Costumeof men and women in the 16th century is said to have gone through threedifferent phases.
The styles differed quite noticeably from one phase to thenext. However, the general dates that these phases took place are not the samefor men and women. For men, the earliest phase was a transition from medievalstyles to the styles of the Renaissance. Following this period, the Germaninfluence was prominently seen in men’s fashion. Spanish influences were strongin the final phase. Between 1500 and 1515 men’s basic costume consisted of linenshirts, doublets, (padded, close-fitting body garments with or without sleevesworn over the shirt) hose, codpieces, (bag or box of fabric worn to conceal thefront opening of breeches) jackets, bases, gowns, cloaks, caps and/or hats.Order now
Shirts were made of white linen and cut full and gathered into a round or squareneckline, often decorated with embroidery or cutwork. They had long, raglansleeves. Doublets and hose were laced together, the doublets being only waistlength. Hose were seamed into one garment with a codpiece at the front. In oneversion the doublet was cut with a deep V at the front, which sometimes had afiller of contrasting color inserted under the V.
Laces could be used to holdthe open area together, and also to hold the sleeves in place. Jackets,sometimes worn over doublets, were similar in shaping and made with or withoutsleeves. It is often difficult to discern from period illustrations whether menare wearing doublets or jackets as their outermost garments, especially afterbases grew in popularity. Bases were short skirts worn with a jacket or doubletfor civil dress; over armor for military dress. Made from a series of lined andstiffened gores (wedge-shaped pieces of fabric), bases carried on in civiliandress until well into the mid-century, and over armor for even a longer period.
Gowns were long, full garments with huge funnel-shaped of large hanging sleevesthat opened down the front. The front facings were made of contrasting fabric orfur and turned back to form wide, decorative revers (similar to lapels). Youngerand more fashionable men wore shorter gowns, ending below the hips. Gowns wereworn over doublets or jackets.
Circular cloaks were worn over doublets and hoseoutdoors for warmth. The cloaks were open at the front with a slit up the backto make it easier to ride horseback. During this time, men cut their hairstraight across the back in a length anywhere from below the ears to theshoulder and combined this with a fringe of bangs across the forehead. A fewpopular hat styles were French bonnets, (a pill-box shape with a turned-up brimthat might have decorative cut-out sections in the brim) skull caps or hair netsholding the hair close to the head topped by a hat with a basin-shaped crown andwide brim turned up at one point.
Many hats were decorated with feathers. Thesecond phase, 1515 to 1550, emphasized fullness in the construction of thecostume with large, bulky, puffed areas. Garments were ornamented withdecorative slashings, (slits in a garment to show puffing of contrasting colorand material to form a decoration) or panes, (slashings in material allowingcolored underling to show- often embroidered) under which contrasting liningswere placed. Shirts, doublets and jackets continued much as before, with theaddition of slashings, as mentioned earlier. Instead of having separate bases,some doublets and jackets were cut with gored (flared) skirts.
Some had nosleeves; some had wide U- or V-shaped necklines beneath which the wide neck, thedoublet, and part of the shirt was often visible. Bases (short skirts) werestill worn with armor. Sleeves of the outermost garment were cut very full,often with a puff from armhole to elbow and a closer fit from the elbow to thewrist. Hose were held up by lacing them to the doublets. Some were divided intotwo sections, upper stocks (seat part of trunk hose also known as ?overstocks’and ?breeches’) and nether stocks, which were sewn together.
Codpieces, thepouches of fabric for the genitals sewn at the front of the upper stocks, weresometimes padded for emphasis. Although upper stocks and nether stocks continuedto be attached, upper stocks eventually took on the appearance of a separategarment, and were cut somewhat fuller than the lower section. Style variationsincluded long breeches, fitting the leg closely and ending at the knee or morerounded breeches ending at the hip. Both of which may have been paned withcontrasting fabric placed beneath the panes. Also during the second phase,slight alterations in cut and trimming of gowns were made for increased width.
The collars widened and three new sleeve types developed. One new style wassleeveless, but with wide, extremely deep armholes lined in contrasting fabricand turned back upon themselves to show off the lining. Another was to haveshort, very full, puffed-and-slashed or paned sleeves. And last, long hangingsleeves also became popular. Beretlike styles with feather plumes and moderatelysized, flat crowned hats with small brims and feather plumes were popular inthis stage.
