Net partlets in French 16th century dress

Throughout the 16th century, there are many French portraits which show partlets consisting either of a net shape layer of beads/pearls over a layer of cloth or just net partlets or some which look like the fabric may have been gathered (smocked?) to give a waffle or net effect.

Most of these are in the second half of the 16th century. That’s not particularly surprising because in the first quarter of 16th century there are very few partlets seen at all.

Later in the first half of the century there are some partlets where there is only vertical gathering or embroidery, like so:

 I have found two pictures of first half-century examples of partlets that form a net, rather than vertical pattern, but there aren’t many. The two examples below are both from the 1540s. In both images, you can see a net which seems to be overlayed over a cloth partlet. The first one has beads/pearls at each intersection. The second one seems to have some sort of decoration at intersections, but I can’t make it out and also cords of alternating colour.

In the second half of the century, these net partlets become very common. Some, like the two above, seem to be a net, sometimes with decorations at the intersections, overlayed on a cloth partlet. By the way, note the snood matching the partlet on the middle drawing.


Some of the partlets have decorations in the middle of each net square. They tend to be the ones where I have the most trouble deciphering whether the net pattern is made up by gathering fabric of the partlet itself or by couching/laying cord on top:



Then there are some where the net overlaying the fabric is made entirely of beads/pearls. Because the beading continues up to the collar, I think the bead partlet is sewn onto/couched onto the fabric partlet underneath and is not separate. In some of the portraits you can see the light fabric puffing up inside the net squares – giving a rather lovely effect. These tend to be in the portraits of very great nobles or royal ladies and the intersections of the net is often adorned with contrasting jewels.

There is at least one where the net itself is dispensed with and pearls are sewn onto the fabric in a regular square/diamond pattern as though they were decorating the intersections of the net:

And finally, there is at least one portrait – that of Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, where the fabric itself is dispensed with and the partlet is composed entirely of the net, made of pearls and jewels.

The net only partlet (without the underlying cloth) may be seen in one of Eleonora Toledo portraits (first picture below). There is also a portrait of her with a cloth layer underneath the net partlet (second picture below). There are other Italian portraits showing a net partlet with cloth (eg. see third image). Given the strong influence of Italian fashions in France, especially during the first part of the 16th century, I wonder whether this partlet style is of Italian origin.

eleonoratoledo 1545.bronzino.eleonore01 young_g  

Oh, and although the jewelled net partlets appear to be restricted to the upper-class ladies, middle-class women are seen to wear simple versions of cloth partlets with a net on it:

And so concludes our tour of these partlet styles.

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5 Responses to Net partlets in French 16th century dress

  1. David Wilson says:

    There does appear to be a 15th Century version of the “net only” partlet as shown in two figures in the lady and Unicorn tapestries – as here:

    What goes around comes around, perhaps…

  2. JuliScrybbles says:

    Greetings! Stumbled across your blog when doing a search on “how to make a beaded partlet”. I am getting ready to attempt a dress similar to the one worn by the lady on the far right of the fifth row (Isabella?). Thank you for sharing this information!

    Out of curiosity, do you have the sources for the images that you use as examples? Particularly the lady on the very top left, and the lady on the right in the row directly below her? Do you know who drew them? I ask only because I have what appears to be an original (I’m afraid to remove it from the frame, which is probably circa late 1800s to WWI) that I purchased from an auction site years ago and I’ve been trying to find out who may have drawn her and how old she is. The hand-written notation on mine, if I am reading it right, says “Mlle au Gagnier” or “du Gagnier”, and the handwriting strongly resembles that in the two images I mention here. Many thanks!

    • frenchrenaissancecostume says:

      Hi, I’m glad you found the answer in the galleries. But I should really label the pics on this page too (I had some formatting issues and left the labels out). Most of the sketches in this period are attributed to Clouet or to his studio. But there are so many its doubtful he actually drew all of them himself.
      I’d love to hear how you go with the beaded partlet. I really want to make one myself too.

  3. JuliScrybbles says:

    Duh! Should’ve looked at your resources pages first. 😀

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