Elizabethan Era Fashion
Fashion History  Fashion Definitions  History of Fashion Industry

A very exciting time ruled by the queen of 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 rolls.

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 aristocratic wealth.

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 eyes.

Queen Elizabeth received a fabulous zibellino as a New Years gift in 1584. 

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.

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 the forehead.

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 time:

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.

 Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history.

This "golden age" represented the apogee of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of fashion, poetry, music and literature.

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 Sumptuary Laws

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.[8] 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.

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 material.

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 velvet.

The Theater was Special - Effects on Elizabethan Fashion

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 and tragedies.

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.

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 Era

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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 knee.

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.

Now that you are so knowledgeable about fashion history, it might be time for you to meet the true fashion princess.

Elizabethan Era Fashion Queen Elizabeth

Apparel Search Fashion Industry b2b Directory for the clothing industry

You may want to also learn about Victorian Fashion and Edwardian Era Fashion.

Do you know the queen of fashion?  Maybe you know the king of fashion.