If you’re unfamiliar with Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), you might wonder why there are so many pictures of men in our main illustration. It’s because Christina liked to dress as a man—not all the time, but often enough that she was famous for it. Unfortunately there are no nice paintings of her in masculine attire, so we’re using images of the men in her life to illustrate contemporary fashion. We’ve also got Greta Garbo for reference, since her star turn in the movie Queen Christina provided an indelible (albeit romanticized) portrait of the queen.
Christina became queen when she was six years old, and grew up to be a highly learned woman with a passion for the arts and humanities. She was called the Minerva of the North, and no less a personage than René Descartes came to Stockholm to advise her. (Sadly, he died of the cold.) But then things got weird, and at the age of 28 Christina shocked all of Europe by abdicating the throne, converting to Catholicism, and moving to Rome. She spent the rest of her life as a free-spirited queen without portfolio, hanging out with popes, cardinals, and friendly fellow monarchs.
1. Black velvet cavalier shirt. The centerpiece of the costume is this gorgeous cavalier shirt with slashed sleeves. The body of the shirt is black velvet and the inner sleeves are a silvery white satin. It’s also available at the reenactment stores: Medieval Collectibles, By The Sword, Museum Replicas, and Pearson’s Renaissance Shoppe.
2. Crochet napkins. Why buy a fancy cavalier collar when you can use lace edge napkins? You might even have some in your pantry you can use. Just stuff them into the collar of your shirt and pin in place. You can fold and arrange them to get the effect you want. Use a similar procedure to make small cuffs; if you want big starched cuffs you’ll need to reinforce them with something, well, starchy. Try fusible interfacing.
3. Men’s black velvet pants or women’s black velour pants. The men’s pants are stretchy but not too snug; the women’s pants are tight fitting.
4. Royal blue satin sash. A modern chair sash is perfect for replicating the cross-body satin sash that 17th century kings were so fond of wearing. Tie it in a loose knot or floppy bow under one arm.
5. Musketeer hat with blue ostrich feathers. You can probably find both of these items locally, which might be best to make sure you get a decent hat that fits and feathers that are the color you want. Craft stores always have feathers, and cavalier/musketeer hats are usually available around Halloween.
6. Women’s cavalier boots or boot covers. This is a great deal on cavalier boots ($64 the last time we checked), but the boot covers are of course cheaper. If you already have a good pair of black boots, the covers are an easy way to add bucket tops for 17th century style.
The gender issue: Christina was consistently described by her contemporaries as “mannish,” and she herself acknowledged that she had no liking or patience for the demure feminine behavior that was expected of her. This has led to three centuries of speculation about whether Christina was gay, bi, transgender, or intersexed. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that what was considered mannish behavior in the 17th century wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today. Examples of Christina’s supposed masculinity included talking loudly, swearing, crossing her legs, putting her feet up, wearing pants, walking with a long stride, and riding a horse the normal way instead of sidesaddle. Wild.