Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What to Wear During the War of The Roses

"The White Queen"
I have always been a huge costume nut.  Great films and shows always are an excellent source of inspiration for me and anyone to create something fun, and eventually useful. Back in my college years, "Braveheart" helped me create an early medieval outfit for one of my medieval studies class, and lots of “Ohhhs and Awwws” from classmates.  Emma Thompson's and Ang Lee's adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" resulted in half a wardrobe filled with Regency period dresses, which all got worn to various Gaskell’s Balls in the Bay Area.  Yet no Mr. Darcy was seen.  Le sigh.

Most recent in my period costume film quest, I have discovered “The White Queen” produced by Starz yet even though not 100% historically accurate; has inspired pattern makers and costume/period dress nuts like myself, now to have a reason to make some pretty festive and beautiful frocks.  I finally have a use for the pewter crushed velvet in my sewing fabric stash! YAY! 2014 Night at the Symphony Costume Contest/Event, here I come!
Elizabeth Woodville
Back on topic. Dress.  It’s the War of the Roses.  Edward IV is trying not to get his supply of cloth cut off from Flanders and strikes a deal with Burgundy and his sister Margaret of York is escorted by the Earl Warwick, Richard Neville, to Burgundy for her pending marriage to help keep this important relationship open, and trade to keep going, despite rising conflict lurking in the horizon.  With this political backdrop, what did ladies wear, mainly the ladies at court? Dress during this time was actually quite depended on region.
15th Cent Italian Dress
For example Italy was on its own wavelength in contrast to the rest of the continent, as seen in paintings during the times. The northern part of Europe dressed a bit more to climate.   
Patterned fabric of period

The century began with the gown called “cotehardie” which we refer to as the one with the large bell sleeves and fitted down through the waist. This style faded quickly with introduction of new designs.  Gowns were long of course, and trimmed with fur (ermine, mink etc.) on the cuff, around the collar and sometimes the hem. Fabric was available in various dyes at this time.

The darker colors, reds, blues, dark green, blacks with brocades or patterned in artichoke or oak leave patterns; were of significant cost, mainly worn by those who could afford it, meaning the nobility. This style of gown is most known by the name: “houppelandes” which refer to the long flowing dresses of the time.
Garments were displayed or worn with a style called “slashing” which meant it was opened to reveal an other bit of clothing underneath, like a kirtle or under gown in contrasting colors (most common white or black). A chemise was worn close to the skin.  As time went on, repairs in sleeves of both men and women also accentuated this method of style.

Sleeves were mostly cuffed with matching fur from the color yet could be transferred to other gowns, with ornamentation on the cuff with jewels or embroidery. Also at times, if fur wasn’t worn, patterned fabric was used on both collar and cuff, which became more fashionable later in the century.

So what have I done with all this wealth of inspiration and creativity? I have put it to some use. I have made some alterations and adaptations of my own, but here is a glimpse of my current sewing project.  Today, we are lucky, we have sewing machines, just imagine all this work was done by hand at one point in time.  Headpiece… don’t ask me if I am going to make a hennin, I am not there yet. 

Step one: cutting out the dress: 

Detail of the side of the bodice, before I finished bead work.

Where we are at as of Sunday: Black sash, bodice jeweled, sleeves work in progress.


  1. The white queen wore a killer white gown when she entered the castle courtyard. Perfect drape and the dress looked so simple and elegant.

  2. I love the White Queen, and the Cousin's War series.
    I'm actually currently writing a historical fiction of Elizabeth Woodville, and I'm really interested in costuming from that period. I get the feeling that I will be on this site a lot...

    1. Let me know if you have questions:) Been doing historical costuming for years:) and lots of reading for research lately as well on War of the Roses