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Elizabethan clothing relied on a lot of padding, starch, pins and supports. Skirts were nearly always worn over foundations such as the Spanish farthingale (similar to a crinoline and giving a smooth cone-shaped outline without folds). The second form of farthingale - the French or wheel type consisted of a padded roll (commonly called a bum roll), tied around the waist with tapes and holding the skirt out at right angles before letting it fall in folds to the ground. This developed into an elaborate wheel-shaped structure made of wire or whalebone and tilted up at the back - an ugly fashion which must have been very uncomfortable to wear.

Typical gentlemans clothing


A small phial of pot pourri or perfume was often worn around the neck or on the bodice to help avoid the often dreadful smells and odours that pervaded the streets with raw sewage running everywhere!

Sleeves were also separate, attached to the bodice with pins and ties, the join being hidden by 'wings'. The graceful hanging of sleeves in early tudor times had actually now disapeared and had now been stiffened or padded like so much costume.
A long gown was sometimes worn over the bodice and the kirtle, either for warmth or show, and was either loose bodied, hanging from the shoulders and open down the front, or close bodied, fitted to the waist with a gathered skirt and fastened with ribbon ties or buttons or loops.  Ruffs, starched and crimped and so characteristic of the period (as seen in the BBC's Blackadder series), first became fashionable for men in England during the 1570s. Starch was first used in England in 1564. These ruff collars had evolved out of the frilled skirt or chemise collar and by 1580 they had become enormous, giving the look of a head on a platter.

A lot of well dressed women preferred an open or fan shaped ruff supported by a wired frame, or a rebato, a shaped wired collar standing up around the back of the neck and pinned to a low cut bodice.

Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000