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About Houppelande
A Text by Herbert Norris   Gallery
Site Note:
I have slightly modified this text, ever so slightly, for ease of the reading, grammar, and space concerns. However the text was taken from the Herbert Norris book, Costume and Fashion.

Contemporaneously with the use of this "new curtal weed" the courtepy-men of fashion also went to the other extreme, wearing gowns and sleeves so long before and behind that unless the face was seen one could not be certain whether the wearer was a man or a woman, This long gown or robe was known as "the houppelande" Fig. 348, Although a fashion in use in France at the same time, its origin is said to be Spanish, and its name derived from the word "hopa," Spanish for, a long gown with sleeves.

Various styles of the houppelande or houpeland are termed the "bastard" Fig. 350, "long" (Fig. 348), "half-thigh," the variety intended for riding Fig, 351. The houpeland was cut like a woman's gown (see Fig. 227), but not taken in so much at the waist, and was made in three distinct ways: (1)Without any opening save for a small buttoned slit at the neck to allow the head to pass through ; occasionally it is found (2) similar to above, but with the side seams of the skirt opened to knee-or thigh-level; (3) open all the way up the front, and secured by buttons either all or part of its length. An upstanding collar always surrounded the neck, similar to that described for Fig. 346. The edges of the collar were often indented and had the appearance of a small ruff surrounding the face, in the manner of the Elizabethan ruff. Hoods were sometimes worn with the houpeland, and, if so, were of a different colour and occasionally lined with fur. The houpeland was worn not only by young men and dandies, but by the most sedate and sober knights and nobles when appearing at Court or any official ceremony. The edges of the houpeland and the wide long sleeves were cut in dagges in designs as eccentric and fantastic as giddy brains could devise. Often each motif or leaf was richly embroidered and set with jewels.

The following modernised quotation from Chaucer's "Parson's Tale" gives a good idea of the practice of decorating garments:

As to the first sin, that is in superfluity of clothing, which makes it so dear, to the harm of the people, not only in the cost of embroidering, but the disguise of indenting or barrying, undying, palying, or bending, and similar waste of cloth in vanity; but there is also costlyer furring in their gowns, so much pouncing of chisels to make holes, so much dagging of cuts; with The superfluity in length of the aforesaid gowns, trailing in the dung and in the mire, on horseback and also on foot, as well of man as of woman, that all the like trailing is verily wasted, consumed threadbare and rotten.

Not content with embroidering their robes with the patterns used by noblemen of a previous generation, they now introduced a method of decorating their long robes with their own family badge or device powdered all over the garment. In like manner they used the initial letter of like manner they used the initial letter of their names, or their lady-loves', and this often was surmounted by a coronet. The family or personal motto was embroidered on the borders of their robes and sleeves, or on a conventional ribbon set diaper-fashion all over the dress.

A scion of the noble House of de Clare is shown in Fig, 348. He is wearing the houpeland decorated with the family badge~a clarion (an enlarged detail of it is shown in the left-hand corner). It has immense sleeves and is slit up the sides, the edges being decorated with elaborate dagges. The skirt trails on the ground and forms a long train behind. A belt with a short end encir cles the waist, and it should be observed that it is now the vogue to wear it in its natural place,

The pourpoint is worn under the houpeland to produce the pigeon-chest effect so much the mode among men of f3shion at this time, A pouch with a misericorde stuck through the flap might be added to the belt.

A nobleman standing in the centre of the celebrated illumination of Chaucer's Troilus, written during this reign, is wearing a houpeland of gold brocaded in a design of floriated circles about two and a half inches in diameter. Every other circle contains an emerald, The jewelled houpeland is lined with miniver. The hat (see Fig, 389 c) is of the same brocade, with a band of miniver round the head.

The back view of a nobleman Fig. 349 is also taken from Chaucer's Troilus. The houpeland is of brilliant blue, confined at the waist by a wide girdle from which l~ang numerous small gold and pendants ; these may give place to small round bells. The upstanding collar and the sleeves are edged with a gold embroidery, an inch and a quarter wide, and over the shoulders is a wide cape-like collar of heavy gold embroidery, edged with a row of iewelled pendants or gold bells on chains. The singular fashion of wearing bells in this manner originated in Germany, and was one of the many fanciful details introduced at the time of Anne of Bohemia's marriage in 1383; it was very popular at this period and for some time afterwards, The headdress shown in this figure, although not in the original, is typical of the period. It is bag-shaped with a roll brim, the latter sometimes being made of fur.

