Women’s fashion in Western Europe in 1550–1570

Fashion in the period 1550–1570 in Western European clothing was characterized by increased opulence. Contrasting fabrics, slashes, embroidery, applied trims, and other forms of surface ornamentation remained prominent. The wide silhouette, conical for women with breadth at the hips and broadly square for men with width at the shoulders had reached its peak in the 1530s, and by mid-century a tall, narrow line with a V-shaped waist was back in fashion. Sleeves and women’s skirts then began to widen again, with emphasis at the shoulder that would continue into the next century. The characteristic garment of the period was the ruff, which began as a modest ruffle attached to the neckband of a shirt or smock and grew into a separate garment of fine linen, trimmed with lace, cutwork or embroidery, and shaped into crisp, precise folds with starch and heated irons.

Women’s fashion
Women’s outer clothing generally consisted of a loose or fitted gown worn over a kirtle or petticoat (or both). An alternative to the gown was a short jacket or a doublet cut with a high neckline. The narrow-shouldered, wide-cuffed “trumpet” sleeves characteristic of the 1540s and 1550s in France and England disappeared in the 1560s, in favor of French and Spanish styles with narrower sleeves. Overall, the silhouette was narrow through the 1560s and gradually widened, with emphasis as the shoulder and hip. The slashing technique, seen in Italian dress in the 1560s, evolved into single or double rows of loops at the shoulder with contrasting linings. By the 1580s these had been adapted in England as padded and jeweled shoulder rolls.

Gown, kirtle, and petticoat
The common upper garment was a gown, called in Spanish ropa, in French robe, and in English either gown or frock. Gowns were made in a variety of styles: Loose or fitted (called in England a French gown); with short half sleeves or long sleeves; and floor length (a round gowns) or with a trailing train (clothing).

The gown was worn over a kirtle or petticoat (or both, for warmth). Prior to 1545, the kirtle consisted of a fitted one-piece garment. After that date, either kirtles or petticoats might have attached bodices or bodies that fastened with lacing or hooks and eyes and most had sleeves that were pinned or laced in place. The parts of the kirtle or petticoat that showed beneath the gown were usually made of richer fabrics, especially the front panel forepart of the skirts.

The bodices of French, Spanish, and English styles were stiffened into a cone or flattened, triangular shape ending in a V at the front of the woman’s waist. Italian fashion uniquely featured a broad U-shape rather than a V. Spanish women also wore boned, heavy corsets known as “Spanish bodies” that compressed the torso into a smaller but equally geometric cone. Bodices could be high-necked or have a broad, low, square neckline, often with a slight arch at the front early in the period. They fastened with hooks in front or were laced at the side-back seam. High-necked bodices styled like men’s doublets might fasten with hooks or buttons. Italian and German fashion retained the front-laced bodice of the previous period, with the ties laced in parallel rows.

During this period, women’s underwear consisted of a washable linen chemise or smock. This was the only article of clothing that was worn by every woman, regardless of class. Wealthy women’s smocks were embroidered and trimmed with narrow lace. Smocks were made of rectangular lengths of linen; in northern Europe the smock skimmed the body and was widened with triangular gores, while in Mediterranean countries smocks were cut fuller in the body and sleeves. High-necked smocks were worn under high-necked fashions, to protect the expensive outer garments from body oils and dirt. There is pictorial evidence that Venetian courtesans wore linen or silk drawers, but no evidence that drawers were worn in England.

Stockings or hose were generally made of woven wool sewn to shape and held in place with ribbon garters.

The true corset, called a vasquine in Spanish, arose in the first half of the 16th century in Spain. The fashion spread from there to Italy, and then to France and (eventually) England, where it was called a pair of bodies, being made in two parts which laced back and front. The corset was restricted to aristocratic fashion, and was a fitted bodice stiffened with reeds called bents, wood, or whalebone.

Skirts were held in the proper shape by a farthingale or hoop skirt. In Spain, the cone-shaped Spanish farthingale remained in fashion into the early 17th century. It was only briefly fashionable in France, where a padded roll or French farthingale (called in England a bum roll) held the skirts out in a rounded shape at the waist, falling in soft folds to the floor. In England, the Spanish farthingale was worn through the 1570s, and was gradually replaced by the French farthingale. By the 1590s, skirts were pinned to wide wheel farthingales to achieve a drum shape.

