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PART I. CIVILIAN
"Des divergences dues à l'age, d la fantaisie ou à la position sociale de chacun ont toujours coexisté avec la mode générale de l'époque adoptée par le plus grand nombre."
HARMAND : Jeanne d'Arc.
THE SOURCES.—The materials for the study of costume in the past are of two kinds : artistic and literary. Both are invaluable to the student who would have a real understanding of his subject, but both are not equally easily assimilated. The concrete illustrations afforded by contemporary art in all its branches, although by no means exempt from pitfalls for the unsophisticated novice, are yet easier of general apprehension than the writings of contemporary authors. This is especially the case with the earlier writers. It must be remembered that to contemporary readers, familiar in their daily life with the objects referred to, a precise definition was unnecessary, and that the writer had no inkling of the difficulties he was sowing in the path of the modern commentator. None the less, the student desirous of making the most of his investigations should not neglect this class of evidence. If many passages remain obscure, he will on the other hand, in not a few instances, find text illuminate illustration—and vice versa.
While it is perhaps not indispensable for the student to have much knowledge of tailoring, he will find a theoretical acquaintance with the principles of "cut" and drapery of immense assistance in deciphering the naive productions of the earlier artists. There are several modern costume-books which have devoted considerable attention to such questions. (See BIBLIOGRAPHY.) The solutions they give are generally the result of practical experience. Designers for the stage or film, as well as painters, illustrators, etc., desirous of depicting historical events and personages, can hardly know too much in this way. Indeed, the artist designing an historical cartoon will probably, if conscientious, wish to work from the costumed model, and for this purpose it is advisable for him to be able to have the dresses, etc., correctly made to his orders, and not depend upon theatrical costumiers' "stock."
The artistic material at our disposal is practically endless ; almost daily new stores of information become available in the form of reproductions of every form of art : books are constantly appearing on this or that artist, school of painting, engraving, sculpture, illumination, and what not. Art magazines, illustrated catalogues, even dealers' advertisements, are full of material.
I have already said that the art of the past is strewn with "snags" for the raw inquirer, of which some may fitly be noted here. It is true, for instance, in a general way, that the mediaeval artist and (to a great extent) his sixteenth-seventeenth century successors dressed the characters of the past in the fashions of their own day, but certain clear-cut exceptions should be pointed out, namely:
(a) Christ, His Virgin Mother, and the Apostles are, almost without exception, portrayed in a traditional costume and "make-up" which had become stereotyped many centuries before the date at which our book begins. This tradition has endured, with hardly one important break, to the present day.
(b) As time went on (and this is especially notable from the fifteenth century) artists began to aim at giving certain well-defined groups of characters an exotic, or at least unfamiliar, aspect. As a rule these represented pagans, oriental tyrants, and anti-Christian characters generally, for whom they were apt to draw largely upon their imagination. As a result such characters present a fantastic, often hybrid, appearance, due to head-dresses, armour, weapons, etc. (largely born of the artist's fancy), which characterize these figures. His aim is to make them repulsive, ostentatious, and/or ludicrous.
(c) There was occasionally an attempt at what may be called "homemade" archæology in depicting "ancestors" and the like. This was largely a matter of invention ; but, on the other hand, any fashion that appealed to the artist as sufficiently out of vogue would serve for any preceding period. From c. 1500 a highly conventionalized pseudo-classical costume began to be used indiscriminately for the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, as a result of Humanism and the Italian culture. More interesting is the occasional delineation in certain works of authentic pieces of armour considerably older than the artist's day. Helmets and other items as early as the fourteenth century (earlier in a few cases) have descended to us, and therefore it is obvious that he too may well have seen them, or contemporary delineations of them, in some armoury, arsenal, or church. This subject cannot be fully developed here, though I venture to suggest it as unploughed soil to the archaeologist. A case in point is the unmistakable portrayal of the "pig-faced" bascinet with its pendent "aventail" (c. 1380—1420) in works by Memlinc, Hans Holbein the Elder, and Matthias Grünewald (late fifteenth—early sixteenth centuries), of which other contemporary examples could be quoted.
But these exceptions a little practice will ere long learn to discount at sight, when it is no very difficult matter, from observation of ancient works of art and constant checking of one's former data, to collect a very reliable body of knowledge. It is well to build one's conclusions primarily upon examples either definitely dated or whose date can, from internal evidence, be fixed within a little. The student should not allow himself to be dérouté by a mere inscription or date which appears to upset the ideas he is forming : they may well be forgeries, and it behoves him, so far as he can, to verify all data. In conclusion, let him keep his eyes open and either collect illustrations (photos, picturepostcards, reproductions) and—if anything of an artist—make sketches of what he cannot otherwise store in his files. The method of arrangement must be left to the individual ; whatever enables him most readily to refer to his collection—which he will find grow amazingly quickly—is obviously for him to judge.
