Historic Renaissance Gowns

There are many examples of historic Renaissance gowns, to adapt with tartans and motifs for your ideal Scottish wedding dress.

The Renaissance Era dated from 1500 to 1820, when Victoria was crowned Queen of England. The Renaissance ladies were becoming more sophisticated, as can be seen in their historic Renaissance gowns. Theiroptions for fabrics and colors, as well as fashions, were expanding as people traveled farther afield. More and more husbands and beaus brought back what they saw and learned as their business sent them throughout the known world.

As the Age of Enlightenment, discoveries and inventions also stretched their horizons.

XVI Century Historic Renaissance Gowns

The historic Renaissance gowns include Baroque, Rococo, American Colonial, Regency or Empire, and Civil War fashions.

In the Early Renaissance the ladies wore floor length gowns, with low, sash-like girdles. The square neck line was sometimes filled in with sheer yokes, bands, or necklaces. Sometimes the bodices had laced on loops with ties and chains.

Funnel sleeves with fur lining turned back into large cuffs were popular on historic Renaissance gowns. Quilting was added for body.

This is a typical ceremonial sideless surcoat, worn by royalty, from 1500 to 1525. The overskirt appears to be a blockprint.

Book of Costume

One adaptation I’ve seen, for this historic Renaissance gown, is a sleeveless bodice of velvet, laced up the sides or back. The embellishment was a single, large gold Celtic knot running along the neckline and down the front almost to the natural waist. A smaller knot came up from the dropped “V” bodice. The skirt was white chiffon, longer than floor-length, with an extended train in the back. The bodice could also be of tartan.

Scottish Wedding Dreams


Book of Costume
1515, Bernhard Strigel

A black or colored velvet or tartan bodice, with the brocade or silk skirt and sleeves would make a nice Renaissance wedding gown. The undershirt embellishments could be embroidery or beading, with smocking below, in Celtic motifs. The narrow trims on the upper bodice should be laid over a sheer netting. A sheer, draped veil would complete the costume.
Catherine d’ Medici came to France from Italy in 1533 for her wedding to the King of France. She introduced lace to the French, which revolutionized the fashions of historic Renaissance gowns. She also introduced fans and parasols, the distillation of perfumes, parsley and iced sherbets.

Below are fans photographed in the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor, New York. The first is tipped with peacock feathers. The second photograph also includes a fan of brown silk, cut to look like feathers.

Scottish Wedding Dreams

For her wedding the pope gave Catherine seven great pearls, which she, in turn, gave to Mary, Queen of Scots. These were appropriated by Queen Elizabeth and used in the coronation crown of Edward VII.
Of particular note in this painting is the girdle, or belt. It seems to be of the same material as the underskirt and is tied at intervals with knots, mimicking another trait of historic Renaissance gowns ~ sleeves puffed at intervals down the sleeve and tied with ribbon.

Historical Encyclopedia of Costumes
Albert Racinet, 1825-1893
Diana de Poitiers (1499-1566)
wife of Francis I of France

Celtic knot trims on the underskirt hem, down the opening on the outer skirt, up the bodice front, and at the neckline would be understated elegance. Possibly the dagging on the under-sleeves could be a subtle tartan.
In the 1540’s under sleeves were often interchangeable with finished edges, tied at intervals across the puffs down the sleeve.

By 1550, the skirt was ground length and bell shaped. A typical waistline on historic Renaissance gowns is an inverted “V” front opening on the overskirt.

The hair was parted in the center front. In various regions, the ladies wore local adaptations of hoods and caps.

Goldsmith work was seen in girdles, which were worn at the hipline. Fur pieces with jeweled snouts and claws were popular to wear with historic Renaissance gowns, as were aiglets, which are ornamental tagged cord or braid on the shoulder of a uniform.

From 1545 to 1610, Spanish rigid formal dress affected all of the European historic Renaissance gowns. Colors became paler, brighter, and less somber.

