A Brief Essay on our Costume Guidelines
- Elizabeth Tudor, 1558-1600
- Men’s Fashions – Peasant
- Women’s Fashions – Peasant
- Men’s Fashions – Middle-Class
- Women’s Fashions – Middle-Class
- Estimating Fabric Lengths
- Construction Tips
- Fitting Your Garment
- Glossary of Elizabethan Costume Terms
- Reference Books
WELCOME TO ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND!
When you enter the gates of the Renaissance Faire, the world of 16th century England awaits. It is the “Golden Age,” the English Renaissance, the time of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth Tudor, who reigned from 1558 to 1603.
To escape the heat and stench of London in the summer, the Queen would often travel to the countryside and visit various towns and the estates of her nobility. Most of her court would travel with her, many of those in her government, and others looking for favor from the Queen. Add a full complement of servants for each high-born traveler and the numbers would often swell into the hundreds. At each stop, the hosting noble or town official would be expected to welcome the Queen with much pomp and circumstance, producing elaborate presentations, plays, masques, and the like for the Queen’s enjoyment.
It is one of these “progresses” that brings Queen Elizabeth to the Renaissance Faire. We do not portray a particular year for the Queen’s visit, but roughly the period from the 1560s until just before the Spanish Armada in 1588. We are “a chapter, not a page” out of Elizabethan history.
THE QUEEN IS COMING! No other event in your life is more important – no birth, no wedding, no death, no business deal can outshine this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Her Majesty with your own eyes! At the time, seeing the Queen was like meeting the Pope or the President in person. The Queen’s arrival also means many visitors to the city (the Faire) with extra money to spend, (which means profit for the merchants). What do you wear for such an event? Why, your “Sunday best,” of course! Just as you would adorn your shop or your home for this festive occasion, so should you dress for the occasion as well!
How you dress identifies your “class.” The main classes were: the noble class (those holding a title, either hereditary or honorary), the middle class (merchants, lawyers, other “professionals”), and the peasant class (known today as the “working poor”). At the Faire, your station in life will be known mainly by your clothing. For example, a merchant is in the middle class so he and his family will dress according to that station. Food sellers, on the other hand, are part of the peasant class. Entertainers may be either, depending on how they are cast. These guidelines have been prepared to make your day at the Faire more successful.
The accession to the throne of England of a monarch possessing a strong individuality has always resulted in that particular peculiarity being stamped upon the nation, and Elizabeth decidedly established herself as one such individual. Her force of will, her strong business qualities, her intense love of pleasure, her passion for display, her love and encouragement of everything that added to the greatness of England, are all marked upon the progress of the nation during her reign, and especially upon costume. It was not to be expected that a woman of her force of character would be content with the same garments her grandmother affected, and consequently, at an early period in her reign, we find those changes inaugurated which resulted in complete upheaval and an entire revolution of the dress of the English nation.
A peasant man would wear at least a tunic or shirt, and breeches of some kind. He would also wear a laced-up or buttoned jerkin (vest) with or without sleeves over this, and some kind of hat with a biggins (coif) underneath to keep his shaggy hair out of his eyes. All but the poorest would have cloth hosen (stockings) and shoes, or if he wore no hose, he would have long breeches similar to pajama pants, cross-gartered from ankle to knee. Cross-gartered breeches were commonly worn by the lower classes since before the Conquest in 1066. He would have a cape in cold weather.
At his belt would be a pouch to carry oddments and a small knife for eating purposes. He would be carrying on or about his personal objects pertaining to his profession, whatever it might be. His clothing would probably have holes or patches on it.
Fabrics were coarsely woven or at least had that appearance. The lower classes mostly spun their own yarn and wove their own cloth, and just because they had to do it does not mean that they were good at it! They wore wool, linen, and combinations of the two fibers, such as linsey-woolsey. They also wore leather when they could get it from hunting, and they lined their winter clothes and capes with the skins of rabbits and squirrels.
Colors for dying the fabrics were obtained from vegetable sources available in the vicinity and were mainly earth colors and muted tones.
Trim on peasant clothes was kept simple, and usually, embroidery or plain strips of contrasting fabric was sewn to edges to set them off. More often, there was no trim or edge decoration at all.
