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15th century


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The houppelande is a specific kind of medieval overgown which was widely worn in the late 14th century and 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, it is a surcote because in the earlier medieval period anything worn as an overgown was usually called 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 an extant 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, loose sleeves
  • 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. When the fabric is gathered high under the bust, it formed pleats in the fabric. It was always belted under the bust at the back with a fabric belt which might have expensive decorative metal buckles and ends.

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.

Above 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. It's called a bag sleeve because it looks like a bag, and was a style worn by both men and women.

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 and fabric 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. Unusually, it has rows of fabric ruffles or purfles which are made from the same fabric as the houppelande. This is an unusual feature, not seen in other artworks, and may not have been common.

Sleeves this size would have been quite cumbersome to wear than those with a cuff at the wrist, so it would have been far more practical to wear it in this manner. Again, the slashed sleeves allow the fabric of the undergown to be seen.

Collar styles
Styles of collar on the houppelande varied also. Most appear to have a high-cut standing collar or a wide one folded down to expose the fur lining around the neck or collarbones.

The detail at right comes from a 1420 painting, Portrait of a Princess. The woman also wears a sheer fabric between her neck and the houppelande, although it is unclear exactly what it is. Chemises did not have collars and neither did the style of undergown worn at that time. 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 pre-1415 and comes from the prayer book of Maria of Gueldern.

The collar is quite wide and worn folded down and the houppelande itself is worn secured all the way up to the neck.

The daggued sleeves are a decorative feature seen on men's clothing and hoods and were worn by the upper classes who employed other people to do their own laundering and were not working at manual tasks.

This style was not worn by the working classes.

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