Beards became fashionable and haircuts were short. By the beginningof the third phase, 1550 to 1600, a new combination of garments had evolved, andmen no longer appeared in short jackets or longer skirted jackets and hose. Instead, the upper hose and nether hose had evolved into large, padded breeches(called trunk hose), which was joined to nether or lower stocks. Alternatively,separate breeches were worn, with hose kept in place by garters. The codpiecegradually went out of style and gowns were largely replaced by shorter andlonger capes. Short capes were cut very full, flaring out sharply from theshoulder.
During the middle of the century, men displayed the small, squarecollar of the shirt at the neck edge of the doublet. Next, the collar of theshirt became a small ruffle, and in the final stage of evolution the ruffdeveloped as a separate item of costume, separate from the shirt. Very wide,often of lace, and stiffly starched, the ruff became one of the mostcharacteristic features of costume during the second half of the 16th centuryand continued into the first decades of the 17th century as well. Doublets hadhigh cut necks with varying shapes and finishes. They were made with a row ofsmall, square flaps called pecadils just below the waist. Sleeves were stillpadded, but followed the shape of the arm and narrowed as the centuryprogressed.
By 1600 sleeves had become unpadded and closely fitted. Waistlinesfollowed the natural waist at the back, but dipped to a point at the front,where padding emphasized the shape. By 1570, the amount of padding increased andthe point at the front of the doublet became so pronounced that it was called apeascod belly as it resembled the puffed-out chest of a peacock. The jacket wassimilar in shaping and worn over the doublet. But it usually had short puffedsleeves or pecadils at the arm with no sleeve; the sleeve of the doublet beneathbecame the outermost sleeve.
Trunk hose were made in several different shapes. There was the melon shape, usually paned, heavily padded, and ending at the hipor somewhat below (about the shape of a pumpkin). . Some trunk hose slopedgradually from a narrow waist to fullness around about mid-thigh, where theyended. This type was called gallygaskins or slops.
Others had a short section,not much more than a pad around the hips, worn with very tight-fitting hose. This form had limited use outside of very fashionable court circles. Trunk hoseand doublets were heavily padded with bombast (a stuffing made of wool,horsehair, and short linen fibers called tow, or bran). Excessive use of bombastled one observer to suggest that a man was carrying the whole contents of hisbed and his table linen as stuffing in his trunk hose. It was also said that theEnglish parliament house had to be enlarged to accommodate the bulky trunks ofthe members. Breeches were separate garments worn together with separatestockings.
Some were skintight, some were wide at the top, tapering to the knee(called Venetians) and others were wide and full all throughout (called openbreeches). In this time period men allowed their hair to grow longer once againand beards and mustaches remained popular. Hat styles included those withincreasingly high crowns, some with soft shapes, others with stiffer outlines. Brims tended to be narrow. The high-crowned, narrow-brimmed hat was a capotain,and this style remained popular until well into the 17th century.
Trimmings forhats included feathers, braid and jewels. For women, the first fashion phase,1500 to 1530, was a transition from the styles of the Medieval period as it wasfor men. The chemise (like a long nightgown) continued to be the women’sundergarment. Gowns were fairly plain; drab colors predominated. Women worelong, full cloaks over their dresses when needed for warmth.
On ceremonialoccasions women wore gowns with the open mantle fastening with a chain or braidat the front. Women wore either a single dress or two layers consisting of anouter and an underdress. If two dresses were worn, the outer skirt might belooped up in front to display the contrasting skirt of the underdress. Trains onouter gowns often had decorative underlinings. The train was buttoned or pinnedto the waist at the back in order to show the lining fabric.
Most often dressnecklines were square, with the edge of the chemise visible; they might be cutwith smaller or larger V-shaped openings at the front or at both front and back. Lacings held the V-shaped opening together. Bodices (the upper part of thedress) were fitted, skirts were long and full, flaring gently from the waistlineto the floor in the front and trailing into long trains at the back. There wereseveral different sleeve styles which included smooth-fitting narrow sleeveswith decorative cuffs, wide funnel shapes with contrasting linings, and hangingsleeves.
Whenever two layers were worn, the underdress usually had closelyfitted sleeves; the outermost sleeve was large, full, funnel-shaped or hanging. The second phase of costume for women, 1530 to 1575, was marked by Spanishinfluences whereas men’s styles of this period had been more directly influencedby German styles. Spanish influence was not evident in men’s clothing until thesecond half of the century. One important aspect of the Spanish influence was atendency to emphasize dark colors, especially black. The changes in women’sclothing after 1530 represent a gradual change in style, not a radical one.
