Red – the color of the devil, the pope, the commoner or perhaps Martin Luther?

Satirical diptych 1520-1530

Satirical diptych, anonymous, 1520-1530.

Color is always an intriguing subject when it comes to historical clothing and social history. We tend to believe that our modern perception of color have stayed unchanged through history but we clearly can find that it  is not so.

Colors seem to get more complicated the deeper you dig into it historically. The symbolism of a color tend to change due to who wears it, what is fashionable and how expensive colors are to produce at the time. I have already sneak peaked at the color blue in the proverb entry “Wrapped in a blue cloak“, where I also end up discussing the color of red slightly.

Red is a very interesting subject when it comes to color. As a modern viewer we are costumed to associating red with lust, eroticism, women and also prostitution (red districts). We also might think about the devil, about love, about anger and Christmas.

Historically the color of red have had many different meanings making it a complicated, and versatile, color. In fact so much so, that I’ve decided to look into the color red. The color red connected to the devil, the holy, the commoner and the Reformation:

The devil in red

We tend to associate red with the devil, in modern times – the devil is almost always depicted in red or in red clothes. Red is one of the few colors mentioned fairly often in the bible, which might be an answer to that. I’ll quote two well known ones, the first one about the “Whore of Babylon” and the second one about sin:

And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.

And the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. On her forehead a mysterious name was written: Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth. (Revelation 17:3)

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

But what does this mean? Does the bible tell us that the color of red is devilish in itself? Or is it possibly used by the devil because the scarlet red was associated with riches and power to people at the time? During biblical times the scarlet red was a very expensive and difficult color to achieve, and only worn by the fortunate. Did the Whore of Babylon “dress in purple and scarlet” to glam the people meeting her, manifesting power and hierarchy with it?

"Whore of Babylon", illustration from Martin Luther's 1534. Workshop of Lucas Cranach.

“Whore of Babylon”, illustration from Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament, 1534. Workshop of Lucas Cranach.

Also the color red is almost impossible to wash out once dyed (especially scarlet). Can this be a reason why it was used in the bible to symbolize the concept of sin – that even red can be turned back to white if you put your faith in Christ.

The holy ones in red

Pope Sixtus, pope during 1521-1590. Unknown artist

Pope Sixtus, pope during 1521-1590. Unknown artist

Scarlet has symbolized wealth and power, both politically and religiously, since even before ancient Bible times. This color, second only to purple, was a status symbol in the mighty Roman Empire and officers in Rome’s army wore cloaks dyed in it as well as high-ranking non-military people. The production of the dyeing of scarlet was a very expensive and painstaking procedure and could only be afforded by the very wealthy at the time.

Since the late 13th century Roman Cardinals, who are high-level religious leaders in the Catholic Church, use scarlet for their ecclesiastical clothing. The pope is even today dressed in red – especially his cap Camauro and in the papal red shoes.

Jesus Christ in art during the late medieval and early modern period is frequently portrayed in a robe in red. This plays rather unwell with the notion that red is always a devilish color. In this context in fact, red symbolizes the divine. The color blue is during history often connected the Virgin Mary – we often find her depicted in a blue robe, symbolizing piety, faith and chastity. But in fact the color blue in sakral contexts is a color that represents the secular earth, while red represents the divine. This is why we see Jesus often in a red robe (he is divinity) and sometimes cloaked in blue (secular earthly world). Virgin Mary on the opposite is often dressed in blue (she a earthly woman) but can be seen robed in red (divinity).

"Last Judgment" by Stefan Lochner, c. 1435.

“Last Judgement” by Stefan Lochner, c. 1435.

"Resurrection" by Dirk Bouts, 1455

“Resurrection” by Dirk Bouts, 1455

"Christ Appering to His Mother", by Follower of Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1475

“Christ Appearing to His Mother”, by Follower of Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1475

God, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, 1432

“God, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.” Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, 1432

The commoner in red

I often come upon the claim that red was a color only for the rich and privileged during the late medieval and renaissance period. But yet we find it to be a very popular and common color among the every day man, especially during the 16th century. How is that possible?

The claim that red was only used by the rich is simply not completely true. Achieving different shades of red in textiles during the medieval period started to become common and fairly easy. It all depended on which kind of of red you wanted. The extremely expensive and exclusive version of red was Scarlet (made from extremely high amount of shells). But during the middle ages we get the the less rich red in the Madder dye:

By the 13th century, madder was being cultivated on a fairly large scale in Europe […] In the middle ages, Charlemagne encouraged madder cultivation. It grew well in the sandy soils of the Netherlands and became an important part of the local economy. (Source).

The madder reds became very common in Europe and a highly popular color during the renaissance, being a way for commoners to imitate the more expensive reds of the higher classes.

"The wedding dance", Pieter Bruegel the elder, 1566.

“The wedding dance”, Pieter Bruegel the elder, 1566.

