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Elizabethan England. By Rachel Egle and Blake B asham. Sumptuary Laws.

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Elizabethan England

By Rachel Egle and Blake Basham


Sumptuary Laws

The clothes that Elizabethans wore were entirely governed by their class. Not just by what kinds of clothes they could afford, but what they were allowed and made to wear by law. Everything that the people wore was dictated by Sumptuary Laws, which were put in place to ensure that a specific class structure was maintained. These laws were known by all English people, and severe punishments were issued to anyone not abiding by the laws; People could lose their property, their title, or even their life if they wore the wrong clothes! It was easy to determine a person’s class by simply looking at them, because different fabrics, furs, colors, and entire garments were restricted to certain classes. Some materials were reserved only for the use of the nobility.


Common Elizabethan Women’s Underclothing:

Shift/ Chemise: A loose linen under-tunic

Partlet: A garment covering the neck and shoulders with collar; it was used to cover the low neckline of a dress.

Corset: The purpose was to give the appearance of broad shoulders, a flat chest, and a thin waist. The corset was maid stiff by inserting whale bone, willow wood, or steel into the fabric.

Stomacher: A decorated panel of fabric pinned to the front of the bodice to cover the lacing.

Roll: A layer of padding tied over the under-petticoat to extend the width of the top of the skirt.


Farthingale: A hooped skirt created by inserting circular strips of whale bone, wood, or steel horizontally into a skirt to hold material away from the body and create a dome-like look.

Petticoat: A skirt-like undergarment, usually worn in layers for warmth.

Forepart: A panel of fabric that was pinned to the over petticoat. It was decorated because it was visible beneath the overskirt. It served the same purpose as the kirtle, but it was not a full underskirt.

Kirtle: An underskirt worn over the farthingale or roll. The front was made with decorated material because it was exposed by the front opening in the overskirt.

Stockings: Would usually be made of wool or linen, and extended to the knee or mid-thigh.


Common Elizabethan Women’s Clothing:

The Elizabethan gown consisted of an overskirt, the bodice, sleeves, and the ruff.

Ruff: The ruff began as a high frilled collar, made of fine linen. By the end of the century it had evolved to be extended farther from the neck, and higher up to frame the face. This gave a more feminine appearance. The ruff could be opened in the front and connected to the bodice, but was generally tied closed in the front with laces called “band strings”. The pleats of the ruff were called “purls and could be trimmed with lace. Women could also wear smaller ruffs on the cuffs of their sleeves.

Sleeves: Separate from the rest of the gown, the sleeves would be tied or pinned onto the bodice. Often the bodice would have “winged” shoulders to conceal where the sleeves were attached.

Bodice: The part of the gown covering the upper body; it was worn over the corset. There were 2 basic types, the high-necked and the low-necked.

Overskirt: Topmost skirt that was worn. It was split in the middle to reveal the kirtle or forepart.

Gowns were made using expensive materials, such as silk, satin, velvet, and taffeta; rich colors were achieved with dyes that were usually imported and could not be afforded by the lower classes.


Types of Hats:

  • The Coif: Commonly referred to as a “biggin”. The coifs, made of plain white linen, were close-fitting and tied beneath the chin. They were to be worn by all children, and could also be worn underneath more elaborate hats to keep ones hair in place.

The French Hood: The French Hood was introduced by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth the first, mother. The French Hood crescent shaped band that sloped back and extended away from the face. The edges of the band were decorated with glass jewels or pearls called “bilaments”. A veil was attached to the back of the band to cover the hair.

  • The Attifet: The Attifet had a similar concept at the French Hood, except it was a heart shaped hood instead of a crescent shape, and often was trimmed with lace.
  • The Caul: The Caul was a covering for the hair at the back of the head. It was made of fabric covered with chord woven into a net.(like a decorative hairnet for the back of the head.)
women s hairstyles
Women’s Hairstyles

Hair Styles: Because Queen Elizabeth favored frizzy hair, it was popular with the nobility. Young, unmarried women grew their hair long and wore it down because it symbolized their virginity. Once a women was married she would wear her hair swept up, most commonly in a tight bun, so it could be easily maintained and kept out of the way of her ruff. Once in a bun a great variety of hats and head coverings could be worn, or pinned into place over it. Most of the hair would always be covered, except for the hair in front.

Wigs: More elaborately designed hairstyles were more commonly achieved by wearing a wig. It was said that Queen Elizabeth had over 80 wigs!


Accessories: Accessories included decorated silk gloves, silk scarves for both fashion and for warmth, and masks. Elizabethan jewelry consisted of basically the same types they do today (necklaces, earrings, bracelets, watches, broaches, etc.), but were worn very eclectically in upper classes. Jewelry was made with many fine materials, such as gold and silver, and was inlaid with precious stones. But even the upper class wore cheaper alternatives, made of glass, bone or wood. Elizabethans wore buttons on nearly everything! These could be made with a vast variety of fine materials as well, including precious metals and jewels. Elizabethans also wore wedding rings, as we do today.

