Recreating the Reality of Elizabethan Clothing 2

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By Dan Rosen

This article follows on from Dan's first article on Elizabethan clothing. Clearly Dan is writing about clothing around 100 years before the English Civil Wars but it can be extremely useful to understand something of the background to the clothing of the ECW period and therefore the text has been included here by kind permission of Dan.


Your pants or trousers were called breeches or hose, and for the most part ended somewhere above or directly below the knee. One of the more common types found throughout the second half of the 16th century and some time beyond that were called trunkhose. These were also known as roundhose amongst a variety of other names (including sliding hose, scaling hose, paneled hose, paned hose, and so on[1]), but slops as they are often popularly called today does not really seem to have been terribly common. In the period, slops referred to any loose or baggy garment, and not necessarily breeches or hose, but probably less-often the style in question above.[2]

Trunkhose would typically end between the mid thigh and just below the crotch, and would be very large and full from pleating, stuffing, or both. They could have vertical strips around their perimeter for decoration, which would allow a sort of lining to peek through, or go without; as a rule, breeches with panes generally would not extend below the thigh. Trunkhose might also have canions, or tight-fitting extensions made of the same or a visually-related fabric ending below or possibly right above the knee. You’d wear your stockings over canions. These were also one of the only types of breeches that might have a codpiece. Codpieces would be on the small and tame side as compared to those popular around the time of Henry VIII much earlier in the century. They would be stuffed so as to take on a shape not far off from a stubby neck of a gourd, not just a flap or triangle, and be sewn to the garment at the bottom and tied closed at the top. It is possible that some had built in pockets, but they were not designed or meant to hold your junk inside, only to suggest virility. After the 1570’s, they gradually became less and less popular, and by the end of the 16th century they’re all but gone in artwork and extant garments.

Into the 1570’s, the English appear to have first begun wearing what were called Venetian Hose, a sort of knee breeches, though they’d been around in some form in Italy for at least the two preceding decades. These were gathered or pleated at the top to be very full, and would then taper down to below the knee, where they would neither have a legband, nor be gathered or pleated. They would typically have a button fly. The type of knee breeches that are either straight down the leg or are baggy and then gathered into a cuff below the knee were unusual in England, and don’t really seem to have become close to popular, common, or fashionable until the 17th century, though they show up on rare occasions in rural fashion in Spain.

Another type were known as Galligaskins or Gascon hose. They might take the form of unpaned trunkhose ending specifically just above the knee[3] or possibly massive versions of Venetian hose[4]. These are recorded as being issued to the Bristol trained bands as part of their uniform upon the Queen’s arrival while on her progress in 1574. Ending directly above the knee, the first possible type can be a good compromise between modern modesty and historical authenticity.

All of the aforementioned types of hose could have pockets, generally on the large side, set into the side seam or into slashes or slits in the front of the hips.

Strangely enough, trouser-like pants were around as well. They were supremely unfashionable, but might be practical for farmers, sailors, and extremely hard-working labourers. They could be closer-fitting or on the baggy side, and might end closer to the calf rather than the ankles. Dutch varieties seen on mariners might have triangle-shaped leg openings rather than straight.

The last feature that your breeches of any kind would have in common is that they would have eyelets sewn in pairs around the waistband to accommodate tying, called pointing, to the doublet. Your breeches and doublet were worn higher than we wear our clothes today, ending at the natural waist around the belly button or elbow level rather than at the hips. Lacing correctly makes for a very comfortable, jump suit-like ensemble, and works to keep your pants up and prevent your shirt (underwear!!!) from sticking through and spilling out. Into the 17th century, pairs of hooks and eyes begin to supplant points for their ease of fastening and unfastening. Bows from points, faux or functional, persist until at least the middle of the 1600’s.


