English Upper-Class Dress 1596-1598


History of Costume III 1500-1660

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There had been no child in court circles for over fifty years so childhood, as a subject for the arts, was not popular. Families were large – a child’s expectation of life slender. Elizabethans had pleasure in learning – a child learned Latin and other languages when he could read. Girls could also broaden their minds but was geared to learning supervision of a house. Spare time was employed in embroidery, much was used for furnishing and clothing. Dresses were embroidered in flower and bird patterns from oriental designs which gave place to more delicate natural motifs as lighter colours and fabrics became available. There are still left many hand embroidered stomachers, the long bodice fronts often in two pieces, the lower triangle being cut to stand out over the flat front of the farthingale. Bess of Hardwick embroidered an entire dress, which she gave to the Queen. Clothes reached a peak of stuffing and buttoning-up by the 1590s, with one padded garment worn over another. In the evenings the Queen opened the front of her jerkin-like bodice and allowed her ribs to relax. The low, open-fronted bodices seen in some miniatures were for private viewing and not worn in public. The mother’s dress here shows the innovations the last years of the century brought which led to a softened outline in England and France. The waist is higher with little point, the sides of the bodice of a contrasting material giving a low-cut effect. The ruff is in several tiers of varied width, fluffier and stands away from the neck. The hoop was still fashionable but the squared-off top was softened by pads under the basque lifting the skirt less abruptly away from the waist. Heads were practically uncovered and beginning to dress high with a little soft top-knot of feathers or flowers. The girls wear miniature fashionable dress but less modern than their mother, with longer bodice points and bolster or frill piccadils. Their ruffs are the latest – open in front and turned back from the bodice opening. All wear the short skirt over a petticoat. A boy was doomed to a skirt until the age of six but there is hint of parental indulgence in his military-shaped jerkin, his sword and feathered high-crowned hat. Men now had a loosened raised waist and little padding to the front. The turned-down collar was comfortable after a ruff, but, without the high collar band to lift the chin, men looked flabby and less alert. Hat crowns stiffened into the tall sugar-loaf shape with the wider brims of the Jacobean and Puritan hats.

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Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm