The fashions were
designed to give the impression of a small waist - especially
desired by the women but also emulated by men who wore tight waisted, stiffened doublets. Men would sometimes wear girdles,
the equivalent of the female corset, to obtain the wasp
Elizabethan Clothing - The
The Elizabethan era was a
society divided by class. The divisions were manifested in the clothes
that people wore which were decreed by the Law. These were called the
Sumptuary Laws which provided strict clothing guidelines in order to limit the expenditure by people on clothes - and
of course to maintain the social structure of the Elizabethan Class
system. The penalties for violating
Sumptuary Laws could be harsh - fines, the loss of property, title and
even life. Clothes provided information about the status of the person
wearing them. This was not just dictated by the wealth of the person, it
also reflected their social standing. Only Royalty were permitted to wear
clothes trimmed with ermine. Lesser Nobles were allowed to wear clothing
trimmed with fox and otter.
Upper Class Fashion
There are many examples of
upper class fashion restrictions. Cloth of gold or gold
tissue could be worn by the Queen, Queen's mother, children,
sisters and aunts together with Duchesses, Marquises, and Countesses but
was not allowed to be worn by Viscountesses, baronesses, and other
personages of like degrees. The upper class women of the Elizabethan era
were therefore extremely ambitious and pushed their husbands to gain
titles and high ranks!
The Elizabethan Fashion of
The limitations of
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
(doublets, sleeves and 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.
The Peacock Age - Elizabethan
Upper Class Fashion
Upper class fashion was highly elaborate - and necessary to
achieve attention and success at court. It was referred to
as the Peacock age as the Upper class Elizabethan men were
often more elaborately dressed than the women.
Materials and Fabrics used in
Elizabethan Upper Class Fashion
Elizabethan Nobles and
Upper classes wore a variety of expensive clothing made of velvets, satin,
furs, silks, lace, cottons and taffeta. Many of these sumptuous materials
were imported from the continent. These exotic materials were introduced
in earlier centuries by Knights returning from the crusades. Silks and
cottons were imported from the Middle East and velvet was imported from
Italy. The Dye required to achieve the fashionable
bright and rich colors were also imported from abroad at great expense.
Full details of the colors and fabrics used during the Elizabethan era can
be accessed via the Sitemap at the top of the page.
Changes in Upper Class Fashion
during the Elizabethan Era
Queen Elizabeth led the
way for many of the new styles and fashions changed significantly during
her reign. At the start of her reign fashion for women was modest and the
body of a woman was covered from head to foot. Women's fashion emulated
that of a man. Frilled collars became more and more elaborate developing
into the famous Elizabethan ruff, which was worn by both men and women.
Ruffs, or ruffles, started as a high frilled collar. Fashion then dictated
a more feminine and seductive image for women which was achieved by
opening the ruffle in front to expose the neck and the top of the bosom.
The ruff was then constructed on gauze wings which were raised at the back
of the head. The ruffs, or collars, framed the face and dictated the
hairstyles of the age which were generally short for men and swept up look
was required for women. A frizzy hairstyle was also required.
The 'Ideal' Elizabethan Woman
Although the fashion for
women changed to a more seductive look it was important for Queen
Elizabeth to maintain her image and the beauty of a 'Virgin Queen'. The
Elizabethan view of pure beauty was a woman with light hair and a snow
white complexion complimented with red cheeks and red lips. Queen
Elizabeth achieved this picture of ideal beauty by using white make-up.
This explains the odd white face make-up seen in many of her portraits.
This image of the Virgin Queen was further enhanced by the work of Edmund
Spenser (1552-1599) in his epic poem 'The Fairie Queene' which was
dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. An Upper Class Elizabethan woman followed this fashion further
and might even dye her hair yellow with a mixture of saffron, cumin seed,
celandine and oil. Wigs were also commonly used - Queen Elizabeth had a
wide variety of wigs and hair pieces.
Elaborate Upper Class Fashions
Elizabethan fashion was
highly elaborate. Clothes were decorated with heavy embroidery and
decorated with jewels, spangles, pearls. Clothes were designed with a
layered approach requiring assistance in dressing from servants. Upper
class fashions were tight, hot and uncomfortable. More comfortable loose
garments, similar to housecoats, were worn when the nobility were not on
show. Padding had a practical use as it was used to great effect on the
top of sleeves. Sleeves were made separately from the bodice of gowns and
tied or pinned together, The padding hid the pins. Pins were an essential
part of Elizabethan fashion and used in great quantities on ruffs - this
lead to a lucrative pin making industry.