This exhibition explores the evolution of courtly clothing from the
"Fashion Revolution" around 1330 to the flowering of the Renaissance
in France following the accession of King François I in 1515. During this
period, the modern notion of changing fashion was reborn. Because
few actual garments from the Middle Ages survive, we use the art of
this era — illuminated manuscripts and early printed books — to reveal
its evolving styles. Concentrating on France and Flanders, this show
also makes the occasional foray into England, Germany, and Holland.
In addition, the exhibition touches on the potential impact of
political unrest and social upheaval on the history of fashion during
one of the world's more calamitous eras. The vicissitudes of the
Hundred Years' War, the occupation of Paris by the English, and
the arrival of the Italian Renaissance in northern Europe, for example,
influenced clothing styles.
Also explored here are the ways in which artists used clothing
(garments actually worn) and costume (fantastic garments not actually
worn) to help contemporaneous viewers interpret a work of art. The
garments depicted were often encoded clues to the wearer's identity
and moral character.
The Fashion Revolution Explodes ca. 1345–50
The four young men in this miniature are all dressed at the height of
the new fashion. They wear the new short garment, the cote hardy:
buttoned down the front, it is tight at the skirt, bodice, and sleeves. All
sport chaperons, two of which are dagged (cut into decorative strips).
Some wear delicate shoes, while the youth in blue wears chaussembles:
hose with leather soles. The two women at the left wear the open surcot.
The woman in blue wears the closed surcot, furnished with a lined slit
for access to the kirtle. She also wears tippets: thin decorative bands of
cloth falling from the elbow.
Jacques de Longuyon,
Vows of the Peacock, in French
Belgium, Tournai, ca. 1345–50
245 x 175 mm
Gift of the Trustees of the
William S. Glazier Collection, 1984; MS G.24, fols. 25v–26r
The "Fashion Revolution" began around 1330 with the invention of the set-in sleeve. Earlier garments were T-shaped, with sleeves of a piece with the body or sewn on a flat seam. The new technique (still in use today) cut sleeves with rounded tops and gathered them along basted threads into armholes in the bodice. This new tailoring, combined with the use of multiple buttons, made possible a snugly fitted bodice and tight sleeves. While providing more freedom of movement, the new garment for men—the cote hardy—also revealed the shapes of the wearer's torso and arms. The "Fashion Revolution" gave birth to men's modern dress, creating an outfit that was sharply differentiated from the dress of women.
Women's fashions, however, were also affected. Tighter bodices and sleeves became popular, as did exposed necks and shoulders. The sides of the outer garment, the surcot, now sometimes featured seductively large, peek-a-boo openings.
Men—and some women—turned the chaperon (a hood with an attached cape and tail) into a fashion accessory that lasted over a hundred years.