Sunday, December 24, 2017

Edyth's Doppelgänger Challenge Recap Part Two

Doppelgänger No. 17 from British Library MS Harley 4431, The Queen’s Book, fol. 100.
As I mentioned last week, my Doppelgänger Challenge allowed me to learn some things that have been valuable to understanding how to recreate the early 15th Century, and specifically my middle class townswoman persona. Today, I'm going to share a few that I feel are great take-aways for anyone to better understand how to find success in recreating this period.


I started the Challenge thinking that the garments I already had were mostly going to work for color matching, but that I'd need additional colors of garments to really get anywhere with it. I found instead that there are so many instances of blue, pink, and red (in various combinations), that even if I only had those three colors, I could have still completed my Challenge. For the most part, when I did wear other colors it was because I wanted to- I specifically sought out images that would allow me to wear other colors I had available. [Side note: I was actually really happy to find that my "other" colors (orange, tan) actually had counterparts in the imagery!]

Doppelganger No. 8 is Arachne from BNF MS French 606, The Epistle of Othea to Hector.
The only color gown that I did not have that would have been welcome is apple green (which I’ve identified as present in manuscript palettes here and here), but even without it, I was not wanting for options. For the most part, my variety of blue dresses got me most of the way through the Challenge, with pink and red making up the rest. Having a large variety of hood colors also came in very handy.

The take away, as I see it, is that having only a few colors will certainly suffice, as long as they are the correct colors- favoring blue and pink especially. If you're building your wardrobe for the period from scratch, you can’t at all go wrong with opting for any medium-toned blue wool, or a rose-toned pink.

Just another note about colors, in general. The depth of the color of a garment is an indication of social position. In several of my manuscript sources, this plays out time and time again as an indication of where exactly a female character falls on the social spectrum against other characters. Deeper, primary colors showed greater social standing. The lighter the color, or the less true to primary, the lower the woman’s class in comparison. Compare the women in this example from The Comedies of Terence (BNF Arsenal, MS 664 reserve, fol. 163v), in which the differences in their dress colors provides a clear indication of their social differences, before even having to take other visual clues into account.


Layering Colors

I have plenty of images of women wearing only one visible dress, and I did opt for that look a few times, but it was those outfits that showed layered colors that I gravitated to. I’m not sure the exact reason why I feel this way, but the three-color look (two dresses in two different colors, plus a hood in a third color) seems to feel the most appropriate for my lower-bourgeois townswoman class. I have several examples of this style in my image collection, and the more I see it,the more I wonder if it was perhaps a personal style preference- not something that was "trendy" or "fashionable" on its own, but rather just a way that some women did it. The display of richly-dyed colors of cloth was a relatively easy way for middle class women with some ability for luxury to play the game of conspicuous consumption, and rolling up the sleeve to reveal a second dyed wool dress was an easy way to say, "Hey, look what I can do!"

Doppelgänger No. 16 from BNF MS Latin 7907 A, fol. 56r.
I did do one outfit (above) that played by a different set of rules- an early 15th century version of what's knows as a "robe"- the wearing of multiple garments all made from the same cloth. In my case, I have a dress and hood made from the same red worsted flannel wool. The purpose of the robe was to show the wealth. If all the garments I'm wearing are cut from the same cloth, that means I had the ability to purchase that amount of cloth at once. From what I've been able to determine, the robe shows up mostly on women labeled as courtesans, which makes a bit of sense. These were woman whose livelihoods could have been paid for by their patrons, but who needed to present themselves in ways that prevented them from looking like or being confused for noble women. In period manuscripts, women wearing robes or wearing dagged sleeves, or who had otherwise fanciful outfits are nearly to a one a courtesan. The take away, therefore, is that those things should not be considered appropriate style choices for a woman that was not, you know, selling her body.