Over your underwear and breeches would come the doublet, a close-fitting jacket. Fine wools, leather, fustian, and linen canvas, as well as nicer fabrics, were possibilities for outer fabric. As above, it would end at your natural waist at the side and back seam and dipping a bit in front below your belly button level. They would fasten down the front with buttons, except for a few examples meant to be worn under armour or suggest that the wearer (generally someone wealthy) had military prowess. There might be 10-15 or so button for the front alone, and more would be found at the wrist and possibly the collar as well. Unlike many modern garments, there would be little overlap at the centre-front fastening, and buttons would sit near the very edge of the opening rather than be set back a ways.

Remember that fashions change, and some of the most noticeable things that changed in doublets over time were the type of skirting or peplum around the waist and the size and shape of decoration at the shoulders. Disproportional components or those from the wrong time or place can make the whole thing look as if it’s out of a fantasy movie or from the wrong era altogether, as doublets or doublet-like garments were worn for many hundreds of years. Related to this, where you place the eyelets for lacing to the breeches will also change “when” the garment is from. Possibilities for these arrangements were to have no skirting of any sort with eyelets stitched directly into the waist, a narrow band about an inch and a half or so in width with eyelets stitched into that, or two to three panels with a rectangular strip punctured with eyelets hidden behind them stitched into the waist seam. While we often see the style of skirting made up of many small trapezoids at events, this style does not appear to have been in existence until the very last years of the Sixteenth century. For very late Sixteenth and very early 17th century outfits this style would also be paired with a lacing strip hidden behind it as well. Later on eyelets start to be stitched directly into the trapezoidal tabs.

Another good indicator of the decade or era the doublet hails from is the placement of the side seam. In the early part of the period doublets tended to have the side seam near where the arms fall with front and back panels of the pattern being more or less close in size. Towards the 17th century, the side seam begins to shift back until in fashionable garments, the back panel(s) become very narrow and the front torso pieces are very wide horizontally. A prominent curving of the side seam appears to be the preserve of doublets closer to and after 1600, though at least a small handful of extant doublets from within 25 years of the mid century have a very slight curve to the seam. Related to this, front panels with severely plunging arches for a waist seam have more to do with hyper-fashionable wear in the early part of the 17th century rather than the 16th.

Another distinctive element still is the degree of padding/stiffening or lack thereof in doublets. Thickly padded or heavily-shaped doublets seem to have been in the minority in general in the period as they simply weren’t overly functional if stiffened and stuffed beyond the natural possible proportions of the human body. In the 1560’s or 1570’s a trend for very rich men’s doublets to be padded at the belly mimicking the contours of a peapod or the keel of a ship, thereby supposedly granting them the title “peascod” (a middle English word for peapod) doublets. As that fashion wore out and one century blurred into another, a preference amongst the fashionable for doublets with a fully quilted, strategically-padded interior and/or buckram-stiffened bits to sculpt the body arose, to the point than some had to have an additional tab built into the lining to cinch shut the closure to make buttoning easier. It would seem that only the most extreme garments for those who didn't need to do much else had them, and even they would wear more comfortable things during less hyper-formal events. To that end, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester owned many linen or hemp canvas doublets as well according to his will/inventories.

In England and most of Western Europe, your doublet sleeves would be fully attached and sewn on just like our sleeves today; many ladies’ sleeves were detachable, but those will be covered a bit later on. In credible artwork and surviving garments, there are no shirts sticking out at the armpit, no dangling cords or aiglets, no eyelets anywhere near the shoulder except for some unusual and very specific artworks with outlandish, fantastical, or otherworldly characters and rare extant pieces meant only for war, sport fencing, costume, or children. I want to emphasize that these examples are uncommon and not meant for regular or everyday wear or garments. There is one doublet from the Spitsbergen find dated to the 1650’s which has open armpits; unlike the surviving examples lacking attached sleeves, it is clearly built to serve as a functional, everyday sort of garment rather than one for semi-exclusive occasions or purposes. Aside from this, there are no other pieces which feature a purposefully made open seam like it.

