The West has always been of mush interest when it comes to costume studies mainly because of the strong evolution of clothing and dress style especially European fashion – how over the decades a piece of clothing was experimented with so much till its vanishing point and evolving into a completely different form. For many historians, 14th century was the time at which the change in fashion begun. Two very important garments that still fascinate researchers and historians is the cotehardie and the houppelande. Both of these were predominately men’s garments and later adopted by women.
According to the French historian Evans, the cotehardie was first worn by lower classes and later became a more elegant, often fur-trimmed or fur-lined garment. A variation of surcoat, cotehardie first appeared in Western Europe during the mid-14th century.
Basically a jacket or an outer tunic, this unisex garment was tailored to fit the torso and arms, low-necked and usually lined with a row of buttons down the front as well as down each fitted sleeve from the elbow to the wrist. The sleeves were worn long, so that the cuff flared out in a distinctive “tulip” or “trumpet” shape, and covered the back of the hand. The garment was knee-length(shorter than previous men’s garments) and usually belted to give shape. English belted the cotehardie low, on hip. For lower classes, a looser unbuttoned form was there to just put on over the head.
The hems of the skirts and flaps were decorated with dagging (scalloped edges). Later, the cotehardie used to be buttoned from top to bottom and the length shortened and the sleeve flaps longer and wide enough to hang down to the knees or even lower. By 1375, the cotehardie began to have a collar. The cotehardie formed the basic structure for any further variations in tunic style for both men and women.
This garment is claimed to be the first truly fitted and tailored garment in European fashion. It required professional tailoring, and thus became associated with the aristocracy. A woman’s cotehardie was similar to a man’s except that it was worn over a gown and the sleeves had longer streamers that trailed to the ground.
By the 1380s, the cotehardie was being replaced with a new garment – the houppelande. The two garments co-existed, with the one often worn beneath the other. It had fitted shoulders, loose below and usually worn with or without a belt at the waist. Having wide sleeves(also called bombarde or ducale sleeves), sometimes even reaching the ground(they were then called surplice sleeves), the hems of which were usually dagged in fascinating shapes. These sleeves in the first quarter of 15th century evolved into bag sleeves as the excess fabric width at the wrist was gathered tightly ( so you know how any styling or detailing in a garment was exaggerated to the ultimate!).
The length varied, usually longest on ceremonious occasions. It also had high upright collar, sometimes reaching till ears, so much so that the hair at the nape of the neck had to be shaved to accommodate the collar. The houppelande later came to be known as the ‘gown’.
Usually worn by older men, doctors, magistrates, etc., it was usually lined and sometimes with fur as well. Occasionally, the fabric surface was covered with gold bezants (small metallic discs) so that they jingled when the wearer walked.
The cotehardie sustained till 1450 after which the term was never used and was being replaced by the word jacket. For men it slowly evolved into the doublet. The cotehardie persisted longest in women’s fashion, coming back in and out of style for the first half of the 15th century, before being replaced by entirely new forms of the houppelande.
Online References : http://www.revivalclothing.com/article-pencotehardie.aspx
- Survey of Historical Costume by Tortora and Eubank
- Costume & Fashion- A concise history by James Laver
- Costume Worldwide by Mellissa Leventon (Editor)