Different kinds of reds was defined through what people called it. For example, there is about 20 different names for shades of red that were used in early modern Britain. A lot of the names are quite… fleshy. (The dates are for when they were first known or when they were notably fashionable):

  • Bristol Red – 1500-1580; 1550-80: (a “pleasant” red)
  • Scarlet – 1522 (bright red)
  • Redds – 1522
  • Crimson – 1522 (red)
  • Murrey – 1522 (mulberry colour) 1550-80 (purplish red)
  • Carnation – 1547-53; 1550-80: (resembling the colour Raw Flesh)
  • Incarnate – 1547-53; 1550-80 (raw flesh red)
  • Horseflesh – 1559 (possibly a very dark flesh red, like raw horsemeat)
  • Blod – 1547-53 (blood red)
  • Sangyn – 1550-80 (sanguine; blood red)
  • Ox-Blood – 1550-80
  • Ruby – 1554
  • Gingerline – 1595 (reddish violet)
  • Lustie-Gallant – 1550-80: (light red)
  • Strammel – 1575 (red)
  • Amaranth – 1550-80 (a reddish purple)
  • Pink – 1522
  • Maide’s Blush – 1590 (rose color)
  • Ham-Color – 1550-80 (possibly the light red of ham)
  • Soppes-in-Wine — 1559 (it used to be normal to put soppes, pieces of toast or stale bread, in wine, so since all wines are reds, this is probably a lightened shade of wine). (Source)

What we today might simply call “a red”, had historically many different names and therefor also possibly many different meanings simply due to who wore it and how.

Martin Luther in red

What actually inspired me to write this entire entry on the color red, was reading that Martin Luther, infamous for wearing black, personally wore a lot of red (97, Rublack). This made me rethink the symbolism of color and how red must have meant truly different things, depending on who wore it. Rublack concludes that “Luthers choice of scarlet clothing also reflects the increasing sartorial distinction that scholars had begun to raise their status”. (98, Rublack).

And when I started looking for Luther in red, I ended up it finding sneaky red garments in quite a lot of depictions of him that I had not thought about earlier:

Double Portrait of Martin Luther and Philip MelanchthonDouble Portrait of Martin Luther and Philip MelanchthonDouble Portrait of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon

Double Portrait of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon (1543)

Martin Luther in the bible of Hans Plock.

Martin Luther in the bible of Hans Plock.

Collage of reformators, 1540., from the bible of Hans Plock

Collage of reformators, 1540., from the bible of Hans Plock

Magdeburg commemoration of Martinus Lutherus (1546)

Magdeburg commemoration woodcut of Martinus Lutherus (1546)

It seems Luther really did feel fly in red.

I am honestly not sure if this entry made me any wiser when it comes to this alluring color, dear readers. Maybe we can come to the conclusion that the color red have and always will fascinate, be fashionable and attractive in our eyes despite the symbolism behind it or who wears it. And that the color of red historically did not come in just one shade, but in plenty.


→ “Dressing Up – Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe”, by Ulinka Rublack.
→ Fabric colors in English renaissance
The bible.

Suggested further reading, for the curious:

→ Secret history of red
→ Historical overview of dyes, dying and fabric colors in the renaissance


Angel of death – the stylish executioner

When we mention the medieval executioner most of us probably imagen a half naked man, hooded in a black cloak over his face and casually leaning against an enormous axe. This image is however a modern conception of the hangman of the past.


The medieval executioner was indeed fully dressed, and never hooded. He wasn’t even all dressed in black – on the contrary we see him quite colorful in many depictions. But people did fear and shun the hangman intensely. He was often a ruthless criminal who chose the role as executioner instead of the death penalty, offered to him by the state. He was also often somehow marked with cut off ears, or burn scars on the side of the face.

The fact that the modern perception of the executioner highly differ from the historical one, made me curious. Who was the early modern hangman, and more importantly – what did he look like?

The diary of an executioner

In 16th century Hof in Germany lived a man called Frantz Schmidt. More formally known as “Meister Franz”, he might be the only 16th century executioner writing a diary during his 45 year long career of killing, punishing and handling criminals in the name of the state.

Schmidt was one of the executioners that inherited the title from his father, unlike earlier practice where the role as executioner was offered to criminals as an alternative to death penalty. Schmidt seems to have been a well mannered executioner, sought after and definitely not unlucky in love nor career:

“he married chief executioner’s daughter Maria, and eventually became chief executioner after his father-in-law. He fathered seven children, and his salary, on par with the city’s wealthiest jurists, allowed him to have a spacious residence in Nürnberg. After his retirement in 1617, he began a new, lucrative career as medical consultant.” (source)

In Schmidts diary he detailed all the punishments that he performed. He had a fruitful career where he performed according to his diary 361 executions, many finger-choppings aswell as ear-clippings:

During his entire career he flogged at least 367 offenders, usually before effecting the court’s order for their banishment from the city; many more were whipped by his assistant. He branded a large N for Nuremberg on the cheeks of four pimps and conmen, clipped the ears off four “thief-whores”, snipped off the end of one blasphemer’s tongue, and chopped off the fingers of nine prostitutes, procuresses, false gamblers, poachers and perjurers. (Source)

Despite his chopping, clipping and executing he seem to have been a fairly respected man. Even so that he could retire from his profession as hangman and instead end his life as a (surprisingly enough) healer, claiming to have treated more than 15,000 patients at the end of his life.

We have a few depictions of Frantz, and as far as we can see he was a fairly well dressed chap, and it seems his gear matched his salary:

The executioner Franz Schmidt executing Hans Fröschel on May 18, 1591.

Franz Schmidt executing Hans Fröschel on May 18, 1591.

A painting from the Nuremberg State Archive of Frantz Schmidt executing Anna Peihelsteinin for 'harlotry and lewdness'

Frantz Schmidt executing Anna Peihelsteinin for ‘harlotry and lewdness’, 1584.

Depiction attributed to Franz Schmidt, end of 16th century.

Depiction attributed to Franz Schmidt, end of 16th century.


Depiction of Schmidt executing the parricide Franz Seuboldt who killed his own father by ambush while dad was setting bird traps, 1589.

