WHAT IS A HOUPPELANDE? - DISTINGUISHING FEATURES - SLEEVE
STYLES - COLLAR STYLES
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.