez, 1631-32

This is a great painting for three reasons: first, it shows another young lad in a gown; second, he is holding a pretty scarf in one hand while his mother holds the other end; and thirdly, a little golden bell hangs from his belt. The low position of the bell makes sure that it gets the maximum amount of motion and therefore makes the most sound.

Silver Bell on a Chain, 17th Century

Pudding Caps

“The Lacemaker” by Nicolaes Maes, 1656-57

We call very young children “toddlers” because they toddle around, wobbling on new legs and generally motoring about in a haphazard fashion. Since they haven’t quite got the hang of being graceful, they often fall down. To protect them, 17th century mothers would make pudding caps. Pudding caps were soft, quilted “helmets” that would help protect a child’s fragile skull from dangerous bumps.

“The Family of the Artist” by Cornelis de Vos, early 17th century

Pudding caps remained popular through the early 19th century. Pudding caps in the 17th century usually took two forms: a padded ring that fit over a coif or a regular bonnet-style cap with quilted-in padding. Here is an example of a leather pudding cap from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Leather Pudding Cap, early 19th Century

Though it’s 19th century, the pattern it follows is the same as the pudding caps in the 17th and 18th centuries before it. They’re brilliant safety devices (and cute to boot), but they fell out of favor in the 20th century.

Paintings: Infant to Pre-teen

“(The Twins) Clara and Aelbert de Bray” by Salomon de Bray, 1646

“Magdalena and Jan Baptist de Vos” by Cornelis de Vos, 1622
Magdalena is the pretty girl in the red and white dress, a fabulous design! The little boy on the right is Jan. He wears a petticoat with blackwork embroidery. These simple petticoats with embroidered borders were very popular as children’s wear from about 1600-1650.

“2nd Duke of Buckingham, with His Brother, Lord Francis Villiers” by Anthony van Dyck, 17th Century (first half)

“Princess Mary Stuart And Prince William Of Orange (Future William III)” by Van Dyck, 1641
This is the wedding portrait of Mary Stuart and William. He was 15 and she was only 10 years old when they were wed. You can read more about it here: “A Stuart royal wedding, 2nd May 1641”
The image may look grainy because it is actually very, very large. Click on it and you can see every brushstroke!

“Portrait Of The Duke Of Medinaceli” by Francisco de Zurbarán, Mid-17th Century

“Portrait of a Girl at the Age of 10” by Cornelis de Vos, early 17th Century

“Portrait of a Young Woman with Fan” by Jan Daemen Cool, 1636
Again, this image looks grainy because you can enlarge it and see every paint daub! The details in the lace are breathtaking.

Fashion’s Least-Sexy Accessories: The Coif

Fashion Misconceptions, Part I

I’m too Sexy for my Coif
(Oh no you’re not)

This is a coif. The word has rapidly changed meaning during the 20th Century, and it now is used vigorously by celebrity websites to describe hair-dos (usually bad ones) or in reference to any headdress or hat. In the past, however, coif referred to a small, bonnet-like cap usually made from linen or silk  that fit close to the head.  It’s name is pronounced “qwaf,” a sound which, if it was an onomatopoeia, summons visions of rotten fruit hitting the ground or the delicate suppression of a full-bellied burp.  How can anyone look good with a starchy napkin draped over their head like a sack? This disregarded head garment, however, is a lot more interesting (and sexy) than it’s name may lead you to think!

Plain linen coifs were worn as a foundation head garment beginning in the Middle ages. Men wore them while working the fields and children wore them while playing outside. Ladies most often wore veils and turbans over their coifs. Unlike men or children, a proper lady wouldn’t dare go outside the house without covering her coif with a hat or veil first! Coifs for women became especially popular during the 1500s. The trend originated by combining the practicality of a man’s cap with a veil’s delicate beauty. Early lady’s coifs were worn to promote modesty, tame the hair, and– as an added bonus– keep lice infestations at bay. It was worn almost all the time, except to comb and clean the hair. It was worn to bed to keep the hair in place, in the kitchen to keep the smoke out, and especially out in public under all the fashionable hats, hoods, and veils!