There were, however, examples of protective leather sleeves that could be added over your mundane clothes or to labourers’ waistcoats or jerkins in the case of people like farmers, butchers, and fishermen to protect your clothes from a stray blade or filth.[5] There is a fine image of a butcher by Joachim Beuckelaer ca. 1568 working in removable sleeves, but he is clearly in the workplace doing his grisly job and it should be noted that by and large, styles of common peoples’ clothing in many Flemish and Dutch artworks is very distinctive to the region. In many pan-European paintings from the time, it almost looks as though men are wearing doublets with different sleeves, but in almost all cases, a sleeveless jerkin is being worn over the doublet. This mistake happened in the period as well; in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine mistakes Thurio’s doublet for a jerkin being worn atop it.[6] Though Summers today are a bit warmer than those in Western Europe during the period, choosing functional materials that we of the present use for our finest warm weather wear from the start will keep you comfortable.


It was considered polite and respectful to the divine powers to cover one’s head in polite company. In fact, it was legally required to wear knit wool caps on Sundays and holidays; white for women, possibly meaning anything between pure snow white and the natural colour of a sheep’s fleece, but no colours are specified for men. By mandating this, the government forced citizens to support the domestic wool and knitted goods trades. There were a number of hats and caps that were worn by both men and women, and some that seem to have been unique to one sex or the other. Women would wear a white linen coif, cap, or arrangement of fabric alone or under other hats. Except for children, scholars, and the elderly, men wouldn’t wear a linen coif or biggins cap under their hats. They were perhaps sometimes worn alone, but it would seem almost never under another hat or cap by the reign of Elizabeth.

What we often call flatcaps today generally would have been knitted in wool in the period, while those made of fabric and having a crown pleated into the brim rather than being made of several donut shapes and a circle were called bonnets. Bonnets could be shallow or quite tall. I have heard the tall variety called toques in the past.

Tall hats made of wool felt formed into shape or pleated wool or silk covered forms were becoming increasingly popular. Low crown felt hats seem to have been around in continental Europe, but nine times out of ten, in England the preference was for hats like this to be very tall and round/domed. Flatter tops were common amongst fabric-covered types, but flat topped felt hats only start to show up en masse towards the end of the 16th century. Brims could be left flat, turned up on both sides, or in the front. The style of turning up the brim of a hat on just one side, often called the “cavalier style” today, seems to have been very rare in the period, and when it was done, it was on very tall hats and appear to have been lined. I am uncertain at this time if all or most solid hats were lined. There is a type of popular hat often called a “riding hat” in the present with a sloped or angled flat crown and curved up sides that appears to have been worn almost exclusively by women in England, as opposed to by both genders.

Other knit caps were very common as well. Monmouth caps, similar to modern beanies, were well known amongst labourers and working men. They were so practical that they were even worn by noblemen. Another type known as thrum caps and made of ragged knit wool with yarns sticking out in all directions was an excellent and popular choice for sailors.

Muffin caps, popular today amongst many a re-enactor were not worn. They are what I believe to be a misunderstanding of women’s headwear. A similar cap worn by men and made of a piece of wool pleated evenly into a narrow band was known as a Northern Bonnet. It was not terribly common in the Southern parts of England, and was not designed to slouch to one side or another. Snoods and cauls do not seem to have been particularly popular amongst English women. In general, feathers in hats don’t seem to have been as common as we’d like to believe, but they were worn. Think about what types of birds you might have access to when choosing feathers.


It goes without saying that clothing in the period was hand-sewn, but machine sewing used cleverly can replicate it. What it can’t replicate however, are the particular techniques that were used historically in the construction process, and the general fit, function, and appearance of a machine-sewn garment will differ from a hand-sewn one. An important feature of note is the hand-sewn eyelet. There are machines that can make them as on baseball caps though a larger size is needed, but those are few and far between and there is a visual difference. The sort of metal grommets associated with lacing up clothing were invented in the 19th century, but small versions appeared on occasion on leather items. Waxed thread alone makes excellent eyelets, and these can be strengthened considerably by stitching over or around a small metal ring; a practice known in the period. Thread eyelets are superior to metal grommets as they do not risk popping out and can move with the fabric. When making them, push through and aside the fabric’s fibres with an awl or sharpened screwdriver rather than snipping or cutting the holes, as that will sever the fibres and weaken the fabric.