The coin and dress of the hangman

The executioner was by no means a wealthy profession but he couldn’t be called poor either. He had a steady income, certain executions gave extra cash and travels, accommodation and meals during work was paid for. A diligent and ambitious hangman could amass a good coin during his career.

Another less known perk of the job was garments:

“A privilege the executioner had at the time was that he got to keep the garment of the sentenced – as long as the criminal were considered without honor or a stranger to the community. And as most sentenced to death were considered without honor, the executioner pretty much kept all the clothing he desired. This meant that the executioner in many cases could be quite well dressed, to commons folks annoyance”. (93, Sanden)

That the feared and hated executioner was allowed to dress more or less finely, wasn’t highly appreciated.  In 1603 there is a somewhat disgruntled quote on the dressing of a german executioner. That his dress “be so great that not the princely grace was worthy to shine the shoe, and that his mother shall have such stately dress and skirts that the princess herself did not have it better” (93, Sandén)

The Swedish executioner Clemet Foss was 1594 said to “be with gaudy clothes”, probably due to pickings from his victims, and well use of his incomes. When the wealthy Ulrich Schwarz, master of the carpenters guild in Augsburg and famous for his love for fancy clothes, was sentenced to death 1478 the city council “forbade the hangman to appropriate his clothing, so as not to perpetuate his memory” (86, Rublack).

I have found some claims that the executioner during medieval times dressed in certain ways. “Hangmen, in particular, were often forced to to wear striped, or strangely cut clothing and are frequently represented in this manner in crucifixion scenes or martyrical scenes” (103, Rublack).

"Die sieben Schmerzen Mariä" By Albrecht Durer, 1494-1497

“Die sieben Schmerzen Mariä” By Albrecht Durer, 1494-1497

However I am not sure that the strangely cut clothes in biblical scenes represent how the hangmen actually dressed, but is more of an exotic depiction of clothing. If the executioners garments in a biblical scene differ very much from common fashion during the 1500 and 1600s, it is most probably a fictional clothing style to symbolize a bygone time.

Some also claim that executioners were said to often be dressed in red (96, Sandén). But I am always suspicious of modern interpretation of color use in history. The color red is often said to be the color of devilry, or a lewd woman. But I would say that that the meaning of color differs greatly according to who wore it. Martin Luther for example, infamous for wearing black, personally wore a lot of red (97, Rublack). “Luthers choice of scarlet clothing also reflects the increasing sartorial distinction that scholars had begun to raise their status”. (98 Rublack).

In the end, the only thing we can do is to look at contemporary sources and study depictions of executioners of the time:

Execution from a french Chronicle, end of 15th century.

Execution from a french Chronicle, end of 15th century.

The execution of Robert Tresilian, as depicted in Jean Froissart's Chroniques. Date 15th century

The execution of Robert Tresilian, as depicted in Jean Froissart’s Chroniques. 15th century


Very early 16th century, origin unknown to me

woodcut of a decapitation, early 16th c.

Woodcut of a decapitation, early 16th c.

various torture and execution styles, 1509

Various torture and execution styles, 1509

A woodcut of Tyndale’s execution from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563)

A woodcut of Tyndale’s execution from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563)

"Scharfrichter" (Executioner) from "Praxis rerum criminalium iconibus illustrata", 1562.

“Scharfrichter” (Executioner) from “Praxis rerum criminalium iconibus illustrata”, 1562.

Woodcut from Swiss chronicle of Johann Stumpf, 1586.

Woodcut from Swiss chronicle of Johann Stumpf, 1586.


Executioner, end of 16th century

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8 February 1587.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8 February 1587.


Suggested further reading, for the curious:

 The Director of the Theater of Horror
 The Journeyman
→ God’s Executioner

The 16th century cook and his attire

Everything started with me searching different depictions of the female apron during the 16th century. And it ended up with me finding a lot of depictions of 16th century male cooks. Why not collect these, I realized.

On these depictions we see that there is a fashionable difference between an apron for a male or a female. The male apron seem to be extremely simple – just a squared piece of linnen fastened with a knot, and quite short.

I also would like you to note that quite a few of the depictions of our culinary artists portray them with fashionable clothes – it is slashed and well fitting, many with the hypermodern “kuhmaulschuhe”, the cow mouth shoe. I would like to point out that these cooks are most probably some sort of court cooks, or working for lords with a more lavish taste in food.

Also we see quite a few not only stylish, but also hygienic, hair nets and hair gears on our male chefs.

The Cook and His Wife Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)

The Cook and His Wife Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)

"Kuechenmeisterei" by Peter Wagner, Nuremberg, 1486.

German Cookbook “Kuchenmeistery”, 1485

German Cookbook "Kuchenmeistery" 1485

German Cookbook “Kuchenmeistery”, 1485

"Das Buch Granatapfel im Latin Genant Malogranatus", 1510, Hans Burgkmair I.

“Das Buch Granatapfel im Latin Genant Malogranatus”, 1510, Hans Burgkmair I.

"Der Weisskunig" (The White King Learning to Conduct a Kitchen), 1514-1516, Burgkmair d. Ä.

“Der Weisskunig” (The White King Learning to Conduct a Kitchen), 1514-1516, Burgkmair d. Ä.

From a german manuscript namned "Frau untreue (Untrue woman). Artist unknown. Made first half of 16th century. 320 [118v] - Frau Untreue

From a german manuscript namned “Frau untreue” (Untrue woman). Artist unknown. Made first half of 16th century.

Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen 1527

“Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen”, 1527


Unknown artist and date

"Zeltlager Kaiser Karls V. vor Lauingen", 1546.

“Zeltlager Kaiser Karls V. vor Lauingen”, 1546.


