Ten years ago when I started researching the Burgundian (also known as the V neck) gown there were several theories about how it was layered. Back then it was still questionable if it was layered directly over the smock/chemise or over another gown, such as a kirtle. These days most costumers agree that there are at least three layers to this outfit however we still question the layering and components that make up the ensemble. There are many theories and the proponent of each publishes this theory with a “look! I have found the answer and here is my proof!” Actually, this happens a lot in the re-enactment world, everyone thinks their ways is right and thus the only way. I like to imagine 1000 years into the future where people re-enacting the 21st century argue about how we achieved bust support in a strapless dress.
“Look!” says one “You can see all these photos are of young people with small breasts, this style would only have been worn by young, small busted woman who didn’t NEED the support! They NEVER wore anything under these dresses”
“No!” says another. “Here you can see a picture of a women with larger breasts wearing one. They MUST have worn something under them”
“I have in my collection a corset dating back to the 20th century, that’s really close to the 21st, they would have worn corsets under those dresses I’ve made a corset and it works under one of those dresses, that is how they achieved the look” says a third woman.
“Don’t be silly, NO ONE would have worn clothes from a hundred years ago! I have seen a photo of a strapless bra in a museum, THAT is what they wore under them.” Argues yet another.
“You’re wrong” says the most recent addition to our debate. “I have a copy of a magazine add from 2001, it’s even dated, advertising silicone stick on bras specifically for wearing under these dresses. This is the ultimate proof. Besides, everyone knows that the straps on the ‘strapless’ bra just degraded with age…”
And so it could continue.
My point here is today women have many ways of achieving a look depending on age, body shape and size, wealth and personal preference. In the 15th century there also would have been different ways to get the same effect. Couldn’t afford the full silk undergown lady so-and-so has? Fake it with a panel of silk on a wool gown. Today we might reproduce the gown with a full silk undergown or a cheaper gown with just a panel of silk, but both interpretations could be valid. This is not to say that every interpretation is how it was done, just sometimes multiple theories are not mutually exclusive.
I will be following one theory in the building of my new outfit, but it is only one. I believe that there is validity in several of the theories so I will be posting them all in due course.