A very exciting time ruled by the
fashion. Nice to see a woman in charge of the world...
The ideal standard of beauty for women in the Elizabethan era was to have
light or naturally red hair, a pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips.
Pale, white skin was desired because Queen Elizabeth was in reign and she
had the naturally red hair, pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips.
Women's Fashion of the Elizabethan Era
Women's outer clothing generally consisted of a loose or fitted gown worn
over a kirtle or petticoat (or both). An alternative to the gown was a short
jacket or a doublet cut with a high neckline. The narrow-shouldered,
wide-cuffed "trumpet" sleeves characteristic of the 1540s and 1550s in
France and England disappeared in the 1560s, in favor of French and Spanish
styles with narrower sleeves. Overall, the silhouette was narrow through the
1560s and gradually widened, with emphasis as the shoulder and hip. The
slashing technique, seen in Italian dress in the 1560s, evolved into single
or double rows of loops at the shoulder with contrasting linings. By the
1580s these had been adapted in England as padded and jeweled shoulder
The general trend toward abundant surface ornamentation in the
Elizabethan Era was expressed in clothing, especially amongst the
aristocracy in England. Shirts and chemises were embroidered with blackwork
and edged in lace. Heavy cut velvets and brocades were further ornamented
with applied bobbin lace, gold and silver embroidery, and jewels.
Toward the end of the period, polychrome (multicolored) silk embroidery
became highly desirable and fashionable for the public representation of
- The common upper garment was a gown or
frock (in Spain a ropa and in French a robe).
Gowns were made in a variety of styles: Loose or fitted (called in
England a French gown); with short half sleeves or long sleeves; and
floor length (a round gowns) or with a trailing train.
- The gown was worn over a kirtle or
both, for warmth). Prior to 1545, the kirtle consisted of a fitted
one-piece garment. After that date, either kirtles or petticoats
might have attached bodices or bodies that fastened with lacing or hooks
and eyes and most had sleeves that were pinned or laced in place. The
parts of the kirtle or petticoat that showed beneath the gown were
usually made of richer fabrics, especially the front panel forepart of
the skirts. A kirtle (sometimes called cotte, cotehardie) is a
garment that was worn by men and women in the Middle Ages. It eventually
became a one-piece garment worn by women from the late Middle Ages into
the Baroque period. The kirtle was typically worn over a chemise or
smock, which acted as a slip, and under the formal outer garment or
- The bodices of French, Spanish, and English styles
were stiffened into a cone or flattened, triangular shape ending in a V
at the front of the woman's waist. Italian fashion uniquely featured a
broad U-shape rather than a V. Spanish women also wore boned,
heavy corsets known as "Spanish bodies" that compressed the torso into a
smaller but equally geometric cone. Bodices could be high-necked or have
a broad, low, square neckline, often with a slight arch at the front
early in the period. They fastened with hooks in front or were laced at
the side-back seam. High-necked bodices styled like men's doublets might
fasten with hooks or buttons. Italian and German fashion retained the
front-laced bodice of the previous period, with the ties laced in
- Partlet: A low neckline might be filled with an
infill (called in English a partlet). Partlets worn over the smock but
under the kirtle and gown were typically made of lawn (a fine linen).
Partlets were also worn over the kirtle and gown. The colors of "over-parlets"
varied, but white and black were the most common. The partlet might be
made of the same material as the kirtle and richly decorated with lace
detailing to compliment it. Embroidered partlet and sleeve sets were
frequently given to Elizabeth as New Year's gifts.
- During the Elizabethan period, women's underwear
consisted of a washable linen chemise or smock. This was the only
article of clothing that was worn by every woman, regardless of class.
Wealthy women's smocks were embroidered and trimmed with narrow lace.
Smocks were made of rectangular lengths of linen; in northern Europe the
smock skimmed the body and was widened with triangular gores, while in
Mediterranean countries smocks were cut fuller in the body and sleeves.
High-necked smocks were worn under high-necked fashions, to protect the
expensive outer garments from body oils and dirt. There is pictorial
evidence that Venetian courtesans wore linen or silk drawers, but no
evidence that drawers were worn in England.