A shortened or "bastard" houpeland, with wide sleeves dagged at the edges, is shown in Fig, 350 and was the siyle adopted by noblemen for ordinary street wear, It could be worn girded or ungirded over a cotehardie, the sleeves of which finish in very long cuffs entirely enveloping the hands and hanging at least six inches below the finger-tips. On his head and shoulders he has a hood worn in the old-fashioned way, surmounted by a second hood adapted to the later fashion, its facial opening placed round the head, with the liripipe bound round to form a twisted band, and the cape part arranged to come forward from the back and flop over the front.

Fig, 351 shows a young noble in outdoor dress, wearing the "riding" houpeland open up the front for convenience in sitting his palfrey. In addition to the waist-belt he is wearing another round the hips to carry the escarcelle with the misericorde. A rich iewelled chain and pendant is worn round the neck. The elaborate arrangement of the hood should be noticed, It is put on in the new way, the liripipe binding it to the head, and the ample shoulder part (purposely cut larger than hitherto) made to stand up on the left side of the head like a cockscomb, the name "coxcombe" was given to a fop or dandy at this time.

Towards the end of the rsign a vogue was created for wearing pieces of armour, particularly leg-pieces, with civil dress. It was confined to gentlemen enjoying the privilege of knighthood, who wore thigh-pieces and greaves of steel plate with the houpeland shown in Fig, 351, or the "half-thigh," when riding on certain important occasions.

The young Squire of twenty years, "a lover and a lusty bachelor," from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. is seen in Fig. 352. His cotehardie or courtepy, with wide sleeves, is embellished with embroidery "like a meadow" (which suggests that it is made of a green cloth or silk) "full of white and red flowers." The edge the courtepy and the high collar are. finlshed with a roll of white fur, and a band of gold embroidery is worked on the edge of the sleeves, the lining of which is of silk in contrasting colour. The slender waist is encircled by a gold belt whence hang small gold bells on chains. The tout ensernOle of this young man is completed by rich hose, a curious high cap, and another fashionable detail - the necklace. His hair is dressed in the latest fashion "with locks crisp curled, as they'd been laid in press."

John of Gaunt, "time-honoured Lancaster," in the year 1385, when he was is shown in Fig. 353. It is a portrait taken from an illuminated manuscript of that date, He has brown hair and beard, and wears a gold circlet with roundels set with rubies at intervals, The long straight gown is parti-coloured, white blue, the livery colours of the House of Lancaster. The neck is finished with an ornamental border in scarlet and gold. The sleeves are quite new in shape; the upper part was probably cut all in one with the gown and pleated, just below the elbow, into the close-fitting sleeve which covers the forearm.

Fig. 354 is a portrait of Charles V., King of France, wearing his favourite garment, the "ganache." Reference should be made to Fig. 223 and the description given with it. The ganache worn by Charles is of very fine cloth in one or other of the colours he affected, vermilion or a rich blue ; usually its colour was cobalt blue powdered with golden fleurs-de-lis, A hood is attached to the ganache, which opens only on the chest, and is fastened with two buttons hidden by tabs called PATTES or "paws," The whole garment is lined throughout with ermine. Notice that the king is wearing a linen coif, slightly gathered into a band, and tied under the chin. The chair is the new shape which came into use after the middle of the fourteenth century ,

A fashionable man of the last decade of the century is seen in Fig. 355. To the short cotehardie are set the latest sleeves, cut in the shape of bagpipes. They fit close at the armhole, develop into a bag at the elbow, and are buttoned tight at the wrists. The whole costume is parti-coloured, but not in a complicated manner, it being simply half and half, one side black with white embroidery, the other white with black embroidery. He wears the extraordinary long-pointed toes to his hose, called CRACKOW S, fastened by gold chains to his garters (see p. 274). The full dress of the nobility at the end of the reign is exemplified in Plate XIII. A great many of the nobles represented in an illuminated manuscript 2 dealing with the deposition of Richard II at Westminster, are wearing this type of costume, including those assembled "with evil intent."

The colourings of the various houpelands in this particular picture are worth noting..
A houpeland, sulphur, lined white, pink underdress.
A houpeland, sky - blue, lined . vair, red underdress.
A houpeland, sky-blue, lined vair, red underdress,
A houpeland, scarlet, lined miniver, sky - blue hood,
A houpeland, deep blue, lined white, scarlet undefdress, green cap (like Fig. ~49).
A houpeland, gold, lined white.
A houpeland, pale cornflower, lined white, soft green under, dress, green cap.

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2005 January 28