The Ropa

In the Spanish language, “ropa” means clothing, and in modern Spanish has come to mean a “dress”. During the Renaissance, the type of clothing we will refer to, as a “Ropa” will generally conform to the following rules. They are for “established persons”, long (ankle length), and loose-fittings. Notes on the earliest form of gown ropa gowns date from 1485. They were probably based on the coats from Turkey to Hungry and brought back by knights. They were quite popular in the 16th Century, appearing in many portraits especially those of women. Earlier versions had smooth backs, by 17th C had pleated backs became more popular. Occasionally they were semi fitted in the front. Semi-fitting on both back and front are apparent and feature in a pattern from the 1st quarter 17th Century. Others names include Flanders gown, loose gown, roba, dressing gown, nightgown and zimarra . Zimarra are considered specifically to have frog closures, and sleeves without puffs. Braided bar/frog type closures are sometimes referred to as the “Polish style” in Arnolds “Unlocked”. Although called morning or nightgowns, they were obviously not just for the bedchamber, this is why I tend to consider their function as a housecoat or a type of luxury “loungewear”. Eleonor of Toledo had 79 zimara, and another 14 that would qualify as ropa in her inventory, more purchased in her later years (MF), many of which are featured in her portraits.

When developing a pattern for to match the above description, the resulting shapes are extremely similar to the “morning gowns” and “gowns” of Juan de Alcegas 1589 pattern book folios 45a-49, f65, and f.67a –f72. They are called gowns and appear to be unisex (except for 49 which is a “leaned mans”). All Alcega gowns feature long full sleeves, and on the “Turkish” and “Roman” varieties, a hood.  When examining Alcegas book in more detail, elaborating information provides more guidelines for defining the scope and variety of the “ropa” (appendix I).

Using other sources and paintings we can confirm and elaborate on the scope of the “ropa” during the Renaissance.

Fabrics: Hispanic Costume indicates ropas were all in rich fabrics, usually of heavy weight in dark or rich jewel tones (HS) and often ostentatiously decorated. Portraits confirm and reconfirm this palette. Satin, velvet, damask, and taffetas seem to make up the most favoured types of fabric. On the more exotic side there are striped veiling, erminisino, gauze, cloth of gold and silver, net (MF). Extant documents state Queen Isabel purchased 8 varas of black velvet for a ropa (HS) Eleonor of Toledo preferred satin, velvet, and erimisino in that order (MF). She also had wool, cloth of gold, gauze, silver, striped veiling and net. Her preferred colours were red, gray, brown, black and purple (MF). Extant pieces are of mulberry cut and uncut velvet, purple damask, black velvet, and wine satin, lined with a variety of fabrics including velvet, silk, silk shag, velvet, taffeta and fur.

Cut: totally loose fitting (definitely most popular), semi-fitted front, semi-fitted front and back. Some had trains, were, cut away slightly in the front, others in the “French style” had stomachers (HS), or a false bodice (AL). Full length portraits show them to be occasionally slightly shorter than the dress. Can hooped or unhooped. Occasionally, there is a buttoned side slit at the hemline (MF, AR). Zimeras are side to have pockets according to Moda a Firenze.

Backs: totally smooth through pleated using stay tapes. Both English and Italian models note this. Occasionally with a train.

Collars: Stand up, usually in one piece in the back just like the doublets. No collar rare. Big collars, mostly English, mostly men.

Closures: mostly button and loop, a lot of “frogs” or braided bars. Hooks and eyes appear on a child’s loose gown from the turn of the 17th C housed in Stockholm Sweden. Some have no closures at all (MF). I’ve never seen button/buttonhole.

Linings: Ropas for truly outerwear had quilted linen linings (HS), Eleonor possessed one of swansdown (MF), as well as fur (HS), sometimes more than one type of fur in the same garment (MF). Alcega mentions being “lined in fur in winter”. Moda de Firenza states fur linings, facings and fur strips were removed according to the season. Alcega also mentions contrast linings, and that lining is optional. As a matter of fact, he does not mention lining the garment, except in these two instances.

Sleeve: All Alcegas “ropas” have long loose hanging sleeves, that are sewn in. “Spanish sleeves” were of a narrow hanging variety, and because of the narrow wrist could be use as pockets (MF).

Hispanic Costume mentions in 1487 Princess Isabel has a notation for “sleeves for coats” or ropas sleeves to be laced in and in1496 there is a note for six pieces of ribbon to be agleted and used for ropas (HS).

Portraits actually reveal a dizzying variety of sleeves

Walter Fyshe; an English tailor from the latter half of the 16th C, notes padded rolls and tabs. Arnold in “unlocked” states the usual attachment mode was button and loop.

Slashes over the chest called “in the Italian fashion” (AR)

Fyshe noted working a pair of ropas over the years. Lining and relining, reinforcing the collar, changing a standing collar to a falling collar. A detail from the other ropa indicated Pockets! (UL)

Embriodery, pearls, jewels and buttons. Decorative facings were very popular as well as slashing. Gold and silver lace appliques, gold spangles and enameled ornaments (MF).

Appendix I
Alcegas patterns indicate the phrase “godet” which is a rounded pleat or ruffle, but here function as what is referred to as “gores”. Alcega instructs tailors how to make allowances for the nap of a damask, but in almost every pattern, the godets are not consistent with the nap.

Notes on specific patterns featured:
He states the nap on the “Spanish” variety (f.46) has the nap running up the back and down the front.

The pattern for the Turkish variety in folio 46a has a seam down the back. The Spanish variety (f. 47a) has a number of notes. It can be buttoned all the way down the front, it has a high collar that can be lined and that this dress is usually lined in winter. Is this a removal lining? This gown also has a semi fitted front.

The “Roman” gown of f. 48 states the hood is “usually lined with a different fabric”. The notes for this dress also indicates that extra sleeves could be added (the English called them “down or side sleeves). These sleeves often had buttons at the wrist. Also contrast facing showed on the open parts of the sleeves and on the collar edge when the collar was left open.

The “Learned mans” (f. 49) has a yoke.


f65 Has a false bodice! And two-piece puff topped sleeves.


F67a onward are all variations on a theme.


F67a Notes to use a particular cloth so the nap of the gore IS NOT different from the rest of the dress. And that it can be trimmed/edged with a different or same fabric.


F68 has shoulder wings and ruffs, also the same note on the trimming.


F69 nap in front down, nap in back upward.


F70 makes a huge deal of matching the pattern and naps.


F71 notes how to cut to avoid the sheen of the silk.


F71a has detached collar and notes to line the neckband and ruffs.


F72 dictates to match patterns.


(AR) Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-1620. Quite Specific Media Group, Hollywood CA, 1985.

(AL) Alcega de, J. Tailors Pattern Book 1589. Translation Pain, J., Bainton, C., Notes Nevinson, J.L., Costume & Fashion Press NY 1999.

(HS) Anderson, Ruth. Hispanic Costume 1480-1530. Hispanic Society of America NY 1979.

(BB) Dubin, Lios. History of Beads 30,000 b.c. to the Present. Abrams NY 1987.