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, never alone.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.