15th-century Men’s Doublets: An Overview
This article will focus on the 15th century doublet that was worn over the shirt and under a gown, houppeland, or other outer layer of clothing. People attempting to recreate the clothing of the 15th century often neglect this essential part of a man’s ensemble and then wonder why the outfit does not look “right.” I hope that this article will prompt costumers to look more closely at what the desired body shapes were for a given period and how those shapes were created through clothing.
The analysis that follows is based on examination of hundreds of primary visual sources. Some of the clearest examples of doublets are listed in note 15. In the future I hope to survey these sources in a more systematic way, but I expect that my conclusions here will not change greatly.
Around the middle of the 14th century, men’s clothing began to fit the shape of the body closely. Since what nature produces seldom matches the cultural concepts of the ideal body, a garment evolved that reshaped the male body to contemporary ideals. This garment was the doublet. Hip length or occasionally waist-length, it was worn over the shirt and drawers, and until the end of the 15th century, usually worn under another layer of clothing such as an overtunic, houppeland, gown, or mantle.
Doublets (1) would be worn for over 300 years, and although their shapes and cuts changed over that time, they continued to serve roughly the same purposes. These were:
- To give a fashionable shape by padding and constriction of the body;
- To support the hose by providing eyelets or ties to which the hose is tied; and,
- To provide warmth through the use of padding, interlinings, and warm fabrics.
From the late 14th to early 16th century, doublets gave the wearer an egg-shaped or pigeon-breasted silhouette when viewed from the side. The roundness was more exaggerated in the late 14th century to early 15th century and slowly became more flattened as the 15th century progressed. The egg-shaped front did not disappear from the fashionable wear until the 1540s, and there are examples of flat-fronted doublets throughout the 15th century as well.
14th century doublets, often known as pourpoints, appear to be composed of four main body pieces with the skirts were generally cut one with the body. Only one known pourpoint survives (2) and the artwork of the period generally does not consistently depict seam lines. From what evidence we have, we can surmise that 14th century doublets were also mostly collarless and had sleeves that fit tightly all the way down the arm. Hose were laced to the doublet by means of ties attached to the doublet skirts. At the end of the century, fashionable doublets had low standing collars. One style of doublet that featured unusually large armholes for the sleeves also emerged at the end of the century and it is by a twist of fate that the only complete (or nearly complete) surviving pourpoint from this time happened to have this style of sleeve. However, little evidence exists to support that this was the dominant style.
15th century doublets became more sophisticated in cut. At the beginning of the century, doublets were similar all over Europe. By the middle of the century, some regional differences had emerged between Northern European and Italian doublet details. This does not mean that one would never find a doublet with Northern European features in Italy and vice versa, but that there were some features that were found more often in one region than in the other.
While skirts-and-body-in-one doublets continued to be worn in the 15th century, a better-fitting cut that had separate skirts pieces came into being around the 1430s or 1440s. Either way, the doublets had eyelet holes in the skirts to which the hose could be laced. By the end of the 15th century, many doublets had no skirt al all or had only a vestigial skirt that just covered the rear. These latter doublets had the hose tying into the body of doublet.
16th century doublets retained the padded body but the desired shape changed to the inverted cone. The waist developed a point in the 1540s while the skirts either disappeared or were shortened significantly, often becoming tabbed. The hose generally did not attach to the bottom of the skirts, but more often to the top of the tabs, to a lacing strip inside the doublet body, or hooked to the inside waist. In the last few decades of this century, the doublet was also sometimes constructed to have a “peascod belly” that looked much like we might call a “beer belly” today.
In the first half of the 17th century, the inverted cone shape was retained, but the waist line rose and the tabs or skirts lengthened. By mid-century, the waistline remained high while the tabs were greatly shortened or disappeared entirely. Around the 1660s, the knee-length coat, worn over a similarly constructed waistcoat became fashionable and in time replaced the doublet altogether
The 15th Century Doublet
The 15th century doublet was usually padded, had a low collar and lacing holes around the bottom of the skirts to which the hose were attached, and, ordinarily, had sleeves. It was worn in all parts of Western Europe, by all classes of men, although details of sleeves, skirts, and collars could vary over time, and from region to region. (3)
To appear wearing only a doublet (with shirt, hose, and drawers) connoted informal status or that that person was performing acts of physical exertion, whether heavy manual labor or sports. A man was not considered formally or properly dressed unless he wore at least three body layers: 1) the shirt and drawers, 2) the doublet, and 3) the gown or its equivalent. A man could wear just the two inner layers in private, informal situations, such as being at home with family and friends or being physically active, either in sport or labor (see Figures 1 and 2 for examples of doublets worn without an outer layer). (4) This basic principal held true throughout Western Europe, although the poor might not be able to afford all the layers or could afford wear all the layers for only special occasions.