Necklines reached higher as the body tried to look longer. The body of gowns was more rigid with padded hips. The bodice was increasingly pointed at the bottom and corset-like. The bosom appeared arched and square with ruffs, another adornment of historic Renaissance gowns.

By 1550 the funnel sleeve gave way to hanging sleeves elaborately shaped, slashed, and trimmed with under-sleeves matching the underskirt. The underskirts were displayed beneath the Farthingale skirt.

Hair is no longer parted, but padded and bedecked with jewels and feathers, then knotted in the back.

Lots of lace was added to the dresses and rosy red was a popular color.

This 1536 portrait of Jane Seymour, Queen to Henry VIII shows the funnel sleeves, the facing of the skirt finished and turned back to reveal a decorative fabric, and a heavy underskirt.

Historical Encyclopedia of Costumes
Albert Racinet, 1825-1893

The funnel sleeves and turned-back lining on the skirt would look great in tartan. The sleeves could have a second tartan as a 1 to 2 inch trim inside. Small Celtic knots could be embroidered on the neckline embellishment. The same small knots could form the center vertical line down the underskirt, while large Celtic knots could form the overall design on the underskirt.

Hair as a Mark of Distiction

These next two designs are from 1550 to 1600. During this time, hair was a mark of distinction. The hair treatments and flowing veils in these two illustrations are worthwhile studying, as is the detailing on these historic Renaissance gowns.

Both images are from
the Historical Encyclopedia
of Costumes
Albert Racinet, 1825-1893
Mary, Queen of Scots, ruled Scotland from 1542 to 1567.

Queen Elizabeth I, ruled England from 1558 to 1603.

This is a miniature painting of a gentleman. The ruff is a little more relaxed. The jacket is interwoven braid-like bands on the arms and stomacher. The bodice sides appear to be a different interwoven pattern.

Book of Costume
Late 1500’s, Nicholas Hilliard

Tartan ribbon, set on an interfacing for stiffening, could be interwoven like this, with or without sleeves for a smart looking wedding bodice. The accents at the buttons could be silk roses, with a solid trim in the color of the flowers continuing along the edges of the stomacher. With a white silk or chiffon flowing skirt, this would be nice for the bride, or with a colored skirt for the bridesmaid dresses or for mother of the bride historic Renaissance gowns.

Between 1560 and 1640, the ruff started increasing in size.

This dress is similar to one worn by the Queen of France, but with a Spanish collar worn open and elaborately edges. The underskirt appears to be heavily quilted to give the outer-skirt more body.

Book of Costume
1564, Sanchez-Coello

The underskirt quilted or embroidered with thistles would be a nice touch, while the outer skirt could be large Celtic knotwork designs, edged with a smaller repetitive knotwork pattern…or of tartan with a knotwork trim. The upper bodice could be interwoven tartan ribbon, embroidery, or beadwork, while the sleeve rolls and sleeves could be of co-ordinated fabrics. Another idea would be for the underskirt and sleeves to be of tartan.
This dress, worn by Quintilia Fischieri, reveals the strong, masculine Spanish style of the 1580’s historic Renaissance gowns. Also note the simpler braided hairstyle.

Book of Costume
1580, by F. Baroccio

Without the ruff and sleeves, this could be an outstanding wedding gown. The embroidery on the bodice could be Celtic knots or knots interspersed with rows of small thistles, repeated on the stand up collar. Sleeve rolls of tartan could be added with a narrow solid trim along the sleeve roll and bodice edge. The skirt could be tartan, silk, satin, or chiffon with the front trim matching the bodice.

As the Renaissance era developed, the ladies continued to dress fancier, adding richer textures, colors, and trims.

In the late 1500’s, the winters began getting colder, with muffs, hoods and capes playing a more predominant role in fashion through the 1700’s. During this time, wine froze in casks and was sold by the pound and olive trees that were hundreds of years old spit open from freezing. In the winter of 1607 and 1608, during the reign of James I (James VI of Scotland), the Thames river froze over and was used as a roadway.