Since there was seldom enough money or time to buy or make a lot of cloth at one time, the color of one garment hardly ever matched the color of another. Also, since a peasant usually only had one outfit, it did not get washed very often, so it would be well worn, dirty, and patched. These were working clothes, so not much time was given to upkeep.
Worn-out clothes were not thrown away, but combined with others and recycled in one form or another until the fibers fell apart. Even then, the remains might have been shredded and carded with fresh wool to fill it out and be rewoven into a whole new piece of fabric.
A peasant woman wore a long-sleeved shift under everything and at least two skirts over that, with the upper skirt, usually newer than the underskirts, tucked up out of the dirt. She had an apron on over the skirts to keep them clean if she was doing work, which was most of the time. She wore a tight-fitting bodice or vest (scoop or square necked), which usually came to a point in front, and laced or buttoned on over the shift. It had removable sleeves which were worn or not, depending on the weather.
Any woman over the age of thirteen had her hair covered by some sort of headgear, such as a biggins, garland, or muffin cap, and the hair itself was usually braided or bundled up out of the way. There was no such thing as having short hair “for comfort.” (If you have short hair, cover your head or wear a wig or hairpiece.)
Women sometimes wore knee-length cloth hosen held up by garter ties and they had some kind of shoes if they were lucky.
She had a belt pouch and a small eating knife of her own. She had a basket to carry things gathered in the fields or bought at the morning market.
In cold weather, she would wear a cape or shawl wrapped around her.
She wore no lace. It was much too expensive.
The middle-class men would quite often be gentry or petty nobility, with their own horse and lands. He might also be a high-ranking servant in a nobleman’s household, a rich merchant, or a highly skilled craftsman of some kind. He would have his own servants, among whom would be a valet, a personal body servant whose sole task was to see to his master’s clothing and personal appearance. Therefore, the middle-class man would dress quite well, if he could afford it. He might choose to pay the sumptuary tax on some item of his apparel so that he could be even more richly dressed.
Over the shirt, he wore a close-fitting doublet with long or short skirting that ended somewhere between his upper thigh and the knee, depending on his age and respectability. He wore breeches or slops, also called truck-hose or upper-stocks on his lower half and they were decorated to some degree.
His hosen, also called nether-stocks, now reached all the way up his legs and were sometimes knitted instead of sewn from bias cut fabric, as was most commonly done. Knitted hosen, however, were fabulously expensive, because they were always hand-knitted, usually out of silk, and cost upwards of five pounds a pair. That was a princely sum for those days, perhaps the equivalent of $200.00 today. His fine shoes were decorated with buckles or ribbon and his garter ties were sometimes embroidered or fringed on the ends.
He wore either a flat cap or a tall crowned, small brimmed hat with feathers and a fancy hatband. His hair was short and older men and conservative types covered their heads with a coif or biggins under their hats. Men of this class were likely to go clean-shaven, or if they had whiskers, they were well-trimmed.
Many of the older or more conservative gentlemen wore knee-length coats called “surcoates” or “great coats,” and if worn long, were called “gowns.” These coats were worn over doublets and slops as an outer garment, instead of a cape. The surcoate resembled a modern choir robe with a deep collar or “rever” of velvet or fur.
Pouch and dagger hung from his belt and he might have a fine gold chain around his neck to denote wealth, rank, or position. His clothes were trimmed, embroidered, and jeweled as much as he could afford and the sumptuary laws would allow, and his appearance was sometimes little different from that of a noble gentleman.
Fabrics were still the practical wool and linen, but they were much finer quality than before. Added to this were cotton for undergarments, and silk, satins, and velvets in modest quantities. Those who could afford to dress especially well were always skirting the edges of the sumptuary laws, trying to get away with just a little bit more than their neighbors.
Ladies of this class were wives or daughters of knights, country squires, or wealthy merchants or artisans, with their own servants. Or they might be high-ranking servants in a noble household with a lot of authority and power of their own. Wives and daughters were under the control of their male relatives, having few rights. Like their male equivalents, they dressed as well as they could afford.