- Stockings or hose were generally
made of woven wool sewn to shape and held in place with ribbon
- The corset, called a vasquine in Spanish, arose in
the first half of the 16th century in Spain. The fashion spread from
there to Italy, and then to France and (eventually) England, where it
was called a pair of bodies, being made in two parts which laced back
and front. The corset was restricted to aristocratic fashion, and was a
fitted bodice stiffened with reeds called bents, wood, or whalebone.
- Skirts were held in the proper shape by a
farthingale or hoop skirt. In Spain, the cone-shaped Spanish farthingale
remained in fashion into the early 17th century. It was only briefly
fashionable in France, where a padded roll or French farthingale (called
in England a bum roll) held the skirts out in a rounded shape at the
waist, falling in soft folds to the floor. In England, the Spanish
farthingale was worn through the 1570s, and was gradually replaced by
the French farthingale. By the 1590s, skirts were pinned to wide wheel
farthingales to achieve a drum shape.
- Ladies wore sturdy overskirts called
safeguards over their dresses for riding or travel on dirty
- Hooded cloaks were worn overall in bad weather. One
description mentions strings being attached to the stirrup or foot to
hold the skirts in place when riding. Mantles were also popular and
described as modern day bench warmers: a square blanket or rug that is
attached to the shoulder, worn around the body, or on the knees for
extra warmth. Besides keeping warm, Elizabethans cloaks were useful for
any type of weather; the Cassock, commonly known as the
Dutch cloak, was another kind of cloak. Its name
implies some military ideals and has been used since the beginning of
the 16th century and therefore has many forms. The cloak is identified
by its flaring out at the shoulders and the intricacy of decoration. The
cloak was worn to the ankle, waist or fork. It also had specific
measurements of 3/4 cut. The longer lengths were more popular for travel
and came with many variations. These include: taller collars than
normal, upturned collar or no collar at all and sleeves. The French
cloak was quite the opposite of the Dutch and was worn anywhere from the
knees to the ankle. It was typically worn over the left shoulder and
included a cape that came to the elbow. It was a highly decorated cloak.
The Spanish cloak or cape was well known to be stiff, have a very
decorated hood and was worn to the hip or waist. The over-gown for women
was very plain and worn loosely to the floor or ankle length. The Juppe
had a relation to the safeguard and they would usually be worn together.
The Juppe replaced the Dutch Cloak and was most likely a loose form of
Elizabethan Fashion Accessories
In addition to fabulous clothing, fashion
accessories during the Elizabethan era were also important.
The fashion for wearing or carrying the pelt of a sable or marten spread
from continental Europe into England in this period; costume historians call
these accessories zibellini or "flea furs". The most
expensive zibellini had faces and paws of goldsmith's work with jeweled
- A zibellino, flea-fur or fur tippet is a women's fashion accessory
popular in the later 15th and 16th centuries. A zibellino, from the
Italian word for "sable", is the pelt of a sable or marten worn draped
at the neck or hanging at the waist, or carried in the hand. The plural
is zibellini. Some zibellini were fitted with faces and paws of
goldsmith's work with jeweled eyes and pearl earrings, while unadorned
furs were also fashionable.
Queen Elizabeth received a fabulous zibellino as a New Years gift in
Gloves of perfumed leather featured embroidered cuffs.
A close-fitting linen cap called a
coif or biggins was worn, alone or
under other hats or hoods, especially in the Netherlands and England. Many
embroidered and bobbin-lace-trimmed English coifs survive from this period.
The French hood was worn throughout the period in both France and England.
Another fashionable headdress was a caul, or cap, of net-work lined in silk
attached to a band, which covered the pinned up hair. This style of
headdress had also been seen in Germany in the first half of the century.
- Widows in mourning wore black hoods with sheer black veils.
Married and grown women covered their hair, as they had in previous
periods. Early in the period, hair was parted in the center and
fluffed over the temples. Later, front hair was curled and puffed high over
Wigs and false hairpieces were used to extend the hair.
