Elizabethan Fashion

Famous portrait of Elizabeth wearing the latest fashion.

A little off topic, but ever since the day we looked at Elizabeth’s portraits, I felt compelled to take a deeper look into the fashion of the Elizabethan era. I found a website that helped simplify what a woman would wear everyday. I’ve posted a photo below, of the list. (you might need to click on the image to get a better look)

List of clothing women would wear during Elizabethan era
List of clothing women would wear during Elizabethan era

Wow, that is a lot of clothes! If I had to wear that many pieces of clothing, it would take me half the day to get dressed and the other half to get undressed. In late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century England, women had to adhere to the Sumptuary Laws. These were laws that provided strict clothing guidelines in order to limit the expenditure by people as well as to create a social hierarchy. Clothing was a sign of status, it not only dictated wealth but also social status in the Elizabethan Class system. Those that disobeyed the Sumptuary Laws faced the possibility of fines, loss of property, title, and even life. Guess I won’t be wearing any clothes trimmed with ermine anytime soon. That was only to be worn by royalty.


Portrait of Lady Diana Cecil wearing the most fashionable clothing during the time. You can see the slashing and ruff mentioned in the text.
Portrait of Elizabeth dressed in the finest and most luxurious cloth and decorations.

Slashing was a popular trend during the time. By slashing or cutting the clothing people were able to see cloth underneath the outerwear. The linings of the clothing would then be pulled out of the slashes. Often women, as well as men, would use contrasting colors to distinguish the outerwear from the linings. Another popular trend was the ruff. This was the frilled collar that men and women adopted. For women, they would open up the front of the ruff to expose the neck and bosom. The ruff was constructed using gauze wings that were raised at the back of the head. Upper class fashion generally used velvets, satin, furs, silks, lace, cottons, and taffeta. These materials were expensive and very luxurious. Most of the fabrics were imported from distant empires, including Italy and the Middle East. The more extravagant they looked, the more people would notice. This was a good thing because the attention could bring them success in court.


Elizabeth as a young girl showing her modesty with clothing

When Elizabeth was young, she often wore clothing that covered her from head to toe. Modesty of the woman was admired by many, however fashion was beginning to emulate a more seductive look during the later part of her reign. You can see this trend in her later portraits as she begins to wear lower cut clothing exposing more of her bosom. However, Elizabeth wanted to remain true to her “Virgin Queen” identity. Her powdery white face often gave off this pure and innocent beauty that was lightly dusted with pink blush. To this day, her image remained a vital part in her success as queen to the people of England.

Later portrait of Elizabeth featuring a more seductive look.