Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Question from Tudorrose - White band on shoulder of dresses

I have noticed in a portrait of Catherine of aragon and a portrait of Jane seymour while she was maid of honour to Anne boleyn have white pieces of material around their shoulder.
does anybody know what this could be?

I assume it was a napkin because people of the tudor period when sat down to eat they wore napkins around their shoulder.


Lara said...

Here is a good website from someone who has been trying to figure it out:

And the main site is here (with a nice collection of images):

Anonymous said...

That would seem to be a very bizarre place to put a napkin. Most people don't need to protect their upper arms and shoulders from falling food when eating, just their chests and laps.

Those white strips look very much like they are part of the dress. I'm wondering if they are there to cover the location where the sleeves were attached to the bodice, much as modern-day zippers have a flap of material covering them. At least it is in a location to do that.

I don't know why it would always be white. But I don't know why the "tube" of material at the back of French hoods that cover the hair is always black either.

Anonymous said...

I consulted with a friend of mine who is a costume historian. Here are his thoughts on the mysterious white band:

"That is an intriguing little mystery detail, and one that I had never noticed. But once you start looking, there they are everywhere.

The main thing I notice is that they show up in the earlier portraits, and disappear within a certain period. The challenge is the rarity with which garments are shown from the back - and that limits the necessary insights. I am curious if they were part of the evolutionary "tailoring" of women's garments during a transitionary period from voluminous full garments (round gowns and houppelandes) to more severely tailored garments. The 16th century saw a huge leap in tailoring skills and fitting, it may be related to that. The Holbein sketch showing a gown from the back indicates that a great deal of pleated fabric was being controlled by a sash device. It may be that a controlling sash was passed over the shoulders and across the mid-back to control the fullness of the gown and make it "appear" more fitted. A similar tailoring variation occurred in the early 18th century when the loose fullness at the back of women's sacque gowns were organized into set pleats (the Watteau pleat), and the front part of the fitted bodice again became much more defined area leading to the next fashion silhouette, the French gown.

After the use of the sash faded, the band element it created was retained briefly as a decorative element until it became archaic and outdated."

Anonymous said...

In tudor times it was common for a noble household to wear their napkins on their shoulders.I know it dosen't sound logical because I know you would think it should be their lap or chest that was covered but all they would do is when they needed to wipe their mouth they would just pick part of the napkin up that beeing the lower part and turn their head and wipe their mouth.The matierial was probably part of the dress.white signifies purity and don't forget the Tudors were religious people.White is a popular colour with clerical people.White was a coulour that was worn in mourning during the Tudor era.About the headress women wore with a long veil at the back this signified that the lady was married.A married lady had to cover her head and hair with a headress that being with the gable hood or french hood.Black is a colour that blended in with what ever the lady was wearing.Also black was a colour worn in mourning or when a lady became widowed at the time.

Anonymous said...

The Tudor Tailor claims that these bands were an unessential part of the clothing that was mostly intended to show off the whiteness of the wearer's linen, which was something of a status symbol.

However, I also like the theory that they were part of a scheme to keep skirts out of the mud, either by attaching to a harness, as in Holbein's sketch of a burgher's wife, or serving as a place to pin skirts to directly, which may be what's going on in Holbein's sketch of the Moore family.

Anonymous said...

Gowns of this era and later were not one complete garmet as our mordern day dresses are.A chemise was worn underneath - usually white but often decorated at the neck and sleeves( it is often the frill of the chemise seen at the cuff of dresses not white frills sewn on at the cuff of the sleeves). Kirtles (skirts) were put on and fixed (often tied )at the waist.Then the bodice ( often matching the skirt so as to appear as one piece) which was usually laced at the back - and then sleeves- which were detachable- were tied on. All give the opportunity for chemise under garments to peep through - either by accident or deliberate design.Perhaps this is what is being seen on the portraits.