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 (click here to see the painting), 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.
Old Masters on the Blog
I would be grateful to know of Dutch servant women's clothing structure during the 17th century, such as that seen in Vermeer's Milkmaid.
Would you know what sort of clothing men would have worn in 17th century Holland? I'm writing a novel based in that era, and am describing the first meeting between Leonaert Bramer and the young Johannes Vermeer. What would these men, vastly different in age, have worn? They would have first met in the Mechelen, the inn run by Johannes' father.
How fascinating! You can try some of the reading suggestions underneath the blog post, or else of course study Dutch portraiture and indoor genre scenes for more everyday wear. Good luck with the novel!
Thank you, Sophie. I was hoping you might know of a book/books that have written (and illustrated) on this subject. Paintings can be misleading, unfortunately, hence my query.
I hope you are doing well and that this year 2022, is full of accomplishment for you. Congratulations on your beautiful and informative blog. I'm finishing a sketchbook about Rotterdam, and some of my drawings illustrate the 17th century Netherlandish.
Your blog has given me directions to better understand the clothes my characters will wear.
José Maurício Saldanha-Álvarez. Brazil
Happy New Year to you as well! Thank you for your kind comment and good luck with your Rotterdam project!
Can you tell me the significance and name of the black headwear worn by some of the women in Frans Hal’s Regentesses. They mimic but exaggerate a widow’s peak.
I am afraid I don’t. I’d research Dutch 17th century dress a bit more to find out. My guess is they are a puritan conservative fashion for older ladies, perhaps widows.
How interesting, I have just been working on a costume to help explain the dress of later in that century: ‘Getting Dressed in 1665 Delft’ https://youtu.be/uIod2n234Zw
What a fabulous video! Thanks for sharing, I am sure many readers will love this as well. The only thing I’d like to add, I hope you don’t mind, is that the the turban in the end was, of course, not normal clothing and ‘she’ is not really representative of dress in 17th century Holland. But I love the rest of the video and will share it. Thanks for commenting! 🙂