Clothing during the Renaissance: A comparison of a picture by Lucas DeHeere (1570) and a text by Luke Gernon (1620)

This picture (McClintock, inside cover) comes from a Dutch description of Ireland during the sixteenth century (approximately 1570), by an artist named Lucas De Heere. The people depicted are a noblewoman, a burgher’s wife, and two Irishmen (the are called “Wild Irishmen” in the caption by the Dutch artist). Despite calling the Irishmen wild (which is done on several pictures), it does not seem to be an exaggerated caricature, so the artist was probably trying to give an accurate depiction.

The women wear two different outfits, although they are both probably wealthy, but the outfits contain some similarities. They both wear hats, and appear to have their heads covered by veils as well. Both wear crosses and have laced dresses with floor length skirts, tight bodices and loose, but not very loose skirts. Many contemporary skirts were fuller, and it might be the way that they are drawn that makes them appear less full, although they do not appear to have the hoop skirts popular in England around this time. Both have stripes at the bottom of the skirts which may have been decorative, and may have been extra hems that could be let out to lengthen the dresses for growth (although this is unlikely as these are adults). Both women appear to have some sort of cording around their waists (one uses this belt to hang a pouch and the other seems to have tucked her skirts up with it).

The first woman (the noblewoman) has an Irish version of the chemise on- the le’ine. This is an underdress (every woman wore one under all of her gowns), which is the full length of the dress, and often provides the sleeves to gowns. The le’ine has much fuller sleeves than the traditional chemise worn by the rest of Europe, and the first of the two “wild Irishmen” wears a modified version. To accommodate (and possibly accentuate) the le’ine, the sleeves of the gown (which are probably tied on to the piece of fabric sticking slightly out at the shoulder) are just thin strips of fabric. The dots on the sleeves might be embroidered or might be some sort of sewn on decoration. Modern depictions of the le'ine often include drawstrings or gatherings along the length of the sleeves, but a look at the picture shows that the sleeve does not appear to be gathered, but rather is an ordinary, straight seem. For more information on the modern interpretation, go to “Reconstructing History”’s, The Invention of Drawstrings and Pleated Sleeves It is hard to determine the exact shape of the sleeve based on this view of the picture, but it appears to come to a sort of bell- fuller at the bottom than the top (which might be an effect of the sleeve's hanging down). The sleeves of the le'ine end in ruffles, and the collar seems to be pulled up to a ruffled neck (probably tied or buttoned into place) and possibly open in the front. She also appears to be wearing an extra layer between the dress and the chemise. Her hat is a little unclear, but appears to low and brimmed.

The second woman (the burgher’s wife) seems to have on two dresses as well as the chemise, which is also clasped at the neck (but without the ruffled collar). Her outer dress appears to be very long, possibly because the skirts are meant to be a train, and the skirts are tucked up, probably to keep them out of the way. Her second dress appears to be of a different hue than the first, and probably was a contrasting color. She also has ruffles on her chemise sleeves, and has large, bell shaped cuffs that stick out backward from the sleeves of her overdress. Her hat appears to be shaped like the bottom of a large, inverted cone, and looks similar to her sleeves.


In his book, Old Irish Dress and That of the Isle of Man, H. F. McClintock has little to say about women’s clothing (as I mentioned in the medieval section), but he quotes a description by Luke Gernon written in 1620 describing Irish women’s clothing. It is in early modern English, and a little hard to read, but it is very valuable because it was written by a contemporary.

“I come to theyr apparell. About Dublin they weare the English habit, mantles onely added thereunto, and they that goe in silkes, will weare a mantle of country making. In the country even among theyr Irish habbits they have sundry fashions. I will begin wth the ornament of theyr heads. At Kilkenny they weare broad beaver hatts coloured, edged wth a gold lace and faced wth velvett, wth a broad gould hatt band. At Waterford they weare capps, turned up wth furre and laced wth gold lace. At Lymerick they weare rolles of lynnen, each roll contayning twenty bandles of fyne lynnen clothe (A Bandle is half an ell) [Here McClintock inserts a footnote referencing Sir W. Petty’s Political Anatomy of Ireland saying, ‘The clothing is a sort of frieze, of about twenty inches broad, whereof two foot, called a bandle, is worth from 3.5d. to 18d. Of this seventeen bandles makes a man’s suit and twelve make a cloak.’] and make up in the forme of a myter. To this if it be could weather, there is added a muffler over theyr neck and chinne of like quality of linnen; being so muffled, over all they will pinne on an English maske of blacke taffaty, wch is most rarely ridiculous to behold. In Connaught they weare rolles in forme of a cheese. In Thomond they weare kerchiefs, hanging downe to the middle of theyr backe. The maydes weare on the forepart of theyre head about foure yards of colored ribbon smoothly layd, and theyre own hayre playted behind. In other places they weare theyre hayre loose and cast behind. [I find this especially fascinating, because it was rare to see women bareheaded (some members of the modern SCA will yell at you if your head is without covering). This might be how they wore it underneath a hat, but I suspect that there would have been mention of a cap if one was worn.] They weare no bands, but the ornament of theyr neckes is a carkanett of goldsmyths worke besett wth precious stones, some of them very ritch, but most of them gawdy and mayde of paynted glasse and at the end of them a crucifixe. They weare also braceletts, and many rings. I proceed to theyr gowns. Lend me yor imaginacon, and I will cutt it out as well as the tayler. They have straight bodyes, and longe wasts, but theyre bodyes come no closer but to the middle of the ribbe, the rest is supplyed wth lacing, from the topp of their breasts, to the bottome of theyre plackett, the ordinary sort have only theyr smocks between [in other words, their le’ine, which used in this way is an undergarment, is showing, and this Englishman seems to think that’s a bit scandelous], but the better sort have a silke scarfe about theyr neck, wch they spread and pinne over theyr breasts. On the forepart of those bodyes they have a sett of broad silver buttons of goldsmiths worke sett round about. A sett of those buttons will be worth 40s. Some are worth 5li. They have hanging sleeves, very narrow, but no arming sleeves, other than theyre smocke sleeves, or a wastcoate of stripped stuffe, onely they have a wrestband of the same cloth, and a lyst of the same to ioyne it to their winge, but no thing on the hinder part of the arme least they should weare out theyr elbowes. The better sort have sleeves of satten. The skyrt is a piece of rare artifice. At every bredth of three fingers they sew it quite through with a welte, so that it seemeth so many lystes putt together [I suspect this means that the skirt is highly gathered to look fuller]. That they do for strength, they girde theyr gowne wth a silke girdle, the tassell whereof must hand downe poynt blanke before the fringe of theyr peticotes.... They beginne to weare knitt stockins coloured, but they have not disdayned to weare stockins of raw whyte frise, and broges. They weare theyr mantles also as well wth in doors as wth out. Theyr mantles are commonly of a brown blew colour with fringe alike, but those that love to be gallant were them of greene, redd, yellow, and other light colours, wth fringes diversifyed. An ordinary mantle is worth 4li, those in the country wch cannot go to the price weare whyte sheets mantlewise. I would not have you suppose that all the Irish are thus strangely attyred as I have described. The old women are loath to be shifted out of theyr auncient habitts, but the younger sort, especially in the gentlemen’s houses, are brought up to resemble the English, so that it is to be hoped, that the next age will weare out these disguyses.” (113-115)