A doublet could connote social status through the types of material used. Some sumptuary laws tried to dictate what kinds of doublets persons of particular social standings may wear, but these were not often enforced and often transgressed.
This discussion of materials includes mainly the outer, visible layer of the doublet. There are few extant doublets, few household accounts, and few guild regulations from this period and none of these have not been adequately studied. We can only guess as to what was used as linings, interlinings or padding. We can surmise that some sort of padding was used to create the fashionable shape, because the human body is not shaped the same as the body depicted wearing a doublet. The narrow waist could hardly be maintained without some constriction of the waist area, so we can speculate that there was some sort of sturdy and strong lining or interlining to give the requisite support.
Although this is from a later source, some ordinances of 1520s from the Spanish city of Seville regulated what types of fabrics could be used in completing a doublet. These regulations support our previous suppositions. Expensive outer cloths, such as brocades, required three linings: “one of linen colored like the [fabric], another of coarse canvas and a third of white linen. (5) Doublets of “minor silks” had only two linings, one canvas and one linen for the body and a white linen and fabric-colored linen for the sleeves. (6) Cotton was used to stuff the expensive doublets, but cheaper fustian doublets could be stuffed with wool. Given the body-shaping function and the need for a strong support for the hose, it is quite likely that the requirements for 15th century doublets were similar to these given here.
Jacqueline Herald cites that the outer fabric of Italian doublets could range from elegant fabrics such as silk brocades and velvet or to simple linen. (7) Published information about the materials used to make doublets in Burgundy or France is limited. Margaret Scott notes that many doublets worn by the nobility in the 1470s were made of silk or velvet, and there is also mention of fine worsted (wool) being used as well. (8) Spanish doublets were made from silks, woolens or fustian (a linen-cotton blend). (9) Although I could not find specific references to linen or linen-blend doublets in France or Burgundy, the presence of linen or linen-blend doublets in Spain and Italy, the close cultural ties that Spain had with Burgundy, and the ample availability of linen fabrics in France and Burgundy suggest that linen or linen-blend doublets were likely to have been made there. The only evidence I have found for English doublet materials were the wardrobe accounts for one year during the reign of Edward IV. The fabrics allotted for his doublets were generally silk satin or velvet for the outer layer and linen for linings. Allotments of fabrics for doublets for his family and servants included silks for the family and high-ranking officials and wool cloth for the lower-ranking servants or servants involved with manual labor. (10)
Again, we have little more information other than was given in the Spanish ordinances as to how the interior linings and padding were structured. I know of only one documented doublet from this century and detailed information about it has not been published, at least not in English. It may be that the doublet is too fragile to be studied with out causing it to disintegrate or has already disintegrated. (11)
Basic Patterns and Cuts
As to cut, we do have some clues derived from a number of doublets depicted in mid-15th century art sources and from Joan Evans’s pattern taken from such a doublet. (12) Figures 3 and 4 show two basic patterns, one for a doublet with separate skirts and another for a doublet with the skirts and body cut as one. These patterns are intended to represent the most common features for doublets worn from about 1430 to 1480. Remember that there are many variations on a theme in doublet cut and design and if you want to reconstruct a doublet, you should familiarize yourself with a number of sources from a particular time and place before choosing a specific variation.
The pattern in Figure 3 consists of two fronts shaped to give the rounded, pigeon-breasted shape popular at this time, two backs, a two-part or four-part collar that is cut into the deep V-shape often found in the 15th-century, and four skirt sections. The sleeves consist of a tight-fitting full-length sleeve, open and laced at the elbow, with a heavily padded upper-sleeve (puff) at the shoulder. This padded upper sleeve provided and supported the broad shoulders found in contemporary Northern European gowns. A doublet of similar construction can be found in an illumination of “Le Lit de justice de Vendôme” from Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes by Boccaccio illuminated by Jean Fouquet around 1460. (See Figure 5.)
The other pattern (Figure 4) consists of two fronts also shaped to give the rounded, pigeon-breasted shape, two backs, a four-part collar that is cut into a deep U-shape. The skirts have been cut as one with the body. The sleeve here is cut for the characteristically Italian style (see below) with a longer, less padded upper puff. Either sleeve can be used with either doublet body style. An example of this cut, is shown by this soldier in “The Victory of Heraclius over Chrosroes,” by Piero della Francesca. (See Figure 6.)