The middle-class lady’s chemise was almost always high-necked and made out of some delicate fabric, such as fine linen, imported cotton lawn, or even silk. It might be embroidered and had neck and wrist ruffs, which were lace-edged, budget permitting. A married lady or conservative spinster wore her chemise closed down the front and a single lady wore hers open. In the coldest weather, everybody probably closed their chemises just to keep out the cold.
Over the chemise, she wore a busk or corset, bum-roll or farthingale (hoopskirt), and petticoats, just like the noble ladies but in a less exaggerated style. Her corset was less tight, maybe her bum-roll was smaller, and her farthingale was less wide around the hem.
Her underskirt, richly decorated, was cut to fit closely over the farthingale, so the effect was that of a stiff A-line, long skirt. The bodice was high-necked, with a tall collar. The overskirt was full and pleated or gathered into the waistband. The bodice and overskirt matched. The overskirt might be split up the front to display the fancy underskirt. Her lace-in sleeves sometimes matched the more ornate underskirt. She sometimes wore an open Spanish surcoate as an extra layer of clothing over her gown.
Her hair was dressed to imitate the styles of the Court ladies and she wore a variety of wigs, hats, and headdresses, just as they did. She might have knitted hosen with pretty ribbon garters and her shoes would have low heels, or be more like dancing slippers. Out of doors, she wore chopines, similar to wooden clogs, over her slippers to keep the mud of the streets off of them.
She had embroidery or other trim decorating the garment edges, and they might also be beaded or jeweled if she were rich enough. Her hat or cap, pouch, and shoes could also be decorated like the rest. She still wore the household keys at her belt, but probably not a knife anymore. She would eat with a table knife and fork instead. Depending on her pretensions, she might also have a fine feather fan or pomander. She wore whatever jewelry she could afford and the sumptuary laws would allow. Jewelry would include gold and silver chains, strings of glass beads, semi-precious stones, or small pearls. She may have worn rings, brooches, earrings, and pins as well.
COSTUME COLORS – MIDDLE-CLASS
COLORS NOT ACCEPTABLE – MIDDLE CLASS
|Everything mentioned in Peasant, including:
Black, in small amounts (unless you are a Puritan)
More jewel-toned: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Garnet, Topaz, Lapis, Citron, Malachite
Excess of Silver or Gold
Excess of Turquoise
FABRICS – MIDDLE CLASS
FABRICS NOT ACCEPTABLE – MIDDLE CLASS
|Silk (for shirt)
Satin (for lining)
TRIMS – MIDDLE CLASS
CLOSURES – MIDDLE CLASS
A small amount of metallic Silver
Less amount of metallic gold
More ornate upholstery gimp
Trims are similar to the peasant class, however, you would show off your standing by utilizing more trim
French knot or Rope buttons
Hooks & eyes
Fabric today is expensive; gone are the days when fabric was added for luck. The following is a rough estimate of the amount of fabric required to make a costume. The most common widths of fabric are 36 inches, 45 inches, 54 inches, and 60 inches. Most patterns are calculated in yards and inches. To calculate the number of yards you require, work out the total number of inches per pattern piece and divide by 36. On average, a costume requires the following amounts of yards or inches in face or top fabric:
|Bodice||18 to 20 inches|
|Sleeves||20 to 30 inches per sleeve (depending on type)|
|Blouse||2 to 3 yards|
|Skirt||5 to 7 yards (depending on fullness)|
|Collars, picadils, etc.||45 inches|
|Doublet or jerkin body||2-1/4 yards|
|Sleeves for doublet||one yard per sleeve (depending on type)|
|Breeches or slops||3-1/2 yards|
|Collars, picadils, etc.||52 inches|
The average, total number of yards of fabric:
for a woman’s costume is 12 to 15 yards
for a man’s costume is 5 to 8 yards
These yardage calculations are based on 45″ wide fabric and do not take into account fabrics with nap or stripes.
- It is always advisable when dealing with a washable fabric, that before cutting your garment, the fabric be prewashed and dried to avoid uneven fabric shrinkage.
