Tag Archives: slashing

Elizabethan Fashion: Any Way You Slash It

A recent reader comment sent me on a journey to discover the history of the style you see below.  If you’re a regular around here, Lady Diana Cecil may look familiar to you (she’s the lady in the punchbowl).  When I first wrote about her, I had no idea what to call the cut-outs on her gown.  Now that I have been educated, I can confidently say they are called slashes, and their history is fantastic.

Lady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger's House, Suffolk Collection)
Lady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

According to popular legend, it all started with a chappie called Charles the Bold.  he was the Duke of Burgundy and in 1476 the Swiss beat his ass on the battlefield.  Ever enterprising, the Swiss looted Charles’s possessions and stumbled on an idea: why not turn the loser’s luxury fabrics into patches that could repair the soldiers’ uniforms?German mercenaries thought this a practical solution to fixing their military garb, and the French court swooned at their unwitting panache.  By the 1500s, slashing was seen all over Europe, brightening ensembles and adding relief to the density of ornate fabrics, as shown on the sleeves below.

Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens
Anne of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens (1620-25)

Another possible origin of slashing describes soldiers cutting strategic lines in their leather tunics to improve maneuverability/breathability but it’s a much less colorful history than Charles’s story.  Whatever way the trend came about, slashing emerged from military fashion and was adopted by both men and women.  Pinking or dagging, which is to say cutting shapes and pulling the bottom fabric out to contrast with the top, was also popular but can you guess which country sported the most elaborate interpretation?  I would’ve said France, but it’s Germany.  A brief exploration of 16th century German portrait painters did not illuminate exactly what this would have looked like, but I did discover that Albrecht Dürer could moonlight as Jesus. In other words, if you happen to know of a good example of the German slash style, do send it my way.

Portrait of a Lady by a follower of  Francesco Salviati del Rossi
Portrait of a Lady by a follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi

The lady above represents what I’m going to call the entry point into slashing. If you were a fan of subtle, you could go for a few slashes in the shoulder like her, but the style really runs the gamut. I’ve shown you sleeves, shoulders, and the fronts of gowns. That is just the beginning. Shoes and boots were given the knife to add color to otherwise simple designs, and anything that could be slashed was slashed.  The moral authority in Europe even called the peek-a-boo trend depraved. Fashionistas, however, knew there were few upgrades easier than cutting a hole and adding a stitch to keep it from tattering. Even Robert Dudley was a fan.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Attributed to Steven van der Meulen (1560-65)
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Attributed to Steven van der Meulen (1560-65)

So what do all of you think of this style? Love it?  Trash it?  Willing to resurrect the 1980s style of wearing tights under ripped jeans?

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