There are only two extant dresses from 16th century Ireland that I have come across in my research. One is the Moy Gown – a typical kirtle shaped dress – and the other is the somewhat bizarre Shinrone Gown – a front laced bodice that laces under the breast and with a heavily gored and pleated skirt. In light of the lack of physical, primary evidence for what the Irish were wearing during this timeframe the next best resources available are contemporary images and literature.
A cotehardie-type dress is depicted in watercolours by Lucas de Heere (1570). Fynnes Moryson (c1600, as quoted in McClintock, 1950) mentions a ‘sluttish gowne to be fastened at the breast with lace’ which may refer to something similar to this cotehardie. An Act of King Henry VIII (1539) specifically mentions that the Irish women of the time were forbidden to: ‘weare any kyrtell, or cote tucked up’. The fact that several subsequent Acts and proclamations were made banning Irish people from wearing certain items of clothing suggests that the Irish were stubborn in keeping with their own fashions.
All three women are wearing a gown that laces from the bottom rib just to the top of their breast. There is a gap left by the lacing (i.e. the dresses are not laced completely closed). Under this gap and around the neckline (particularly obvious on the young woman far right) a scarf is pinned. Such scarves were not essential but in the words of Luke Gernon (1620, as quoted in McClintock, 1950) ‘the ordinary sort have only theyr smockes between, but the better sort have a silke scarfe about theyre neck, wch they spread and pinne over theyre breasts’. Several contemporary writers are scathing of Irish women as they apparently dressed quite scandalously. I believe the sentiment is best summed up by Don Francisco Cueller (1588), ‘The most of the women are very beautiful, but badly dressed’.
In both de Heere images the gown is tucked up to display the contrasting underside of the gown, along with the bright underskirt. One of the underskirts has two parallel bands of guarding at the base whereas the other two appear to be unadorned. Two of the gowns have tight-fitted, long sleeves with rolled back, contrasting cuffs. The other illustrates a strange Irish ‘half sleeve’ which is mentioned by Gernon (1620, as quoted in McClintock, 1950) and Moryson (c1600, as quoted in McClintock, 1950).
This dress has striking similarities to English and Flemish gowns of the same period. The English had a more conservative version that they appeared to wear over a corseted dress. The front line and open skirt looks the same as in the Irish depictions; however, the English wore their dresses without any gap in the lacing at the front and do not appear to have tucked their skirts up as the Irish did.
Conversely, Flemish women both wore a similar dress and tucked up the skirts in the front. The Flemish dresses also had a contrasting colour under the skirt that became apparent when the skirts were tucked up.
Aside from the bright, contrasting colours used in de Heere’s watercolours, and referred to in contemporary literature (Dunlevy, 1989; McClintock, 1950).
In the few sources referring to this dress There is no mention of adornment on this dress type. There is, however, mention of the Irish wearing silk embroidery and silver buttons on their dresses (Dunlevy, 1989; McClintock, 1950).
This tucked up dress appealed to me for my first Irish dress because it had the potential to be lovely and cool for Festival.
The shape of the front of the dress is relatively clear in de Heere’s drawings. I have not found any pictures of the back of this dress; however, the paintings by Bruegel show clearly the backs of similar dresses from the Low Countries in the same time period. As there are no extant dresses, or detailed descriptions, to reference for constructing the gown, a pattern similar in style to the gowns in de Heere’s watercolour was used as a basis for my pattern.
I chose to make my entire outfit out of linen for three reasons; the first was because it would result in cool clothing for hot weather wear, the second was to use bright and contrasting colours like the ‘gallant’ Irish wore (McClintock, 1950) and the third was to conform with the most likely materials used by the Irish in the 16th century. Linen is mentioned in many contemporary descriptions (Dunlevy, 1989; McClintock, 1950) and Fynes Moryson (c1600, as quoted in McClintock, 1950) specifically states ‘Ireland yields much flax…’ Silk and cotton threads were used as they were the only natural fibres available to me at the time. I would have liked to have used linen thread.
The gown was made using sky blue linen for the over-gown, bright yellow for the lining of the skirt of the over-gown and bright red for the underskirt. Due to fabric quantity limitations, and a mistake in cutting out piece 2, the garment had to be pieced together. The outer of pattern-piece 1 was made whole with sky blue linen, bag-lined using ditch-stitch from the bottom hem to the top of the skirt with yellow linen. The bodice was lined with a different shade of light blue linen.
The outer of pattern-piece 2 was made with two pieces of sky blue linen (the bodice and skirt were pieced together after I miscalculated the bodice pattern whilst cutting the fabric). The skirt was bag-lined using ditch-stitch from the bottom hem to the top of the skirt with yellow linen. The bodice was lined with a different shade of light blue linen.
Pattern-piece 3 has an outer in sky blue linen and the lining is bag-lined using ditch-stitch with blue linen of a different shade.
Pattern-piece 4 has an outer in sky blue linen and the lining is bag-lined using ditch-stitch with yellow linen. The yellow linen was pieced together.
The biggest problem I faced in this gown was constructing the half sleeves. I could not get my head around how to pattern the half sleeve or how to place the sleeve in the arming hole in such a way that it would hang right. Due to time constraints I moved on without completing sleeves for this gown, however, I did attempt the sleeves again in “outfit two”.
This dress was definitely cool to wear; however, it had a very ‘care-free’ feel to it. I did not feel it was formal enough to wear in court situations. After finishing the bulk of this outfit I moved on to outfit two.