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Elizabethan England

Men's Fashion
during the Elizabethan Period

by Matt Doering

In the Elizabethan period, clothing was very different from the contemporary styles of Eddie Bauer. It was not at all uncommon for men to wear tights, make-up oreven jewelry.

A trend called "slashing" started in Italy spread through the rest of Europe very quickly. This trend was displayed by cutting fine slits in the outer wear and pulling an undergarment of a contrasting color through. Doing so was an excellent opportunity to show how resourceful an individual was. Fine linens were very difficult to obtain. This custom was believed to have been started by mercenary soldiers who wore good clothes under their rags.

Ornamentation was a widespread trend of the time, as well. Even though the clothing could not be washed, soap was beginning to be produced in London in 1524. It was expensive and could not be used with fine cloths such as silk.

The bills of laundering must have reached their peak in 1550 when people began to wear ruffs. A ruff is a natural development of the frill formed by the drawstrings that fastened men's shirts at the neck. Some ruffs were so extravagant that they were a foot deep. The French King Henry III wore a ruff so neatly folded with an ironing stick that it had eighteen yards of linen. Ruffs were known to be so inconvenient that a royal lady used a spoon with a handle two feet long to eat a bowl of soup.

In England, ruffs were usually about eight inches wide and were open in front. The stiffness of ruffs increased when starching was introduced by the wife of queen Elizabeth's Dutch coachman, Mrs. Dingham. Mrs. Dingham made starching a little more widespread by teaching people how to do it for a small amount of currency. Men and women wore ruffs to symbolize their higher social class.

There were problems in being so proper, and the first to realize this was Cardinal Richelieu of France. He tried to put a halt to all the reckless extravagance of court functions. The clothing just made people jealous. All the snazzy dressers would go to parties and would not be able to move because the shirts were too stiff or the gems were too heavy.

Boots were very fanciful in the seventeenth century. Long boots, long enough to reach the thigh, were made of fine leather and decorated with fringed tops, ruffles and jeweled buckles. Some of these boots were turned up at the toe to such an extent that it was almost impossible to walk in them. The quality of the leather made the peasants mad because they felt that this was a waste of materials on the rich.

For all the long dresses, ruffled collars, and long hair, men of this period were known for their quick tempers and fierce sense of honor. As has been said,"Hearts were bold and men were men." To the modern eye, the clothing may seem feminine; however, we usually fail to mention the sword and rapier hanging from men's belts at this time.

Children of both sexes wore dresses. The counterpart to todays man's suit consisted of "breeches," which were kind of like long underwear. Today something like this worn to be exposed would be considered a little too revealing for most men.

Dress of this time was considered an art. People of the Elizabethan period realized this and indulged themselves when their means permitted it. People of the time probably received sweaters from their grandmothers for Christmas, as well. Clothing was not the chief concern, of course, so maybe that's why men wore dresses.

See also "Fashions: Women and Men"

Works Consulted

Angelogalou, Maggie. A History of Makeup. London: Studio Vista Ltd.,1970.

This book was an interesting one. The chapters on "Men's Cosmetics in England" and "Fashions in the 18th Century" were very helpful.

Bergan, Thomas G. and Jennifer Speak. The Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1987.

This encyclopedia helped me to understand how closely the clothing and art of the Elizabethan period are tied together.

*Davenport, Millia. The Book of Costume. New York: Crown publishers,1948.

This book was very useful in helping me tie all the clothing evolutions together, especially the first three chapters.

Dorner, Jane. Fashion . London: Octopus Books Limited, 1974.

This book was very helpful in teaching me why people dressed as they did. I used the chapters "Fashion Before 1700" and "Trousers and Sports Cloths" very much.

Racinet, Albert. Historical Encyclopedia of Costume. New York: Facts On File Publications, 1988.

This book broadened my horizons on Elizabethan clothing. I used the chapters on the casual wear the most. They were very helpful in my report.

*Source for visual.


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