Interior of an Italian kitchen, after woodcut in 'Banchetti compositioni di Vivende' by Christoforo di Messisburgo, published 1549

Interior of an Italian kitchen, after woodcut in ‘Banchetti compositioni di Vivende’ by Christoforo di Messisburgo, published 1549


“The chief”, woodcut by Jost Amman, in the cookbook “Ein new Kochbuch” by Marx Rupolt, 1581.

Marx Rumpolt, Ein new Kochbuch, 1581.

From the the cookbook “Ein new Kochbuch” by Marx Rupolt, 1581.

Bartolomeo Scappi Trattato di cucina 1570

Unknown artist and date

Bartolomeo Scappi Trattato di cucina 1570 kitchen

Unknown artist and date


Bartolomeo Passarotti (1529-1592) Baker Preparing Pies

“Baker Preparing Pies”. by Bartolomeo Passarotti (1529-1592)

I will end this little entry with a far older picture – it seems the manly square apron have been in fashion for quite some time:

Psalter. Flemish c. 1320-30.

Psalter. Flemish c. 1320-30.

Reenactment: female pilgrims 16th century

Me and a friend shared a mutual interest for Northern European early 16th century female pilgrims and decided to recreate their gear. Our inspirations are of simple female clothing during the period but also the early modern pilgrims that we found depictions of. The entire outfit is not complete yet – we want more winter wear also, and yet have to make proper bags for longer travels.

The clothes are all handsown by us, all equipment and accessories handmade by us or friends that are crafts men. Everything is in materials of the time such as wool, linnen, silk threads, leather and oak.



Our lovely hats are historically handmake by Amica at They are based on depictions of 16th century pilgrims.

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Our lovely shoes are historically handmade by Sofia at They are inspired from depictions of 16th century peasant shoes and also findings from the Mary Rose.

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I’m adding some of the inspirational pictures of 16th century pilgrims that we used during the process. Depicitions of female pilgrims during the period are, as always, alot fewer:

Please visit our amazing friends at Historical Textiles and Historiska Skor!

Dressing guide: how to frau

This little tutorial I wrote in a collaboration with the very talented historical seamstress Katafalk. It is meant to be a simple How To approach to reproduction and reenactment of the women that accompanied mercenaries, i.e Landsknechts, during the 16th century.

The aim is to get a bigger understanding around what kind of women that accompanied the military trains, as well as fabrics, materials and cuts at the time. Enjoy!


“Baggage Train” from the “Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I” by Albrecht Altdorfer and workshop, (c. 1512-1515)

How to frau

A guide to easily understanding the 16th century female outfit in Northern Europe, focusing on women from lower social standing.

Before you begin it is vital to think about what kind social class, or type of woman, you want to recreate. This has nothing to do with LARP:ing (live action role playing) or acting. It is simply to do with making a construction that feels historically relevant. Women differs from each other in the 16th century, not only due to social standing. Even women from the same social class dressed differently according to her place in society.

That is why it is a bit unfortunate to put all these amazing women together in the same group as many tend to do today. It is important to know that women of the tross which followed the mercenaries, such as the landsknecht, were not female landsknecht, they were not soldiers. They followed the tross because of what the soldiers may need during military campaigns: help with domestic chores, as companions, whores, and different professional craftswomen. The captain’s wife did not have the same function as for example the wine maker/seller, but instead holds a different status in the group.
That is why it always is good to know who you want to recreate and what her role in the tross might be. First when you know this can you move forward and build your wardrobe. It might seem really boring, but this is only to help you make the right decisions for your outfit and should only be seen as something positive; as a helping hand.

Something that is worth thinking about is that the women in the tross during early modern time chose to follow a dangerous, erratic and by the society excluded group; the landsknecht. During this time in Europe the landschnecht was associated with violence, terror, and bloodshed. The society both hated and feared them. That is why it is most likely that the vast majority of the women, which in spite of this chose to follow them, came from the lower classes of society without any higher social status.

As these women, as we have discussed, are not a unitary group, calling them for “kampfraus” is of course incorrect. Instead we should look at what these women really were. By stepping away from the far too generalized mold “kampfrau” and instead start to think “lower class women” you in a way get a lot more freedom in your creativity, as you now choose to create a person with a profession or role in the camp and not only a platitude. That is why the word “kampfrau” is such a bad and foremost historically incorrect word to use. The word kampfrau have long been in use in different reenactment groups and have because of its popularity spread beyond these reenactment groups, so far that people are not aware that it is a made-up word. To with one word smooth out the diversity of the women of the tross feels incredibly sad and also disparaging to the history of the women.



As you might have noticed, the figure in the picture is only wearing a pair of hose. There is a reason for this, and that is the fact that this is the bottom layer. Corsets, stays, panties and bloomers came much later in history. The earliest extant pair of stays are from late 16th century and panties are a much later invention; they appear a bit into the 20th century, when skirts become shorter they started looking as what we are used to seeing them.

If your aim is to be as correct as possible, this is your bottom layer.

The hose are made out of wool fabric and cut on bias to give them as much stretch as possible. As you can see it has a sewn sole that continues up on the leg in a gusset. It also has a seam in the back to make it possible to shape the hose after the leg. As a woman you wear knee high hose that is fastened with garters which are tied around the leg. The hose can both be of solid colour or vertically striped, but the solid coloured hose seems to be most common on women of lesser means.

Watch out for!

Modern underwear – It is hard to build a historical silhouette when you are shaped by modern underwear.