The winters of 1709, 1740, 1784, 1789, 1820, 1830, and 1845 were severe, adding to the immigration to the New World. In the 1860’s the winters started mellowing.

XVII Century Historic Renaissance Gowns

Around 1600 historic Renaissance gowns became easy and flowing with the skirt hemline moving to the ankle. The Spanish influence lessened, while the French came to the forefront, especially after 1650.

Until mid-century, the robe, or outer gown, had sleeves slit in the inseam, caught with a rosette below the elbow, with a turned-back cuff that had a truncated edge, as seen on the gown below.

Book of Costume
Late 1500’s, A. Sanchez-Coello
Spanish Princess

Dated 1600, the sleeve puffs, long pointed stomacher, fine gathering at the waistline are all fine details of historic Renaissance gowns. Also note the rose in her hair, the fine lace train, and the motif detailing at the hemline.

Book of Costume
Early 1600’s, unknown artist

This gown would make a scrumptious Renaissance wedding gown, with knotwork at hemline and on the stomacher. The roses in her hair could be replaced with small thistles attached to a gossamer veil.
From 1600 to 1630 the ladies wore clipped bangs, and by 1640 the bangs were curled, with a more conspicuous bun that was decoratively enclosed. In Spain, the mantilla became popular. As more ribbons and lace became popular, jewelry became less prominent. As sleeves shortened around 1640, the first muffs appeared, accenting the historic Renaissance gowns.

Displaying bangs and curled ringlet this portrait shows how hair styles have changed. The graduated bows down her bodice accentuate the “V” front open bodice, which is coming into fashion once again. The small, neat gathering of the skirt onto the bodice, and the shortening sleeves are two more distinctive traits of the 1600’s.

Book of Costume
1672, van der Helst

The bows, a narrow binding along the bodice bottom edge, and where the cuffs join the sleeves could be a small, tasteful addition of tartan. Possibly an underskirt of tartan, with the over skirt drawn up a’ la Polonaise would also show off your Scottishness in style.
In 1621 the English developed mechanical knitting of silk stockings, increasing the availability to the upper and middle classes. The fashion was to wear several pair over one another, pushed down to show their differing colors beneath their historic Renaissance gowns.

Shoes began to have heels, heavy soles, and a strap over the instep decorated with ribbon or bows.

By 1625 the ruff started giving way to a falling ruff then a falling band collar.

From 1620 to 1655, the standard in historic Renaissance gowns was a long waisted dress with a lowering neckline. By 1630 the shorter waisted open gown over a corset-like bodice and skirt has multiple petticoats for support. Short waisted bodices with tabbed skirts like the men’s doublets became fashionable.

The underskirt was ground length and in a lighter color than the robe, or outer skirt. The robe was sometimes trained or a’ la Polonaise and of a thinner material than the underskirt with a bright colored lining.

Book of Costume
1777, Guttenberg

Though of the late 1700’s, this gown shows the triple flounces of a’ la Polonaise.

When sleeves were full leg-o’-mutton they were tied around between the shoulder and elbow with rosette ribbons. Another embellishment on historic Renaissance gowns was a matching belt fastened at the side or front center with a bow or rosette.

From 1625 to 1650 the sleeves were shortened to the elbow with turned back cuffs. The jacket didn’t meet in front, which was filled with a stomacher.Sometimes a thicker, heavier military jacket was worn. It was often quilted and laced front and back.

A kirtle was a jacket and attached skirt. A half-kirtle was the skirt alone. A jump was the jacket along.

In 1634, some Scottish women wore straight-bodiced satin gowns, but still with an arasaid over the gown.

From 1655 to 1713, the reign of Louis XIV, bodices were long-waisted and pointed. Necklines widened and slipped off the shoulders. Bands of lace were seen around the neckline, draping scarf-like on many historic Renaissance gowns.

