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Houppelandes
WHAT IS A HOUPPELANDE? - DISTINGUISHING FEATURES - SLEEVE STYLES - COLLAR STYLES

The houppelande is a specific kind of medieval overdress which was widely worn in the 15th century. It replaced the more fitted surcotes and overgowns, although like them, often showed off the gown underneath which was more costly and expensive. Technically, is is a surcote, but became known as a garment in its own right. It was always worn with an undergown, never alone.

Shown at right is a detail from the 1445 painting by van der Weyden, The Magdalene Reading showing Mary in a houppelande which is folded back to expose her undergown. Shown at left is a houppelande dated to 1396 from the Czech Republic. It shows a small neck opening and the vast amount of fabric which creates the folds which we see in contemporary artworks.

Distinguishing features
The distinguishing features of the houppelande, were a high collar or neck opening, big sleeves and a voluminous amount of fabric in the lower part of the gown. There were many different sleeve types, but most used a large amount of fabric compared to previous gowns and fitted kirtles. It was always belted under the bust at the back with a fabric belt which might have expensive decorative metal buckles and ends. When the fabric is gathered under the bust, it forms pleats in the fabric. The houppelande was not constructed with a separate bodice like some other styles of gown shown on the 15th CENTURY GOWNS page.

Houppelandes almost always seem to be depicted with a fur lining and were usually worn with the heart shaped headdress or the horned headdress and veils.

Sleeve Styles
The styles of the sleeves of the houppelande varied.

At right is a detail from the 1415-1420 illumination Delilah Shearing Samsons Hair by the Boucicaut Master from the Bible Historial from Paris. It shows a bag sleeve which is cut generously and gathered onto a wrist band.

At right is a detail of the centre panel from the 1445 painting by van der Weyden, the Crucifixion Triptych. It shows a woman in a houppelande lined with grey fur which has a slash in the bag sleeves. Her sleeves are not excessively long, and she still wears her sleeve down to the wrist like a regular gown. The slashed sleeve allows the contrasting colour of her undergown to be seen.

At left is a detail from the 1434 painting by Van Eyck, the Aldolphini Wedding. It shows a young woman wearing a belted houppeland with extremely long bag sleeves which are also slashed. She wears her arms through the slash. Sleeves this size would have been quite cumbersome to wear of a cuff at the wrist, so it would have been far more practical to wear it in this manner.

Unusually, the sleeve also has layers of ruffles, which does not appear to be depicted commonly in either contemporary art, illumination or sculpture. The young girl also wears a popular style of ruffled veil over her hair, so the explanation could be as simple as that the wearer is young, fashionable and really likes ruffles and it wasn't a widely-spread phenomenon.

Collar styles
Styles of collar on the houppelande varied also. Most appear to have no proper collar per se, but to have a high-cut top which is worn either folded up for warmth, or folded down to expose the fur lining around the neck or collarbones.

The examples shown here depict two of the other styles of collar which appear to be actual collars.

The detail at right comes from a 1420 painting, Portrait of a Princess. Looking at the fullness of the gown below the neckline and the amount of pleating, it seems a little unlikely that the standing collar would be so thin. The gown, should it be cut in one piece, would probably have a thicker, bulkier collar, so it is possible that this collar is cut separately. It is also possible that the fabric is lightweight and that the collar is cut in one piece with the gown. It is very difficult to tell with the jewelry over where the seam would be. The woman also wears a sheer fabric between her neck and the houppelande, although it is unclear exactly what it is. Underneath the sheer fabric, the top of the houppelande collar can be seen turning down.

At left is a manuscript illumination of a woman in a houppelande with long, wide, daggued sleeves and a high neck. It dates to pre1415 and comes from the prayer book of Maria of Gueldern.

The shape of the fold-down collar suggests that it may be a separate collar, although it is entirely possible that it is again a high-cut neck which is folded down to form what looks like a collar. From the illuminations, it looks like it may match the lining of the sleeves of the dress, but this is by no means certain.

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