Corsets and stays – Not everything from the 16th century is Tudor. If you look at are from the period you will see that the silhouette of the dresses from England, Italy and Germany differs from each other quite a bit. In Germany you can see that you have a more rounded bust, not the more cone-like shape an early stay will give you.




Shoes during this period vary widely and simpler and heavier shoes is a marker of a person of lesser means. The most visually prominent and fashionable shoe in the 16th century is the cow moth shoe, a flat shoe with a square shape in the front. The shape ranges from slightly rounded to more extravagant versions.

Something which is worth mentioning about the shoes in the 16th century is that they are welt sewn unlike the earlier shoes, which were turnshoes.
This means that they are sewn on the last with the right side out and have an insole which the upper is attached to, and then have an outsole which is attached under this. The outsole is attached to a strip of leather called welt. The welt is attached to the shoe in the same seam which binds the insole and upper together.
In turnshoes this piece of leather is called rand. The use of a welt and outsole makes it a lot easier to change the sole of the shoe when it is worn down without actually interfering with the construction of the rest of the shoe.
When the outsole is sewn to the welt you will get a visible seam, much in the same way which you can see in a classical dress shoe.

The cow moth shoes are not the only shoe worn at this period of time, there is a plethora of shoes. That is why it is important to look at the shoes in the area which you have chosen to recreate. Also look at the class from you have chosen to work within. Farmers are often depicted with heavier more rounded shoes and finer folk seem to be using daintier shoes, both more decorated and slashed.

Watch out for!

Wrong shoe on the wrong person – Just because a shoe model has been in use in England in 1520 does not mean that that shoe can be used when you are doing Italian or German 1520s.
This is the same way as the fact that an English farmer did not wear the same shoes as an English king.

Visible seams – There are no seams visible on extant shoes. Neither the heel counter nor side seams are sewn with a seam that is visible from the outside.
The only visible seam on welt shoes is the welt seam that attaches the outsole.




There is a large variety in the shape of the chemise, all from very simple with only a little width to garments where it is obvious a lot of fabric was used. The chemises comes with both high and low collars and I have a hard time seeing that either one is more common in any social class. However, taking into account the quality and the quantity of the fabric can say a lot about the social class which you are aiming for.

The collars varies from beautifully embroidered with tiny pleats to simpler pleating where you have sewn a flat linen band of the same fabric as the rest of the chemise to keep the pleats in place. The same goes for the finish of the sleeves even if the most common thing seems to be simple string which you tie with small bows at the wrist.
The closure of the chemises are often not seen. Here it is very likely that they have used hooks and eyes to keep the collar together. A hidden closure seems to be very common but other ways of closing the collar are simple linen ties or decorated braided ribbons which might match the colour of the embroidery you might have.
There are also depictions of decorative clasps, buttons, and pearls as closures, but it is worth noting that these are most often found on the upper classes and might not be fitting for a women of the tross.

Watch out for!

Too short chemise – Make your chemise to your knees or to your calf. Underskirts or petticoats are not in use yet so it is the chemise job to protect your body from the wools and vice versa. But do not make it all the way to the floor, a wet linen hem is cold and not at all pleasant against your legs.

Keep to your class – A poor soldier’s wife does not have a chemise with golden bands, embroideries, and beads. Think about what choices you make and you will get a more convincing outfit.

Raw silk – It might seem luxurious with a raw silk chemise and raw silk “looks like linen”. However, raw silk as a fabric for clothing is not correct for the 16th century and silk is also sensitive to sweat, something which is not optimal for a chemise.


Under dress



As I mentioned, the use of modern bras and corsets came a lot later in history than the 16th century. However, of course they used some kind of supportive underwear. We have the Schloss Lengberg garments as an example of many different ways to support the bust in the shape of linen “bras”. The Lengberg finds are dated to late 15th century and there are a lot of images from the 14th century depicting similar “bra dresses”.
When we come to the 16th century these pictures disappear from the pictorial evidence and instead we start to see sleeveless wool dresses. We can find similar dresses all over Europe on women preforming physical labour. We do not see them on women outside the “home” or the private sphere for the simple reason that you wore a dress over it when you were in more public places.

The under dress sometimes had stripes on the skirt, especially if you were from a higher social status. With this comes all kinds of laws and regulations which tells you who are allowed to wear what kind of materials and how many stripes you were allowed to have on your skirt. The fact that these laws exist is because people broke the rules, but it might be worth thinking about; did the laundry woman have silk brocade stripes on her under dress? Almost certainly not.

There are no evidence that the under dresses were as stiff as corsets, it is common to see in images and woodcuts that the bust have a soft more rounded shape.

Watch out for!

Underskirts and petticoats – There is no evidence for the use of underskirts. Many uses linen underskirts to get more shape over the hips and to protect their legs from the wool. Instead of doing that, make your chemise longer. This is something that we have pictorial evidence for and start using a full under dress to achieve those 16th century hips and to get a correct silhouette.

Modern brassiere – In the end it is simple, modern underwear will give your dress a modern silhouette. Sometimes you have to let go of your modern aesthetics to create a correct shape.




The classical 16th century dress in northern Europe had a high waist and low neckline. The shape of the dress varied depending on where in northern Europe you were. However, generally in Germany the square neckline and closure centre front was prominent. The dress had often just as low neckline in back as in front and had very often decorative stripes at the bottom of the skirt. The skirt was pleated and sewn onto the bodice as separate skirt and a bodice was not used.

It is easy to want to emulate the grandeur of the males, but the dresses of the women were generally a lot simpler in cut and details. The slashing that is so common in the outfits of the men is almost nowhere to be seen, you can perhaps slash the stripes of the skirts or in exceptional cases the guards around the neckline and centre front.

