Extant Italian Drawers (Brache or Calze)

Museo del Tessuto, Prato

Second Half of the Sixteenth Century - 1630

Quite a while back I was intrigued by a quote in Carol Tucker's article "Dressed (or Undressed) for Success" by Margaret Rosenthal, Associate Professor of Italian at the University of Southern California and author of The Honest Courtesan, and now co-author and translator of Clothing of the Renaissance World. The quote mentions "how courtesans wore male-style clothing as undergarments - such as linen knickers, embroidered with phrases such as "I want the heart." At the time of reading the article it was unclear where these drawers were located, if they in fact existed, or were merely mentioned or depicted in a contemporary text or costume manuscript.

I later found a wonderful exhibition catalogue/book on the Venetian fashion industry via my university library which shows the very same drawers mentioned by Rosenthal. After much searching and saving I found and bought myself a copy! Later still the same pair of drawers appeared in Moda a Firenze, and now they feature in the latest book in the Patterns of Fashion series by Janet Arnold. 

Two images of the complete drawers and one close up are presented for you below. The embroidery design and charted pattern is given at the bottom of the page, with thanks to Claudette Pomroy. 


"Linen breeches embroidered with the words 'voclio* il core' (I want his** heart) in double running stitch in blue linen thread, c1630."

*Voclio here is incorrect - it is actually 'voglio'
**I believe the phrase more correctly translates to 'I want the heart, not 'his'.

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"The leg is bound with a blue ribbon (probably linen) and the opening is on the inside leg."

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For more information, more detail shots, and a pattern for this shirt, see:
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 4. Macmillan, London, 2008.
Buy it at @Amazon.com  or  @Amazon.co.uk

  I Mestieri della Moda a Venezia dal XIII al XVIII Secolo (The Crafts of the Venetian Fashion Industry from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Century)

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In I Mestieri della Moda a Venezia,  the drawers are described in fairly good detail, but in Italian. I have attempted to translate the description - my apologies if it is unclear, or if I have mistranslated (if you have the book and know I've made a mistake please do let me know). 

( In the following translation the original Italian phrase or word is included in bold italicised text where the meaning in unknown, or if the word was not listed in my Italian/English dictionary, with my guess at the meaning in [square brackets]. Other non-bold italicised indicates the title of a book or other work. )

"Women's Breeches
Italian (Venetian?), second half of the sixteenth century.
Dimensions: waist 78cm; length 62cm;  h. [width of fabric?] linen cloth 75cm; lining= coarse thin linen; ribbon 118cm.

Breeches of natural coloured linen embroidered in blue thread in writing stitch in a motif of branches with acorns forming lozenge shapes which hold in their centres double-headed and crowned eagles connected horizontally with words creating the impresa "I WANT/THE HEART". 

In the sixteenth century  the spread of the use of the faldiglia ("verdugato") [farthingale] to widen the dress staccoto [away from?] the body initiates the use of drawers of linen and silk. The "man-style breeches" (Cesare Vecellio, Degli Habiti antichi et moderni....,Venice, 1590) are worn instead by harlots and courtesans most brazenly underneath the dress.

In the collection Diversarum Nationum Habitus (Padua, 1589) by Pietro Bertelli, the figure of the Venetian courtesan has a skirt which she raises to show the breeches and "chiapin" [chopines - zoccoli] with high heels..." 


After the above was first published I received information from someone who had attended the exhibition in 1988 to the effect that the plaque describing this pair of drawers stated that they were "found in a chest in an attic in the early 20th century in Venice" and are thought to be a "wedding pair".

From:  Moda a Firenze 1540 - 1580, Roberta Orsi Landini and Bruna Niccoli, Edizioni Polistampa, Florence, 2005:

"Women's drawers, second half of the sixteenth century...

Drawers, which were useful for keeping warm or going riding - these are made of linen with silk embroidery and the legend 'voglio il core' (I want the heart) - were generally used by prostitutes who loved to adopt garments derived from the male wardrobe or from that of Islamic women. While Eleonora possessed only one pair in red taffeta, fifty years later many pairs were made up in splendid gold brocade fabrics for Maria de' Medici, the new Queen of France."


Embroidery design
  Claudette Pomroy 2008, used with permission.

Charted embroidery pattern
  Claudette Pomroy 2008, used with permission

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2001 - 2010 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.