The Starting Point

A houpelande is a very voluminous type of garment worn by men and women, beginning around 1360 and ending (by developing into a variety of garments) around 1450. They were worn in various forms in England, France and other northern European countries and Italy. Men's and women's houpes often seem to be cut similarly, the main differences being where they are belted (men, natural to low waistline; ladies, under the bust) and their length (men's from mid thigh to the floor, lady's floor length or longer). Because they were worn in so many places and times, it would be folly to suggest that there is only one way to pattern and make up a Houpelande. Many factors would help determine the cut, including type of cloth available and the type of cloth chosen for the project, as well as the local fashion prevailing at the time.

In this paper I will discuss the many forms a houpelande might take, from the simplest method, to the most complex, using diagrams and some modern pattern making theory to explain myself. I should stress that few garments have survived from this time period, and those that have were not saved with a name tag on them to help us to identify them. Much of this is conjecture from much study of pictures and my modern sewing training.

Most of these theories are not my own, this is a compilation of theories for completeness. I have sited other sources (mainly from the web) for those wishing to do further study, or requiring further enlightenment.

The starting point

In the explanations that follow, I will be comparing the proposed 'houpelande patterns' to a modern basic sloper. This sloper is the basis of all modern pattern making, and will hopefully be a useful frame of reference. A sloper fits the body perfectly using darts that narrow to the bust point, forming a rounded cone at the breast. Most modern simple fitted dresses are cut very close to the sloper pattern.

As far as we can tell, pattern makers did not use this system until the last two hundred years or so. Before then, patterns were draped on the body with darts being employed in an ad hoc way as necessary to fit the cloth to the subject. Samples were made when a style was new to try out and approve the pattern. From Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince: about an entry from about 1361 into the Royal wardrobe account books "...eight ells of 'canabis' to make a pattern for a long goune for the king". This is one of the first references to a houpelande, with the two names, goune and houpelande becoming intermixed in the next year or two of the Royal records.

In each example I will show what the flat pattern would look like, with this sloper pattern imposed on top, so that the shapes and angles can be compared. I will also show a picture of how the garment would look when made up to show where the fullness would go- This garment is known for its fullness and pleats, where the fullness goes in comparison to the pictures of period garments is of primary importance.

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