16th Century Spanish Lady's Outfit

Catalina da Gata


Catalina's Costume

The inspiration for this outfit came about while looking through 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher and coming upon the painting of Empress Isabella of Portugal done by Titian. So in the year following that discovery I embarked on making the dress and finding out more about Isabella and the clothes and history of Spain. This led me to find more pictures of early 16th century Spanish dress, both under and outer dress.

Limited by funds I could not afford real silk, wool, or linen, but other than the sleeve lining the outfit is made of natural fibres - cotton. I will present this documentation in sections - Underwear, Outerwear and Accessories. First thing first...underwear...


Chemise - I tried to copy the style of chemise seen in the painting - billowy sleeves, closed front, high neckline, with a small ruffle on neckline and cuffs. The chemise is made of cotton gauzy material. In regard to the fabric content, there were cotton chemises in Isabella' wardrobe.

Drawers - Mentioned in Isabella's wardrobe and her mother-in-law's Queen Juana (Mad Joan), I decided to include these in my wardrobe as well. I found pictures of extant Italian undergarments and followed that example for the design. They were made in period of cotton or linen. They were inspired by the Moorish influence.

Underskirt "Basquina/Faldrilla" - Skirts worn under the garments, an added layer of warmth. They were mostly made in black fabric, also mentioned was crimson, often times silk, brocades or velvets. For budget reasons I used black cotton material.

Farthingale "Verdugadas" - the Verdugadas was used in Spain as early as the 1460's all the way into the 17th century.

It started as an outer garment, by the 1500's it was mostly used as an underskirt support garment. The pattern I used is from a period pattern, slightly post-period to my costume but the earliest pattern I can find by Juan de Alceqa in 1589. I first cut the fabric to match the width of material that would have been used in that time, approximately 22 inches. I followed Janet Arnold's pattern for the rings to carry the hoops. I made bias tape and stitched tat at distances around the skirt. Verdugados is Spanish for willows. In my skirt I used bound reeds.


Underskirt/Forepart - The burgundy and gold brocade forepart has been decorated with pearls and attached to a burgundy cotton skirt. Foreparts were listed separately in the Spanish wardrobe accounts of the period, probably attached to the farthingale or a separate underskirt. For ease of putting it on, and on experiences of others who have tried for the tied on forepart, I attached mine to a skirt.

Outer dress - The outer dress is made of burgundy cotton velveteen. The bodice and skirt were made separately then attached as was done in period. I used cartridge pleating in the waistline as that was what appeared to be used in the Titian painting. Cartridge pleating is a period method of getting a lot of skirt on not a lot of waistline.

I did detached sleeves as noted in paintings done by Jacob Seiseneggar (a painter in Spain during the reign of Charles and Isabella) and a copy of the painting by Titian (a painter who was never in Spain who was hired to make some paintings of Isabella after her death by a grieving widower).

The embroidery on the dress is couched gold thread accented with pearls in a design similar to that on Titian's sitting portrait of Isabella. Couching was a period method of getting thread on a fabric that was too thick or fragile to go through the fabric.

I could find no mention of corsetry in Anderson's book; instead it mentions bodices lined with heavyweight materials such as buckram. Lacking buckram, I used heavyweight interfacing and extra lining. It seems to keep me well contained.


Shoes - I used a pattern from Marc Carlson's shoe site. The pattern had slashing; I chose not to do slashing, as it was a technique I was not comfortable with yet. There are accounts of ladies slippers in the wardrobes, but there are not many paintings showing a woman's feet, so what they exactly looked like is hard to tell. I do have many paintings of men's shoes in a similar style with and without slashes.

Shoes in period were made of fine leather or sturdy fabrics such as velvet. I used velveteen for mine. For personal comfort and knee health I placed rubber soles on the shoes. Leather would more likely have been used in period but I try not to use animal products.

Girdle - The girdle is made from various sized pearls and gold beads. It is similar in style to the girdle worn in Titian's painting and tipped with a pendant as was done unlike the use of pomanders on the end of girdles in England.


The dress came out far better looking than I could have hoped, but several problems were encountered along the way.
1. Bodice fitting problems, which were thankfully fixed with some help.
2. Finding out that the skirt in Titian's portrait may not have been the way it was worn in Isabella's time. Paintings made during her lifetime look to be more flat in the front and poofy at the back. (Seiseneggar) But upon receiving Hispanic Costume 1480-1530 it seems there were several ways to do the skirt.
3. The sole cutter couldn't quite find a pattern to match my shoes so look a bit awkward on the bottom.


Ruth Matilda Anderson Hispanic Costume 1480-1530

C Willett & Phillis Cunnington History of Underclothes

Norah Waugh Corsets and Crinolines

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion

Francois Boucher 20,000 Years of Fashion

Juan de Alceqa Tailor's Pattern Book

Royall Tyler The Emperor Charles the Fifth

Drea Leed The Elizabethan Costuming Page

The Renaissance Tailor

Sewing the Seeds of Rebellion