Figure 7 shows a sample padding diagram for these doublets and links to some instructions on how to pad the doublet.
Sleeves, collars, skirts, and fastening arrangements were greatly varied throughout the 15th century. Some of the variations were more often found in one geographic region than in others. Figure C shows general variations between Northern European and Central/Northern Italian doublets. (13)
Northern European doublets often differed from Italian doublets in that they produced different body shapes and had characteristic variations in collar and sleeve cuts. The German body shape was often more similar to the Italian body shape than to the Northern European one. Figure 8 illustrates some of these features. The desired male silhouette in Northern Europe included a more rounded pigeon-breasted front, a flat back, broad shoulders, narrow waist and hips. From the front, the overall outline would be of an inverted triangle with the shoulders as the base and the apex at the feet topped by a smaller triangle formed by the head and headdress. The Northern European doublet at this time was padded to produce the basis for this shape. The heavily padded upper sleeves would broaden the shoulder, as would padding to exaggerate the shoulder and chest area. Little or no padding was needed near the waist and hips (but heavy interlining and proper cut would constrain this area).
The desired male silhouette in Italy included a slightly rounded pigeon-breasted front (although an almost flat or natural front was also found), a flat back, moderately broad shoulders, moderate waist and hips. From the front, the outline would be of a rectangle or trapezoid with the shoulders being slightly wider than the torso. The Italian doublet at this time was probably padded to produce the basis for this shape by padding to round the shoulder and chest area, with little or no padding near the waist and hips.
Early in the 15th century, doublets of both regions tended to have short standing collars that completely circled the neck and plain, tube-shaped sleeves. By mid-century, details of collar and sleeve construction frequently distinguished Northern European doublets from Italian doublets. (14) Northern European doublets often had collars that were relatively high, curved away from the base of the throat, and often standing away from the neck of the wearer. This style of collar rarely met in front. Italian collars rose squarely up in front and usually met or overlapped when the doublet was closed, and fit more closely to the neck. Collar backs of both regions could have a U- or V-shape, although the V-shaped back seemed more common in Northern Europe while the U-shaped collar back was more common in Italy. Collar backs that went around the base of the neck were not exceptional, either (see alternate neckline on the cutting diagram).
Whether the body fronts met or not generally corresponded with the collar placement. In mid-15th century Northern European doublets, the fronts often did not meet until at waist level. Laces were used near the throat and at the waist to hold the two sides together (sometimes there would be laces spaced at intervals over the front). At the same time in Northern Italy, the fronts usually met or overlapped. At the end of the century, Northern European and Italian doublet cuts became more similar; the cuts of the fronts became more varied and one could find U-, V-, and square-shaped front openings, sometimes filled in with a stomacher as well as with more traditional front openings.
Mid-fifteenth century upper-class doublet sleeves from Northern Europe generally had a short, heavily padded upper sleeve. The Italian silhouette of this period did not enlarge the shoulder area as much, so the upper sleeves of an Italian doublet probably had lighter padding or no padding. The upper sleeve of most Northern European doublets typically extended only to the mid-upper arm; the upper sleeve of an Italian doublet extended almost to, but not covering, the elbow. Both Northern European and Italian doublets often had sleeves that opened from wrist to over the elbow and was fastened with laces or buttons. By the 1480s, the ideal silhouette no longer emphasized broadness of the shoulders and so the upper sleeve either disappeared altogether, or, was less frequently of the longer, unpadded Italian style.
Around the end of the 15th century, the ideal Northern European male shape evolved from the inverted triangle to a more rectangular silhouette, converging with the Italian ideal shape. Doublet cuts reflected these changes. The sleeves lost their exaggerated padding at the shoulder, becoming more tubular in shape. An alternate sleeve appeared that was full at the shoulder, but gently tapered to the wrist. The sleeves were often detached from the body and slashed to show the shirt beneath. The body front flattened, although the rounded chest persisted into the next century. Sometimes the skirts disappeared or were reduced to vestigial flaps. Collars returned to narrow standing bands or disappeared altogether. Regional variations in cut and construction were less pronounced.
For those who produced 15th century clothing reproduction, a properly constructed doublet makes all the difference in achieving the right shape for a man’s ensemble. The cutting diagrams given here are suggestions for doublet construction that can produce the correct shapes and accord well with the surviving visual evidence.