Folding fans appeared late in the period, replacing flat
fans of ostrich feathers.
A bit of history for your reference of the
The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the Tudor period of the history of
England during the reign of
Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603).
The Elizabethan age contrasts sharply with the previous and following
reigns. It was a brief period of internal peace
between the English Reformation and the religious battles between
Protestants and Catholics and then the political battles between parliament
and the monarchy that engulfed the remainder of the seventeenth century.
- England was well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The
Italian Renaissance had come to an end under the weight of Spanish
domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious
battles that were (temporarily) settled in 1598 by a policy of
tolerating Protestantism with the Edict of Nantes. In part because of
this, but also because the English had been expelled from their last
outposts on the continent by Spain's tercios, the centuries-long
conflict between France and England was largely suspended for most of
Elizabeth's reign. The one great rival was Spain, with whom England
clashed both in Europe and the Americas in skirmishes that exploded into
the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585–1604.
Historians often depict it as the
golden age in English history.
- The symbol of Britannia (a female personification of Great Britain)
was first used in 1572, and often thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan
age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical
ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over Spain.
This "golden age" represented the apogee of
the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of fashion, poetry, music and
Since Elizabeth I, Queen of England, was the ruler,
women's fashion became one of the most important aspects of this period. As
the Queen was always required to have a pure image, and although women's
fashion became increasingly seductive, the idea of the perfect Elizabethan
women was never forgotten.
Strict Dress Code Set by Law - Elizabethan
Elizabethan era had its own customs and social rules that were reflected
in their fashion. Style would depend usually of social status and
Elizabethans were bound to obey The Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws, which
oversaw the style and materials worn. Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws were
used to control behavior and to ensure that a specific structure was
maintained. These set of rules were well known by all the English people and
penalties for violating these Sumptuary Laws were harsh - fines, and most of
the time ended in the loss of property, title and even life.
Regarding to fabrics and materials for the clothes construction, only
Royalty were permitted to wear ermine.
- The stoat (Mustela erminea), also known as the ermine,
short-tailed weasel or simply the weasel in Ireland where the least
weasel does not live, is a mammal of the genus Mustela of the family
Mustelidae native to Eurasia and North America, distinguished from the
least weasel by its larger size and longer tail with a prominent black
tip. The winter fur is very dense and silky, but quite closely lying and
short, while the summer fur is rougher, shorter and sparse. In summer,
the fur is sandy-brown on the back and head and a white below.
Other nobles (lesser ones) were allowed only to wear foxes and
otters. Clothes worn during this era were mostly inspired by geometric
shapes, probably derived from the high interest in science and mathematics
from that era. "Padding and quilting together with the use of whalebone or
buckram for stiffening purposes were used to gain geometric effect with
emphasis on giving the illusion of a small waist"
The upper classes, too, were restricted. Certain materials such as cloth
of gold could only be worn by the Queen, her mother, children, aunts,
sisters, along with Duchesses, Marchionesses, and Countesses. Whereas,
Viscountesses, or Baronesses, for instance, were not allowed to use this
Not only fabrics were restricted on the Elizabethan era, but also colors,
depending on social status. Purple was only allowed to be worn by the queen
and her direct family members. Depending on social status, the color could
be used in any clothing or would be limited to mantles, doublets, jerkins,
or other specific items. Lower classes were only allowed to use brown,
beige, yellow, orange, green, grey and blue in wool, linen and sheepskin,
while usual fabrics for upper crusts were silk or
The Theater was Special - Effects on
With William Shakespeare at his peak, as well as Christopher Marlowe and
many other playwrights, actors and theatres constantly busy, the high
culture of the Elizabethan Renaissance was best expressed in its theatre.
Historical topics were especially popular, not to mention the usual comedies
- It was during Elizabeth's reign that the first real theatres were
built in England. Before theatres were built, actors travelled from town
to town and performed in the streets or outside inns.
