1500 Stitches: diverse arts of Margaret Wolseley

Dressing a Venetian Nobleman in 1500: the Zupon or Italian Doublet

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Intro - Toga - Zupon - Camisa - Mutande - Calce and Zoccoli - Accessories - Artwork - References

Under the toga, my Venetian noble must be clothed, but how are we to reproduce the form of what we cannot see? We can surmise that there must be an easily laundered layer, most likely of white linen, and that he did not shed the hosen of his youth when he was accepted into the government body that requires him to drape himself in black. If he is wearing hosen, then he must also have some means of attaching them, less they pool around his ankles at inopportune times. He must be wearing some garment covering his torso from shoulders to waist, and perhaps lower, which may or may not covers his arms: the zupon or doublet.

Ziponi of the Gondolieri

To design a zupon, I looked to those Venetians whose clothes were most clearly on display: the gondoliers. Here I see a stunning variety of shapes: while all are fairly form-fitting, some end at the waist seam, some have a peplum that extends several inches below the waist, and some have higher hems over the sides than in front and rear; some sleeves extend over the hands, some end snuggly at the wrist, and some are made of two separate parts; puffs of shirt show through many different gaps at the front, neck, along varying parts of the arm, and at the waist; some have standing collars, some no collar at all. Newton notes that the zupon "was basically sleeveless [and] could have matching or appropriately coloured sleeves tied into its armholes."[1] I most often see matching sleeves, although some examples of contrasting sleeves are below.

Ziponi of the Patrician Class

The ziponi of the rulings classes are harder to describe because they are usually covered by an additional layer. The young men have a wide variety of loose open mantles over their ziponi, but sleeves and cuff and collars often peek through.

The togati sometimes pose with their outer robes folded open, showing both their vesta lining and the top of the zupon underneath. From this tiny selection of images it seems likely that members of the togati were most likely to have ziponi with collars, and to have few or no puffs of shirt spilling from the front closure. The man on the right allows the front of his gown to fall open when brushed by the black becho, showing the light colored fur lining. The standing collar of his black zupon is just visible under his toga, and the white edge of his shirt under that.

If the togati did not puff the shirt through the front of their ziponi, many a young patrician split his sleeve and displayed his fine white shirt through that. His a comeo sleeves were often pushed up to the elbows, revealing the underlying garments, as these gentleman have done:

Shape of the Zupon

Newton asserts that "No Edwardian corset could have done more to redesign the shape of the body inside it than the zupon did to remodel the male torso of the 1490s. The strange concept of a profile vertical at the back but expanding downwards in an arc in front had become so acceptable, indeed normal, that is was adopted by Carpaccio for the torso of the angel who appears to the sleeping St Ursula (below right)."[2] This same pronounced form is visible in the sketches of a child (below left) and young man (below middle).

These images do not just show the zupon, as all three figures are further covered by a fitted tunic popular at the end of the fifteenth century called a saio or saion "that was cut and belted in such a way that it produced the fashionable profile. Over it could be worn a mantello with or without sleeves. Whether either the zupon or the saion was actually padded over the belly is impossible, now, to discover, but it would have been difficult to achieve the fashionable line without padding of some sort."[3]

After the turn of the 16th century, fashions changed, and the rounded front profile faded (left sketch). However, padding was still used to achieve a fashionable shape, as this note about the Senate business from 1512 attests:

The description of the styles forbidden to [young men] was remarkably similar to that of those condemned in 1506 and 1509. ...Ziponi must not be padded (interlined?) except at the neck and crosswise, an order which was probably directed against the fashion for quilted ziponi made in expensive stuffs of the kind familiar from the painting by Titian often thought to be of Ariosto (below right).[4]

Reconstructing the Zupon

I can find little written (in English) about reconstructing the clothing of an Italian man at the turn of the 16th century, though I have found related information about mid-15th century Italian doublets[5],[6] and turn of the century English doublets. For my first reconstruction I did not attempt to make a patrician's black silk zupon, but instead one for a gondolier. When I began this project I had found no images of togati in which I could glimpse the underlying layers, and so I made what I could more easily see and imitate.