From 1675 to 1700 sleeves were fuller, set on with careful pleats, and shorter, showing more shirt puffs. The sleeves were sometimes cuffed with undershirt lace frills showing.

Skirts were carefully pleated to the bodice, with the center line decorated or open, a’ la Polonaise. Trains were lengthened.

Satin dresses were in pale shades ~ white, ivory, and canary yellow ~ trimmed with gold and white with lots of coral beads

This portrait of the Electress Sophia and her daughter, Sophia Charlotte of Germany, displays a smooth, simple gown from the 1660’s and 70’s, with the neck slipping off the shoulders and unadorned. There are small silk flowers down the front and sleeves and around the sleeves and waist. The daughter’s underskirt is also a satin, with sheer scarf arranged around the neckline, flowing into a train. The sleeves and overdress are also of sheer fabric. The sleeves are open and puffed with a floral closure over the under-blouse.

Book of Costume
1680, by Princess Louisa Hollandina.

The small flowers on the mother’s gown could be thistles.Looking at the daughter’s dress, note how the overskirt could be used by a flowergirl for disbursing the rose petals, replacing a basket. The daughter’s dress could even be adapted for a bridal gown.
In the 1680’s historic Renaissance gowns became more austere with the shoulders covered and the neckline squared. Colors were darker. Ladders of ribbon knots graduated in length down the bodice or stomacher.

Panniers were added at the hips to support the overdress.

Shoes were of brocade or embroidered, with delicate heels, and tied or buckled over the instep.

In 1681, a proscription was issued in the major cities of Scotland, forbidding the wearing of silk gowns...seems the ladies were a little too fond of silk…

In the 1690’s bunched ribbons and lace became the head dress. Pearl chokers and drop earrings replaced the elaborate jewels, and diamonds became fashionable again.

This example of historic Renaissance gowns has a skirt of ermine, a muff with a big bow, the beginnings of a bustle and an extended train.

Book of Costume
1694, Bonnart

Even though this skirt of 1694 is of ermine, the basic idea can be adapted. It could be silk with narrow tartan strips in the skirt and a tartan stomacher, with a silk robe and train. Or the skirt could be panels of larger Celtic knotwork or thistles, following the lines of the ermine design.
In this portrait of Charlotte, Queen of Denmark, stiff brocades have given way to softer, plain materials with flounces and horizontal lines ~ a new look in historic Renaissance gowns.

Book of Costume
1697, by A. Trouvain

For a Scottish wedding gown, the skirt tiers could be of lace, silk, or tartan. Likewise the jacket could be velvet or tartan with a lace stomacher and collar. The bustle would be of the jacket fabric, lined with the lace or tartan of the skirt.

XVIII Century Historic Renaissance Gowns

Moving into the 1700’s, colors were lighter and pretty again. Hose were red in the early 1700’s, then pale pink and green, then white. Shoes were high-heeled slippers and mules.

Powdered hair began in the early 1700’s. By the 1760’s powdered hair and wigs reached their zenith, but by 1800 the fashion had moved on to less contrived pseudo-Greek styles.

From this point on, France was the dominant influence in historic Renaissance gowns, except for a short English influence from 1775 to 1795.

The skirts moved away from the farthingale in 1710, gradually widening until panniers were needed to hold them out in the 1760’s. The skirt width was needed to balance the outrageous height of hair styles. By 1780 the panniers were smaller, and by 1785 they were replaced by hip pads.

Bodices were much like the 1600’s, but by the late 1700’s back lacing was more common, the underskirt was often quilted, the undershirt shows only a ruffle, and fichus veiled the bosom. By 1795 to waistline was just below the breasts, with the shoulders exposed, beginning the Regency/Empire style.

In 1700 to 1725 government tried to ban India cotton in France and England, attempting to protect the wool and linen trades. By 1775 there were cotton mills being built in both countries.