One of the main uses of costume during
the Elizabethan era was to make up for the lack of scenery,
set, and props on stage. It created a visual effect for the audience, and it
was an integral part of the overall performance. Since the main visual
appeal on stage were the costumes, they were often bright in color and
visually entrancing. Colors symbolized social hierarchy, and costumes were
made to reflect that. For example, if a character was royalty,
their costume would include purple. The colors, as well as
the different fabrics of the costumes, allowed the audience to know the
status of each character when they first appeared on stage.
- Costumes themselves were expensive, so usually players wore
contemporary clothing regardless of the time period of the play. The
most expensive pieces were given to higher class characters because
costuming was used to identify social status on stage. The fabrics
within a playhouse would indicate the wealth of the company itself. The
fabrics used the most were: velvet, satin, silk, cloth-of-gold, lace,
- In the Elizabethan era, there was a law stating that certain classes
could only wear clothing fitting of their status in society. There was a
discrimination of status within the classes. Higher classes flaunted
their wealth and power through the appearance of clothing, however,
actors were the only exception. If actors belonged to a licensed acting
company, they were allowed to dress above their standing in society for
specific roles in a production.
During the Elizabethan era, people looked forward to holidays because
opportunities for leisure were limited, with time away from hard work being
restricted to periods after church on Sundays. For the most part, leisure
and festivities took place on a public church holy day.
The Dangers of Makeup During the Elizabethan
The ideal standard of beauty for women in the Elizabethan era was to have
light or naturally red hair, a pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips
(similar to the natural appearance of Queen Elizabeth). Also, it was
to look very English since the main enemy of England was Spain, and in Spain
darker hair was dominant.
To further enhance the desired pale complexion, women layered white
make-up on their faces. This make-up, called Ceruse, was
made up of white lead and vinegar. Women wearing ceruse achieved the white
face, however, the white lead that was used to make it is poisonous. Women
in this time often contracted lead poisoning which resulted in deaths before
the age of 50. Other ingredients used as make-up were sulfur, alum, and tin
ash. In addition to using make-up to achieve the pale complexion, women in
this era were bled to take the color out of their faces.
- Venetian ceruse, also known as blanc de ceruse de Venise and Spirits
of Saturn, was a 16th-century cosmetic used as a skin whitener. It was
in great demand and considered the best available at that time. It is
similar to the regular ceruse, although it was marketed as better, more
exclusive and expensive than the regular ceruse variant
For the red cheeks and lips, dyes were sometimes used. Cochineal, madder
and vermilion were used as dyes to achieve the bright red effects on the
face. Not only were the cheeks and lips emphasized; Kohl was used to darken
the eyelashes and enhance the size and appearance of the eyes.
- Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic, traditionally made by grinding
stibnite (Sb2S3) for similar purposes to charcoal used in mascara. The
content of kohl and the recipes to prepare it vary greatly. In North
Africa and Middle East, homemade kohl is often made by grinding galena
(lead sulfide). Western manufacturers use amorphous carbon or organic
charcoal instead of lead. Plant oils and the soot from various nuts,
seeds, and gum resins are often added to the carbon powder. The non-lead
products are considered to be of inferior quality to the older,
traditional varieties and therefore there has been an increase in the
use of handmade, lead-based kohl.
Elizabethan Era Footwear
Fashionable shoes for men and women were similar,
with a flat one-piece sole and rounded toes. Shoes were fastened with
ribbons, laces or simply slipped on. Shoes and boots became narrower,
followed the contours of the foot, and covered more of the foot, in some
cases up to the ankle, than they had previously.
Men's Fashion Elizabethan Era
Men's clothing during the Elizabethan era was also rather interesting.
Women's fashion was exceptional due to the queen, but men's fashion was of
interest as well.
Clothing & facial hair had significance during this period.
Although beards were worn by many men prior to the mid-16th century, it was
at this time when grooming and styling facial hair gained social
significance. These styles would change very frequently, from
pointed whiskers to round trims, throughout these few decades. The easiest
way men were able to maintain the style of their beards was to apply starch
onto their groomed faces.
