Dyes have been an important substance to man since time immemorial and continue to be important as far as use is concerned. In fact its use has only ever increased since its inception. However the era that we are talking about had that one extra use for a dye and the colours it was available in.
The colour and brightness of a dye used on clothing during Elizabethan era was most indicative of its cost and in doing so was almost definitely an indicator of your social and economic status. The brighter coloured dyes were more expensive and were more often than not worn by royalty and nobility alone whereas the more dull colours would belong to the economically weaker sections of society.
Dyes were always made from natural sources in the Elizabeth era. There were generally four types of dyes in the cheap category during this time lichen, madder, woad and weld. Lichen was extracted from mosses and growths on the trunk of trees and was green in colour.
Madder provided a red tint to whatever clothing it applied. Woad was made from a plant called Isatis tinctoria and provided a blue tinted dyestuff from its leaves. Weld on the other hand was a source of yellow dye.
Some of the more expensive dyes used were the Tyrian Purple dye which was made tediously by crushing sea shells. The Indigo coloured dye was prepared from the Indigo plants. The crimson dye was extracted from the bodies of insects found in South or Central America or from the Mediterranean.
The rich yellow dye was prepared from Saffron. The purple clothing made by immersion in purple dyes were the most linked with royalty or nobility. However dull red or blue was often related to a downtrodden class of people.
Regardless of the social standing the preparation of dyes was an even more tedious process at that time than it is now and was a labour intense task. However it was funny in a way that there were laws that forbade certain people to wear certain colours of clothing even if they could afford it simply because they were representative of a higher social class.