  • Bilaments- strands of jewels and gold attached to the hems of garments, especially the necklines of a gown.
  • Mirrors/looking glasses- women commonly hung a looking glass from their girdle or belt.
  • Pomander- a round, decorative case for holding perfumes and scented herbs.

Cosmetic practices: Elizabethan ideal of women’s beauty was to have a snow white complexion, with exaggerated red cheeks and red lips. The pale white face was acquired by applying a makeup called cersus, which was a mixture of white lead and vinegar (which obviously was poisonous). Various dyes were applied to redden the cheeks and lips. Queen Elizabeth had red hair, many noble women attempted to achieve a lighter shade by dying their hair yellow. To do this they would use a combination of saffron, cumin seed, and celandine oil.


Shoes: Types of shoes were very clearly defined between classes. People of lower classes would wear simple leather shoes, while people of upper classes would wear extravagantly decorated shoes made with finer materials such as velvet silk and fine leathers.

Types of Elizabethan shoes included:

-Buskins: a calf-high heather boot

-Startups: a protective leather shoe for outdoor use

-Chopines: (also called Chapineys) slip-on shoes made of wood and covered in leather

Pinsons: a delicate dress shoe, made of silk

Cloaks: Cloaks were an essential part of fashion because they were foremost needed for warmth. Women’s cloaks were fastened at the neck, covered the shoulders,, and often included a hood. The cloak could be fastened with broaches, clasps, or gold chains and could extend to any length from the waist or lower. Cloaks were a premium opportunity for displaying one’s class because the wealthy could line their cloaks with furs not allowed to the lower classes by the sumptuary laws.

Shoes could be slipped on or fastened with laces. The high heeled shoe was created toward the end of the era, but was only worn by the nobility.


Common Elizabethan Men’s Underclothing Included

Shirt: Shirts were worn underneath any outer garment. They were made of white linen and were loose-fitting, with full sleeves that gathered at the cuff.

Codpiece: A flap or cover for the crotch in men's hose or tight-fitting breeches, usually matching the costume and often decorated.

Stockings: Most commonly men wore full stockings that were tight-fitting and covered the whole lower body, but stockings reaching to the knee or mid thigh could be worn also. They were worn under the breeches and were usually made of linen or wool.

Corset: Men’s corsets served the same purpose as women’s corsets– to give the appearance of a thin waist, and broad shoulders.


Common Men’s Clothing Included:

Doublet: The Elizabethan doublet was an over-shirt that was designed and positioned to enhance the geometric, triangular, shape of broad shoulders and a slim waist. They were fastened in the front and began as a waist length garment, but fashions gradually dictated that the length extend to the mid-thigh. Doublets were extremely uncomfortable to wear and therefore were reserved for formal occasions.

Cloak: Cloaks could be worn over the shoulders, but usually would only be draped over the back, similar to a cape. They could reach any length to the waist or lower. Men’s cloaks were usually extravagantly decorated with furs. They were one of the main opportunities for displaying one’s class, because the wealthy could line their cloaks with furs not allowed to lower classes by the sumptuary laws.

Ruff: A ruff was a neckpiece or collar of lace, lawn, or the like, gathered or drawn into deep, full, regular folds. Men wore very different ruffs than women. The men’s ruff was made of stiff white linen and always fastened at the front. Men usually had thicker ruffs that were flat, and did not extend upwards in the back as drastically as a women’s ruff would. They were also less extravagantly decorated.


Breeches: Garments worn to cover the lower body (like pants). Because breeches were an essential piece of clothing for the lower and upper classes, they came in a great variety of materials. The lower classes wore breeches of wool or leather. The upper class men wore breeches made with linen, silk, velvet or leather. Breeches would commonly be padded so that their wide appearance would emphasize the smallness of the waist in comparison (much like the farthingale did for women).

There were many types of breeches, including:

Trunk Hose: Very short breeches just covering the trunk area (like shorts). They were usually fitted with padding to give the appearance of wide hips. Full length hose would be worn beneath them.

Slops: Very loose, wide hose that reached just below the knee, ending with a thick highly decorated band of fabric.

Common French Hose: Long breeches that were loose and round, commonly worn by lower class men.

French Hose: Semi-fitted breeches reaching just below the knee, French hose were greatly ornamented and worn by the elite and nobility.


Hat: Fashion dictated that all men must wear a hat; there was even a law passed in 1571 which ordered everyone over the age of six to wear a wool cap on Sundays and holidays in order to help England's wool trade; however, men of upper classes were exempt from obeying although they would usually wear a hat anyway.

Common varieties of hats included:

-The Muffin Cap: Made of cheap linen, the muffing cap was mainly worn in the lower classes. It looked similar to a short chef’s hat.

-Tall Crown hat: Worn by the upper classes. The Crown hat was made of expensive fabrics, such as silk or velvet.

-Flat Cap: These were worn by the upper and lower classes. They were flat to the top of the head and had a rim; they could be made






The End!!!!!

Rachel :P