Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the best outfits (or at least, the most beautiful under-layers). This rather gorgeous dress is from a fifteenth-century altarpiece from Northern Europe and would be pretty simple to make. It would also be suitable for a wide variety of factions and games depending on the fabrics, colours, and any decoration that was added to the basic garment.
If I was going to have a go at making this dress, I’d start off with a simple T-tunic with long sleeves, adding more width to the body than usual. Then I’d cut a round neckline, stitching some deep pleats in place at the front and some smaller gathers each side. Finally I’d finish the neckline with some bias binding to neaten the edge up.
I suspect the dress would end up something like this picture below, although I think I would piece triangles into the sides to conserve fabric and sew the sleeves on separately too. Perhaps this dress might spawn its own ‘making‘ post!
In this painting Mary appears to also be wearing an undergarment with a neck similar to a Japanese kimono, I don’t think they’re part of the same dress (although, of course, I could be wrong).
This kind of loose fitting dress could be made from just about any kind of material. Everything from the finest linen to a lightweight wool would be suitable – as long as it could hold the pleats around the neckline you can take it in any direction you liked! I bet it would also have potential for a simple pregnancy dress for LARP, since you could gather in extra fabric at the neck without having to shape it around a pregnant belly.
It can be hard to know if this sort of dress is actually based in fashion, or if it’s something called ‘drapery’ which artists often used in classical styled images. However the Arnolfini Portrait, in the National Gallery London, does show a (far more elaborate) dress with a similar shape to the body and pleating in the chest area. The paintings were produced in the same time period and the same geographic area. It’s not a stretch to believe that the unstructured white dress in this Nativity scene is based, at least loosely, on Northern European fashion of the mid fifteenth-century.
If you have a go at making something like this, drop us a line and let us know – we’d love to feature it here on the blog!
And just in case you’re interested, this is the whole altarpiece that the dress above can be found in. It’s a Nativity scene and the outer panels contain legends from the life of Christ.