The sleeves of the dress are also in contrast to the male puffiness and extravagance. The sleeves are often very simple with a plain sleeve with a cuff that can either be worn folded up or folded down over the hand. You can also see simpler slashing of the sleeve at the shoulders and elbows but they are much less extravagant and as big as on the men.

It is just that, the contrast between the male and female, which is so beautiful when you see the tross together. Let the men have their big upper bodies and skinny legs and let the women be the opposite, wide hips and in contrast to the hips, slim upper bodies.

Watch out for!

Too low waist – Many wear their dresses on their hips and the result of that is that they never get the right silhouette. Let the waist sit where it should, a good bit over your bellybutton, and you will automatic get those nice 16th century hips and a correct silhouette.

Too high neckline – If you look at woodcuts, the neckline is often very low, this does not matter much as there is always a chemise under to cover up and to make sure that the boobs does not pop out. Dare to go lower both in the front and back and you will get a dress with a much more correct look.

Gaping lacing – It is very unusual to see the lacing on the dress, The everyday woman did not show her face in society in a dress with gaping lacing. The dress should be completely shut in front either with hidden lacing or hook and eyes.


On the head


When you look at the paintings and graphical pictures of women from the 16th century a clear picture emerges; grown-up women hid their hair. To wear your hair down is something which might have been done by extremely young unmarried women or, for example, prostitutes. However, the ordinary woman wore her hair up and almost always covered. To wear the hair up with some kind of covering is so common that you can find picture of women in bathhouses with their head covered while otherwise in the nude.

Even amongst prostitutes you see a great majority with their hair up and covered. If you don’t wish to cover your hair it should at least be braided and put up properly on the head. The visible cute braided hanging loops by the ears that peek out under the veil during the late 15th century is hopelessly unfashionable during the 16th century. If you wear a head covering, the whole hair is now covered.

A very common headpiece is the padded linen cap that is so typical for the northern European fashion. It most likely started with the braided hair being put up in the back of the head under the veil, but as all fashion it went to excess. People started to use padding of different kind, for example the wulsthaube, a padded cap, which you then draped you headdress over. The shape varies from small to enormous.

The veils can be found in all sorts of fashion, everything from undecorated linen veils and super thin silk veils to richly decorated and embroidered. As always, the question is who do you want to portray?

Watch out for!

Cover your hair – the easiest way to enhance your outfit historically is to put on a proper headdress. Don’t be afraid of the padded cap, it might look strange when taken out of its context but nothing can beat it when used together with accurate clothing. If you do not want to use a wulsthaube you can choose to use a draped veil. Look at images and your will surely find something you like.




The 16th century brings a lot of variety in hats. If you generalise a bit you find that two different kinds seem to be the most popular. One is a hat with a split brim where the brim parts overlaps each other a bit with perhaps a few feathers. The other one the one that looks like it has gathered fabric underneath and is filled with feathers.

When it comes to ordinary women, hats are not always worn and when you see a hat on a women it is often of a more simple kind. It is a more safe way to go to not wear a hat; a veil or wulsthaube goes a long way. There are of course images of crazily feathered hats but that does not make it the norm to wear a whole bird stuffed into our hat. Neither is it practical for a hard working woman in the tross. A fully feathered hat is more likely to be in the way for a simple washerwoman. It seems like it is more common with feathers among prostitutes.

When it comes to the choice of feathers we can see that natural ostrich feathers are the most common during the 16th century. We can of course play with the thought that other types of feathers were used but if you look at the pictures from the period we can see that the ostrich is in extreme majority. Everyone wore them; we can see them among landsknechts, wealthy merchants and even the noblemen, such as the very fashion interested Henrik VIII.

Coloured feathers are not at all common during the 16th century. If coloured feathers was used they were of course dyed with natural dyes. The process is technically hard to achieve and that is probably why it is not common to see the coloured feathers. Instead what we see is more than anything else white or naturally grey ostrich feathers, or alternatively, naturally black ostrich feathers. Think about who you are recreating and look at images from your time and you will soon see that the coloured feathers are absent.

Watch out for!

Don’t slash your hat – The popular slashed hat crown cannot be found in the pictorial sources; you can slash the underside of the brim but it is much more common to not slash at all. Decorate instead with a few feathers and don’t slash at all.

Stay away from coloured feathers – They existed but were very uncommon. If can feel nice to be able to match your dress with synthetically coloured feathers, but it is not particularly historically accurate. Why not dive into the wonderful world of natural shades of ostrich. Beautiful in the 16th century, beautiful today!




The most common garment for keeping warm which you see in the pictures is the short cape called gollar. It can either have a high collar or no collar at all, and it can be either short or it can be more of a cloak and go down to the hips. It looks like a liripipe without the head part and can be lined in fur for extra warmth.

There are a number of images of women who wear their capes over what they carry on their backs, it is a good way to keep rain out of your packing. The gollar is as much a trending garment as it is practical and it is often decorated with contrasting borders.

On images and paintings of women from the higher social classes you often see them in silk brocade with fancy clasps, but on simpler women you almost always see no closure at all. We can presume that they were closed with hook and eyes, or that they simply lay on the shoulders. Alternatively they might have used hidden lacing which they tied together as a bow.

There are also examples of this kind of garment which looks more like short vests and are squarer in shape. Look at what is most common for the type of person you want to recreate, perhaps you have no need for a gollar.

Watch out for!