- Always interline or line garments such as doublets and bodices. There are a number of interlining products which may be sewn in the garment to add stiffness or they may be fused to the garment by using an iron. These are products such as: pellon, hair canvas, melton, canvas duck or tailor’s canvas. Check to make sure of fiber content and washing instructions. It is best in some cases to prewash sew-in interlining.
- Remember, when adapting your pattern, limit the number of seams as much as possible to simplify the garment.
Closures – There are several different methods of fastening or closing your garment. They are as follows:
- Ties – Garments may be tied together with lacing, ribbon or cording. This is the simplest method.
- Grommets- Two-piece washer style grommets. A tip for setting the grommet into the garment is to first punch a hole about one-half inch from the edge of the garment closure point and insert the washer grommet and fasten. This can be done with a simple tool and a hammer. These grommets can be purchased in a kit that contains the attaching tool.
- Buttons – These may be of wood, metal, or ivory. Period style buttons have been known to be made of acorns.
- Hooks & Eyes – The best type to use are heavy duty skirt hooks and eyes. Hooks must be set well back from the edge (at least one-eighth of an inch). They must always be sewn firmly in place.
- Boning – Most Elizabethan garments contained some form of boning. This included the garments of both men and women. There are several different types of boning products on the market. These include:
- Hoop Wire
- Electrical tie wraps – these are the cheapest and easiest to use. They come in one- eighth, one-quarter, and one-half inch widths and up to twenty-four inches in length.
The purpose of boning is to add extra stiffness to certain parts of the garment in order to make it lie flat and snug around the body. Boning may be set into the garment using several different methods. These methods include:
- Making a pocket within the garment body and inserting the boning.
- Using grosgrain ribbon or hem tape for boning pockets.
- Some commercial, light-weight, feather boning may be applied directly by machine. Check manufacturer’s instructions.
A tip for boning garment closures when using grommets is to put a piece of boning in the 1/2 inch space between the edge of the garment and the set grommets. This will keep the closure’s opening from collapsing when it is laced.
- Waist bands – Waist bands can be done in several different ways, these include:
- Standard skirt waist band that can be fastened by hooks and eyes, buttons or ties.
- Draw-string, which can be as simple as a casing with a piece of elastic or ribbon when pulled up can be tied.
- Elastic that can be set into a casing.
- Hems – Avoid having a visible stitch line in a finished hem. This can be accomplished by:
- Laying a piece of trim over the top of the stitch line.
- Blind hem by machine or by hand. Edges of the hem can be bound in the following manner:
- Using bias tape or web binding.
- Sandwiching the edge of the hem between two pieces of grosgrain ribbon. (This is the most efficient method because when the ribbon becomes ragged or soiled it can be replaced with new ribbon, thus saving the hem of the garment).
The fit and cut of your costume are important signs of your class status. A costume should be as comfortable as possible, but you must remember that these are not modern-day clothes and you will find that they will move and function differently than their modern counterparts. When fitting a bodice it is important to make the fit as snug as possible. This will give you more support in your back and take the weight off your skirts. When fitting a doublet, the same rule applies. If your bodice or doublet fit correctly you should not be able to bend from the waist, but rather from the hips. Remember, since these costumes are your working clothes they must be functional, therefore you must sometimes sacrifice what is fashionable for what is practical.
Under Elizabethan law, every person over the age of thirteen (13) was required to wear a hat in public. Hats not only were a sign of class and rank but were also functional. Fashionable men and women wore high crown hats with medium to broad brims. Women of fashion kept their hair in snoods. There were several kinds of headgear for middle-class and peasant class women. These included wrapping the head with a cloth, like a turban, small caps, and other head coverings. Wide-brimmed straw hats were worn alone or over the aforementioned headgear. It was English women who popularized the wearing of straw. On festival days it was common for young unmarried girls to wear flower garlands in their hair.
Middle-class men and peasants wore broad-brimmed felt hats, straw hats, and cloth caps. The most common type of cloth cap was the “muffin cap.”
Feathers added a great touch to any hat. Lower classes wore plain feathers such as goose, duck, chicken, or grouse. Pheasants were considered a delicacy and were protected as game for the local nobility. Any commoner caught wearing a pheasant feather was labeled a “poacher” and could be put to death. The middle classes wore more expensive feathers such as hackel, peacock, ostrich, egret, and swan. Remember to use feathers sparingly; they were extremely costly then as they are now.
