Arms Summary of Women's Cotehardies


All too often books on historic costume give an extremely simplified view of historic garments. Many will give a single definition or example of a garment, as if that was the only variation ever seen. In reality, historic garments varied as widely as modern ones do. To say that a cotehardie always looked like X is as incorrect as saying that a modern woman's blouse will always look like Y. What follows is a summary of the different aspects of cut and style that were seen in women's cotehardies, with suggestions for construction and wearing of re-creative garments. With this information, any number of cotehardies can be created, that while not exact copies of any one historical example, are authentic and in the style of the period.

Basic Cut

The basic cut of the cotehardie is fitted in the upper torso, with a rounded neckline, and, starting at the waist or hips, flared out into a full skirt. It can be floor length all around, floor length in front with a train in back, or longer than floor length all around. The easiest way to draft a cotehardie pattern is to start with a modern 8-panel princess seamed dress and alter it. Look for a pattern that has the princess seams go over the shoulder rather than into the armpit, as the former is more accurate and flattering, and takes less yardage. When looking for patterns, keep in mind that changing a neckline or eliminating an overlap is a lot easier than changing the general proportions of the garment.


Historically, the cotehardie would be worn with at least one underdress. Depending on the cut of the main garment, the underdress might or might not show. For modern re-creation, because of climate and convenience considerations, the underdress is frequently omitted unless the main garment is cut to expose the underdress.


In order to have the cotehardie fit snugly around the upper torso, it is necessary to incorporate some sort of closure into the garment. Two types of closures were used, buttons and lacing. Lacing was placed in the center front, on the sides, or possibly even up the back. The cord could be visible on the surface of the garment, passing through eyelets, or it could be run up lacing rings on the inside of the dress so that it does not show. Buttons were placed on the center front of the dress. Sometimes buttonholes were clearly visible, sometimes button loops may have been used instead.


Cotehardies had many different types of sleeves. Some were plain and tight fitting. Some had buttons running up the back of the sleeve. Frequently, the sleeves did not stop at the wrist, but continued on to cover the hands, sometimes as far as the second knuckle.

The most common type of sleeve had tippets - flaps of fabric that extend from just above the elbow and hang loose behind or beside the arm, exposing the sleeve of the underdress. Tippets fall into two main categories - integral and banded. Integral tippets are cut in one piece with the rest of the sleeve, with no discernable seamline or join between the upper part of the sleeve and the tippet. In effect, the front or side of the sleeve stops just above the elbow, and the back or other side continues on. Banded tippets, in contrast, have a separate piece of fabric joined to the upper portion of the sleeve. This separate fabric encircles the arm above the elbow and extends down to form the tippet. (A very popular modern method for constructing banded tippets is to simply attach a separate tippet to a sleeve by means of an encircling band, with the same sleeve showing above and below where the tippet is attached. However, there is actually little to no historical evidence to support the idea that this was how tippets were actually constructed.) Whether integral or banded, tippets came in all shapes and sizes: narrow or wide, long or short, square or rounded at the tip.

Two other styles of sleeves occurred on cotehardies, although they were very rare. The first style was that of a long tube slit up the front of the arm, like a very wide tippet. The other style was the funnel shaped sleeve; narrow at the upper arm and flared out into a wide opening, often reaching to the ground.


Fichets were a pair of vertical slits in the skirt of the dress, placed at about hip height, on either side of the front of the dress. They were the precursor to the modern pocket. The wearer could place her hands in them to warm them, or to access a pouch worn under the dress (where it was safe from thieves). Sometimes the fichets were nearly unnoticeable, sometimes they were emphasized with trim, embroidery, or contrasting fabric.


All variety of fabrics were used: solid colors, brocades, stripes, even furs for linings. Usually, there was some sort of contrast between the main fabric and the lining or underdress. Often, the richer fabric was used for the lining or underdress. Examples of some combinations are: solid main fabric with brocade underdress, solid main fabric with contrasting solid lining, solid main fabric with fur lining, brocade main fabric with fur lining, etc.


Cotehardies were embellished with trim, embroidery, contrasting fabric, and beadwork. Embellishments were commonly placed around the neckline, down a center front opening, around the wrists, around fichets, and on the hem. Nearly every combination possible of the above mentioned types and locations of embellishment were used. The most extreme example of embellishment that I have seen is a dress that was embroidered and possibly also beaded across the entire upper torso.

Hairstyles and Headdresses

Hair was worn long and loose, or braided and arranged on top of the head or by the sides of the face. Either way it was often held in place by a circlet, sometimes with supports for braids suspended from the circlet. Sometimes cylindrical cages for containing the braids were suspended from the crown or circlet. Most headdresses worn with cotehardies were some variety of veil arrangement. They ranged from something as plain as a simple veil draped over the head, to something as elaborate as a wire stiffened horned veil or a ruffled veil. Caul, padded roll, or hood style headdresses were also occasionally worn.


Belts were worn either under or over the main dress. They could be simply decorative, but frequently they served a more functional purpose, such as to hang jewelry or a pouch from.


A variety of jewelry was worn: necklaces, pendants, brooches, rings, rosaries, decorative baldrics, and a variety of circlets, coronets, and crowns.

Wearing the Dress

When walking in a dress with a longer than floor length hem, pick your feet up off of the floor only a tiny amount and use your toe to poke the folds of fabric out of the way as you step. When you need to turn around, walk in a small circle, always keeping your train behind you, or swing one leg out as you turn to push the dress out of the way. If you simply turn in place, you will wind the hem of the skirt around your ankles and trip yourself. When all else fails, pick your hem up and hold it as you walk.

If you need to have your skirt really out of the way, but you can't hold it because you need your hands free, you can bustle it up in one of several ways. If you are wearing a belt, you can either grab portions of the dress from below the belt and tuck them into the belt, or you can just pull the dress up through the belt so that the excess length bunches around your waist. If you are wearing an underdress, you can bustle your skirt up around your hips. Pick the hem up and let the dress turn itself inside out as you bring the hem up to your waist. Then tuck the ends into your belt, or if you are not wearing a belt, wrap the hem around your waist and tuck it into itself, like you would do when wearing a towel.

In Conclusion

Although a cotehardie can have a variety of appearances, the basic pattern is quite simple. Once you have your basic pattern, any of the variations mentioned above can be achieved through simple alterations. I encourage you to look at as many pictures of historic examples that you can find. The more you look at, the more ideas you will have for ways in which you can modify your basic pattern to create cotehardies that are your design, but also historically accurate.

The following is a short list of some of my favorite sources out of the many that I have consulted in gathering the research for the above article.

20,000 Years of Fashion - François Boucher
The Book of Costume - Millia Davenport
French Painting - Albert Chatelet and Jacques Thuillier
The Golden Age - Marcel Thomas
Gothic Painting - Jacques Dupont and Cesare Gnudi
The History of Costume - Blanche Payne et al
Manuscript Painting at the Court of France - François Avril
The Rohan Master - Marcel Thomas
Treasures From the Bodleian Library - A. G. Hassal and Dr. W. O. Hassal
Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry - Jean Longnon and Raymond Cazelles

© 1997–2002 Jessica I. Clark
Permission to print a copy for your own use freely given. Please contact me for permission to reprint or distribute.
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