Dress according to your class – It is easy to fall in love with a garment from the upper class, but as always; chose a garment that represent what you recreate. If you need to dig deep after evidence for a garment you want to make or a detail you want to recreate, you might need to stop and think for a bit. Perhaps what you are looking for was not something that was commonly done. A better starting point is to look at what the common thing to do was. Find what most people actually did. It will be a lot easier to make a believable outfit when you have cracked the code of what is probable and what was done. Just because something is from the lower classes does not automatic makes it boring and plain. Find that thing that makes your garment special.




At the first glance the 16th century can feel very “bling” with large golden chains, rings on all fingers and on multiple knuckle joints, many necklaces at the same time. However, all these things are most common among the nobles. As soon as you step down a step on the social ladder all this disappear, especially among women of less means. You might have one ring, but necklaces of precious metals are nowhere to be seen.
On pictures of prostitutes from this time we do find these kind of accessories. However, bear in mind that these were most likely copies in less precious metals, they wanted to mimic the nobility and be showy.

What ordinary women wore was much plainer, most of what you see are accessories hanging from the belt. Small leather bags of different kinds, sewing tools, and often a simple knife; sometimes you also see keys. It seems like it was the practice to wear two belts, one that you kept your things on and one that you used for draping the dress up when marching. However, you never see two belts worn at the same time. We can presume that they had a belt specially for the draping that they took off when they wore the dress down. As this belt never was visible it would probably not been decorated with more than a simple belt buckle.

Many speaks about booty from the battlefields but think about the fact that if there was any booty this was first and foremost for the men. Wives, hang-arounds or women without any social status in the tross were probably not allowed to enjoy expensive fabrics, gold or jewellery. In other words; it is not likely that the cook and laundry woman in the tross had gold rings on all fingers.

Watch out for!

Less is more – Looking like a living Christmas tree with a million things hanging off your belt or on your outfit is never a positive thing. Do not carry more things in your belt than is logical. If you need to carry a lot of stuff, than take a basket to carry in your hand, a sack, or the things wrapped up in fabric which you carry on your back. Willow baskets on your back does not seem to be common at all in the tross.

Don’t put on all your fancy jewellery – We all want the fancy stuff, but as always, reflect over who you are recreating and what is practical. It is not likely that a women that followed the tross had gold chains and lots of rings, unless she was a particularly popular prostitute.




And there we have it, the complete kit! With the help of another belt you can drape the gown up in this way, this makes it a lot easier to march and is a very common thing to see in pictures of women in the tross.

So a short recap:
Do not imitate the men, just because they look a certain way does not mean that you can copy it and put it in your women’s outfit. Also think about colours and colour combinations. Lighter colours were a lot easier to create. Perhaps it is not fitting for a poor soldier’s wife to wear a tricoloured bright purple dress with four contrast colours in the same bright colour scheme. Poorer women wore less contrast colour and lighter coloured fabrics.
It is good to think about fabrics in the same way. Silk, velvet and brocades belongs on the Saxon noblewomen in Cranach paintigns, not on the general women of the tross. To base you outfit on them is as far off as basing them on Elizabeth I most macabre feastgown.
During the medieval era and early modern time wool is the absolutely most common of fabrics both for high and low born along with linen.

It is a lot about dressing within your social class and not pick and choose details from other classes. Just because a noblewomen have pretty sleeves does not mean that your simple soldier’s wife had the same kind of sleeves; even if they both are from 1523. I instead dare you to make a simple woman, because these were the women who followed the landsknecht.

Let go of your modern ideals. The concepts of what is pretty and beautiful nowadays are not applicable in the 16th century. If you are recreating a period you are also going to have to recreate their ideal of beauty. It is also very important to keep track on what part of the 16th century you are making and were you are geographically. The fashion changes around every ten years and there are big regional differences in northern Europe, even among the simpler people and underclass.

Always check the title of your sources or image that you are using. Even if Pinterest tells you one thing does not mean that the title is correct. The original title may also reveal that what we see on the picture is actually a biblical motive or allegory. If that is the case then the picture is not suitable to base a simple German women clothing on. If something look extra strange or macabre on a picture, ask yourself the question; what type pf image is this? You cannot base your clothes on a caricature, not either a saint, queen or noble woman’s dress – at least not if you want to portray a women of the tross.


July 13, 2015

How to Frau – svenska

Posted by Cathrin under Uncategorized
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The paupers and peasants of the Renaissance

The 16th century might seem to be overflowed with magnificent Tudors, curly Italian Renaissance nobles, finely dressed reformers or colorful mercenaries. But the finest woolen, the golden brocade and the velvet was dedicated for the privileged few. Most people in Europe were of the more simple kind.

Although 16th century is a period known for it’s experimental playfulness when it comes to fashion among both highborn and low, that doesn’t mean the strict medieval rules surrounding clothing and fabrics in any way disappeared. On the contrary. The newly found consumerism did force the higher classes in society to enforce strict sumptuary laws, making sure the the finest accessories and fabrics remained a privilege for the chosen few. Breaking these sumptuary rules in the lower classes meant either a loss of property (the garment being confiscated) or a fine, working as a strain on a member of the working classes. A person of lower status could not purchase the “rights” to a specific item or material.

Sumptuary laws “regulated clothing, ornamentation, food, drink, and other forms of luxury, imposing a hierarchy of consumption. These laws prohibited certain ranks of persons from wearing specified cloths, garments, or ornamentation. Typically, the rarest furs were reserved for royal families, lesser furs for nobles, and inferior furs for commoners”. An English proclamation of 1559 stipulated:

“None shall wear in his apparel any cloth of gold, silver, or tinsel; satin, silk, or cloth mixed with gold or silver, nor any sables; except earls and all of superior degrees.”