Headwear to avoid is baseball caps, robin hood hats, steeple henans (tall pointed style hats worn by women), mob caps, Panama hats, Fedoras, sombreros, and bandanas.
Elizabethan footwear by modern standards is almost impossible to duplicate without going through great expense; therefore, you must think of substituting modern counterparts, and in some cases, sacrifice what is correct for what is practical.
Peasant Class – Sandals, clogs, or plain slippers work well for women. Mid-calf or knee-high boots for men.
Middle Class – Plain slipper or flat-heeled, lace-up shoes (such as a Jazz shoe) work well for women. Plain lace-up shoes such as a character shoe, plain Oxfords, or mid-calf to knee-high boots are acceptable for men.
Tai Chi shoes are small slipper-type shoes that are acceptable for all classes to wear. If you wear them, you will need to use insoles for support.
Avoid bare feet, tennis shoes, army boots, biker boots, and anything with a high heel. If wearing moccasins or tall moccasin-like boots, they must NOT exhibit fringe.
Remember to keep it plain, simple, and comfortable.
agglet -small metal tip on the ends of lacings
biggins cap -a small muslin cap that ties under the chin and is used to keep your ears warm
breeches -large knicker-like pants ending just below the knee, same as slops
bum-roll -a crescent-shaped, stuffed, pad-type bolster worn on top of a woman’s petticoat, resting on her derriere to support the weight of the skirt, see farthingale
busk -a woman’s corset
chemise -a long-sleeved shirt-like undergarment worn under clothing, (comparable to a modern T-shirt), men’s – waist to mid-thigh length, women’s – mid-calf to floor-length
coif -a general term for head covering, men – a flat hat or biggins hat worn under a felt or hard body hat; women – consisted of a veil-like covering for a woman’s head, usually a small cap with a veil attached
doublet -jacket style outer garment worn by men
forepart -the decorative underskirt of a woman’s clothing revealed by the center front split of her overskirt
farthingale -the boned, hooped, or padded underskirt support (see bum-roll)
jerkin -man’s sleeveless vest
muffin cap -a small cap of circular fabric gathered into a band
partlet -a woman’s shirt-like covering, mostly worn under a bodice
picadil -the skirt-like piece of fabric on the bottom of peplum bodices, doublets, and jerkins, consisting of tabs, scallops, or skirting
rever -the triangular area of fabric formed by folding back a front edge below a neckline; the rever may have a collar above it, may be above a buttoned opening, above a slit, or just a seam
ruff -a large circular collar of stiffened frills worn by both men and women
shift -constructed similar to a modern-day woman’s nightgown and usually worn for sleeping purposes
slops -large knicker-like pants ending just below the knee, worn by men, same as breeches
surcoate -a robe-like outer garment worn by men and women, same as a greatcoat
trunk hose -very full, slashed, short pants worn by men, known as pumpkin pants
tunic -a simple slip-on garment made with or without sleeves and usually knee-length or longer, belted at the waist, and worn as an outer garment by men and women
venetians -very similar to slops or breeches; however, these pants are narrow at the knee and very full at the top
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion, Number 3 (1560-1620)
Ashdown, Mrs. Charles H. British Costume During 19 Centuries
Barton, Lucy. History of Costume for the Stage
Gorsline, Douglas. What People Wore
Holkeboer, Katherine Strand. Patterns for Theatrical Costume
Kohler, Carl. The History of Costume (excellent source for period costume of all kinds)
Wagh, Nora. Corsets and Crinolines
Wagh, Nora. The Cut of Men’s Clothes
Wagh, Nora. The Cut of Women’s Clothes
Wagh, Nora. Early American Costume (See section under Elizabethan Costume)
Winters, Janet. Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580
COSTUME CONSTRUCTION TIPS
Hamilton/Hill. The Evolution of Fashion
Hunnisett, Jean. Period Costume for Stage and Screen – Patterns for Women’s Dress 1500-1800
Ladbury, Ann. The Dressmaker’s Dictionary
Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles
Wingate, Isabel B. Textile Fabrics and Their Selection