For the sake of clarity, I need to get us all on the same page about what the social class groups were at this time. Unlike the fairly straight-forward "rich and poor" delineation of previous centuries, 15th century France had more nuanced class groupings.
- Royals - Houses of Valois, Orléans and Burgundy; Queen Isabeau (Royals are often also depicted from stories in manuscripts)
- Nobles - women of title by marriage or birth
- Bourgeoisie - wealthy women without title
- Townswomen - working class women who may or may not have had occupations
- Indentured/Poor - women who worked for estates or households under contract or under forms of slavery, or whose income was significantly low
A white linen garment worn directly against the skin was the first item a woman would dress herself with. In France, the word "chemise" was used for this item, but you might know it as a smock or shirt. In very basic terms, the chemise was an underwear garment. Sporting long sleeves, the chemise was anywhere in length between just below the knee to just above the ankles. The purpose of this item was to create a barrier between sweat and oil on the skin and the outer wool garments that were not going to be washed often (and may in fact, only get aired out between wearings throughout most of the year.)
|Source (Note chausses on women in the back)|
All women above the Indentured group (and even women in that group depending on situation) would have worn a cotte. Alternative names for this dress are kirtle or "gothic fitted dress". The cotte was used as both a fashionable dress layer and a body-shaping garment. I use the term "supportive" because the garment not only created bust support, but also acted as a foundational layer for garments with a potentially looser fit worn over it. I have talked about this dress type at length on this blog in the past, so I'm not going to get into the details of construction here.
It can be a little difficult to tell, when looking at manuscript images, if the fitted dress we see is the woman's cotte or a fitted dress layered over a cotte, but the look of either is generally the same. That look as a low, wide scoop neckline, long skirt reaching at least to the ground, and long fitted sleeves (most often shown without buttons.) There is also rarely a visible lacing depicted on the center front which could mean one of two things. Either the lace was not painted, or the dress laced at the side (which you can see depicted below.)
In either case, whether the woman was wearing a cotte or a tunic, the garment would have been wool. I have yet to find depicted evidence in the group of manuscripts I'm studying from France at this time that this layer was lined. Since we can find lined depictions in other areas in Europe or in other art forms, it's a reasonable assumption that the supportive cotte at least was also lined.
Next week we'll look at the third layer, which is where the class groups start to separate out from each other.