Men's fashionable clothing consisted of a linen shirt with collar or ruff
and matching wrist ruffs, which were laundered with starch to be kept stiff
and bright. Over the shirt men wore a doublet with long sleeves sewn or
laced in place. Doublets were stiff, heavy garments, and were often
reinforced with boning.
Optionally, a jerkin, usually sleeveless and often made of leather, was
worn over the doublet. During this time the doublet and jerkin became
increasingly more colorful and highly decorated.
- A doublet is a man's snug-fitting jacket that is
shaped and fitted to the man's body which was worn in Spain and was
spread to Western Europe from the late Middle Ages up to the mid-17th
century. The doublet was hip length or waist length and worn over the
shirt or drawers. Until the end of the 15th century, the doublet was
usually worn under another layer of clothing such as a gown, mantle,
overtunic or jerkin when in public. Originally it was a mere stitched
and quilted lining ("doubling"), worn under a hauberk or cuirass to
prevent bruising and chafing. Doublets were sometimes opened to the
waistline in a deep V. The edges might be left free or laced across the
shirt front. If there was space left it might be filled with a
stomacher. By the 1520s, the edges of the doublet more frequently met at
the center front. Then, like many other originally practical items in
the history of men's wear, from the late 15th century onward it became
elaborated enough to be seen on its own. In the early Elizabethan
period, doublets were padded over the belly with bombast in a "pouter
pigeon" or "peascod" silhouette. Sleeve attachments at the shoulder were
disguised by decorative wings, tabs, or piccadills, and short skirt-like
peplums or piccadills covered the waist of the hose or breeches. Padding
gradually fell out of fashion again, and the doublet became
close-fitting with a deep V-waistline.
- A jerkin is a man's short close-fitting jacket,
made usually of light-colored leather, and often without sleeves, worn
over the doublet in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Leather
jerkins of the 16th century were often slashed and punched, both for
decoration and to improve the fit. Jerkins were worn closed at the neck
and hanging open over the peascod-bellied fashion of doublet.
Waistlines dipped V-shape in front, and were padded to hold their shape.
Around 1570, this padding was exaggerated into a peascod belly.
Short cloaks or capes, usually hip-length, often with
sleeves, or a military jacket like a mandilion, were fashionable. Long
cloaks were worn in cold and wet weather. Gowns were increasingly
old-fashioned, and were worn by older men for warmth indoors and out.
Hose, in variety of styles, were worn with a
codpiece early in the period.
- A codpiece (from Middle English: cod, meaning "scrotum") is a
covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men's
trousers, enclosing the genital area. It may be held closed by string
ties, buttons, folds, or other methods. It was an important fashion item
of European clothing during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Trunk hose or round hose were short padded hose. Very
short trunk hose were worn over cannions, fitted hose that
ended above the knee. Trunk hose could be paned or pansied, with strips of
fabric (panes) over a full inner layer or lining. Slops or galligaskins were
loose hose reaching just below the knee. Slops could also be pansied.
Venetians were semi-fitted hose reaching just below the
Pluderhosen were a Northern European form of pansied slops with a very
full inner layer pulled out between the panes and hanging below the knee.
Men wore stockings or netherstocks and
flat shoes with rounded toes, with slashes early in the period and ties over
the instep later. Boots were worn for riding.
Fashion accessories for men during the Elizabethan era included the
baldrick, gloves, jewelry and more.
- Gloves were often used as a social mediator to
recognize the wealthy. Beginning in the second half of the 16th century,
many men had trimmed tips off of the fingers of gloves in order for the
admirer to see the jewels that were being hidden by the glove.
- A baldrick or "corse" was a belt commonly worn
diagonally across the chest or around the waist for holding items such
swords, daggers, bugles, and horns.
- Jewelry for Men: Late in the period, fashionable
young men wore a plain gold ring, a jeweled earring, or a strand of
black silk through one pierced ear.
Now that you are so knowledgeable about fashion
history, it might be time for you to meet the true
You may want to also learn about
Victorian Fashion and
Edwardian Era Fashion.
Do you know the queen of fashion? Maybe you know the