Clothing wasn’t just merely an insignificant thing in the days of Elizabethan England. In fact, it is quite significant that there is even an Elizabethan law related to it. These laws stated the colours as well as the type of clothing an individual was allowed to own and wear.
These laws were called ‘Statutes of Apparel” and was enforced by the Queen herself in Greenwich on June 1574. The intent was to maintain the social structure as well as to keep a firm restrain on the people’s expenditure towards clothing.
Basically, Elizabethan Clothing was a part of the social order. It is also indicative of a particular person’s status not only reflecting how wealthy or poor they are but also of their social reputation. For example, back then it is absurd for a peasant to copy more well off individuals through “luxurious” clothing which was only worn by upper classes.
Royalty Clothing in the Elizabethan Era
The materials used for the clothes worn by the royals were very expensive and mostly imported. the women wore gowns which had many parts and layers. They also had shoulder pads. Starch was used to stiffen the fabrics. A farthingale to make the skirts and gowns look extended was also very common.
Men mostly wore a loose-fitting shirt, buttoned-down and cuffed. For pants, they wore short breeches that were puffy. women’s clothes were designed to make them look slimmer and men’s clothing was loose and baggy.
Social Class and Clothing
The Elizabethan era clothing materials varied according to social status. The upper class of Elizabethan England wore elegant and luxurious clothing that was made of expensive velvet, exotic silk and satin. Only the members of the Royal Family were allowed to own robes which were trimmed with ermine. Less noble folk wore clothing trimmed with either fox or otter.
Elizabethan Era Peasant’s Clothing
Quite the contrast to the luxurious clothing of the affluent was the clothing worn by peasants and the lower classes. They wore clothing made of simple materials such as English cotton, wool and leather. Woollen clothing was in fact quite popular among the working as well as domestic classes since it was rather cheap and the wool trade saw an increase during the period.
People of middle-class status in the Elizabethan era mostly wore clothes made of cotton, linen and broadcloth. They wore a short top called chemise which would protect the lower clothes from sweat. These chemises were like vests on which the bodice was worn. Petticoats were used to keep the body warm.
Middle-class people also used cloaks and overcoats. They wore hats in public and women often used perfumes because the streets were extremely filthy. The poor people wore doublets and jerkins. The men wore doublets over their shirts and the sleeves were detachable from the doublets.
Colours used in Elizabethan England
The dyes that were used to colour the lavish clothing of the noble of Elizabethan England cost quite a bit. In one of Elizabeth I’s surviving portraits, she was shown wearing a crimson robe. The deep crimson colouring was obtained from an insect which was only found in the Mediterranean.
The brightest colours demanded a higher price tag and were only available to the upper class. The brightness of the colour and its richness are the determining factors as to how expensive it would be. The working class or peasants wore clothes dyed in yellow, orange, green, pale blue, pink and russet.
Accessories For Men and Women
Elizabethan clothing accessories for women usually consisted of gowns, underclothing, corsets, hats, ruffs, collars and shoes. The men wore doublets, underclothing, breeches, ruffs, collars, hats and shoes.
Women often wore fancy jewellery but for both men and women ruffs were an indispensable item that adds to their elegant look. The Queen herself wore many elaborate collars. The ruffs were worn around the neck or wrists and became significantly larger later on.
Rich Elizabethan women’s clothing
Rich Elizabethan women also wore thick petticoats and on top of this came the corset and skirts. Their skirts were held up with hoops and are often padded at the hips. Then on top of all the was an outer bodice and a skirt or a fine dress and to finish it off, the women wore a coat or a dressing gown which went all the way down to the floor.
What Influenced Elizabethan Era clothing?
Queen Elizabeth herself was the greatest influencer of fashion during her time. Elaborate and ostentatious in her clothing choices, Queen Elizabeth even kept a detailed account of the expenditure for her clothing. Her clothing accounts listed exactly how much materials were bought, from whom and what purpose it was used for.
Elizabeth’s fascination for foreign styles of clothing had a huge influence on the fashion of that era. French, Spanish, Italian, and even German fashion seeped into the clothing trends in England. Gowns and accessories worn by the Queen were imitated by women from all social classes and hence, similar clothes with cheaper materials were made.
Elizabeth’s influence, however, was not only limited to women’s wardrobe but also reached men’s fashion. the courtiers competed with each other to show up in the most expensive, sparkly outfit possible. They started using rich fabrics and wore clothes that would broaden their shoulders. Bright colours and elaborate embroidery was made to display wealth and class.
An astute politician, Queen Elizabeth even knew how to use fashion for political ends. When negotiations for her marriage were being made with the Anjous, she sent a portrait of herself to Catherine de’ Medici where she is dressed in the most elaborate and flashy French clothes. It was met with commending response and the negotiations were successful.
Talk about grandiose and not to mention heavy. But one must remember, that just like their art and architecture, clothing in the Elizabethan Era was also an indicator of a person’s wealth and status.