Renaissance Fashion - Women's Clothing in Elizabethan England by Besthubs


The Elizabethan era in fashion, from 1558 - 1603, is named after Britain's Queen Elizabeth I. Garments made of wool and linen were heavy and of a striking design and include such fashion icons as the ruff and the farthingale.

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									                                                                                                                     16/09/2011 20:37
                                                                                                                      by Research Analyst

                Women’s Clothing in Elizabethan England

                rate or flag this pageTweet                                 from Catherine of Aragon. During those difficult
                                                                            times, the idea of freedom of religion was not on

                       he Elizabethan period in costume design re-          anyone’s mind. Religion was a state establishment
                       fers to that time encompassed by the reign of        so the fight was over which religion would be the
                       Queen Elizabeth I (from 1558 - 1603) during          state religion.
                the Renaissance. The daughter of King Henry VIII
                and Ann Boleyn, Elizabeth became one of the world’s         England, at the time, was still basically a feudal
                most famous monarchs. The style of clothing and             society. Most people lived in the country. In Eliza-
                fashions of the Elizabethan era are distinctive and         bethan family based culture, the nuclear family,
                striking, and easily recognizable today and popular         servants, and apprentices lived and worked in close
                with designers of historic costume.                         proximity. While women were subservient to men
                                                                            and performed the usual household chores, their
                As in the Middle Ages, the fabrics used to create           work also included the care of livestock and kitchen
                garments of the Elizabethans were wool and linen.           garden; assistance at harvest; the making of cheese,
                Clothing of the upper classes also included silk, cot-      butter, candles, and soap. Women commonly had
                ton, and other imported fabrics. Fashions worn by           basic medical skills, spun wool, and knit.
                the elite inspired the dress of lower classes and rural
                women, though the fabric, weave, and embellish-             Employment opportunities included domestic ser-
                ments improved with economic status.                        vice, laundry and seamstress work. The wife of a
                                                                            craftsman might assist in the shop, the running of
                The clothing worn by Elizabethans look heavy                a business, or take over the business if widowed.
                and over done to many of us today. But weather              Women earned money by selling produce, eggs, but-
                in England during the period was cool and wet as            ter, spun wool, and other items made or produced
                northern Europe shivered in the grip of a mini Ice          at home.
                Age. So the heaviness of Elizabethan fashion was
                out of necessity, yet is remembered as romantic
                and beautiful, and still popular as seen at the Re-         The population exploded during Elizabeth’s
                naissance Festivals of modern times.                        reign despite widespread disease including seve-
                                                                            ral outbursts of plague. Irish troubles, war with
                    Elizabethan England - Historical                        Spain,and a growing underclass of unemployed
                              Background                                    poor added to Elizabeth’s challenges. But in a time
                                                                            when women were subservient to men, a woman
                Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Ann             ruled a great and powerful nation. Her personality,

                Boleyn ascended to the thrown of England after the          intelligence, and style are recognisable and admi-
                death of her half sister Mary (daughter of Henry VIII       rable to us today.
                and Catherine of Aragon). Henry VIII had assumed
                the role as leader of the Church in England when the
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                Catholic Pope refused to grant Henry an annulment


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                Women’s Clothing in Elizabethan England