The coif was considered an undergarment of sorts. Uncovered hair was naked, and the coif acted like a chemise for the head. It would never be worn uncovered outside the safety of the house. Though fashion rules are rather lax today, you wouldn’t want to go to work in just your knickers if you want any sort of respect, but you can safely lounge around in them at home all you like. So it was with the coif. Only the lower classes, who could not afford fancy headgear, wore the coif alone.

The most popular color for coifs is white. White linen, white silk, white satin, white anything! The basic coif was simple: a square of fabric gathered shut on one end and pulled over the head. Most Renaissance coifs were made all in one piece, like this one:

Notice how it looks like a widened urn, creating longer side panels and a puffed back to the coif, framing the face and allowing more room to tuck long hair into. They became exceedingly popular during the early 17th Century from about 1600-1650, which is why many puritan costumes incorporate a bonnet-like coif as standard fare. Coifs, however, didn’t have to shade the face, just cover the hair, and they often ended around the ears.

This painting by Caspar Netscher shows a delicately-coiffed woman sitting at home making bobbin lace, perhaps to decorate more of her coifs. Notice how her coif is not plain white, but covered in twining black vine patterns. There’s even a little bird embroidered on the side. This line of needlework is called blackwork and it was all the rage during the Elizabethan and Stuart periods. It was sewn on cuffs, collars, gloves, and especially coifs. Here’s a close-up view of a coif covered in blackwork:

Every bit of that is carefully hand sewn. Some blackwork even has special stitching techniques that allow for woodblock printing details like cross hatching and half-tone shadows. Embroidery didn’t always have to be black. Redwork was also popular using a brick-red colored thread that contrasted beautifully with the white linen or silk. Vine patterns, holly, flowers, birds, bugs, and fruit were all popular themes. This redwork example even has life-like squirrels frolicking through the pattern!

The examples above have extra special touches: gilded silver thread accents on the blackwork and small silver sequins on the redwork. These beautiful embroidery accents are made from actual precious metals! The next example shows at 17th Century coif blooming with brilliant polychrome embroidery.The MMA website allows you to zoom in on the design, revealing not only the crispness of the colors, but that it is also spangled with silver sequins!

Since coifs would usually be covered outdoors and be seen only in the house,why decorate them with such amazing, time-consuming embroidery? Firstly, coifs were not always covered completely when outdoors; a hat or French hood may let the sides peek out around a woman’s ears, allowing her needlework skills to be displayed for all to see. Much like samplers, the more delicately decorated the coif, the more skilled and desirable the woman is presumed to be. At home, the fineness of the embroidery set a lady apart from her servants and added a little bit of Renaissance bling to her house dress, kind of like putting a fancy satin robe over your negligee when you lounge around at home on a rainy day.The painting below (The Morning Toilet by Jan Steen) is quite scandalous– no stockings, a flash of high thigh and buttock, a satin housecoat, and she’s not even out of her night coif yet!

There was a whole series of these sort of paintings done  by a range of artists during the 1600s. They are akin to the pin-ups of the 1950s, flashing a little here and there, chaste, but far more titillating and intimate than all those famous nudes. Her coif isn’t just her pajamas, it’s like a key piece of her negligee, that special touch that she only shows when she’s alone at home. Fashions change quickly, however, and by the 18th century, sexuality in the upper classes was much more blatant. Heaving busts and gigantic wigs defied the purpose of the coif, rendering the need for decoration null and void. The coif became a necessity under wigs and hair pieces, but by 1800, the coif as it had been known had all but vanished. The coif still existed on the fringes, morphing into long, lapel-brushing lace bonnets and hairnets called snoods during the 19th century, but its reign as a fashionable headpiece was over. It remained a piece of folk costuming throughout Europe and as an American prairie legend, slowly developing its current bonnet-like identity associated with elderly Puritans and infants.

Though they may not be considered fashionable, flattering garments today (much less sexy negligee!), coifs are an essential part to any Renaissance wardrobe. They can be just as beautiful as any hat or headband, and they’re practical too! Perfect for wintery reenactments or for keeping your hair out of your face while you catch some beauty sleep without leaving that unmanageable pony-tail wave or stiff neck you get from wearing a scrunchie. It may not look sexy by modern standards, but attractiveness surges with optimistic confidence and you will feel darn confident after a restful night sleep in your coif and knowing that no matter how windy or humid, your awesome coif will keep your hair in check and under control! :)

Study more amazing Elizabethan coifs at The Coif Gallery!