A low neckline might be filled with an infill (called in English a partlet). Partlets worn over the smock but under the kirtle and gown were typically made of lawn (a fine linen). Partlets were also worn over the kirtle and gown. The colours of “over-parlets” varied, but white and black were the most common. The partlet might be made of the same material as the kirtle and richly decorated with lace detailing to compliment it. Embroidered partlet and sleeve sets were frequently given to Elizabeth as New Year’s gifts.

Women wore sturdy overskirts called safeguards over their dresses for riding or travel on dirty roads. Hooded cloaks were worn overall in bad weather. One description mentions strings being attached to the stirrup or foot to hold the skirts in place when riding. Mantles were also popular and described as modern day bench warmers: a square blanket or rug that is attached to the shoulder, worn around the body, or on the knees for extra warmth.

Besides keeping warm, Elizabethans cloaks were useful for any type of weather; the Cassock, commonly known as the Dutch cloak, was another kind of cloak. Its name implies some military ideals and has been used since the beginning of the 16th century and therefore has many forms. The cloak is identified by its flaring out at the shoulders and the intricacy of decoration. The cloak was worn to the ankle, waist or fork. It also had specific measurements of 3/4 cut. The longer lengths were more popular for travel and came with many variations. These include: taller collars than normal, upturned collar or no collar at all and sleeves. The French cloak was quite the opposite of the Dutch and was worn anywhere from the knees to the ankle. It was typically worn over the left shoulder and included a cape that came to the elbow. It was a highly decorated cloak. The Spanish cloak or cape was well known to be stiff, have a very decorated hood and was worn to the hip or waist. The over-gown for women was very plain and worn loosely to the floor or ankle length. The Juppe had a relation to the safeguard and they would usually be worn together. The Juppe replaced the Dutch Cloak and was most likely a loose form of the doublet.

The fashion for wearing or carrying the pelt of a sable or marten spread from continental Europe into England in this period; costume historians call these accessories zibellini or “flea furs”. The most expensive zibellini had faces and paws of goldsmith’s work with jewelled eyes. Queen Elizabeth received one as a New Years gift in 1584. Gloves of perfumed leather featured embroidered cuffs. Folding fans appeared late in the period, replacing flat fans of ostrich feathers.

Jewelry was also popular among those that could afford it. Necklaces were beaded gold or silver chains and worn in concentric circles reaching as far down as the waist. Ruffs also had a jewelry attachment such as glass beads, embroidery, gems, brooches or flowers. Belts were a surprising necessity: used either for fashion or more practical purposes. Lower classes wore them almost as tool belts with the upper classes using them as another place to add jewels and gems alike. Scarves, although not often mentioned, had a significant impact on the Elizabethan style by being a multipurpose piece of clothing. They could be worn on the head to protect desirable pale skin from the sun, warm the neck on a colder day, and accentuate the colour scheme of a gown or whole outfit. The upper class had silken scarves of every color to brighten up an outfit with the gold thread and tassels hanging off of it.

While travelling, noblewomen would wear oval masks of black velvet called visards to protect their faces from the sun.

Hairstyles and headgear
Married and grown women covered their hair, as they had in previous periods. Early in the period, hair was parted in the center and fluffed over the temples. Later, front hair was curled and puffed high over the forehead. Wigs and false hairpieces were used to extend the hair.

A close-fitting linen cap called a coif or biggins was worn, alone or under other hats or hoods, especially in the Netherlands and England. Many embroidered and bobbin-lace-trimmed English coifs survive from this period. The French hood was worn throughout the period in both France and England. Another fashionable headdress was a caul, or cap, of net-work lined in silk attached to a band, which covered the pinned up hair. This style of headdress had also been seen in Germany in the first half of the century. Widows in mourning wore black hoods with sheer black veils.

The ideal standard of beauty for women in the Elizabethan era was to have light or naturally red hair, a pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips. Pale, white skin was desired because Queen Elizabeth was in reign and she had the naturally red hair, pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips. Also, it was to look very English since the main enemy of England was Spain, and in Spain darker hair was dominant.

To further enhance the desired pale complexion, women layered white make-up on their faces. This make-up, called Ceruse, was made up of white lead and vinegar. Women wearing ceruse achieved the white face, however, the white lead that was used to make it is poisonous. Women in this time often contracted lead poisoning which resulted in deaths before the age of 50. Other ingredients used as make-up were sulfur, alum, and tin ash. In addition to using make-up to achieve the pale complexion, women in this era were bled to take the color out of their faces.