                     Elizabethan Clothing - Textiles                              faded, so even richly colored garments
                                                                                  became muted over time. Brown and gray,
                Linen and wool were the most common fabrics used                  cheaper dyes, were the obvious choice of
                during the Elizabethan era. As in the Middle Ages,                the lower classes. Blue, another somewhat
                people wore linen undergarments next to the skin.                 inexpensive dye is associated with servants
                Linen, made from the flax plant is comfortable, cool,             and apprentices. Blue fades easily, so a light
                and easy to launder. In a time when people rarely                 shade was predominant.
                washed their clothes, linen could be washed and                •	 Black, an expensive, fashionable shade, and
                became softer with use.                                           a Spanish influence, shows up often in royal
                                                                                  portraits of Elizabethan England, especially
                   •	 Wool keeps the body warm in cold weather,                   for men.
                      and cool in warm weather. Wool produces                  •	 Two	shades	of	red occur frequently in Eli-
                      long lasting fabrics, takes dyes well, and                  zabethan clothing. A russet red, made from
                      does not absorb moisture.                                   the plant called madder created a warm,
                   •	 Fulled	wool, or heavily felted wool is tough                homey hue, while a brighter crimson red,
                      and durable. Felted wool, that is wool that                 made from imported dyes was reserved for
                      is washed to shrink, was often so dense that                royalty.
                      it did not need hemming as it would not
                      unravel.                                                       Elizabethan Style - Layers
                   • Both wool	and	linen	appeared in finer
                      weaves for the upper classes. Linen, im-             Undergarments made of linen were easy to wash
                      ported from France and the Low Countries,            and often the only garments that were laundered.
                      appeared in heavy or finer weaves with               Both men and women wore similar under shirts,
                      Lawn being the finest weave.                         much like the under tunics of the Middles Ages.
                   •	 Imported	cotton was used to create fabrics           Women’s under-gowns, or smocks, reached the knee
                      and blended with linen to make Fustian.              or fell full length.
                   • For thick, dense fabrics, canvas	was made
                      of hemp.                                             A kirtle was a long, slightly fitted dress without a
                                                                           defined waistline, a simple garment similar to those
                The luxurious fashions depicted in Elizabethan art         worn during the Middle Ages. On top of this, a wo-
                work most often reflect the clothing worn by royalty,      man wore a bodice, several layers of petti-coats (or
                the nobility, and the elite. The upper classes wore        skirts), and a cloak.
                garments made of silk, satin, velvet, damask, and
                taffeta, in addition to wool and linen. Finer linens       Layers were needed for comfort in the chilly, damp
                were bleached in the sun, embroidered, or block            climate of Elizabethan England.
                printed. Fashionable embellishments included brai-
                ding, borders, embroidery, lace, guarding (ribbon                     The Elizabethan Bodice
                trim), and gems or pearls sewn onto the fabric.

                                                                           A bodice is a close fitting garment for the upper
                   •	 Leather was used to make shoes, gloves,              body. Elizabethan bodices were quite stiff, severe,
                      hats, belts, and men’s doublets and                  and almost masculine in a shape that presented
                      breeches.                                            wide shoulders, and a small waist like an inverted
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                   •	 Colors	came from natural dyes that often


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                Women’s Clothing in Elizabethan England

                triangle. Some bodices drew into a narrow V shape          shoulder loops, pads, and the elaborate shoulder
                at the waist as pictured on the right.                     rolls of the 1580’s.

                Necklines changed over the years. While low nec-           False sleeves created an elegant style when elonga-
                klines were popular at the beginning and toward            ted at the back to drape down to the floor.
                the end of Elizabeth’s reign, necklines were high in
                the middle years.                                               The Ruff - An Elizabethan Collar
                Young, unmarried women wore lower bodice nec-              One of the most distinctive elements of Elizabethan
                klines. Often, a high necked smock, worn with a            fashion is the exaggerated collar called a ruff.
                low necked bodice, created an interesting contrast
                between the heavy bodice fabric and the lighter            Early on, a gathered neckline produced a simple
                muslin or linen of the smock.                              ruffle at the neck. Later, a separate piece of deta-
                                                                           chable ruffle could be tied around the neck. The
                Bodices often featured decorative tabs called picka-       ruff became more elaborate and eventually took on
                dills at the waist. Also, with embellishment by rolls      the gargantuan proportions that framed the face.
                or wings at the armholes, the same bodice could
                appear quite different with detachable sleeves for         In 1565, the addition of starch created the ability to
                variety.                                                   increase the size and height of the ruff. By 1580, ruffs
                                                                           became so massive, they required a wire framework
                The fashionable elite used whale bone (baleen)             for support. Ruffs were made of fine muslin or lace,
                stiffening, willow wood, or steel in their bodices.        or muslin trimmed with lace and often paired with
                A busk was an extra piece used for stiffening and          matching cuffs at the wrist.
                was made from wood, bone, or ivory, and attached
                by a ribbon at the top. The tiny ribbon often seen         Late Elizabethan fashions included a falling band
                today at the top center of a bra is a last reminder        which was a separate, detachable collar made of
                of the busk.                                               lace or embroidered linen.