What can we learn from this description? The fabrics mentioned are linen, silk, taffeta, and satin. The gowns seem to have a practical nature, or at least the author describes the practical sides to them, “lest they should weare out theyr elbowes” (114) “That they do for strength” (115). Gernon seems to think that certain decorations were gaudy, especially fake painted stones, which do sound gaudy and a little theatrical, and were probably worn by poor trying to appear rich. Gernon mentions a wide variety of hat/ hair styles, but only a single dress style (with slight variations). They wore a variety of colors including brown-blue, green, red, and yellow (which were all considered light colors). This was not the style of dress in England, “I would not have you suppose that all the Irish are thus strangely attyred as I have described.” (115), but English dress was being introduced “brought up to resemble the English” (115)


McClintock compared this description with De Heere’s picture to verify the picture and the description, and he found some close matches. He reminds us that Gernon’s description was written approximately seventy years after De Heere’s picture was drawn, so we should expect some differences. Gernon and De Heere may have been studying different areas of Ireland (Gernon describes a number of areas), and may have different reasons for their descriptions. They were also coming from two different countries, with different clothing styles, which is part of what makes their similarities so striking.

“On the ‘Burgher’s Vrouwe’ or citizen’s wife [woman number two] we can recognize the linen wrapping round the head which Gernon and several earlier writers describe, but in this case of modest proportions and with two ends hanging down on either side of the face. The bodice and gown are in one, and the bodice is laced in front as Gernon describes. The skirts of the gown are very long and are lined with what looks like fur, and are for convenience looped up under a belt. The hat is probably of black felt with a looped up brim. A laced bodice was, of course, not peculiar to Ireland, and the linen head-wrapping seems to be the only definitely Irish feature in this dress, which is probably that of a well-to-do middle class woman of one of the English speaking towns such as Waterford or Galway. The “Edel Vrouwe” i.e., noblewoman or gentlewoman, [woman number one] most likely had her home in one of the numerous castles or tower-houses in the country, and shows more Irish characteristics in her dress. We seem to see here a long ‘le’ine’ in this case of white and not saffron-dyed [A note- McClintock says that the saffron described was the bright saffron we think of today, but there is a debate about whether saffron would have been available. Kass McGann has done a lot of research on the dyes in Europe, which she sums up in her web site Reconstructing History. If saffron was an available color, it is likely that the Irish would have worn it, because they enjoyed wearing a lot of bright, clashing colors.], linen, with the characteristic wide, hanging sleeves; while the blue sleeves of the gown are not merely slit on the underside like those of the men’s jackets, but are reduced to a mere band of a few inches wide which joins the shoulder (Gernon’s ‘wings’) to a wristband at the wrist. She also has a long silk girdle ending in a tassel and, in this case, a bag or purse as well, hanging down as Gernon says ‘to a fringe of the petticoats.’ At her neck she has something like a much reduced Elizabethan ruff, and both she and the citizen’s wife have a cross hanging at their neck as Gernon and Sir Wm. Brereton (1637) both describe.” (115-116)

What further information has McClintock provided?
There seems to have been some clothing exchange between England and Ireland, but some clothes were uniquely Irish. Gernon probably paid much more attention to the clothing worn in Ireland that was not worn in England, but there was undoubtable some amount of crossover. There was trading and immigration, pilgrimages, and Ireland was under English control. The biggest crossover was probably among the upper-class and city dwellers, who would have been more connected to the English government than the women in the country. The youth also seem to have been more influenced and open to change than the old women. As I noted before, Gernon says at the end that not all Irish women dress strangely, and that English attire is being introduced (he hopes that traditional Irish attire will be dispensed with).
He also gives a list of possible fabrics: linen, fur, felt, and silk.