Historic Renaissance gowns were often trimmed with fur, ribbons, lace and ruffles. Petticoats were often embroidered.

Gown like this were popular in the 1730’s in France, during the Rococo period, and again in the 1950’s.

Image courtesy clipart.com
This is actually a portrait of a young boy.

History of Highland Dress
John Telfer Dunbar, 1962
1700 portrait

On the ladies, or for a flowergirl’s dress, this could be a real Scottish statement. The stomacher, underskirt, and sleeve lining could be of tartan, with the overskirt and bodice of velvet, linen, or fine wool.

The earliest known painting of a woman in a tartan dress is of Helen Murray of Ochtertyre about 1745. The tartan is a red ground, with dark blue and green or black stripes.

This 1745 portrait of Lady Wemyss, shows an abundance of fine silk, artfully draped.

Painted by Allan Ramsay,
whose poem, Tatrtania,
you read on the
Wedding Dresses page
History of Highland Dress,John Telfer Dunbar, 19621745

This undated portrait of Flora MacDonald was painted after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, but before she sailed to America in 1750. During the Proscription, when the wearing of tartan was forbidden by law, Flora wears a gown with bows, dagging in the sleeves, and a fabric necklace with a darker dress.

History of Highland Dress,John Telfer Dunbar, 1962

For your wedding gown, the insets, bows, and neckline trim could be tartan.
In the later half of the 1700’s, the fashion of historic Renaissance gowns became a loose gown over a corseted bodice, sometimes sleeveless, open in front with an under-skirt. Across the back, flowing box pleats from the shoulder created the robe a’ la francaise, or sacque gown. By 1775 through 1800, the sacque was gathered a’ la Polonaise, to reveal the underskirt. This style dominated the fashion world.

This gown shows the back detail on the robe a’ la francaise and the widening of the panniers.

Book of Costume
Late 1700’s

Around 1768 hair was formed into a braided knot.

Book of Costume
1768, Legros

If your hair is medium to long in length and you’re not wearing a veil, a knotwork style of braiding could add a very Scottish touch to your wedding attire. Also note her ribbon neckpiece. The half bows are called ruching and are easy to accomplish. One made with silk tartan ribbon might be just the final touch you’re looking for.

Regency Fashions Begin to Be Seen

Tho’ the Regency~Empire era doesn’t officially begin until 1810, beribboned ballet slippers without heels were the rage in the 1790’s…a mark that the Regency style was beginning.

The chemise undergarment gradually evolved into the Empire gown with a high waistline and the hem lengthened into a train. White muslin ~ embroidered with gold, silver, or white ~ became fashionable as the winters turned unseasonably warm.

The discovery of the ruins of Pompeii in 1748 began influencing the historic Renaissance gowns. Emulating what archeologists found at the base of Mount Vesuvius, the young ladies were striving for an ethereal, dreamy look. Some took it so far, they would mist themselves and their gown before going out for the evening ~ often getting pneumonia which became the number one cause of death.

During the Victorian era, as the metal hooped crinolines became fashionable, blood poisoning killed the ladies. When the hoops would come undone on the ends, the ladies would wear them anyhow, often backing into something, causing the hoop ends to jab and penetrate their skin. Aren’t we a vain lot?

Jane, Duchess of Gordon, introduced tartan to the British court in 1792. She wore the Black Watch tartan, in honor of her son being appointed to the regiment. One painting shows her wearing a plaid and a Highland feathered bonnet.

This 1795 engraving shows the ladies imitating the Highland military uniform, while the second man from the right ridicules the ladies with his veil.

History of Highland Dress
John Telfer Dunbar, 1962
This 1799 gown, displays a higher waist and a draping that reveals the thighs. Her head is veiled like a Roman matron, except the veil is of embroidered muslin.

Book of Costume
1799, Vernet

Black daytime and white evening hose became fashionable, along with ruffles, bows and lace.

