Burgundian Costume: Being a study of women’s formal dress of Northern Europe, especially Burgundy and Flanders, in the later half of the 15th century
Byt Marie Vibbert
“When I first joined the SCA,” my friend Li said to me recently, “one of the first things they told me was ‘pointy princess caps didn’t really exist’.” I can understand the motivation of her early, erroneous tutor. From Star Trek to The Wizard of Id, any time a ‘‘medieval” woman is portrayed without an effort for authenticity she wears the tall pointed cap, usually with a short veil pinned to the tip. Little girls don them at renaissance fairs, complete with pink stars and flowers flowing like a fountain from their tips and elastic chinstraps to hold them on. The fashionable dress of the later 15th Century has become iconographic with our modern idea of medievalism. Such popular portrayal, largely inauthentic, has linked it with the re-enactor’s idea of bad medievalism. It is easy to see why this style has maintained such a presence in public consciousness: it is an enigmatic, singular style that captures attention and was depicted in paintings and drawings past its time of popularity. Illustrations from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that hoped to recall the glory of the tournament age take their images not from the early sources, but their 15th century copies, and so the contemporary dress of the late middle ages becomes the iconographic dress of Arthurian legend and the chivalric epic. Thus a long tradition of tertiary depiction of Burundian costume began, clouding and obfuscating the record to this day
My desire to research this subject grew out of a desire to wear a big, pointy hat and my subsequent surprise that the documentation available for this garment was sparse. The 18th and 19th century books on costume, famous for their sometimes laughably inaccurate drawings, seemed to take their largest leaps of fancy in the depiction of Burgundy and France of the 15th Century, proposing bag-stuffed stomachs, iron counterweights hanging from the front of hats, and the now classic veil pined only at the tip. At every turn of my early research, I found more bad conjecture than actual evidence. This is not to say that good resources do not exist. This paper, if anything, is a condensation of the greater works of talented and dedicated costume and art historians, to whom I owe a huge debt.