Literary evidence is in rather a different category. A drawing, painting, or carving of its nature, unless of the most primitive technique, conveys a definite impression. Not so the written word. Even the expert commentator on texts is not infrequently reduced to little better than guess-work—quite apart from difficulties of palæography. There are two contradictory strains that infest the whole terminology of costume. To say nothing of particularities of local usage, we find
(a) that certain terms radically change their application with the passage of time ; and per contra—
(b) that an article essentially one and the same (in principle at least) alters its name during its lifetime.
Of the first anomaly the word Hose is a good example. At first it designates what we should call stockings or leggings ; then it becomes breeches and stockings in one ; by the latter part of the sixteenth century it regularly applies to Breeches ; till by the middle of the seventeenth century reverts itto its original meaning of stockings, which it has retained ever since. N.B.—In German it still retains its sixteenth-century meaning.
Of the second we may cite the "pair of Plates covered," later known as a brigandine, and in its last days as a coat of plate.
It is impossible, in view of the vast field of research available, to advise the reader as to literary sources of information. Practically any of the old romances, chronicles, fabliaux, are liable to afford him useful material. Nowadays a great number of these are increasingly available in modern type, carefully edited by competent scholars. The French texts should not be neglected considering the close connection between their country and ours for many centuries, to say nothing of Burgundy in its palmy days. With the close of the fourteenth century we can depend more fully on our own native resources, Chaucer, Lydgate, the Paston letters, etc. ; the Tudor dramatists and satirists, diarists, writers like Stubbes, Peacham, and Bulwer; later essayists, letter- writers, and biographers, to say nothing of notices in the contemporary news- sheets, give us plenty "to bite on." Wardrobe accounts, wills, and inventories are full of valuable matter. Dictionaries too, and glossaries, had been in use for some time, and one way and another we shall not run short of fuel. Occasionally illustrations accompany the texts.
De Mély and Bishop's Répertoire des Inventaires imprimés is an admirable book of reference. It contains detailed references to published inventories, French, English, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, etc., most of which may be read in extenso in the original tongues at the British Museum. The Oxford Dictionary, with its vast store of contemporary texts, is well-nigh indispensable.
There are a number of ever-recurrent themes in mediæval art, which would of themselves suffice to illustrate the general appearance of certain classes fairly completely down to the fifteenth century.
(a) MILITARY.—The Bible was the universal storehouse whence artists drew their subjects. From illuminated Bibles, Gospels, Psalters, and Horæ, we may cite especially the following stock illustrations : Abraham and Melchisedek, David and Goliath, the Massacre of the Innocents and the Resurrection (with the sleeping guards). The various delineations of military saints too, St. George above all, form a perfect gallery of knightly panoply.
(b) THE PEASANTRY.—Such subjects as Adam and Eve in their fallen estate, the story of Ruth, and the "Annunciation to the Shepherds," are invaluable, but none are fuller of information than the miniatures in the illuminated calendars, depicting the seasonal occupations : sowing, reaping, ploughing, etc.
N.B.—All the subjects mentioned above, in (a) and (b), were favourites of the sculptor, who repeated them on church fronts, capitals of columns, etc. ; common likewise in stained-glass windows.
Here we must apologize for repeating in substance what we stated in an earlier work. The peruser of old texts must beware of taking every statement au pied de la lettre. The element of exaggeration and prejudice, humorous on the part of the satirist, embittered on the part of the moralist, must be watchfully guarded against. Again, the descriptive adjectives cannot be apprehended unless we have some idea of what was the norm or average type at different dates ; words such as "long," "short," "loose," "wide," etc., must be judged with allowance for this. What is described as "wide" to-day may be regarded as of average close fit to-morrow. No fashion has ever been introduced but has moved disgruntled Jeremiahs to incoherent fury. When wide, long garments are in vogue they praise the tight and short, and vice versa.
A point to remember—and traces of it were visible till late Victorian days—is that people past the meridian of their life adhered (except for formal court wear) to the modes of their youth and prime. Again, the nobility and gentry remote from court circles or the capital would naturally be behind the fashion. Note also that practically throughout the Middle Ages there were two conflicting principles in costume: the dignified, which prescribed long, full robes; and the dashing, which encouraged jauntiness and originality. Often both coexist or blend; for example, a long magisterial robe will be embellished with dagges, mahoitres, etc., to bring it into line with the latest town-fopperies. It is worthy of notice that even to this day, for formal full- dress, long, ample outer robes distinguish the liberal professions. "Mr. Speaker," the Chancellor, the clergy, the bar, and university graduates are marked out by "the long robe." So intimately are long garments associated with dignity that in sepulchral monuments and brasses the deceased gentleman, where not clad in armour, is nearly always depicted in his gown.
