As I have been working my way through the Tudor era I have been doing further research on the puzzling white band that appears in many early Tudor portraits. The result is this rather long post. I have put forward an assortment of possibilities with arguments for and against each .The white band is a narrow strip of fabric that goes around the shoulders of ladies in an assortment of English portraits from the early and mid Tudor era.
the sole exception is this Holbein sketch were it appears to be holding up the skirts
I do not however think that the white band in this case is necessarily holding up the skirts its seems to terminate a little above the garter but if it is indeed holding up the skirts I think it unlikely to be representative of its use in the portraits of upper class women All Tudor ladies seem to have usually let their gowns trail as theres several comments about trained gowns and also about the middle class womens gowns trailing in mud .Where gowns were lifted they seem to have been back pined
I know there are several theory’s ,perhaps it is part of the undergown /chemise showing through much as the chemises in Italian portraits do .
We have a portrait of Katherine of Aragon wearing a gown in what appears to be a similar style so it is possible
.It does explain its appearance and disappearance which can be accounted for by a change in lacing in the gowns.
Early Tudor gowns front usualy fastened such as the one Elizabeth of york is shown wearing in her famous portrait .
and in the Whitehall mural obviously front fasten and have no band
A further portrait also shows Catherine of Aragon wearing a gown that appears to fasten at the front,Though in Catherine’s case there is a panel pined across the front.On these gowns trim and neckline decoration is attached to the gown (This is the reason I usually attach trims to gowns which I design and sell as I feel there is some evidence to suggest that at least some less expensive trim was attached to the overgowns in the early Tudor age)
I do think it possible Tudor gowns went through a side lacing phase as Holbein’s famous sketch shows a gown that appears to neither front nor back laced and the lady has the mysterious white band
I think this unlikely however as both the Holbein sketch of a young woman walking and other sketches show the band with front fastening gowns.
It more likely that the Band in its early stages is linked to sleeves style and attachment.Tudor gowns change shape in the early decades of the 16thc and it’s During this time the white band appears and perhaps may have covered not just the side lacing of the new style gowns but also have covered the attachment lacing for the sleeves or to cover pins and protect the gown from any pins etc used to attach the gowns sleeves.This function would hold good even for back lacing gowns as tie on sleeves would still need covering
Though I have to do further research I am also not convinced that all Tudor gowns acquired integral sleeves either during the White band era or later as I have so far found it impossible to create the later very wide necked and tight sleeves style with integral sleeves without the sleeves constantly falling off the shoulders.Its also very difficult to get any full sleeved chemise through these tight sleeves.I think its very possible some if not all Tudor gown sleeves were separate to the gowns
Though I confess if this is the case I cant figure out how the sleeves attached as theres clearly no lacing holes in the Jane seymour portrait .The sleeves could only have attached to a layer under jewelled neckline billiment layer and so be hidden by the billiments as above and in later portraits such as the master John Portrait of Mary Tudor
Perhaps instead the tight top part of the sleeve was closed laced sleeve that devloped from tie /pin on sleeves
If you added underlacing to the sleeves above you would have a gown very like the Princess Mary Tudor gown
If the overgown was sleevelss or had tie on sleeves i also explains how the undersleeves in so many paintings such as the Jane Seymour portrait were attached and matched the visible part of the petticoat.Perhaps the expensive fabric lower under sleeves evolved from separate lace on sleeves and did in fact form part of the undergown ensemble
Its also possible the upper sleeve was not a full sleeve but was merely a piece of fabric pined around the shoulders like a more complex version of the shawl partlets If you contrast the dress below with the image showing a shawl partlet it is a possibility.
If this si so theres three gown sleeves showing in portraits.
The tight sleevelss or very short sleeved over gown ,
A longer full sleeve from an under gown
and a further sleeve from another undergown .
As with the skirts of any undergown only the visible part of these sleeves needed to be made of expensive fabrics ,while slashing in the lower parts would allow the chemise to show through. Some images of earlier gowns suggest the undergown had eleborate and intergral sleeves covered by shorter overgown sleeves
However to return to the mystery of the Band .I feel it has implications that go beyond the gowns construction and influence headress construction .The band seems fairly sturdy linen perhaps even stiffened linen as it seems very similar to the linen that sticks out from the bottom of gable hoods .As mentioned earlier I dont belive it can have usualy been a chemise as it also seems to appear in front lacing gowns were a chemise could not have been visible at the sides.(This can be seen in the second image at the top of this post where the woman has no a front fastening gown but still has the white band)The preliminary sketch for the portrait also shows this (the sketch below is a later copy but to identical to the original except in the use of colour.(where I have been unable to find suitable online images of originals I have used these later coloured copies but only having compared them to originals)
The white bands always lie above any Chemise or lie under a partlet layer in both sketches and portraits such as this of Lady Moore.In this portrait there’s also a suggestion that the gable hood linen layer is a layer onto which is pined the fold of the lappets of gable hoods(This will be shown to be important later in the post)
The Alice Moore portrait also shows the band seems to curve around the arm hole and stops at waist level quite abruptly
I personally feel the most likely and flexible answer is the white band was used not just to cover lacing fixtures but also to hold billiments or other expensive trims and ,the jewels and beadwork could be tacked to the white band then a few limted pins could hold it in place and also that uit acted as a protective layer between the expensive fabrics of the bodice in order to attach the multitude of chains popular at this time ,it seems to serve that function in the Alice More portrait and the one below
The white bands further use was perhaps to protect the bodice from Partlet fastenings or pins as some partlets seem to have been cape like and occasionally shawls were used.(I realise the portrait below doesnt show a white band ,however I could not find the portrait I wanted to use and did in any case merely want to show the cape /shawl like partlet as I doubt this style could have stayed in place without pins
If the white band served this function it explains why also used during the side lacing phase then its continuation could be accounted for by covering ties or lacing on the sleeves on later gowns but not on others which may have been in the back lacing or the earlier front fastening style though its possible what we assume to be a full overgown may not be but rather a later tighter laced closed version of the early tudor late medieval gowns
If you lace the blue gown above closed enough for the skirts part to meet than add a panel to cover the lacing you have the typical Tudor gown
Why is the white band often absent if it covered sleeve lacing holes on early Tudor gowns ?
