Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Florentine gentleman

The Cassock.

December 6, 2005: Wait, the What?

Alert readers will note that originally I was going to make a short-sleeved jerkin for this suit of clothes, from black velvet. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized that what David really needed was a cassock.

A cassock in the 16th century was not a religious garment, but a loose-fitting coat that reached about to the hip. There is a lovely example here, the portrait of a man (Pierantonio Bandini) by Bronzino, 1550-1555, at the National Gallery of Canada. He even wears his over a matching dark suit of clothes except for a pinked red doublet, exactly as David's will be!

You can see the new concept at right. Click for larger version.

The reason I'm switching from a jerkin to a cassock is that although I love the look of a black jerkin over a red doublet, it's not really the most practical garment. The jerkin would be too hot to wear in the summer, and in the winter (such as at this upcoming Renaissance Christmas feast), it would not be warm enough. The cassock's long sleeves and looser fit will allow for a warm interlining and a lot more practicality.

Patterning the Pieces

There are no extant cassocks in Patterns of Fashion, although there is an illustration of a short-sleeved one (see left, a woodcut of "The Tailor" from Jost Amman and Hans Sachs' 1568 work Stšndebuch), but there are a pair of long, open-fronted gowns of the type worn by men. The first one (possibly associated with Bess of Hardwick but indistinguishable from the masculine type) looks very like the Bronzino cassock if it's cut off at the hip. David's cassock will be essentially reversed fabrics from the Bronzino one, with velvet for the body and silk satin for the trim.

The fabric cutting became a little stressful as a result of this change, though, since there's a lot more fabric needed for a cassock than a short-sleeved jerkin. My slightly skimpy two yards of 48" wide velvet suddenly seemed sadly parsimonious. After working up the Janet Arnold pattern on graph paper and trying to fit it onto my remaining velvet, I realized that the only way I could squeeze it out was by narrowing the body pieces somewhat from the Arnold version. It'll be fine, because those gowns are very full around the bottom (even when cut off at the waist), and since David's sitting all the time you can't see the back anyway. At that, I'll still have to play a bit fast and loose with nap direction on the sleeves, but fortunately this velvet feels the same in two directions - the nap seems to run both across and down - and it's a period-correct compromise, too.

Below are the pattern pieces. First is the back (cut to fold) and the front; then a picture of the sleeve, with the front still in for size reference. The background grid is in one-inch squares. I'm making this cassock like the Bronzino version with a very dropped shoulder and a wide sleeve tapering to the wrist, so the sleeve pattern is short and wide, and the shoulder seam on the body is long. Click for closeup.

Below is the mockup made from these pieces. There is no collar because I hadn't decided what type to do yet (stand collars and falling collars are both appropriate). It does achieve the distinctive shape of a renaissance cassock, with their widely gored body pieces. The sleeve is slightly gathered at the top of the armscye.


I definitely want the cassock to be warm, and originally I was considering a flannel interlining, possibly quilted to the lining. But then I started thinking about lining with fur. There are many nice examples of this on men's gowns and cassocks, such as those shown below (Moroni's portrait of a man, from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; his 1565 portrait of Antonio Navagero, from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, and Salviati's portrait of a man, from the Met).

It turns out that "cutter" fur coats are available on eBay incredibly cheaply. I won with my $31 bid on the mink coat below, which is coming apart at the sleeves:

It would have cost twice that to buy enough of the cheapest new fur, rabbit! Plus, of course, this way I'm recycling. So David is going to be so glam in his fully mink-lined cassock, and I think I'm jealous!

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Copyright 2005 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.