Such general hints could doubtless be expanded indefinitely ; but perhaps enough has been said, and the rest of this book, supplemented by the student's researches, must fill up the lacunæ.
A SHORT HISTORY of COSTUME & ARMOUR
AN old-fashioned theatrical wardrobe mistress within our recollection used to classify all "period" costumes either as "shirts" or "shapes", according to the cut of the main bodygarment. "Shirts" were loose and, as she put it, "fitted where they touched"; "shapes" were (a) cut to mould the forms beneath, or (b) specially built up ; i.e. fit and cut were all-important. Throughout the present chapter the male costume at least belongs to the "shirt" class. The hose is practically the only portion that taxes the tailor's skill. For reasons given in our Introduction (p. ix) any attempts to lay down precise dates of changes of cut or explain constructional details must needs be largely based on conjecture.
BODY GARMENTS.—Although contemporary texts afford a more varied nomenclature for these, to avoid controversy it will be convenient here, for current reference, to divide them at the outset merely into tunics and supertunics ; both were shaped somewhat on the principle of the modern smock or blouse, as was the underlying shirt, and were similarly slipped on over the head. Hence they are uniformly low-necked—often sufficiently to disclose the upper edge of the shirt—with a slit of some six inches down the breast in front, which in wear was closed with a brooch or the like. Less commonly (late twelfth to early fourteenth century) this slit-opening runs diagonally from the side of the neck to the breast or else horizontally along the shoulder. At their first coming the attire of the "Normans" was simple and practical in cut, and so far the Bayeux Tapestry is at one with contemporary authors. Though stuffs with simple "all-over" designs (stripes, circles, dots, quatrefoils, and the like) are found, decoration consisted in the main of deep borders of ornament (woven, embroidered, or appliqué) at the neck, wrists, and/or hem, to which was often added—down to the mid-thirteenth century—a similar band round the upper arm
The tunic of the Conquest was seemingly cut fairly close to the body with full skirts "on the circle," or loose and gradually widening from armpit to hem. The sleeves reach to the wrists, which they fit rather tightly, the upper arm setting easily, the forearm moderately close. For ordinary use throughout this era the tunic fell to the knee [Plates I.; II. ; III. ii ; IV.; Fig. 2], for full-dress to the ankle [Plates III. i ; v. c ; VIII. iii ; Fig. 1]. The skirt of the short tunic was very generally drawn up, especially at the sides, through the narrow girdle, so as to overhang and conceal it. It might further, for convenience [Plates III. i; VIII. iii ; Fig. 1], be slit up at the sides or front. Towards 1100 courtly exquisites wore tunics trailing about the feet, while the sleeves were so widened and lengthened that they hung down sometimes a foot beyond the hand [Fig. 1], to free which, for action, they were turned up from wrist to elbow—how kept in place can only be guess- work—in a deep cuff. After about 1160 these exaggerations die out : the longest tunics just clear the ground, the fullest sleeves stop at the wrist. In the last years of the twelfth century appears a variant of the tunic which remains typical of the whole of the thirteenth : body and sleeves are cut in one piece, the latter narrowing outward from the waist to a narrow cuff.
SUPERTUNIC.—To the end of the twelfth century this is merely a wide-sleeved, loosebodied upper garment cut on the circle. On state occasions it allowed some six inches at least of the tunic to show below the hem. Soon after 1200 appears a variety, cut, like a monastic scapular, in one piece, and hanging down from the shoulders to mid-leg fore and aft, the head being slipped through a hole in the centre. It widened from shoulder to hem, and the open sides might be caught together on the hips by clasps or stitching ; commonly also it is slit up in front well-nigh to the fork. Between 1225—1250 appears another form which lasts through the century, and has been identified with the garde-corps [Plate XXIV. ii ; Fig. 3]. This is a very loose frock to the ankle or mid-leg, whose distinctive feature is the very wide, long sleeves, gathered at the top, where they have a short slit lengthwise in front to allow the arm to pass through; in which case they hung idle almost to the knees. Often it was worn with a hood. About the last forty years of the period under review two other forms of supertunic occur, to last well into the following age. One is a loose frock with deep armholes and short hanging sleeves ; the other is the garnache, a development of the scapular type, in which the upper part widens out beyond the shoulders and hangs cape-like to the elbow, not unlike the sleeves of our "Inverness" coats [Fig. 4]. The sides might be sewn together or left open. Where the supertunics are unconfined at the waist and closed at the sides, fitchets (vertical pocket-slits) make their appearance, about the middle of the thirteenth century; their object was to give access to the purse and other objects worn at the girdle that confined the tunic beneath. From about the last third of the twelfth century occur supertunics lined with fur, by the name of pelissons.
Excerpted from A Short History of Costume & Armour by Francis Michael Kelly, Randolph Schwabe. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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