Elizabethan Era Fashion

Overview

It may be hard to believe, but fashion is far from a modern ideal. It stretches back centuries, with each period in history having its own style rules. One of those time periods is the Elizabethan era -- 1558 to 1603 -- when the presence of several layers was considered the cream of the fashion crop. Upper-class Elizabethan ladies looked quite elegant in these fashions, but it must have taken them forever to get in and out of their clothing. If you want to bone up on this period of regal fashion, check out the key pieces.

Corset/Petticoat

Since wearing layers was common and required, the garments that women wore underneath their formal attire were just as important as the actual gowns. To start, an Elizabethan woman would put on a basic shift to protect her clothing from sweat, dirt and oil, and then lace up a corset as tightly as she could possibly make it. The corset gave the illusion of a ridiculously tiny waist and an hourglass figure. Meanwhile, the addition of the petticoat comes later in the dressing process but is definitely just as important. Petticoats were another layer that helped create the overall look of the gowns that Elizabethan women wore and also helped keep them warm.

Partlet/Sleeves

Elizabethan era fashion was all about the shape and structure of the garments and how they framed the feminine silhouette. One of the most essential components to achieve the desired look was called a partlet. Essentially a separate bodice that was worn on top of the gown, the partlet had voluminous shoulders and came to a deliberate point at the waist. Once the partlet was firmly in place, the addition of the sleeves came next. Sleeves in Elizabethan fashion were worn separately and thus attached on their own. They were often tight at the wrist with a billowy shape.

Farthingale/Kirtle

When everything on top of the body was firmly in place, it was time for the bottom half to be properly outfitted. Elizabethan fashion of upper-class women required the inclusion of two different skirts to achieve the desired fullness and flattery to the female form. The first was the farthingale, which acted as the framework for the kirtle. It was made of wire and had an A-line shape that caused it to flow away from the body to create the fullness that was so popular during this era. After the farthingale was secured, the kirtle was ready to be worn. A kirtle is a skirt that was worn underneath the formal Elizabethan gown. The kirtle often contained details like gathers and ruffles.

Gown

After everything else had been put on, it was time for the icing on the cake: the gown. Gowns during the Elizabethan era were luxurious and opulent, made of the finest fabric and rich colors. Women had several gowns to choose from: those that were for daily wear and others that were for formal occasions like weddings and galas. With so many layers of clothing and foundation garments, the women had to go through a long process to look their best, often requiring the help of maids and servants

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