                The flattened bosom and stiffened upper torso res-         Common women and country women often wore
                tricted upper body movement so was limited to the          a chin cloth to protect their faces and skn from the
                idle elite. Working women and commoners would              sun and wind. They also wore a kerchief over their
                have been unable to function with such restriction.        shoulders.
                Front laced bodices (so popular with Renaissance
                Fair attendees) were worn by working and common                      Elizabethan Skirts and the
                women. Back laced bodices were limited to women                             Farthingale
                with servants. Bodices were fastened by lacing or
                with hook and eye.                                         Elizabethan style demanded a tight upper body pai-
                                                                           red with a voluminous lower body. A heavy outer

                Detachable sleeves added pizazz and variety to             skirt split open into an A-line shape in the center,
                a bodice (as mentioned above). The wide, cuffed            revealed an attractive under-skirt or petti-coat. So-
                trumpet shaped sleeves of the 1540’s - 1550’s gave         metimes the exposed under-skirt or forepart was
                way to a narrower Spanish style sleeve. A high, wide       paired with matching bodice sleeves.
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                appearance with slashed upper sleeves evolved int


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                Women’s Clothing in Elizabethan England

                While cool weather created the need to wear several         wood lifted the foot up away from debris or dirt in
                layers of petti-coats for warmth, skirt size became         work places, on roads, or in the street.
                an extreme fashion trend.
                                                                            The Renaissance introduced the wearing of high
                The	Farthingale was the hoop skirt of Renaissance           heels for vanity and style. Mary Tudor (1/2 sister of
                costume. Beginning as a padded roll to extend the           Queen Elizabeth) wore high heels to improve her
                width of the the top of the skirt, it evolved into a        stature and appear more regal.
                hoop skirt - circular strips of whale bone (baleen),
                wood, or steel were inserted horizontally into the
                fabric of an under skirt.                                        Elizabethan Hair, Hats, and Face
                Originating in Spain to create a dome shaped skirt,         Women wore their hair long when young and un-
                a farthingale held skirt fabric away from the legs          married, often adding headbands or circlets of fresh
                and offered ease of movement. A lower class wo-             flowers. After marriage, women pinned up and co-
                man might wear a padded roll for fashion as well            vered their hair. Fashionable women added hair
                as convenience.                                             extensions, golden chains, pearls, or feathers int
                                                                            elaborately braided or twisted hair styles.
                The wheel farthingale produced the exaggerated,
                huge skirt pictured at the right.                           A coif was a close fitting cap made of linen, some-
                                                                            times referred to as a Mary Stuart cap (after Mary
                Skirts often featured hems or borders that could be         Queen of Scots) who wore one in a famous portrait.
                easily replaced if worn out or soiled.                      A Woman might wear a hat on top of a coif.

                A belt or ‘girdle’ functioned as a hanger for carrying      Early Elizabethen women wore a French hood, a
                items such as purses and bags for the elite and com-        fabric bonnet shaped with wires, a style introduced
                mon people of both genders.                                 to England by Elizabeth’s mother, Ann Boleyn. The
                                                                            half moon or crescent shaped style was a glorified
                    Elizabethan Shoes and Footwear                          head-band with a veil attached at the rear.

