Netherlandish Men’s Costume c. 1450 – 1470

Shirt and breeches

Dirk Bouts, 147?
Dirk Bouts, 147?

Men’s undergarments consisted of a shirt and breeches made from a medium weight white linen

The shirt was far simpler than the shirts that are commonly worn in the SCA. It had a round neck, long straight sleeves and a straight body. Some shirts had a front opening whereas others just had a loose neck hole. Shirts were loose without being baggy.

The sleeves may have been set in or may have been gusseted (like a tunic) – I have not yet found any period illustration or comment that answers this question. In some cases the shirt was very long, in which case it would have been very like a woman’s chemise. These long shirts were worn by older men who wore the longer gowns. Men’s shirts were occasionally visible at the neckline.

The breeches were identical to breeches of earlier periods – loose and gathered by a drawstring.

Pourpoint and hose

St John Altarpiece, Rogier van der Weyden, 1450-60
St John Altarpiece, Rogier van der Weyden, 1450-60

The pourpoint is the equivalent of the women’s cote/kirtle. It was a fitted garment that provides support and at times, padding for the outer garment. It was made of good quality cloth and was lined. The work pour point means ‘for points’ – points being the name for the laces that joined the hose to the bottom of the garment.

The simple men’s pourpoint was made of four pieces in the body and two long sleeves. The sleeves were fitted and usually seamed at the back of the sleeve, as opposed to the underarm as this allows for a better fit. The front opening was fastened with laces but at some times the fashion was to leave the front open, exposing the shirt.

Sometimes the sleeve’s seam was left open and held shut by a number of laces, so that the shirtsleeve was visible. Another variation was a padded shoulder – padded over the outer shoulder/upper arm area to support the gown sleeve and add to the breadth of the shoulders.

Beheading of St John, Hans Memling, 1474-9
Beheading of St John, Hans Memling, 1474-9

There is also variation in the collar area of the pourpoint. Some pourpoints had low cut necklines with no collar, similar to the women’s kirtle. However some had high collars that would show above the neckline of the outer gown, thus giving a contrast at the collar area. It can be difficult sometimes to know which we are looking at as there are also periods when the outer gown’s collar would be cut to look as if it was the pourpoint collar poking out.

Men’s hose had begun out as two separate legs suspended from a belt or by laces from the pourpoint. Overlapping flaps, which evolved into the codpiece, covered the areas between the hose. They were lined, and could be of different colours (as they are in the original of this painting). They were seamed up the back of the leg.

As men’s outer garments got shorter it was no longer decent to have hose of separate legs as there was always the possibility of the overlapping areas gaping, thus exposing oneself to the world. By 1470 hose were joined at the seat, leaving only a gap at the front which was covered by a flap of cloth – the codpiece. These new hose were much less prone to falling down and could even be worn without a pourpoint to keep them up.

The Gown

Etienne Chevalier, Jean Fouqet, 1450.
Etienne Chevalier, Jean Fouqet, 1450.

Men’s gowns were directly derived from the houppelande and continued its basic form. The earlier ones continued to be long although the full-length style went out of fashion for a while. A well to do gentleman’s gown was calf length and loose, gathered by a belt into clearly defined pleats: it was still essentially a houppelande without the immense sleeves.

The sleeves continued to be loose – some were loose and straight, others continued the bagpipe style sleeve. Some sleeves were slit up the front to reveal the sleeve of the pourpoint.

By about 1450, if they were fashionable, young and wealthy, men were wearing a jacket rather than a gown – this was essentially the same garment but much shorter. Some of these jackets were so short as to clearly reveal the buttocks and codpiece. They werse still pleated at the front and back, in the same style as the gowns of the time, and these pleats were often stitched in place, rather than just being formed by the belt.

Justice of Emperor Otto, Dirk Bouts, 1470-5
Justice of Emperor Otto, Dirk Bouts, 1470-5

When the long gown came back into fashion it was primarily as a court robe for older men. The pleats were more carefully controlled and the fullness was less. One interesting style that you see at this time is that of the pleats being pulled around the front of the gown so that the sides are almost flat.

Men were very fashion conscious in this era and the specific fashions changed very rapidly. Sometimes the gown might have a high collar, at other times it might be low and cut in a V to display the collar of the pourpoint. Sometimes the shoulders were left natural, at other times they were massively padded to give further breadth to the wearer. Sometimes the gown would be slit at the sides, sometimes it was so short as to be considered indecent, and sometimes it was floor length. There is no clear development from one style to another – styles came in, went out and might come back slightly altered a few years later.

Burgundian_Mens_Costume – 1.8 MB PDF Class notes from August 2010