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13 Thursday-Costume Layers




Have you ever read a historical romance where the hero has his lady out of her clothes in about 3 seconds flat? How realistic is that? I can say from experience that getting dressed takes some serious time and effort. I expect getting undressed would take less time, but still a heck of  a lot longer than a few seconds. Here is an example of what a noblewoman in England in the year 1540 might be wearing.


Layer 1: Chemise. shift. This is the layer closest to the skin, so it should be easily laundered (unless you’re high nobility, and then the chemise will be loaded with embroidery)


Layer 2: Farthingale/hoopskirt. In the 1500s this shape should be a cone, not a bell like in the 19th century


Layer 3: Corset. This was not intended to give an hour glass shape like in the mid-1900′s. Have you ever tried to edge your hand inside the top of a corset or had your hero do that to his lover? Not as easily done as you might think, depending on how tightly it is laced. This is an actual corset from the 16th century


Layer 4:  Bumroll. To make the skirt stand out from the body and take some of the weight off the hips. A stuffed half-donut that tied around the hips


Layer 5: Kirtle (or petticoat and bodies). In hot weather or for casual dress (or the lower class), this could be worn alone.


Layer 6: Partlet. A neck covering for warmth and ostentation rather than modesty. Often plain black, but sometimes richly embroidered or lined with fur, edged with pearls or other small jewels. Later in the century it evolved into the back standing open ruff.


Layer 7: Forepart. A decorative panel of rich fabric that was pinned to the kirtle to show through the split in the over skirt. Often matched the lower sleeves. A woman with a couple of these could mix and match to extend her wardrobe. The black an dwhite photo is of an actual forepart rom the period.


Layer 8: Gown. Sometimes the gown was one piece. More often it was a skirt that hooked or tied onto the bodice edge.


Layer 9: Sleeves. In Tudor times, uppersleeves were stitched to the dress, but undersleeves were tied on underneath and could be changed to match the forepart.


Layer 10: Coife. A small linen cap to protect the heavier, more expensive headdress from oil in the hair.


Layer 11: Head dress. In Tudor Engand in 1545, this would have been a Gable Hood or a French Hood. These would have been ornate and decorated with pearls and gems.


Layer 12: Shoes and stockings. Stockings would have been made from fabric cut on the bias and sewn together. Knitted stockings were still another 20 or 30 years from being introduced. Shoes wereoften a Mary Jane style, with very square toes.


Layer 13: Jewelry. For the high nobility, this would have included necklaces, brooches, rings and girdles (belts made from strung pearls and jewels, or silk cords). But just about every garment was embellished with jewels, from the neck edges of the dresses, the edges of the split in the skirt, to the sleeve slashes. One of these coomplete outfits probably weighed a ton! Or at least 20 pounds.


I think the layers would have been similar in other times. The Georgians? Definitely. The Victorians? Oh, yeah. Maybe not the Regency period as much, but still layers.


So after reading this,  how quickly could your hero get his heroine undressed?

13 Responses to 13 Thursday-Costume Layers

  • Great post, Maddy. Georgian clothing has been on my mine this week as I work on another historical. The number of layers is incredible! I wondered about the undressing too, but I figured the hero, especially if he was a rake, would have lots of experience in this department! It’s no wonder they required maids to help them dress though.

  • Good lord. You’d barely get yourself dressed before it was time to retire for the night. Much prefer being able to throw on a pair of pants and a shirt in mere minutes!

  • LOL! Awesome post…and so true. This is why I’m no good at writing historicals.

  • Thank you for sharing! This was really interesting.

  • Very cool! I totally wouldn’t want to wear all those layers of clothes, though! LOL!


    My TT is at http://paigetylertheauthor.blogspot.com/

  • This is the sort of thing I’m always trying to find for my historicals, especially the underwear layers.

  • Wow that is a whole lot of clothes….I think one would be tired wearing all those…

  • And this brings us to the under-reported ‘bodicegasm’ experienced by those who work Ren Faires….

  • Very interesting. Thankfully I will never have to be subjected to the torture lol NOT a dress gal. Love the costumes though. Happy St Patty’s Day

  • Fantasy stories can have these problems, too. And then there’s the added issue if he’s in armor. 🙂

    Happy T-13 & St. Patrick’s Day.

  • I don’t write period stories so I can’t answer your question.

    However, I am now so uncomfortable imagining these clothes I have to offer up a little gratitude for my jeans and sweatshirt! LOL! Thanks for all the details, though, and for making me appreciate anew that I live in a rather convenient period, clothing-wise. 😉

  • Yeah, don’t you love it in the movies when they just rip it all off – I guess that’s why they called them “bodice rippers” in the old days, eh? Hate to be the maid that had to fix that corset!

  • Thank God for jeans! This is why most love/sex scenes in “period” books describe removing one or two pieces, then kind of skip ahead. Otherwise you would have a chapter devoted to undressing the female character. (grin) Think about this though, you would have to remove the corset, those things were cinched so tight that, any “vigorous” movement or activity, could cause the woman to pass out do to a lack of oxygen. LOL!

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