I would suggest the reasons its puzzling compleat absence on some early portraits such as the famous National portrait gallery Anne Bolyn one below is also easily accounted for
These are later copies that removed what seems odd and unnecessary items or details ,perhaps also they were based on sketches that didn’t clearly show a band.The portrait above also simplifies the French hood and shows billiments attached to it .The 1530s seems also to be a transitional phase in the White band ,non white band phase ,perhaps as it’s the time front and ,back lacing gowns begin to be more popular
Developement of the band
The white band if it had an extra purpose as place to pin billiments ahs other implication.I do not belive that billiments where integral to under gowns once ,back and side lacing phases developed . it’s at this time it becomes popular to match billiments on hoods to those on gowns and occasionally even necklaces and girdles,the Billiments may have been attached to undergowns but this seems unlikes as it would make it harder to wear the billiments with different gowns .The more elaborate jeweled billiments I belive were always pined onto linen and this includes those on Gable hoods ,this seems to be the case in the existing portraits such as those above and can be seen more clearly on sketches
Or sketches of less aristocratic ladies where there is no distraction from Jewels.The one below also shows a brooch holding the lappets in place at the side further suggesting that Gable hoods were not complete whole but a headdress built up of mix and match layers over a base of stiff linen
Though I have not had a chance to explore this using actual fabrics as yet it seems to me a likely explanation ,It’s also possible French hoods were layers of fabrics and trims rather than merely one complete headress.Early portraits of front fastening gowns with applied decoration show hoods in several parts often with matching applied decoration as below or with expensive fabric layers as ind in the Young Catherine portrait or the ones below
This of Isabelle of Hapsburg is very similar to Catherine’s hood and perhaps it was in fact Catherine of Aragon not Mary Tudor or Anne Boleyn who brought the hood over initially before discarding it like the spanish farthingale for more English fashions such as the gable hood
Later hood styles appear to carry forward these layers or have layers mounted over bases
Later hoods seem a mix of white linen or silk with added billiments and with separate probably wired back billiments holding in place a veil as seen in this portrait of mary
The English intermediate hood while worn over a coif seems the only headdress which is actually composed in one piece ,all be it with applied layers of fabric .The shortened version of the intermediate hood appears to have been used for mounting billments to create a version of the french hood.I realise these are sometimes seen as coifs but several portraits such as the one below show the layer to be quite rigid
The frequent appearance of white in french hoods ,or red supports the separate billiments theory as they appear when hoods begin to appear with applied decoration that matches the bodices gold studs or embroidery but continue until late in the hoods history by which stage the trend to match bodice and hood billiments requires s=more complex and expensive billiments which would be too expensive to confine to one headdress or dress
Later also when the hood begins to gain height and acquire a steeper angle when the billiment is relativity simple such as gold work or pearls they appear to have become separate wired items used to hold the back veil in place
It’s still likely the lower billiment is mounted on a linen coif as there is evidence for this
If you remove the bonnet in this portrait and add a french hood panel the pearls will sit in the same place as front billiments on french hoods and a couple of early portraits support this idea such as the one below where there seems to be a layer of peals or beads above the pleated underlayer
This pleated underlayer is a continuous feature of french hoods and perhaps became pined back to become a coif for the hair to hold it up .
The snood in this image must I think have had the hair dressed under it and possibly covered by a linen snood to protect the expensive fabrics from the hair.Hair was unlikely to be as clean as today as lacking our modern complex shampoos there was nothing to prevent grease and oils building up and some ladies do seem to have used oils to dress their hair perhaps perfumed .The image below also seems to show the bottom pearls |(or faux pearl glass beads )mounted on a coif .While the back white panel of peals seems to be mounted on linen or silk and the neckline Jewels mounted on white fabric.
I think this shows jewels were ordinarily sewn onto linen and not gowns ,headresses etc and confirms the use of the white band and white neckline trims for Jewels.I think the simple band that initaly covered sleeve lacings and prevented damage to delicate and expensive fabrics such as cloth of gold velvet but also began to be used to pin billiments onto .
I will add images of my own experiments with applied trims once I complete more Tudor gowns and also post separate explorations of both Gable hood and french hoods again when I experiment with the construction myself
I am indebted to the blog below for several images of French headdresses