A Beginner's Guide to Elizabethan Costuming
In the Elizabethan era, how people dressed was dictated by Class structure. The fabric and the color of the clothing they wore had to adhere to strict laws, known as the Sumptuary Laws. These laws were based on rank, status and position in the English Class system. They were designed to maintain this system, and to limit how much people spent on clothing. Anyone caught breaking these laws could face punishment by fine, loss of property or title, and on occasion, even death - wow, I guess most people didn't wear Renaissance "Halloween costumes" back then. That's what they wore!
The only exceptions to the sumptuary laws were made to Acting Troupes. The Queen would grant a special license to the aristocracy that was responsible for the maintenance of troupes of actors. Costumes were used to convey the social class of each character. Since everyone in the audience was familiar with the meaning of different colored clothing and different fabrics indicating status, the role that the actor portrayed was immediately evident.
The limitations of what colors and what fabrics people of the Elizabethan era could wear, led to the development of a new fashion trend called slashing. Both men and women began slashing the outer surfaces of their clothing such as doublets, sleeves and gowns, so that the contrasting colors of the linings beneath were exposed. They would even pull the linings through the slashes and puff it out for greater emphasis on the contrasting color, fabric or material.
Elizabethan women wore several layers. Underclothes consisted of a smock, shift or linen chemise, stockings or hose, and a corset or bodice, a Farthingale (hooped skirt), a roll, a stomacher, a petticoat, a kirtle, a forepart, and a partlet. Overclothes included a gown, sleeves, a ruff, a cloak, shoes, and a hat.
Elizabethan men wore underclothes consisting of a shirt, stockings or hose, a codpiece, and a corset. Men's overclothing included a doublet, breeches, a belt, a ruff, a cloak, shoes, and a hat.
For more information on Elizabethan Costumes visit following links:
General Elizabethan Costuming Pages
History and Technique
Elizabethan Costume Research
Fabrics used, etc.
Hoods, Hats and Wigs
Gloves, Muffs and Masks