Dress Style

All of the dresses I used through the Challenge are what I classify as “long sleeve fitted dresses”, but they are also called things like cote, cotehardie, or kirtle. (One day soon I might do a post exploring what each of those terms might mean in comparison to each other.) Some of the dresses I used have buttoned sleeves, but some don’t. Some have lacing at the front, some don’t. I was able to combine these dresses in various ways to achieve all the different outfits I wore without feeling that I was missing any of the other types of dress styles available from the period. I feel this is a genuine testament to the versatility of the simple long sleeved fitted dress, and I’m glad that it has been the main staple of my wardrobe. If my gowns ranged more fully into all the styles of this period, I may have actually found more limitations in my options for combining colors, headdress, and layers.

Doppelgänger No. 5 from BNF MS Latin 7907A, The Comedies of Terence, c. 1400-1407, fol. 134r.
The best thing about the fitted dress is that it appears on women of all classes. Keeping color "depth" in mind, as long as you have the appropriate headdress for any given class, you can get by accurately recreating any woman in this period with a single fitted dress. My recommendation would be a blue one. (Which may be a future mini-challenge I take on.)


I didn't have the option of matching dress details exactly with every Doppelgänger, but I found that the impression made by what I could do was, for the most part, enough. While it would be wonderful to have perfect matches, that would massively increase the number of dresses I'd need, and it would be simply gratuitous. The reality is that details like the presence or lack of lacing or buttons, or the shape of a neckline, or the length of a skirt, never dramatically effected a match. This is different from what may be more correct for this period (see my post on the likelihood that visible front openings were not fashionable). Instead, I mean to say that we can get close enough with styles that are a bit lest specific to the period, such as a dress we originally intended for 14th century recreation, or one we made as a generic late medieval dress.

Doppelganger No. 9 from BNF MS French 1023, The Book of Good Manners
For me, I feel like this realization took some pressure off my shoulders. I've been striving for the past several years to get my early 15th century look completely on point, and I'm often stymied by roadblocks like not having the right material, or not having unlimited time to figure out how to get a certain detail right on my specific frame. Seeing that I'm doing pretty darn good at getting the right look despite some things still being "off" is a freeing feeling that mitigates the frustration that comes from failed perfectionism. The journey towards greater authenticity is definitely not over, but feeling like I'm not as far away from getting it right as I thought I was is a great motivator to keep going.


I started the Challenge in May and ended it in December, meaning that I was able to, for the most part, wear these outfits through most of the seasons in my geographical region (lacking only snowy weather, though I got close in November.) I found that I had very little need to adjust the foundations of my outfits based on weather. In fact, I ended up wearing wool on the hottest event I attended- Coronation in September, when it got above 90. I feel like this was a great test of how easily the styles from this period adjusted to changes in the weather without dramatically changing the actual fashions at play. (We can't claim that happens these days- style definitely changes with the calendar seasons in the US, even if the weather doesn't really adjust.)

Doppelganger No. 10 from Arsenal MS 5070, reserve, The Decameron.
Bottom Line

Reviewing my success with the challenge in comparison to what I thought I would achieve through it, I realize that my early 15th Century wardrobe isn't obviously wrong in any way. Instead of having a bunch of projects now to fill in gaps, I'm actually standing in a solid place of "doing really good with this." Moving forward means looking for areas to make more specific improvements- like those details of lacing, buttons, sleeve style, necklines, etc.

So Now What?

I've been prevented from wearing certain styles as the Challenge was going on, and so I'm currently working on a few late 14th century projects to compensate and get that out of my system. (Be sure to follow me on Instagram for sneak peeks!) While that's going on, however, I'm getting my ducks in a row for projects to take on this year based on what I can improve upon out of the Challenge. I look forward to fine-tuning my portrayal, confident that I'm not too shabby as it is!

Thank you for making this a fun year by following along and for all the great, encouraging comments on my outfits. I'll be taking a short break to enjoy the holidays, and I'll be back in January.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!


  1. I have enjoyed following this adventure, thank you.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, too.

  2. You've done a great job on this challenge!