Elizabethan Clothing & Renaissance Costumes
The Elizabethan era in England was characterized by differences in fashion between the upper class and lower class, though both were highly influenced by the Queen. The upper class often wore bright or darker colors made of the most luxurious fabrics such as silk and velvet. The lower class wore the items that were available, typically made of more basic fabrics that they could find, like muslin and wool.
During the Elizabethan era, women wore a number of different layers, with each piece carefully designed. The basic outfit began with a chemise and stockings underneath. They topped that with a corset and a hoop skirt, called a Farthingale. That was covered with a roll, kirtle, petticoat, stomacher, forepart and partlet. Above that came their gown, different layers of sleeves, a ruff and a cloak.
Men during this same time period wore a shirt and stockings underneath their clothes, topped with a codpiece and corset. Over that came a doublet and layers of sleeves. They also wore breeches, a belt, a ruff, and a cloak. Both sexes also wore shoes and a hat. It sometimes took both men and women hours to get dressed, especially for larger events and ceremonies. However, the lower classes often wore fewer layers because they couldn't afford to buy the same amount of clothes.
Elizabethan law placed certain restrictions on who could wear different types of decoration on their clothing. Ermine was identified as an expensive material only available to the royals. Fox and otter were reserved for lesser nobles, and the royals would never wear anything made of those furs. The lower classes were prohibited from all those materials, even if they could afford it. These laws were known as the sumptuary laws and were handed down by Queen Elizabeth.
Colors were another way to differentiate between the classes. The upper classes wore brighter and darker colors like deep reds and scarlet shades. These colors often came from dyes made by Mediterranean insects, and were costly and difficult to find. The working and lower classes wore clothing dyed by fruits and vegetables they could access such as yellow, green, brown and blue. They sometimes combined colored dyes to make different colors, though this was a rare occurrence.
In terms of hair, women typically wore it pulled back into a bun and topped with a small cap or hat. There were some women who pulled their hair up to create a slight beehive look, but this was more popular with the royals than the lower classes. Women in the lower classes often braided their hair into one long braid, then curled the braid around and placed a piece of cloth on top. Men typically wore a beard and mustache, with hair a little longer than it was in previous eras. This was found in both the upper and lower classes.
More information on the clothing and fashions of the Elizabethan era can be found at:
Elizabethan England: Clothing
Clothing at Early Music