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Royal, military and court costumes of the time of James I. Watercolor, early 17th century

Royal, military and court costumes of the time of James I. Watercolor, early 17th century

Queen Elizabeth I and her court loved fashion! Clothing was sewn by hand by tailors and seamstresses who used expensive fabrics, beautiful embroidery, and stunning gemstones in their creations to show how wealthy and powerful the wearers were.


English fashion borrowed from European trends. The English were known for creating new looks by combining clothing from various countries. While some people liked the way that they blended styles, others made fun of them.


Rules called "Acts of Apparel" told people what kinds of clothing they could wear, based on their position in society. These rules were very extensive and governed fabrics, colors, and even kind of accessories people could wear. For example, only the most powerful nobles could wear purple silk.  Ordinary people were supposed to wear wool, although their clothes might be decorated with fancier fabrics like velvet or lace. People who broke the rules could be fined. 


In spite of the possibility of punishment, most people ignored the rules!


Clothing for Women


Women wore smocks, similiar to a long, loose shirt, underneath their clothes. Wealthy women might wear petticoats over the smocks. The petticoats helped the kirtle, a middle garment similiar to a skirt, to hang evenly.  A bodice came next. This was a sleeveless garment that laced over a woman's torso; bodices were stiff and sometimes padded or reinforced to give the woman an attractive, slender shape.


Sleeves were often separate from the other parts of clothing and were pinned or tied on.  Finally, a gown might go on top of everything for extra warmth or for a special occasion. Queen Elizabeth I owned over 300 gowns, in addition to other clothing!


Clothing for Men


Men's clothing, especially among the upper classes, was often more attention-getting than the ladies'. The basic parts of a man's outfit were the hose, which included breeches (short pants) and stockings, and the doublet (jacket). Men wore shirts underneath the doublet.


Bright colors, especially red and orange, were popular. Black clothing provided a nice contrast to sparking jewels. Stylish younger men might wear a short cloak, which added a dramatic look to the outfit. Older men and government officials might add a long, open-front gown over the rest of their clothes.







  Did you know?

Snaps and zippers were not yet invented, so Queen Elizabeth I's servants used hundreds of pins to fasten her clothing together.

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