Maestra Damiana Illiara d'Onde described a seamstress's process of recreating the 15th century Italian doublet, or farsetto.[7] She describes inventories of clothing listing many different farsetto fabrics, including "guarnello (a cotton/linen), velluto (velvet) and bochaccino ("modest" linen or cotton for lining or simpler garments), and raso (satin)."

Based on accounts of cloth issued for English doublets in the early 1500s, each garment has "three fabrics provided, an 'outside' and two linings, the second of which was always canvas."[8] The author notes that in 1500 linings were always linen, but a decade later were fustian, and that "woollen cloth was never issued to make doublets" and "men of standing received satin, velvet or occasionally damask."[9]

I chose blue cotton velveteen because I had some sitting around in my fabric stash, it was sturdy, it was close to the color I saw in contemporary paintings, and velvet was a likely fabric of choice in period. I lined it with linen canvas for strength and comfort and padded it with cotton quilting batting because that was the natural padding material most readily available to me. The fashion fabric I sewed with blue cotton thread, the linen with white linen thread, and the eyelets in the lacing strip are sewn with red silk because on the day when I undertook that part of the project I found myself in the car with nothing BUT red silk thread.

Patterning the Zupon

I based this pattern on the peascod doublet described in The Tudor Tailor.[10] I had never made a padded garment before, and this text outlines the steps necessary to pad for shape. Also, Elizabethan doublets like this one closely follow the curve of the spine, and I wanted that silhouette.

First I made an unpadded brown linen zupon: a cool, comfortable garment fitted to the body. It keeps Giovan's hosen up but does not create a fashionable profile (right). In Elizabethan doublets padding is added to give the effect of a rounded belly or "peascod", but to achieve the fashionable Venetian D shape, I had to pad the chest, rather than the belly. To accommodate padding, I loosened the laces on the linen zupon and stuffed in scrap fabric until the sideways profile was a 'D'-shape. I then added width to the front pieces where needed to span the gap in the lacing. When laid flat, the resulting pattern pieces formed a smooth curve from collar to below the belly, as expected. I then cut three shallow crescents out of the front, the top one larger than the bottom two, through which the wearer should pull large puffs of his shirt (left, brown).

Some of the ziponi appear to end at the waist, some have uneven lower hems with gaps that curve up to reveal the hips, while others have short "skirts". For modesty's sake as well as simplicity, we chose to imitate the ziponi that cover the top of the hosen (left, blue with brown facings). I decided that to achieve this look, the same amount of fabric should extend below the belly as below the waist seam in back. I experimented with pinning different amounts of fabric onto the doublet until it appeared to drape like the painting. This required that I piece the fabric of the skirt, as I was working with a small remnant of fashion fabric.

In the paintings I used as references I cannot see any seams under the arms or along the back. One thing I question about my pattern is whether the front panels should be so large and the back panels so narrow. Birbari, seeing clear center back seams on contemporary doublets from other Italian cities, asserts that there must also be seams under each arm in order to achieve the desired fit.[11] Jones chose to make the panels of more equal size.[12] The Tudor doublets (dated circa 1560-1567) described by Janet Arnold place the seam under the arm rather than along the back as I have done.[13] Johnson's "possible layout for a simple doublet"[14] also shows nearly equal width front and back panels. I made the back panels narrow because I had previously made an 18th century waistcoat for my husband, and the back pieces were cut like this, much narrower than the front pieces.[15],[16] I knew that this garment had the smooth, fitted back profile I wanted and so I copied it.

The paintings referenced show clearly that the doublet is often closed in front by points that pass through two pairs of eyelets and tie to one side, the sleeves are held on by the same, and the hosen are tied up (or left untied, when doing strenuous work) with points. Often the points contrast with the zupon . In some places on the sleeves and front, it is clear that the points pass through the fashion fabric. Because I do not see points passing through the zupon near the waist, I added a lacing strip inside, allowing Giovan to hide the attachment places of his hosen.

