16th Century

Bodice Support


Women are not cones. We are (for the most part) hour glass shaped. In order for a bodice to be supportive and look flattering at least one of the seams needs to have a vaguely hourglass shaped hunk taken out of it. This is an ongoing debate in the re-enactment community. Do you pull the fabric out of the center front? the side? both? center front, center back, both side seams? out of 12 different seams all around the body? The answer is that to varying aspects, all of these answers are correct depending on what era/location you’re trying to recreate and how close you are staying to the reference materials. Interestingly, different period tailoring pattern books pull it out of different places.

Alcega (Spain) (1580/89), and by extension Modern Maker vol. 2 “pair of bodies” (pages 117-124) pull it out of the sides of the front panels (in the left top in the image below). Though in some of the alternate drafts (to accommodate more eccentric figures with 8-10″ difference between bust and waist measurements) shown in The Modern Maker the center front is not straight. I’m unclear if that is a modern accommodation or if there are extant garments/patterns that follow that draft. Note that the center back and back-side edges are laid out as straight.

Bodice pattern from Alcega

Enns (Austria) (1590) pattern for “Fraüen under Rock (Woman’s Undergown)” (McNealy 238-241) and “Rock mit selb gewaxsner Brüst (gown with cut-on Bodice)” (McNealy 242-245) has the curve on the center front. The center back, side back and side front edges are cut straight.

Leonfeldner Schnittbuch (Austria) (1590) patterns for “Rock (Woman’s gown)” (McNealy 246-247) (Available online here) and “Rock mit selb gewaxsner prüst (Woman’s gown with all-in-one bodice)” (McNealy 248-249) (Available online here) use both a curved center front (on the left in the image below) and front side. The center back and side back are cut straight. In both cases the front side edge seems to be gently curved with most of the curve found at the center front seam.

“Rock mit selb gewaxsner prüst” pattern from Leonfeldner

What does this mean?
I HAVE NO IDEA!! But it’s interesting.
Well okay I have a bit of an idea.

  • I am seeing 4 panel(2 front, 2 back) or 3 panel (center back cut on a fold and 2 front) bodice patterns. I am not seeing 8-10-12 panel construction. (I am aware that some of the garments from Greenland have that many panels. I do not believe these are fitted or supportive garments.)
  • I am also not seeing any curving done on the back panels. At least that’s not indicated on these patterns in the tailoring manuals.
  • I am not seeing drastic hourglass shaped curving happening on the front or back side seams. At most I’m seeing gentle curving.

Like I said, interesting.

For the full list of tailoring manuals visit this blog post: Full list of tailoring manuals.

Barich, Katherine, and Marion McNealy. Drei schnittbucher: three Austrian master tailor books of the 16th century, 2015. Print.
— Includes details from Enns, Leonfeldner and Nidermayr.

Gnagy, Mathew. The Modern Maker Vol. 1: Men’s Doublets. Charleston SC: Printed by creativespace.com, 2014. Print.
Gnagy, Mathew. The Modern Maker Vol. 2: Pattern Manual 1580-1640: Men’s and women’s drafts from the late 16th through mid 17th centuries. . Charleston SC: Printed by creativespace.com, 2018. Print.
— Includes details from Alcega, Freyle, Burguen, and Anduxar.

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