Sunday, 14 May 2017

Age and Fashion in History part 6

The Tudor era culminated with the reign of Elizabeth I. She was on the throne for 45 years, long enough to have an era named after her. This was fitting because Elizabeth was a trend setter. As she was a focus of attention and 70 when she died, there should be some evidence of how aging and fashion were viewed in her era. 

The year after Elizabeth became queen she issued a fashion decree of sorts, she proclaimed that the sumptuary laws were still in effect. That meant that what her subjects were allowed to wear was still dictated by their social status. So the fabrics with which the lower sorts made their soon-to-be-fashionable ruffs were not as fine as those of their betters. Ruffs were de rigor for the fashion conscious by 1565. 

Other changes in fashion came about with Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne. The masculine wide shoulders of Henry’s era were gone. In fact, the fashion line went from horizontal to vertical again. Hats followed suit when the flat caps of the Tudor era were replaced by tall hats. Married women are expected to wear headgear or else be considered disreputable. As Elizabeth never married, she wasn’t flouting expectations by leaving her hair uncovered. In fact, she set a fashion for dyed red hair and, later in life, for the wearing of wigs. 

For women marriage dictated fashion more than years. It seems strange to modern thinking that, in an age that required women’s arms and legs to be covered, breasts were fair game. Married women, of course, were required to cover their chest modestly but unmarried women were permitted to show d├ęcolletage. This could be quite extreme exposing the whole breast. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, took full advantage of her unmarried status when it came to this fashion even in her later years. 

In Elizabethan times, men may have lost the masculine shoulders and the extravagant cod pieces of Henry’s reign but they still wore doublet and hose. At this time the doublet and hose were stuffed with bombast which created a smaller looking waist and eliminated wrinkles. Short stuffed breeches were also worn. The legs were still visible but hose in this era could now show legs true shape as knitting was introduced. 

It was in masculine fashion that age had some bearing. Infants were all dressed in skirts but at the age of about 5 or 6 a boy would be ‘breeched’ and dressed the same as older males. At the other end of the life span, some men of a certain age reverted to skirts in the form of dignified gowns. 

This, of course, was the purview of men of higher status who could stave off the effects of aging to a certain extent. For the hoi polloi life was a bit rougher. Life expectation a bit more curtailed. The average man or woman was considered to be old at 50 but military service was still required of men and women were still active in the household.  


Laver, James. A Concise History of Costume. Thames and Hudson, London, 1977

Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England. Vintage, London, 2013

Prioleau, Betsey. Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love. Viking, London, 2003

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