European winters in the 17th century were harsh and cold. Even inside the house, people couldn’t cuddle in warmth and comfort. Wealthy people that is, not to mention the poor classes. So, the European women had to wear a lot of layers of clothing to feel more or less comfy. Let’s have a look at a Dutch female costume from 1665 and everything it included. Why so exact date? It’s simple – because this attire is depicted on one of the Vermeer’s paintings.
The clothing of a wealthy woman began with a linen or silk chemise. This was long and full and often decorated with lace at the cuffs. No other undergarment was worn. A hip pad was tied about the waist to support the petticoats.
During the late 1600s, the coastal fringes of the Netherlands saw the development of a thriving merchant economy. This was also the time known as the Little Ice Age, when canals, rivers, and lakes froze deeply in winter. Houses had only the most basic of heating, so each petticoat was also lined, instantly doubling up the layers.
Petticoats were tied into place at the center back, and several of them would be worn.
Hair was brushed back from the face and up from the nape, into a small bun at the back of the head. Depending on the occasion, the face might also be framed with small curls and the bun decorated with plats and ribbons.
Wealthy individuals invested their profits in a conspicuous display of clothing objects and art. The beautiful silk gowns made familiar by the brilliant artists of the Dutch Golden Age, though elegant and deceptively simple, were in fact made up of separate parts, including a petticoat, a bodice, and sometimes separate sleeves.
The petticoats were shaped by pleading the fabric into place around the hips and back while keeping the center front flat. An extra pair of ties was positioned either side of the center front panel and tied at the back to help support the weight of the petticoat.
The stockings were knitted from wool or silk and came up over the knee. Neutral or brightly colored stockings were worn, with red being the most popular. The stockings would be held in place by garters of braids, tied or buckled beneath the knee. Sometimes, the stockings would be folded down over the garter.
The shoes were straight lasted, which meant that the right and left foot were identical. They had a tapering square toe, high instep tongue, and curving leather-covered timber heels. The uppers were made from leather or fabric and came in several different colors, including red and white.
The bodice of each gown was stiffened with whaling, formerly referred to as whalebone. The stiffened bodices, many of which were smooth covered, concealing the boning channels, were intended to be seen. The bodice’s sleeves may have been detachable or sewn in place.
A separate pair of stays was not worn.
The bodice could lace up at the center front but more usually – at the back. The lacing might be showy or concealed. When fastened at the front, a separate stomacher would often be worn to fill in a gap. The bodice was straight-laced with a single cord, fed through alternate eyelets. The end would be tied, and the extra lacing tucked away from view.
The chemise neckline would be undone and eased so that it could be tucked away and not spoil the line of the bodice.
The outer petticoat could be worn over the bodice tabs or under them, but the stomacher front was always placed over the petticoat, creating the appearance of a single gown with a tapering slender waist.
If worn, sleeves would be tied into place with silk ribbons threaded through linen bars of the armholes of the bodice.
Simple elegant jewelry, often made from pearls, was worn.
Foot warmers were a welcome comfort in the depth of winter when the canals were frozen solid and homes – very cold. A small ceramic brazier was filled with hot embers from an open fire and placed in a wooden box. The foot warmer, which had holes in the top to allow the heat to rise, was placed beneath the foot to keep the cold from striking up through the damp floors and causing a chill.
The intense cold worsened by the damp of houses, built along the canals of Delft and other Dutch towns, meant that many layers of clothing were worn even indoors.
A linen or silk kerchief was worn to cover the decolletage – more for warmth than modesty – and was fastened into place with a pin or brooch or tied with a ribbon.
An indoor jacket was worn. The jackets were loose-fitting, made of silk or velvet, and edged or fully lined with fur. The sleeves were three-quarter length to allow for indoor activities, such as letter-writing.
The Dutch Republic had become a great commercial trading power, and wealthy merchant homes and clothing abounded with elements of the exotic. And they celebrated their lives in art. In 1665, a portrait of a young woman with a silk turban and large pearl earrings was painted by Delft artist Johannes Vermeer. Her identity remains a mystery and today, she is known simply as the “Girl with the Pearl Earring”.