- Other names for the garments fitting these functions are paltock, pourpoint, zupone, and farsetto. For simplicity, I will call all such garments “doublets.”
- The “Charles of Blois” pourpoint, the only known surviving pourpoint of the 14th century, had an exceptional cut that included unusually large armholes and a heavily pieced sleeve to fit into it.
- Margaret Scott, Late Gothic Europe, 1400–1500, The History of Dress Series (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, Inc., 1980), 80; Jacqueline Herald, Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400–1500, History of Dress Series (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, Inc., 1981), 53 and 216; Ruth M. Anderson, Hispanic Costume: 1480–1530 (New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1979), 53–63; and Françcois Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., n.d.), 196.
- Herald, 53.
- Anderson, 55.
- Herald, 53, 245 and 247. Page 245 cites an inventory of 1449 that lists six farsetti (doublets) made of linen and one of velvet. Page 247 cites a letter of 1475 that requests fabric for a zupone (a northern Italian name for a doublet) including velvet, brocade, and silk satin.
- Scott, Late Gothic Europe, 1400-1500, 176 and Margaret Scott, A Visual History of Costume: The Fourteenth & Fifteenth Centuries, (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1986), 15.
- Anderson, 55.
- Nicholas Harris Nicholas, Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York: Wardrobe Accounts of Edward the Fourth. (facsimile edition of pre-1848 transcription; New York, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1972) 147–170.
- The doublet apparently existed in the early 1950s and a pattern cut was depicted by Joan Evans in he Dress in Medieval France, (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1952), 30 and 48. On these two pages, she shows drawings of the cutting diagrams of two pourpoints. One of the drawings on page 30 is captioned as the pourpoint belonging to Charles of Blois. The cut of the pourpoint attributed as belonging to Charles of Blois, has been documented in many others sources and its cutting diagram is generally depicted as the one she shows on page 48. The doublet pattern on page 30 is typical of the doublets shown in illustrations from the mid-1400s. Perhaps the publisher inadvertently switched the drawings and the mistake was not caught before publication.
- For this period, Northern Europe includes England, France, Burgundy, the German States, Portugal, Spain, and the parts of Italy under Spanish control (culturally, Spain and Portugal were more closely tied to Burgundy and France than to Northern Italy).
- For examples of Franco-Burgundian doublets, see: Loyset Liédet, illumination from Histoire de Renaut de Montauban, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, ca. 1462; Loyset Liédet, “Bertha, Duchess of Burgundy Supervising the Building of the Church of the Magadalene, Vezelay,” ca. 1465, illumination from L’histoire de Charles Martel, ms 6, f. 554v, Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels; Anon., Louis of Savoy, drawing, c. 1470; Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands; Maitre François, “Circle of the Virtuous and the Vicious,” illumination from City of God, ms. fr. 18, f. 3v; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; various paintings by Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memlinc (Memling), and Petrus Christus; and the aforementioned sources.
For examples of Italian doublets, see: Francesco del Cossa, “The Triumph of Venus,” fresco., ca. 1470, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara, Italy; Master of the Barberini Panel, “The Birth of the Virgin,” fresco, mid-15th century, Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, Boston; Benozzo Gozzoli, “Journey of the Magi,” fresco, ca. 1459, Palazzo Medici-Ricardi, Florence; Piero della Francesca, “The Victory of Heraclius,” ca. 1452-66, Church of San Francisco, Arezzo, Italy; Domenico Ghirlandaio, “A Study for David,” drawing, as reproduced in Herald, figure 24, p. 53. Any good art book on this period will render numerous examples.
Anderson, Ruth M. Hispanic Costume: 1480-1530. New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1979.
Boucher, Françcois. 20,000 Years of Fashion. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., n.d.
Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150–1450. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4. London: Her Majesty’s Stationers Office, 1992.
Edge, David and John Miles Paddock. Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight: An Illustrated History of Weaponry in the Middle Ages. New York: Crescent Books, 1988. This book has many of the illustrations cited.
Evans, Joan. Dress in Medieval France. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1952.
Herald, Jacqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400–1500. History of Dress Series. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, Inc., 1981.
Holme, Bryan. Medieval Pageant. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987. This book also has many of the illustrations cited.
Scott, Margaret. Late Gothic Europe, 1400–1500. The History of Dress Series. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, Inc., 1980.
________. A Visual History of Costume: The Fourteenth & Fifteenth Centuries. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1986.