XIX Century Historic Renaissance Gowns

As the new century was born, England was busy expanding her holdings around the globe.

Scottish soldiers returning from India brought Paisley shawls as gifts for wives and sweethearts. Though the paisley pattern is over 2000 years old, this became the new rage. In the early 1800’s, Paisley, Scotland became a major manufacturing center. Today, paisley is still a popular fabric motif.

Scottish Wedding Dreams
Photographed in the Whaling
Museum in Sag Harbor, New York

As the Scottish Regiments won battles and became popular, the ladies were busy changing their clothes to the Empire style, including tartan.

Book of Costume
1800, Raeburn
Mrs. John Hutcheson Ferguson of Scotland

Her coronette is half way between a kertch, or breid tri chearnach, and a cap. The neckline is Van Dyke and her drape is an India shawl ~ a souvenir from the Indian Wars perhaps?

Miss Bell of Scotland draped a long black lace scarf with a ruffled inner edge to sit for her portrait.

Book of Costume
1801-02, Raeburn
Miss Rose of Scotland

This Empire walking dress has a tartan fichu arranged at the neckline and another as a head scarf, while tartan also trimmed the draped veil.

Book of Costume
1806, Costumes Parisiens periodical

An 1812 summer dress with a bodice and sleeves of corded cotton, and a skirt of light-weight cotton. The hem is tucked, while the puffs on the sleeves are secured in place. Eyelet embroidery trims the scalloped stand-up collar, between the breasts and around the armseye. The sash is also of the eyelet embroidery. The hat has sprays of lilacs. The popular dainty ballet slippers peek out from below.

Book of Costume
1811-12, Costumes Parisian periodical

This 1813 dress of percale is another example of historic Renaissance gowns with a Highland influence. The pantalettes are of matching fabric with embroidered ruffles. The dress hem is truncated, with the fichu of tartan.

Book of Costume
1813, Costumes Parisian periodical

McCall’s Pattern #4547 is of a similar design, including the pantalettes. I’ve seen it made up for a ten year old girl and it was charming. The dress hem was lowered to just above the pantalette ruffles. All three pieces ~ the dress, pantalets and bonnet matched. Done up in tartan, this could be a spectacular flowergirl’s dress.

Another example of a Historic Renaissance Gown is this Empire style with a tartan fichu. Also look at the detailing above the hemline.

Book of Costume
1813, Costumes Parisian periodical

If you’re wanting an Empire Era gown, this could make up into a really nice example of a Historic Renaissance gown for your wedding.

This historic Renaissance gown, of 1810, is of white gauze with silk appliqué.

Book of Costume
1810-15 French

The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 included many Highland Regiments in their full Highland regalia. The French were fascinated with the kilts and soon influenced the ladies historic Renaissance gowns. The pleated tartan hem decoration is attached with a gathered ruffle.

History of Highland Dress
John Telfer Dunbar, 1962

Again, the French were enamored with Scottish Tartans. The daytime neckline had moved higher, with the tartan X-sash expanded to cover the entire bodice. The skirt is notched and tucked, with the hemline raised to show off the tartan boots. Red and yellow ruffles peek out above the boot tops. The gloves are yellow-green.

Book of Costume
1814, Merveilleuses plate

If you think this look with the tartan boots can’t be achieved, think again. The Scotland Shop has both tartan boots and shoes.

Tartan Boots

Tartan Shoes

They sell 3 styles of tartan shoes.

If the Scotland Shop tartan boots don’t appeal to your taste, you can cover a pair of boots and achieve the same look. The book, A Closet Full of Shoes shows how to cover boots with fabric on page 86.

The book has 144 pages showing how to personalize shoes to make your own statement, including a section on Bridal shoes.

As a new century began, the Renaissance Era drew to a close. The sewing machine totally revolutionized what ladies could sew and what they could wear, leaving it’s mark on the Victorian Era.

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