In England 1510, for example, “Parliament passed an extensive and detailed law regulating the wearing of all sorts of fabrics and of trim from fur to gold and silver. This law was amended and added to in 1514 and again in 1515 and 1553”.

This meant that commoners most definitely couldn’t, and wouldn’t, dress as extravagant as the nobles or classes above them. Lower classes, such as laborers and apprentices would wear linen, a light, cool fabric derived from the flax plant, wool, or sheepskin.

But how did the commoner, and the truly poor, dress and look like during the 16th century? This question intrigued me to look into depictions of the 16th century paupers and peasants. (As my collection of depictions from this period is predominately northern European, it’s reflected here as well). Enjoy:

Three Peasants In Conversation by Albrecht Dürer, 1497

“Three Peasants In Conversation” by Albrecht Dürer, 1497


“Amorous Peasants”, by Albrecht Durer, ca 1500.

A woodcutter,  by Hans Burgkmair, (c 1500),

A woodcutter, by Hans Burgkmair, (c 1500),


“Three pilgrims at the crossroads”, by Hans Burgkmair, 1508.

"The Beggars". Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, 1494–1533) Date: ca. 1509

“The Beggars”. Lucas van Leyden, 1509


“Resting pilgrims”. Lucas van Leyden, 1508.


Farmer with a basket of eggs, by Jakob Binck, 1510.

Gypsies in the Market Hans Burgkmair, 1510.

“Gypsies in the Market”. Hans Burgkmair, 1510.


“The Milkmaid”. Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, 1494–1533) Date: 1510

Duerer, Die Marktbauern - Duerer, Peasants at the Market/Engr./1519 -

“The Peasant and His Wife at Market”, by Albrecht Durer, dated 1512


“Peasant Couple Dancing”, Albrecht Dürer, 1514


“Bagpiper”. Albrecht Dürer, 1514,


“The Pedlar”. Hieronymus Bosch, 1516

“Cripples, beggars and street musicians”. Bosch, Hieronymus c. 1450 – 1516. (also attributed to Pieter Brueghel (or Bruegel) the Elder).

“Cripples, beggars and street musicians”. Bosch, Hieronymus c. 1450 – 1516. (also attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder).


“The Peasant and His Wife”. Albrecht Dürer, 1519


Sorgheloos (“Carefree”) in Poverty, 1510–20. Netherlandish


“The Beggars”. Lucas van Leyden, 1520.


“Dancing farmer couple “Niklaus Manuel gen. Deutsch. 1518/1520

A Peasant Woman Carrying a Jug. Sebald Beham (German, 1500-1550), 1520.

“A Peasant Woman Carrying a Jug”. Sebald Beham (German, 1500-1550), 1520.


Young Peasant Holding a Jar by Sebald Beham, 1520.


“Two peasants on the way to the market” attributed to Hans Weiditz , 1521.


“Farmer love couple”, Hans Sebald Beham, 1521


“Bauer” (Farmer), Niklaus Manuel gen Deutche.

Bettler (Begger), Niklaus Manuel gen Deutche.

“Bettler” (Begger), Niklaus Manuel gen Deutche.


“Old woman with drop spinnel”, Urs Graf. 1519/1521.

The Dentist. Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish1494–1533)

“The Dentist”. Lucas van Leyden (1523)

The Surgeon. Lucas van Leyden, (Netherlandish 1494–1533), 1524.

“The Surgeon”. Lucas van Leyden, 1524.


“The Musicians”. Lucas van Leyden, 1524.


“The Pensive Carpenter”, 1530. Albrecht Altdorfer


1535, the ‘Kirchweihfest’ (The Parish Fair)

SBehamKirchweihrechts (1)

1535, the ‘Kirchweihfest’ (The Parish Fair)

"Dancing beggars", 1538, Cornelis Massijs

“Dancing beggars”, 1538, Cornelis Massijs


“December” from Golf Book (Book of Hours). 1540.

Woodcut by Cornelis A. Teunissen, 1541

Woodcut by Cornelis A. Teunissen, 1541


“The Peasants’ Feast or The Twelve Months”, Hans Sebald Beham. 1546-1547


“Peasants’ Brawl”, Hans Sebald Beham. 1546-1547


“The Peasant Banquet”. Sebald Beham, 1546/1547.

Peasant couple,by Hans Sebald Beham, 1510-1550

Peasant couple,by Hans Sebald Beham, 1510-1550

Studies pf Peasants ca 1550, Pieter Brugel

Studies pf Peasants ca 1550, Pieter Brugel


“The Sleeping Peddlar Robbed by Monkeys”. 1562

Three blind pilgrims holding staffs and moving to right, after Pieter Bruegel the elder. 1566.

Three blind pilgrims holding staffs and moving to right, after Pieter Bruegel the elder. 1566.


A woodcut of Der Rebmann (the vine-dresser) using a fork hoe in Jost Amman’s 1568 “Das Standebuch”.

The Drunkard Pushed into the Pig Sty. Made after 1568, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

“The Drunkard Pushed into the Pig Sty”. Made after 1568, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The Blind Leading the Blind. Pieter Bruegel, 1568.

“The Blind Leading the Blind”. Pieter Bruegel, 1568.


“Summer”. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568.

The Beggars. Pieter Breughel, 1568.

“The Beggars”. Pieter Breughel, 1568. (On the back of the painting is an inscription in Flemish: Cripples, take heart, and may your affairs prosper.)