Anéa Arnesen

Oslo, Norway


A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1560s

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

Anéa Says....


My name is Anéa, and I have been making historical outfits and costumes for quite some years now. My main interest is Italian female fashion from the beginning and middle of the 16th century, and my last dresses has been an attempt to make it as authentic as possible, though with the means available. That said, I'm also a sucker for pure costumes, especially those from the musical "The Phantom of the Opera".

The latest project I completed was a blue Florentine dress in the style of the 1560s. I call it the "Peacock dress", because of the bright blue colour. And this is the dress presented here. 


Ever since I was a little child I've wanted a blue renaissance dress. My first movie memory was the Norwegian "Reisen til Julestjernen" (Journey to the Christmas Star), where the princess wears a bright blue dress. Some years later I saw the painting "The Kiss" by Francesco Hayez, where another heroin wears another blue dress. I loved that painting, and still do.

When I got a hold of high-quality blue sateen, I could finally make my own blue "princess" dress. I decided to try out the pattern Janet Arnold made on Eleonora di Toledo's funeral dress, from 1562. It's well described in her "Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620" book. I decided to let this dress be a try-out for a more historically accurate velvet version I want to make in the future. And I'm glad I did try it out, because I had quite a few issues... But more about that later. 

As well as Eleonora di Toledo's funeral dress, I glanced at the contemporary crimson Pisa dress. They're so similar in cut it's suggested they were made by the same tailor; Master Agostino. Both dresses were used within the Medici court, at any account. I also looked at period depictions; in particular Vasari's 1559 fresco of "Arrival of Pope Leo X in Florence" and Jacopo Zucchi's "Portrait of a woman in grey" from between 1560-65. These dresses aren't blue. But bright blue dresses seems frequent enough for the 16th century, judging from paintings and portraits. So I decided it was quite plausible. 


For this dress I wear many layers. Closest to the skin is the linen chemise with lace neckline. I originally made it for my Venetian dress, but it's become a favourite for all my Italian dresses. Under I wear red wool stockings with red garters. The garters are worn twice around the leg, and tied with a double knot. On the feet I wear black velvet "Mary Janes".

Over this is a rich brown underskirt with a golden embroidered hem. The brown colour is inspired by  pavonazzo, a purplish brown colour much favoured my Eleonora di Toledo, and also an expensive colour to produce. It also has a stiffened hem, with wool felt inserted, and it has a tuck a bit above the embroidery. The embroidery is done by my grandmother. She said it was the dullest thing she had ever embroidered.. Only gold, no colours? Bah!

Over this a loose pocket, a saccoccia. It's made of mustard silk with black ribbons, and it's tied around the waist. It can be reached through the splits in the skirt, corresponding with where the bodice is laced. I also wear a partlet with a pleated collar. It's tied together under the arms and in front. I've also made an apron of the same material, gathered to a waistband and with a lace trim at the edge.

I do not wear stays for my Italian dresses. I have yet to see proof of them being in use for the early and mid 16th century. There is however much proof of the bodices themself being stiffened, with linen cardboard, wool padding, felt and other interlinings. It's something I will try out for an eventual velvet version of this type of dress, but so far the Rigilene boning does the same thing. 

The Bodice

The main bodice is made of two layers of unbleached cotton, with vertical Rigilene boning, plus a layer of blue sateen on top. Usually I would interline it, but it wasn't necessary this time around. The bodice consists of merely two parts - a pointed, broad front piece, and a narrower, square back piece. These are laced together at the sides. I've inserted grommets and hand bound them with blue thread, to make them less visible. After being able to lace the sides, I tried it on and pinned the shoulder straps together, so they could be fitted and sewn.

The straps are set very wide, so they're hugging the outer shoulders. This gives the square, open look typical for 16th century dresses. The shoulder straps stay in place because they're angled, because they have some Rigilene, and because the back is tight enough to hold them in place - even when the sleeves are tied on. 

