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Elizabethan Lady’s Guide to Proper Dress

An Elizabethan lady of the court had an elaborate sense of fashion consisting of underclothes and outer garments made of sumptuous materials decorated with intricate embroidery.

Most of the wealthy elite managed to wear clean undergarments everyday because outer garments were rarely washed or simply just given away when they were too dirty. The first and most important layer was a loose undergarment called a smock that protected outer garments from body oils in a period where hygiene was virtually unheard. The second piece was the corset, lined with whalebone and worn over the smock to achieve the flat front silhouette of the Renaissance era. Ruffed sleeves were separate and laced onto the corset. A farthingale, a cone-shaped hoop skirt, was worn to maintain structure. To make the waist appear thinner, a small padded crescent called a bum roll, went over the farthingale. The next layer was the kirtle or “skirt” and partlet, which filled in low necklines. The final layer was the gown itself that usually fastened in the front with lacing or hook and eyes.

Vivid color, gemstones, and enameled gold were Renaissance favorites. Jewelry was often obtained as a gift of the state or presentation. Brooches, buttons, and necklaces were given by the Queen to her courtiers. Interestingly, most jewelry in the possession of court ladies and gentleman had no precious gemstones. The most exquisite and authentic jewelry was reserved for royalty.

Shelley Cooper models a Renaissance dress

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