Patterning the sleeves was relatively straightforward, as I simply took an existing sleeve block I had created based on the instruction in The Medieval Tailor's Assistant[17] and removed portions at the sleeve cap and elbow to allow shirt fabric to puff through (see gondoliers to right). While I see points attached to the sleeves, I do no believe I see any eyelets in the fashion fabric layer of the sleeves, so I have sewn lacing rings to them instead.

Construction methods

This garment is entirely hand sewn. I learned about types of stitches and where to use them from The Tudor Tailor[18] and a series of pamphlets published by Kannik's Korner.[19],[20] I assembled the fashion fabric and the lining with a combination of backstitch and running stitch, using backstitch where the seam would be under stress. I then tacked the layers of padding together and pad stitched them onto the lining. I combined the fashion fabric and padded lining with both right side out. Before doing so, I clipped a great deal around curves and corners, and basted the seam allowance of the blue velveteen. I do not know for certain a name for the stitch I used to assemble the layers; perhaps it is a slip stitch, as the thread travels almost entirely within the folded-over seam allowance. I know that this sort of assembly yields a garment in which the lining does not show, which was the effect desired. I worked the eyelets with buttonhole stitch, pearls to the inside.

Future Work

This zupon is a marked improvement on my first, unpadded, attempt, yet does not yet create the desired rounded profile. I need to make another one with more padding. I will also probably make the next one of black silk, fit for a togati, with a standing collar.


1. Stella Mary Newton, The Dress of the Venetians, 1495-1525 (Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1988), 33-34.

2. Newton, 33.

3. Newton, 34.

4. Newton, 41-43.

5. Susan Reed, 15th-century Men's Doublets: An Overview, http://www.nachtanz.org/SReed/doublets.html (accessed March 19, 2011).

6. Lorenzo Petrucci, An Overview of Men’s Clothing in Northern Italy c. 1420 - 1480, http://www.houseofpung.net/sca/15c_mens_italian.pdf (accessed March 19, 2011), 4.

7. Elizabeth Jones (Maestra Damiana Illiara d'Onde), Farsetto Construction of the Italian Renaissance (1425-1470), http://home.earthlink.net/~lizjones429/farsetto.html (October 7, 2010).

8. Caroline Johnson, The King's Servants: Men's Dress at the Accession of Henry VIII (United Kingdom: Fat Goose Press Ltd, 2009) 16.

9. Johnson, 16.

10. Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteen-Century Dress (Singapore: B T Batsford, 2006) 96-99.

11. Elizabeth Birbari, Dress in Italian Painting 1460-1500 (London: John Murray Publishers Ltd., 1975), 44.

12. Jones, http://home.earthlink.net/~lizjones429/farsetto.html

13. Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620 (Great Britain: Quite Specific Media Group Ltd., 1985) 68-71.

14. Johnson, 23.

15. Linda Baumgarten and John Watson with Florine Carr, Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 (New York: Quite Specific Media Group Ltd., 1999), 97-101

16. Sharon Ann Burston, Fitting and Proper: 18th Century Clothing from the Collection of the Chester County Historical Society (Texarkana, Texas: Scurlock Pub. Co., Inc., 1998), 50-52.

17. Sarah Thursfield, The Medieval Tailor's Assistant: Making common garments 1200-1500 (Carlton, Bedford, U.K.: Ruth Bean; Hollywood, CA: Costume & Fashion Press, an imprint of Quite Specific Media Group Ltd, 2001) 34-38.

18. Mikhaila and Malcolm-Davies, 50-53.

19. Kathleen Kannik, The Lady's Guide to Plain Sewing (Springfield, Ohio: Kannik's Korner, 1993).

20. Fritz and Kathleen Kannik, The Workman's Guide to Tailoring Stitches and Techniques (Springfield, Ohio: Kannik's Korner, 2003).