Philippa Montague
(Erika Hepler)

Shire of Ravenslake, The Midrealm
(Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Costumer and SCA Member

A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1540s

(Highlighted/bordered images are click-able for enlarging)

Philippa Says....


My name is Erika Hepler, known within the SCA as Philippa Montague. I have sewn pretty much all of my life, having been taught by my mother at a young age. I made crafts and clothes in junior high school, prom dresses in high school, dresses for various social events in college, home decorating fashions for my home and costumes for any occasion. Although I still do make numerous Halloween costumes each year, my interest has focused in on Renaissance costuming. My husband and I have attended the Bristol Renaissance Faire near our home in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago for many years, and began going in garb after only a few visits. Then several years ago, I attended a costuming symposium that was an SCA event, and soon we were hip-deep in the society. More reasons to make Renaissance clothing! Although we primarily dress in English Elizabethan clothing, I refuse to be limited to one country or one time frame. So I have made simple early period garb, as well as Burgundian and Italian. This dress was my first attempt at Italian clothing. I wore it to my first actual SCA event, other than the symposium.

The Portrait

The gown that I am describing for the showcase is a recreation of a portrait of an Unknown lady by Agnolo Bronzino, circa 1540. The woman in the portrait is thought to be a cousin of Eleanora de Toledo. This portrait had always stood out to me when viewing period portraits, particularly because of its color. The beautiful green fabric really caught my attention amid the other colors generally seen in portraits of the time.


The Fabric

Generally, I tend to plan an outfit first, then shop for fabric, then trim, and so on. In this case, the fabric came first. I had been researching damask fabrics for a friend who wanted me to make a Tudor gown for her. I found a beautiful fabric online in a variety of colors. She decided that she wasnít ready to move ahead with the project, but I decided that I HAD to add the fabric to my stash. I chose the beautiful olive green version, since that is one of my favorite colors. Next, I had to decide exactly what to do with it. The lovely green gown from the Bronzino portrait came to mind. I decided that the design of my fabric was a scale and style similar enough to the portrait that it would do nicely. 




I then began on the gown using patterns by Margo Anderson. The bodice  is made using her side-back laced style. I chose to add a cord-edge along the edges of the bodice to mimic the portrait, which appears to have a trim along the edge of the bodice. I modified the shape of the waist and narrowed the shoulder straps to a small strip that the sleeves could be attached to, based on the portrait. 


For the sleeves, I chose to approximate them using a paned sleeve, with a modified version of Margoís patterns. Her pattern has a paned cap sleeve, as well as a full paned sleeve. I shortened the cap sleeve portion to match the appearance of the sleeve cap in the portrait, and modified the paned sleeve to become the lower sleeve. The resulting sleeve was also similar to that in a portrait of Eleanora de Toledo with her son Giovanni de' Medici portrait.



The skirt  is pleated to a waistband, which is split at the side backs to match the bodice. Although we cannot see the waistband in this portrait, similar portraits such as the portrait of Eleanora de Toledo do not show any waist treatments, and the skirt seems to be attached to the bottom edge of the bodice. My waistband is attached to the inside of the bodice. One comment made by a local costuming Laurel who specializes in Italian clothing commented that the skirt was not full enough. I do still have fabric left over, so I plan to add another width to the skirt at some point to make it fuller.

Since I had a limited time frame in which to get this outfit completed before the event I planned to wear it for, I chose to use my existing underpinnings. This included a square-necked linen smock and a twill corset, which I decided was necessary to achieve the body shape shown in the portrait. I also wore a corded petticoat with it to give the skirt a little more volume, though I donít know whether those were worn by Italians in period.

The partlet  was one of the last pieces to take shape. I did not have the time or the skills to attempt to recreate a lace partlet myself, so I looked far and wide for a lace fabric that would approximate the look in the portrait. I had a very difficult time, since most lace fabric is much too modern looking. I even shopped home decorating stores for curtains that could be useful. I had found a lace fabric that I thought would have to suffice, though I wasnít happy with it. 

Then, finally, the day before I was going to wear the dress, I happened upon a curtain in a discount store that was just what I was looking for. I added lace trim to the edges of the partlet and ties which were left to hang free.



I made the accessories myself, including the necklace and girdle. For the necklace, I found amber-colored glass beads of various shapes and sizes. I found some very pretty flower-shaped beads, which were reminiscent of the round shapes within the necklace of the portrait. They alternated with smaller beads to give the varying shapes I desired. I would have liked a single larger, round, flat bead for the center, but could not find one. So I included a teardrop-shaped bead as the center accent. 


I found a long strand of ivory pearls, which I draped along the shoulders and the front of the bodice. I quickly found that the pearls would not stay where I put them, as is seen in some of the pictures. So I sewed them along the back edge of the gown and over the shoulders, leaving the front section to drape freely.


For the girdle, I found some gold-colored beads and strung them on a metal cord. I used a toggle clasp to close it at the waist and left a long section hanging in front. In the portrait, the woman is holding up the end of the girdle, showing what looks to be a small pomander or other decoration. I found a large filigree bead that was in two pieces. I made a soft ball from a piece of fabric, placed it in the filigree bead, and dripped some perfume on it to make a small pomander.

As seems common with the Italians of the age, her  hair  is worn up ornamented only by a fairly simple headpiece. I toyed with trying to bead a headpiece myself, but then I found a headband that was already looked like it was beaded with amber beads. It was narrower than I would have liked, but it worked fine. I French braided my hair and wore the headband to complete the look.

Finished Dress

Overall, I was very pleased with this gown. I get many compliments on it, especially the lace partlet, which is quite amusing consider its origin. Since I often wear Elizabethan gowns, with corset, bum roll and farthingale, I find this gown to be quite comfortable in comparison. It went together quite quickly for me. I probably spent two weeks gathering supplies, making sure I had the underpinnings ready and making the accessories. I didnít put scissors to fabric until the Tuesday before the event on Saturday, and I didnít find the lace for the partlet until Friday. The fact that the dress is not overly elaborate or decorated made it a reasonable project to do quite quickly. The richness comes from the beautiful fabrics and simple trim and accessories. If you have any questions about this project, feel free to contact me.



  You can contact Philippa at requests (at) and her website is available to view here.

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(© 2001 - 2008 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.