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Elizabethan Gowns

Queen Elizabeth Ist

"Queen Elizabeth Ist"


Clothing and Fashion - Elizabethan Gowns

The gowns and fashions worn by Elizabethan women of the Upper Class were influenced by geometric shapes rather than the natural shape of the body. To achieve these shapes padding (bombast) and quilting, together with the use of whalebone or buckram for stiffening purposes, were used to gain this geometric effect.

Creating the shape of Elizabethan Gowns
Corsets were worn under gowns to give a flattened and triangular shape. A farthingale was worn beneath gowns. A farthingale was a hoop worn beneath a skirt to extend it horizontally. They were also referred to as Verdingales they were shaped like a funnel or a barrell.

  • The Spanish farthingale provided a straight line from the waist to the hem
  • The French farthingale, called the French Wheel, provided a domed shape from the waist to the hem

Rolls were also worn under the gown, tied around the waist, which supported the weight of the skirt and assisted the farthingale in enabling the skirt to extend horizontally. An underskirt, or kirtle, covered the farthingale and roll. The front of the underskirt, or kirtle, was highly decorated as it formed the front of the gown - the other, unseen, panels of the underskirt were made of less expensive material. The overskirt came next.

The Elizabethan Gown
An overskirt (split in the middle to reveal the front panel of the kirtle) was attached to a bodice to form the gown. There were two different types of bodice - a high neck and a low neck

  • The Low, square necked bodice
  • The High necked bodice

The sleeves came in a variety of styles, some with padding, and were also added separately ( they were tied or pined ) Padded 'wings' on the shoulders concealed the joins. Ruffs were added to the the collar area of the gown and occasionally around the cuffs. Some of the skirt panels were extended to make trains but these were impractical and used for important occasions. The Elizabethan 'gown' was made up of a collection of separate items.

Materials and Fabrics used for Elizabethan Gowns
The materials that gowns were made of were expensive - silk, satin, velvet, taffeta, scarlet and sarcenet (Sarcenet was a delicate silk fabric and scarlet referred not to the color but to a plain fabric). Many of these sumptuous materials and the dyes to produce their rich colors were imported, at great expense, from the continent - and they were only allowed to be worn by the Upper Class women, according to the Sumptuary Laws. The fabrics were further embellished with fine needlework and embroidery and decorated with jewels, spangles, pearls.  Cloth of Silver, Tinselled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with any gold were often worn. Tinsell was a fabric was had a metallic sheen but was less expensive than gold or silver.

The Elizabethan Fashion of Slashing Gowns
The limitations of Elizabethan dress and clothing led to a new fashion being created. Both men and women began to slash their clothes. The slash or cut in the outer surfaces of garments, which included gowns,  exposed the contrasting color of the linings beneath. The linings would be pulled through the slash and puffed out to further emphasize the contrast of colors, fabrics and materials. An alternative to the 'slashed' garment was to 'pink' the material of the gown. Pinking was cutting a specific shape, commonly a diamond shape, from the garment to allow the fabric beneath to be pulled through - a more delicate form of slashing. Styles of gowns were slashed, jagged, cut, carved, pinked and laced with all kinds of different colors.

Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Gowns
Some interesting facts and confirmation of information about Elizabethan gowns can be obtained from the words of Philip Stubbes. A first hand impression of the fashions of the Elizabethan era are invaluable - but the Elizabethan style of writing can be hard going. The following information has therefore been taken from the points he made on Elizabethan gowns:

  • The Cost of material for gowns ranged from ten, twenty to forty shillings per yard - extremely expensive
  • The materials that gowns were made of:
    • Silk
    • Velvet
    • Grograine or Grogram ( A costly, fine ribbed material)
    • Taffeta
    • Scarlet (scarlet referred not to the color but to a plain fabric
    • Fine cloth
  • Sometimes layered with lace and ribbons
  • Often changing fashion and different styles and lengths of sleeves

Cloaks / Capes
"Some have Capes reaching downe to the middest of their backs, faced withVelvet, or els with some fine wroght silk Taffatie at the least, and fringed aboutvery brauvely; & (to shut up all in a word) some are pleated & crested down theback wonderfully, with more knacks than I can declare."

Petticoats and Kirtles
"Than have they petticotsof the best cloth that can be bought, and of the fairest dye that can be made. And sometimes they are not of cloth niether, for that is thought to base, but of scarlet, grograin, taffatie, silk and such like, fringed about the skirts with silk fringe of chaungable coloure. But which is more vayn, of whatsoever their petticots be, yet must they have kirtles (for so they call them), either of silk, velvet, grograin, taffatie, saten, or scarlet, bordered with gards, lace, fringe, and I cannot tell what besydes."

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