Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Clothing for the Warrior and the Courtier: Patterns of Sixteenth Century European Court Dress

Elaborate ruffs, doublets, brigandines and cloaks are the hallmarks of the sixteenth century,  the time of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare. A renowned expert and costumer specializing in this period, Jennifer Tiramani, recently spoke at the Royal Ontario Museum as part of their Veronika Gervers Fellowship Program.

 Cloak circa 1580-1600, V&A Museum No. 793-1901

Jenny was one of the authors who completed the book "Patterns of Fashion 4, The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c.1540-1660)" after Janet Arnold died. The Patterns of Fashion series of books are important reference sources in historical fashion and are well used books in my library.

Jenny Tiramani has worked as a Costume and Stage Designer since 1977. Based in the UK, she was Associate Designer at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East 1979-1997; Director of Theatre Design at Shakespeare’s Globe 1997-2005; and is presently Resident Designer of Mark Rylance’s Phoebus Cart Theatre Company. Among her numerous current projects as a freelance costumer, Tiramani is currently designing costumes for the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Jenny recently spent several weeks in Toronto examining European sixteenth century dress and several objects of the ROM’s Textiles and Costume collection, including a rare 1500 - 1530 brigandine, a garment worn by royalty or courtiers. A form of body armour, the brigandine has been compared to the modern day bullet proof vest. In the sixteenth century, it was considered a “hidden doublet of defense.” The brigandine in the ROM’s collection is made of crimson velvet with decorative brass headed rivets that hold in place the inner protective metal plates. Jenny examined the garments and also created patterns mapping the cut and construction in order to understand decorative techniques and the play between armour and clothing.

Her charm and passion for her subject were infectious. Truthfully, I never  considered men's garments to be remotely interesting before this lecture but clearly I've overlooked the fact that clothing for men at that time, particularly their cloaks, was rich with symbolism.

After the lecture, she invited the audience to come up and look at her patterns, which were drawn onto large sheets of graph paper with meticulous notes. I chatted with her briefly and found her utterly enchanting, as apparently everyone else did too!