For the red cheeks and lips, dyes were sometimes used. Cochineal, madder and vermilion were used as dyes to achieve the bright red effects on the face. Not only were the cheeks and lips emphasized; Kohl was used to darken the eyelashes and enhance the size and appearance of the eyes

Style gallery 1550s

1 – 1550–55

2 – 1554

3 – 1554

4 – 1555

5 – 1555

6 – 1557

7 – 1557

8 – 1557

9 – 1555–58

1.Florentine fashion of the early 1550s features a loose gown of light-weight silk over a bodice and skirt (or kirtle) and an open-necked partlet.
2.Dutch fashion of 1554: A black gown with high puffed upper sleeves is worn over a black bodice and a gray skirt with black trim. The high-necked chemise or partlet is worn open with the three pairs of ties that fasten it dangling free.
3.Mary I wears a cloth-of-gold gown with fur-lined “trumpet” sleeves and a matching overpartlet with a flared collar, probably her coronation robes, 1554. Neither the sleeves nor the overpartlet would survive as fashionable items in England into the 1560s.
4.Titian’s Lady in White wears Venetian fashion of 1555. The front-lacing bodice remained fashionable in Italy and the German States.
5.Catherine de’ Medici in a dress with a high-arched bodice fur-lined “trumpet” sleeves, over a pink forepart and matching paned undersleeves, c. 1555.
6.An unknown woman wears a dark gown trimmed or lined in fur over fitted undersleeves. A chain is knotted at her neck. England, 1557.
7.Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola wears a gold-colored gown with tied-on sleeves and a chemise with a wide band of gold embroidery at the neckline. She holds a jewelled fur or zibellino suspended from her waist by a gold chain, Lombardy (Northern Italy), 1557.
8.Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk wears a cloth-of-red velvet gown with “trumpet” sleeves and a gold neckline with a gold embroidered overpartlet, 1557.
9.The widowed Mary Nevill, Baroness Dacre wears a black gown (probably velvet) over black satin sleeves. Her collar lining and chemise are embroidered with blackwork, and she wears a black hood and a fur tippet over her shoulders, later 1550s.

Style gallery 1560s

1 – 1560

2 – 1562

3 – 1563

4 – 1560s

5 – 1560–65

6 – 1560–65

7 – 1560

8 – 1564

9 – 1564

1.Eleanor of Toledo wears a black loose gown over a bodice and a sheer linen partlet. Her brown gloves have tan cuffs, 1560.
2.Margaret Audley, Duchess of Norfolk wears the high-collared gown of the 1560s with puffed hanging sleeves. Under it she wears a high-necked bodice and tight undersleeves and a petticoat with an elaborately embroidered forepart, 1562.
3.The Gripsholm Portrait, thought to be Elizabeth I, shows her wearing a red gown with a fur lining. She wears a red flat hat over a small cap or caul that confines her hair.
4.Mary Queen of Scots wears an open French collar with an attached ruff under a black gown with a flared collar and white lining. Her black hat with a feather is decorated with pearls and worn over a caul that covers her hair, 1560s.
5.Unknown lady holding a pomander wears a black gown with puffed upper sleeves over a striped high-necked bodice or doublet. She wears a whitework cap beneath a sheer veil, 1560–65.
6.Isabella de’ Medici’s bodice fastens with small gold buttons and loops. A double row of loops trims the shoulder, 1560–65.
7.Isabel de Valois, Queen of Spain in severe Spanish fashion of the 1560s. Her high-necked black gown with split hanging sleeves is trimmed in bows with single loops and metal tags or aiglets, and she carries a jewelled flea-fur on a chain.
8.Portrait of Elsbeth Lochmann in modest German style: she wears a light-colored petticoat trimmed with a broad band of dark fabric at the hem, with a brown bodice and sleeves and an apron. An elaborate purse hangs from her belt, and she wears a linen headdress with a sheer veil, 1564.
9.Sisters Ermengard and Walburg von Rietberg wears German front-laced gowns of red satin trimmed with black bands of fabric. They wear high-necked black over-partlets with bands of gold trim and linen aprons. Their hair is tucked into jewelled cauls, 1564.

