If you look at early 17th century Dutch portraits, such as by Rembrand and Frans Hals you might be wondering what on earth these people are wearing. Those crazy ruffs are just the top of the iceberg and below there is an abundance of rich and expensive fabrics, jewels, lace and accessories. 17th Century Dutch dress is at its most glorious.
With the help of 18 year old Aletta Hanemans, a merchant’s daughter from Zwolle, a small town in the middle of The Netherlands, I would like to show you what she put on for her special wedding portrait.
My illustration below, after Frans Hals’ portrait of Aletta, hopefully shows all the wonderful bits and pieces she is wearing. Most of these clothes come back in many other female portraits of the time. Each piece is a wonderful object of fashion in and of itself.
The images are all clickable for more info. The main illustration can be enlarged.
The huge ruff is still the height of fashion in the 1620s but would soon be replaced by the flat ‘falling’ collar.
A large floor length sleeveless gown. Often black and velvet or fur lined. Usually left open at the front. For married women only. This black one has a pleated top half, patterned lower half and rich brocade velvet edging.
A triangular shaped decorated and often boned piece tat is pinned to the bodice and shown at the front. Combined with open jacket, bodice or vlieger. Richly decorated with gold thread and beads. Aletta’s stomacher has a fabulous edging of cut-out floral motifs.
Lace Diadem Cap
Aletta is wearing a white linen diadem cap with white bobbin lace edging. The lace scallops are very large, showing off her wealth and status. These diadem shaped caps are very common in the Dutch 1620s and 30s.
The lace cuffs are made of very thin linen, which is pleated and edged with bobbin or needle lace. The lace follows a typical design made in Flanders and Italy.
Sleeves were usually separate items, pinned or laced onto the jacket or bodice. In Aletta’s case she is wearing black silk sleeves that match her ‘vlieger’ mantle. They are decorated with stripes and embroidery.
Skirt and Farthingale
The silk skirt has a boned farthingale underneath, creating the wide silhouette. It will also make the stomacher stand proud and show it off even more.
Gloves, fans and handkerchiefs were expensive fashion accessories. Gloves were often made of leather or silk and were richly and beautifully embroidered.
It is worth noticing that although my illustration does not show it, and contrary to common perception, Dutch women did not always wear black. In fact many paintings depicting every-day scenes show women wearing colourful clothes. Black was one of the most expensive dyes at the time and so wearing black when you are having your portrait painted was a matter of putting on your Sunday best. And black was the best.
It would not have been a plain black either. In many Dutch 17th century portraits you can see, if you look closely, that the black gowns are actually full of detail and variety. The black silk gowns would have been decorated with black velvet, brocade, lace, beads and embroidery.
Stomachers were also often used to show off wealth and status in their rich gold thread embroidery, braiding and use of lace. Handkerchiefs were a sign of wealth for a while but when they fell out of fashion were just considered old fashioned. Fans and gloves took the same familiar route of exclusivity and high fashion first, but once accessible to more common people, it fell out of fashion and was replaced by other accessories.
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