                Shoes of the Elizabethan period were generally blunt        The Attifet, similar to the French hood, dipped in
                toed and flat, and made of leather or fabric. Women’s       the center to create a heart shape, often decorated
                dress shoes made of silk, velvet, or brocade were           with the addition of lace.
                often decorated with embellishments.
                                                                            A caul was an attractive hair net or snood, worn
                Early Elizabethan slip-ons gave way to laced or             simply or festooned with decorations such as pearls
                buckled shoes.                                              or beads.

                Most shoes of the time were made the same for both          Between 1568 - 1574, Sumptuary laws (an old fashio-

                feet. After wearing, the leather or fabric molded to        ned method of keeping people in their place by re-
                the shape of the foot.                                      gulating attire) required all women, unless gentle
                                                                            women, the wives of nobility, to cover their hair.
                Platform or high heeled shoes originated for conve-
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                nience. Pattens were tie-on over shoes that held the        A kercher or kerchief, a triangular piece of muslin
                foot up off the ground, protecting the shoe from dirt,      tied around the head and was worn under a hat.
                mud, or debris. Similarly, chopines made of cork or


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                Women’s Clothing in Elizabethan England

                Women also wore pill box hats, flat hats (like a be-        Encyclopedia of the Renaissance; Scribners
                ret), and small brimmed hats similar to men’s hats.

                The ideal Elizabethan face was pale and sometimes             Elizabethan Costume Design - Click
                highlighted by the application of cosmetics - rouge                 to Buy Books or Patterns
                for the cheeks and a bit of color on the lips. Occa-
                sionally, eye lids were tinted. Cosmetics were used          Patter s of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of
                by the fashion elite and were lead based products.          Clothes for Men and Women C1560-1620

                Perfume was popular for both men and women                  This book had lots of favorable reviews and is of-
                and almost necessary at a time when bathing was             ten called the best of its kind, offering information
                a rare occurrence.                                          for the advanced seamstress or one who has some
                                                                            understanding of pattern design.
                (All of the pictures used in this article are from wi-
                kimedia commons)                                            Amazon                   Price:                $26.29
                                                                            List Price: $39.95 Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and
                                                                            Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear,
                                                                            Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women
                                                                            C. 1540-1660 (Patterns of Fashion)

                                                                            Another excellent book by Janet Arnold depicting
                                                                            and describing the cut and pattern of smocks, linen
                                                                            shirts, neck wear, and head gear of Elizabethan cos-

                                                                            Amazon                   Price:              $32.85
                                                                            List Price: $49.95 Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860

                                                                            Excellent information on Elizabethan costume for
                                                                            anyone interested in the clothing of the day - for
                                                                            students, costume makers, and theater.

                Books consulted:                                            Amazon                  Price:                $26.19
                                                                            List Price: $39.95 Simplicity pattern 8881 (Size RR /
                Costume and Styles: The Evolution of Fashion From           14,16,18,20) *Elizabethan Costume Collection
                Early Egypt to the Present by Henny Harald Hansen:
                E.P. Dutton & Co.                                           Elizabethan costume patterns by Simplicity. Eli-
                                                                            zabethan England (Costume and Fashion Source

                Daily Life in Elizabethan England, by Jeffrey L. Sing-      Books)
                man; Greenwood Press
                                                                            A costume resource book for young adults
                Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion; edited by Va-
 Printed with

                lerie Steele: Scribner Library                              Amazon                 Price:              $31.04
                                                                            List Price: $35.00 Tudor and Elizabethan Fashions
                                                                            (History of Fashion)


                                                                                                                                  Page 5
                                                                                                                      16/09/2011 20:37

                Women’s Clothing in Elizabethan England

                Beautiful color illustrations for the younger set 9 - 12
                and information on Elizabethan costume of people
                from all walks of life.

                Amazon                   Price:              $1.60
                List Price: $3.95 Simplicity 2589 Sew Pattern WO-
                MEN’S ELIZABETHAN COSTUME Plus Size 16-24

                An Elizabethan costume pattern for the plus sized.
 Printed with


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