Many garments would use buttons. Buttons worn by common people were generally small in size, around 3/8” or so, and spherical. Flat and/or large buttons were rare, excepting some odd fantastically ornamented examples on some very rich men later in the period. Excepting those, they tended to be semi-spherical in shape, though there are also examples of domed, cone, barrel, and UFO-shaped buttons as well.

Buttons made of thread or hair, presumably something long and strong like horsehair, woven and worked in various styles over a wooden bead or core of stacked leather disks were common and popular across society. Ball buttons made of and stuffed with the same fabric as the garment were quite common as well; buttons of uncovered or plain wood were not used. Metal is another possibility yet less common than those of thread or cloth, and brass or tin/pewter/lead were usual choices. For buttons of all types lacking an integral shank, the usual means of sewing them to a garment involved making a sort of stalk of thread by working a buttonhole stitch over strands of thread connecting the button to the garment. This ensured that they would stay attached and, because buttons were placed at the edge of an opening, aided in fitting properly.

Laces were also very important for tying your doublet to your breeches, ladies’ sleeves on, closing bodices, and general fastening. These were called points, and would have a metal cone or chape, often called aiglets, on each end to prevent fraying and make lacing easier. Hooks and eyes similar to those available today in fabric stores were used for various purposes as well. Frogs were a feature common in Polish clothing, but hadn't found their way onto that of most English people excepting the Queen in a single portrait and, strangely, an image of a handful of soldiers in Derrick’s Image of Irelande (published 1581). Clasps like those available in fabric stores don't seem to have been very common either.


Most shoes would be made of leather, and some made of or covered in other materials like velvet might be worn by the very rich at court, but not in situations in which practicality was necessary. Shoes for both men and women tended to have a very low heel or none at all, an almond-shaped or very slightly rounded toe, and fastened with just a pair or two of eyelets and a ribbon or cord. Like other garments, embellishing one’s shoes with patterns of decorative cuts was popular.

One of the most common types worn through the period, called pumps, looked similar to some types of slippers, and could either slip on or might have a concealed tie.

A bit into the period, latchet shoes fastening across the top of the foot developed. Into the 1580's it became fashionable to have small decorative cut outs on either side of the foot to show off one's stocking, and perhaps demonstrate a correlation between having a lot of money and not needing to be practical in one's clothing choices, but most shoes probably didn't have them for practicality.. Before 1600 these holes tended to be narrow or, when round, were rather small. A French image of a Catholic League Procession shows a handful of children with surprisingly large cut outs for the date, but these are unusual.

Boots tended to be thigh-high, and generally seem to have been worn by those in positions of power or rank, excepting some rougher styles worn by farmers and men who worked with animals. Even high ranking individuals would typically wear shoes for all regular situations during which they were not about to or were in the process of riding a horse. Knee boots in general don't seem to have been very common, nor any type with buckles, buttons, clasps, or criss-crossed lacing.

Another type of boots known as Startups that went to the calf might have been worn amongst labourers and farmers, and had a stigma associated with them that marked wearers as bumpkins. These probably tied up the front.


[1] Huggett, Jane. Clothes of the Common Man. Bristol: Stuart Press, 2002. Print.
[2] "Slop." Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. n.d. Web. 20 March 2012.
[3] Huggett
[4] Mikhaila, Ninya, and Jane Davies. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing 16th-Century Dress. Hollywood, Calif.: Costume and Fashion Press, 2006. Print.
[5] Morris, Robert. Clothes of the Common Man: 1580-1660. Bristol: Stuart Press, 2000. Print.
[6] Arnold, Janet. 'A Study of Three Jerkins' Costume: Journal of the Costume Society 5 (1971): 36-45. Print.


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