When trying the bodice and skirt on for the first time, it was clear the bodice was too high in both front and back. It was also too wide in the waist. This was of course after I had inserted the grommets - but luckily before I had hand bound them! The best solution was to cut off a strip (including the grommets) on each side, and insert new ones. I also lowered the front and back neck opening, and shortened it over the hips. Basically, I made it smaller everywhere. This improved the fit dramatically. 

The Skirt

The main construction of the skirt is rather simple. Two straight panels in front, two slightly longer straight panels in the back, and two triangles at each side. This makes a gentle bell shaped skirt with a train; full at the hem, and less fabric in the waist. The skirt was flat-lined with greyish green polyester. When I first assembled the skirt I planned to gather the back and pleat the front, like the Eleonora dress. But however much I tried, the skirt looked miserable. The back was good, but the front was all wrong. I pleated and re-pleated, without success. I was centimetres from giving up on the whole project. 

My main mistake was to cut the zig-zags at the front waist BEFORE pleating the skirt. This is a big no-no. It should be cut down afterwards. Now I know.  

In the end I decided to gather the front as well, closer to what is seen in the crimson Pisa dress, and easier to distribute the fabric. I'm still not digging the skirt front, but it's way better than how it originally looked.

A cooler feature is the hem, which is stiffened the period way: inserting a strip of stiff fabric at the inside of the hem, hiding this with a strip of the dress fabric. The bottom is folded so a small bit can be seen from the outside. This is snipped to be decorative. The point of stiffening the hem is of course to make the skirt stand out like a ring around the ankles - it looks better, and improves walking.

The Sleeves

The sleeves are fairly narrow around the wrists, and becomes gradually wider towards the shoulder. There are four vertical trims, and in between these the fabric is slashed. This was inspired by the sleeves in the Zucchi portrait. The sleeves were lined with the same greyish green silk as the skirt. Not quite sure why I felt like lining them - probably to make dressing easier. But when I tried the sleeves with the dress, I was slightly under-whelmed. If anything, they looked Elizabethan. 

The solution was to add baragoni, a wide decoration in the upper part of the sleeve. It basically consists of a horizontal strip of blue fabric with trim, and with 8 vertical strips with trims attached. This was attached in the upper part of the sleeve, and the 8 vertical strips folded in, so they curve a bit on top. This was inspired by the sleeves of the crimson Pisa dress. The vertical strips are set closer than my dress, but the basic concept is the same.


The sleeves also got a snipped edge, like in the skirt hem.

The Trim

Speaking of trim... Originally I planned to use a broad silver trim, and I got so far as to stitch most of it on. But it didn't look right. It looked too matchy, too costume like. 

Some weeks later I came across an ornamental velvet ribbon at the hobby store Panduro. It was rather affordable, and I decided that I could use double rows on the main dress, and a single row on the sleeves. This would mimic the trim distribution on the crimson Pisa dress. And it looked so cool! 

The trim might be what I like the best about the dress. It is adhesive, which was great for getting the placement right, but I chose to stitch it down as well, especially on the skirt where it would be sure to come loose after a while. The trim is available in many colours still, and is sold in packages of three meters. 

Most of the dress is hand sewn; only exception is the long vertical seams in bodice and skirt. Main reason is that I find it easier to control the fabric when hand sewing, and I can bring it with me in the park or at trips. And the smaller the details, the better. Which is why I do the long seams on machine. It's no fun at all.

So to sum up, I had big issues with the skirt, a lot more than what's described here. I also made the bodice too big in every way. And the sleeves didn't look right for a long time. No wonder I was about to scrap the whole thing. But I'm glad I didn't. Once I decided to just do my own thing with the skirt, and once the bodice was narrowed, it looked a lot better. And when I finally realized what made the sleeves look wrong and fixed that, it started looking a lot more like the dress I aimed to make. By the time I had finished all accessories I was very happy with it. It's even comfortable to wear. But most important of all, my inner childhood princess has finally gotten the blue dress she wanted...


  You can contact Anéa at operafantomet (at)  and you can see her wonderful costumes on her website, here.

Would you like to be Showcased? E-mail me!


© 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.