PhD Fellow Charlotte Rimstad 2 – University of Copenhagen

Renaissance Clothes of Copenhagen

By Charlotte Rimstad

The making of the new Metro City Ring in Copenhagen has lately brought forward a lot of new and interesting textiles from the 1660s moat fills. As a new moat was being built at the end of the 17th century, the old moat got filled with garbage from the whole city. The wet conditions helped preserve textile and shoes extremely well and thus, the basis for exploring the 16th and 17th century fashion of Copenhagen was created.
These textiles are interesting for two main reasons: Their state of preservation makes them unique among archaeological textile finds from this period and they contribute to the knowledge about the life of average men, women and children of Copenhagen – something that is well needed.
So far, the fashion from these centuries has been revealed to us by paintings, historic clothing collections and through written sources. However, all of these only deals with high-class fashion and knowledge about lower class fashion is sparse. The purpose of this project is to give the archaeological textiles a voice in order to get a more wholesome picture of the Renaissance fashion of Copenhagen.

The source material
The PhD project takes its starting point in the more than 2000 textiles fragments from
Rådhuspladsen, Copenhagen. The textiles have been excavated by the Museum of Copenhagen and are dated to the 1660s. Most of the textiles are merely cut offs; scrap fabric that was originally part of larger clothes. A relatively large number of fragments are, however, from recognizable pieces of clothes, such as trousers, hats, socks, gloves and jackets. A number of wigs are also included.
The analyses of the textiles and their biography are the centre of project. This empirical knowledge will make the base of all other analyses and discussions and will later be compared to other sources, such as written or iconographic.
Focus will be on the fashion development in Copenhagen, being the capital of Denmark, and on how fashion influenced the Copenhageners through all social classes, ages and genders. In this light, the local production of textiles vs. imported fabric will also be discussed.

Theoretical framework
The project has its starting point in the textile fragments themselves. A piece of textile is the work result of the spinner, weaver, dyer and tailor and theoretically, they are all “visible” in one way or the other in the archaeological material. Here, a relevant theory would be the agency archaeology that gives the individuals of the past a voice. Analysis of the textile will bring knowledge about not only the production process, but also the biography of the textile piece when it comes to import/export, use, reparation, reuse and discard in the muddy moat.
Moreover, it is the assumption that the textiles can tell us about the differences between gender, age, status and material culture. During a specific period of time, men and women will use different types of clothes and these clothes will appear in different shapes and materials according to which social class they belong. It is also the assumption that children have been wearing other kinds of clothes than adults and maybe even that boys and girls have been fashionably differentiated. The discussion of these parameters is well known from other periods of archaeology. On a higher level, the textiles will hold information about the creation and movement of fashion, geographically and through social classes.
The hypothesis of the project is that the archaeological data can contribute with other information about clothing and fashion than the historical ones. Comparing the textiles with written and iconographic sources as well as historic costumes will eventually lead to a greater understanding of past societies. When discussing this, it will be logical to critically use all sources available.

All good research begins with the basic collection of information. The conclusions of the project will be created through different types of analyses of the following intermediate aims:

1.  The technical details of the textiles

  • Analysis of size, shape, construction, traces of use and reuse of the textile. Microscopic analysis of the weave, spinning direction of the thread, thread thickness and thread count will be determined, all according to normal textile analysis standards.
  • Scientific analyses in order to determine the nature and origin of the fibres as well as the presence of colour pigment and haemoglobin. The latter will be taken on special fragments that might have been used as menstrual pads. This has never been done before and might shed new light on the use of underwear in general.
  • What can these data tell about the production process and biography of the textile? Are the textiles products of local production or import?

2. Studies of gender & age

  • Analysis of the different types of clothing fragments. What is present and why? Is that affected by patterns of discard or geological preservation?
  • Gender and age: Do men, women and children use different kinds of clothes? In what way is the clothes different and why?
  • Comparative studies between the archaeological textiles, contemporary paintings and written sources. Do the textiles tell a different story than other sources?

3. Studies of status & the movements of fashion

  • Analysis of the different kinds of clothing fragments. What type of fashion do they represent? What do the different materials express?
  • Comparative studies between the archaeological textiles, contemporary paintings, written sources and historical clothing collections: What are the differences/similarities through the social classes? Who inspires whom and are there rules about what to wear on a certain level of status?
  • Comparative studies between the Danish textiles and textiles from other European countries.
  • What is Copenhagen influenced by when it comes to fashion – and does Copenhagen inspire other places?

Expected results
It is my expectation that the results of the textile analyses, comparisons and discussion will lead to a greater understanding of fashion development in the 17th century Copenhagen, but also in the rest of Northern Europe. Having access to the clothes of average Copenhageners gives us a unique chance to compare the fashion of different genders, ages and social classes and thus seeing new contexts in the fashion movements through time and space. The results will be disseminated in one large publication as well as a number of smaller articles in relevant journals.
The results will of course not be the definitive truth about the use of textiles, as all interpreters are a product of their own time and experiences. It can only be a reconstruction of the truth – but even a reconstruction can estimate to get as close to reality as possible.