Spanish style
Charles V, king of Spain, Naples, and Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor, handed over the kingdom of Spain to his son Philip II and the Empire to his brother Ferdinand I in 1558, ending the domination of western Europe by a single court, but the Spanish taste for sombre richness of dress would dominate fashion for the remainder of the century. New alliances and trading patterns arose as the divide between Catholic and Protestant countries became more pronounced. The severe, rigid fashions of the Spanish court were dominant everywhere except France and Italy. Black garments were worn for the most formal occasions. Black was difficult and expensive to dye, and seen as luxurious, if in an austere way. As well as Spanish courtiers, it appealed to wealthy middle-class Protestants. Regional styles were still distinct. The clothing was very intricate, elaborate and made with heavy fabrics such as velvet and raised silk, topped off with brightly coloured jewellery such as rubies, diamond and pearls to contrast the black backdrop of the clothing. Janet Arnold in her analysis of Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe records identifies French, Italian, Dutch, and Polish styles for bodices and sleeves, as well as Spanish.

Linen ruffs grew from a narrow frill at neck and wrists to a broad “cartwheel” style that required a wire support by the 1580s. Ruffs were worn throughout Europe, by men and women of all classes, and were made of rectangular lengths of linen as long as 19 yards. Later ruffs were made of delicate reticella, a cutwork lace that evolved into the needlelaces of the 17th century.

Elizabethan Style
Since Elizabeth I, Queen of England, was the ruler, women’s fashion became one of the most important aspects of this period. As the Queen was always required to have a pure image, and although women’s fashion became increasingly seductive, the idea of the perfect Elizabethan women was never forgotten.

Elizabethan era had its own customs and social rules that were reflected in their fashion. Style would depend usually of social status and Elizabethans were bound to obey The Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws, which oversaw the style and materials worn.

The Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws were used to control behavior and to ensure that a specific structure was maintained. These set of rules were well known by all the English people and penalties for violating these Sumptuary Laws were harsh – fines, and most of the time ended in the loss of property, title and even life.

Regarding to fabrics and materials for the clothes construction, only Royalty were permitted to wear ermine. Other nobles (lesser ones) were allowed only to wear foxes and otters. Clothes worn during this era were mostly inspired by geometric shapes, probably derived from the high interest in science and mathematics from that era. “Padding and quilting together with the use of whalebone or buckram for stiffening purposes were used to gain geometric effect with emphasis on giving the illusion of a small waist”.

In the upper crusts of society, restrictions were also applicable. Certain materials such as cloth of gold could only be worn by the Queen, her mother, children, aunts, sisters, along with Duchesses, Marquises, and Countesses. People holding other nobiliary titles such as Viscountesses, or Baronesses were not allowed to use this material.

Not only fabrics were restricted on the Elizabethan era, but also colors, depending on social status. Purple was only allowed to be worn by the queen and her direct family members. Depending on social status, the color could be used in any clothing or would be limited to mantles, doublets, jerkins, or other specific items. Lower classes were only allowed to use brown, beige, yellow, orange, green, grey and blue in wool, linen and sheepskin, while usual fabrics for upper crusts were silk or velvet.

Fabrics and trims
The general trend toward abundant surface ornamentation in the Elizabethan Era was expressed in clothing, especially amongst the aristocracy in England. Shirts and chemises were embroidered with blackwork and edged in lace. Heavy cut velvets and brocades were further ornamented with applied bobbin lace, gold and silver embroidery, and jewels. Toward the end of the period, polychrome (multicolored) silk embroidery became highly desirable and fashionable for the public representation of aristocratic wealth.

The origins of the trend for somber colors are elusive, but are generally attributed to the growing influence of Spain and possibly the importation of Spanish merino wools. The Low Countries, German states, Scandinavia, England, France, and Italy all absorbed the sobering and formal influence of Spanish dress after the mid-1520s. Fine textiles could be dyed “in the grain” (with the expensive kermes), alone or as an over-dye with woad, to produce a wide range colors from blacks and grays through browns, murreys, purples, and sanguines. Inexpensive reds, oranges and pinks were dyed with madder and blues with woad, while a variety of common plants produced yellow dyes, although most were prone to fading.

By the end of the period, there was a sharp distinction between the sober fashions favored by Protestants in England and the Netherlands, which still showed heavy Spanish influence, and the light, revealing fashions of the French and Italian courts. This distinction would carry over well into the seventeenth century.

Source from Wikipedia