The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase



Melissa Jones
(Lady Brigette Bouchard)

Texas, USA
(Barony of the Steppes, Kingdom of Ansteorra )

Costumer and SCA Member

A Florentine Outfit in the Style of  the 1550s-1560s

Brigette Says...

 I’ve been playing dress up for as long as I can remember. My passion for costuming began when I was very little, playing dress up with the costume chest in my closet. When I was about six, my mom noticed me using her sewing scraps to fashion clothes for my Barbie doll and asked me if I wanted to learn to sew. That was it; I was addicted! I’ve also always been a history nut, and love learning about how people lived in times gone by. In high school I played around a bit with my local American Civil War group, but never got heavily involved. My interest in 16th century historical clothing began about 10 years ago when I joined the SCA in college. Finally, I’d found a group where I could play dress up all of the time and research/apply history to my heart’s content! 

I started this dress because I needed something to wear to Drachenwald’s color ball at Kingdom University in 2004. Drachenwald’s colors are red, gold, and black. Like so many of us, for the longest time I have wanted to make Eleonora of Toledo’s partlet in the Bronzino portrait of Eleonora with her son Giovanni. I guess I was feeling up to a challenge and decided that it was a good time to try to make the coveted partlet. (Part of the fun for me is figuring out ways to accomplish things I see in portraits.) So, I decided that I’d make a Florentine dress in the style of the 1550s - 1560s. 

The Inspiration

Eleonora de Toledo by Bronzino

Another Eleonora portrait by Bronzino

Isabel de Valois by Alonso Sanchez Coello"I know, not Italian ;-)"

The Fabric and Materials

The fabric for the dress is a deep red and gold cotton brocade with a slight sheen so that it has a similar shimmer to silk. The sleeves are comprised of two layers. The first layer is a deep red silk taffeta, and the top layer is a cross-woven black silk and gold colored metallic thread lightweight gauze. I searched forever to find something just right for the sleeves. I contemplated doing spiral or paned sleeves, but once I stumbled across the metallic silk gauze I decided that the fabric combo would speak for itself and I decided to do a simple close fitting sleeve. They shimmer wonderfully in candlelight. ;) 


  The Undies

Underneath this dress I wear a tight sleeved linen chemise, a tabbed corset closer in style to Dorothea’s due to the more shallow front point, and an optional small hoop skirt. Most Italian dresses from this time do not appear to have hoop skirts, but I find them incredibly handy for lifting up your skirts and for… ventilation. ;-) I’m much cooler without a bunch of fabric around my legs, and now that we’re in Texas that’s a big benefit. I have a feeling it will be even more so in Phoenix! Dresses in this style also have a very smooth torso, and on my body type that can only be accomplished with a corset. I wish I could get away with some lightly stiffened pair of bodies! Here you can see me being a little silly and showing off my chemise and fancy clocked stockings. ;-) 

The Partlet

The partlet is made of some scrap linen, scrap silk, freshwater pearls and gold millinery braid. There are many different construction methods out there, but here’s how I did mine. First I took one of my partlet patterns from a previous drafting/draping and sketched it onto a blank sheet of paper. Then I sketched out several different grid sizes till I found one that looked proportionally close to Eleonora's. Then I sketched out the neckline of the dress so that I'd know how far down to take the grid. After sketching the grid pattern on the entire partlet, I put it on top of a large piece of foam that I use for making bobbin lace. I bought some gold millinery braid from the Wooded Hamlet and some pearls from Fire Mountain gems. Then I started cutting lengths of braid to match the gridlines and stabbing a straight pen through the intersections into the foam. Once all of the metal braid was pinned down I started sewing the intersections together and attaching a pearl. Two stitches through the intersection, two stitches through the pearl, tie off and move to the next! I finished off the edge around the neckline by whipstitching two pieces of braid down one side to make a binding to slide the ends into. On the other side I stitched it to a linen and silk base so that I could wear it like my other partlets. 


Things I would do differently: Instead of cutting lots of small lengths I would take one continuous piece and just fold it at the intersections along the edges so that there won’t be as many raw ends. The metallic millenary braid frays like mad! I had to seal the ends up with clear nail polish just so I could stitch them down. I would also have worn a protective silk layer underneath the partlet. I couldn't really tell if Eleonora had one on in the Bronzino portrait (see above), but she definitely has a silk underlayer on in the portrait with the purple accented partlet (see above). I can tell you now that a layer of gauze would do wonders for keeping it clean. You can't throw it in the washing machine, and if you scrunch it up too much in the sink it bends the metal threads. 


The Dress

The bodice is drafted based upon Eleonora’s funeral dress in PoF. I made it back lacing so that I wouldn’t have to worry about attaching the sleeve caps. However, on my side back lacing dresses I’ve never had to loosen it past the armscye so that probably would have been a better choice in the end as I find them much easier to get into. It laces closed using spiral lacing with a red ribbon that is fairly close to the color of the dress. The skirt is a separate piece and is stitched onto the bodice so that it doesn’t shift around. The sleeve caps have a scalloped detailing with gold bias in a piping style without the inner cord. To make the bodice a little bit more special, I applied the gold edging from the scallops around the neckline and accented the front by couching gold metallic thread in an outline around the design. 

The Accessories

The belt and hair jewelry is made out of metal decorative bits from hair rubber bands. I snapped the backs off and used glass pearls to connect them. I would have used real pearls, but they were too expensive for the size that I needed. Besides, I don't have to launder the belt so I don't have to worry overly much about the finish scratching off. My friend Anna is an amazing jeweler when it comes to beading, and she graciously helped me out by working on the belt and hair jewelry while I tried desperately to finish the dress in time for the event. It fastens in the back with decorative metal hooks and loops. 

I’ve used several different fans with this dress, but below I've included pictures of the two that I use the most. Interestingly enough, neither of them are in the pictures above from the photo shoot at the Castle near my village in Germany. The white ostrich and peacock feather fan I made by salvaging the handle from a silver butler’s brush/grooming brush. I simply unscrewed the bristles and took out the broom section then used cardboard to create a layered base for the ostrich and peacock feathers. Eventually I’ll solder a ring to the base so that I can hang it from my skirt and not have to hold it all day.

The multi-color feather fan (pheasant I think) I purchased at the National Gallery in London's museum store. They had fantastic inexpensive jewelry and other accessories based on the portraits in their collection. I spent quite a bit of money there, but it was worth every pound! 

 I've provided two different views of the accessories that I wear with this dress. The red brooch I purchased at the Louvre's museum gift store (they also had portrait based pieces) along with the earrings. The white brooch I acquired years ago at a garage sale. 

I hope that you’ve found my foray into 1550s Florentine fashion interesting, and I would love to hear from you if you feel like dropping me a line. 




If you would like to contact Melissa you can email her directly at melissa (at) screentanning (dot) com, or visit her blog.


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(Copyright Information: As author I, Anabella Wake, known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona, hold copyright on all information on these pages. In addition I hold copyright 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.)