Modestia (Modesty)

It’s been a while since I had to build a colletto (literally ‘little collar’ known as a partlet in English). These were common as an accessory to women’s dress and were certainly not limited to Florence or even the 16th century.

Perhaps they were little more than decorative frills to further enhance a dress. They did add a little warmth — It was cold in Europe in the 16th century as they were heading into a mini Ice Age. I also appreciate that they keep the Sun from roasting me at camping events, and I am sure I am not the first person to do so. Still, their primary purpose, it seems, was modesty. In Florence in particular, it was considered very important to keep all decent women covered. No exposure of wrists, ankles, the scandalous sensuality of clavicles, and any hint of the flesh above the breast. When compared to styles of dress in other parts of Italy at the same time, Florence was positively prudish.

What is clear is that these colletti were a wonderful way for women to express themselves, their family wealth, and their sense of style. Women of means would have ordered them from the veil makers, who might outsource the making of lace, intricate emboidery in silks, and the working of gold embroidery. Colletti could be made of any cloth and were seen in linen, velvet, wool, and translucent silks. During the period of my interest (1550-1600), the fabrics themselves were often pleated and embellished in interesting ways drawing attention to the very areas that should be obscured. Actually, the partlet could be rendered in silk so transparent that it was merely a gesture in the general direction of modesty rather than modesty itself.

In any event, back in 2019, I need new colletti and I cannot find any of my old patterns so it’s off to the the drawing board.

The pattern for these is fairly simple. We have a few extant exemplars to refer to and more than a few paintings of women wearing partlets, colletti, and gorgiere (net collars usually in metal thread, or lace with pearls and other gems). There is also a wonderful series of paintings which show colletti on a clothesline giving us a great view of the shape of the garments from a fresco at Palazzo Pitti in Florence painted by Alessandro Allori in 1580. I definitely referred to all of these in addition to perusing the websites of other costumers and 16th century enthusiasts. Mostly, I built a pattern based on my measurements and my conjectures based on the pieces we have extant and in painting. Most importantly, my pattern reflects the look I wanted with the dress I wear most often, the Sottana circa 1565.

from a fresco by Allessandro Allori, Palazzo Pitti, 1580

from a fresco by Allessandro Allori, Palazzo Pitti, 1580

I typically wear two styles of colletti, one with a high, pleated collar (such as the one in the first image above) and a more simple colletto that follows the neckline of my Sottana. I make these in handkerchief linen or translucent silks such as a silk gauze, or chiffon. I fully expect to make up a few in lace as soon as my skill matches my desires and perhaps even a gorgiera at some point. But for today’s reality, these are my patterns (in muslin). For the sake of expedience and because I usually cut the back on a fold, I only have one side of the front and back as pattern pieces.

Collared Partlet Front

Collared Partlet Back

What you are not seeing in the pattern above is pattern pieces for the collar because I just measure out 2 x 2″ lengths of my neck opening (in this case 14 inches) and cut it directly from the linen. I then do 1 – 2″ length of 3 times that measurement ( 42 inches) which I will fold in half lengthwise, pleat, and sew the raw edges into the band for my pleated collar, again marked and cut directly on the fabric. Note my coletti are a little long because I am busty and prefer to have them end completely under my chest. Also, keep in mind that there are good reasons to not do the back on a fold. If you find your colletto bunches because of the natural curvature of your back or alack thereof, using two pieces and inserting a slight curvature in the seam can give you a better fit. This just is not an issue for me so complete backs it is. Also not pictured, the lovely cords I will use to tie the fronts (neckline and bottom) and sides of my partlet closed once complete.

Fiore di Bardi Conjectured Pattern for Colletto

This last pattern is mostly conjecture. Sure, I could tell you that I clearly see it among the small folds of linen in the fresco at Palazzo Pitti but honestly, I can’t tell what some those linens are so I’d be guessing and I hate saying that I know something when I don’t. Anyway, this pattern too will get ties for the fronts and sides but I will be making it up from silk gauze instead of linen. I’ll post more pictures when they are done.

Where to look for colletti, gorgiere, or partlet inspiration:

Moda a Firenze 1540-1580 by Robert Orsi Landini and Bruna Niccoli

Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocked by Janet Arnold

Patterns of Fashion vol. 4 by Janet Arnold (the fresco pictures above and a few more are on page 16).

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