Significant changes took place in the construction of dresses. Instead of anunderdress and an outerdress, women wore a petticoat (an underskirt) and onoverdress. The overall look was more like an hourglass. Bodices narrowed to asmall waistline. Skirts became more rigid and gradually expanded to an invertedcone shape with an inverted V opening at the front. Many dresses were untrainedand ended at the floor.
Bodices and skirts of dresses were sewn together. Thebodice narrowed and flattened, becoming quite precise. The waist dipped to anelongated V at the front. A rich, jeweled belt outlined the waistline, and fromthe dip in front its long end fell down the center front of the gown almost tothe floor. At first, necklines were mostly square, but later were made in avariety of more closed styles. Some were high, closed necklines with standing,wing collars.
There were neck fillers, part of the chemise, which were closed upto the throat and ended in a small ruffle. Others were ruffs of moderate size atthis phase of their development, worn with high, fitted collars. The first ofmany changes in sleeve styles came early in the period when German- andItalian-style sleeves were adopted. Some of the following styles developed. First there was a sleeve narrow at the shoulder, expanding to a huge, widesquare cuff that turned back upon itself.
This cuff was often made of fur or ofheavy brocade to match the petticoat. A detachable, false sleeve decorated withpanes and slashes through which the linen of the chemise was visible might besewn to the underside of the cuff or, if the chemise were richly decorated, thesleeve of the chemise might be seen below the cuff. Another sleeve style wasmade with a puff at the shoulder and a close-fitting, long extension of thesleeve to the wrist. Though worn elsewhere, this style was especially popular inFrance. A sleeve full from shoulder to wrist where it was caught into a cuff wasalso popular. Lastly, sleeves that were wider at the top and narrower at thebottom became fashionable.
Some remarkably complex sleeve styles developed,especially those worn at the Spanish court, utilizing combinations of fitted,full, and hanging sleeves. Sleeve decorations included cutting and paning withdecorative fabrics and fastening the panes with aiguillettes (small, jeweledmetal points). Padded rolls of fabric were sometimes located at the joining ofthe bodice and sleeve. These were supposed to hide the laces fastening separatesleeves to bodices.
Petticoats were worn to accent one’s ensemble. They weremostly invisible except for a small V at the front of the skirt which showedtheir presence. Petticoats were cut from rich, decorative fabric such as velvetor brocade. Because the back of the petticoat was covered completely by theskirt of the dress, it was usually made with a less expensive, lighter weightfabric.
The flared, cone-shaped fashion skirts required support to achieve itsdesired rigid shape. This means of support was provided by a Spanish deviceknown as a Spanish farthingale. It was a construction of whalebone, cane, orsteel hoops increasing in size from the waist to the floor and sewn into apetticoat or underskirt. Originally a Spanish style, the ropa was an outer gownor surcote (an over garment of rich material, often with fur-linging) madeeither sleeveless, with a short puffed sleeve, or with a long sleeve, puffed atthe top and fitted for the rest of the arm’s length.
It fell from the shouldersunbelted in an A-line to the floor. Some versions closed in the front, but mostwere open to display the dress beneath. In the last quarter of the century, 1575to 1600, the first changes were seen in the shape of skirt, which grew wider atthe top. Instead of the cone-shaped Spanish farthingale, a padded roll wasplaced around the waist.
The English called these pads bum rolls,”bum” being English slang for buttocks. The farthingale was modifiedto obtain greater width and for better support of the dress than was provided bythese rolls. In the new modified version, circles of whalebone, cane, or steelwere the same diameter from top to bottom instead of increasing in size from thewaist to the floor. Steel or can spokes fastened the upper hoop to a waistband. It was called the wheel, drum, of French farthingale. This style was not used inItaly or Spain at this period where the older, hourglass shape of the Spanishfarthingale with a slightly padded roll at the waist was preferred.
Although itwas essentially a northern European style, many women in northern Europecontinued to wear Spanish farthingales, or dresses widened slightly at the waistwith bum rolls or small, wheeled farthingales. Dresses worn over wheelfarthingales had enormous skirts that were either cut and sewn into onecontinuous piece all around, or open at the front of sides over a matchingunderskirt. A ruffle the width of the flat shelflike section of the farthingalewas sometimes attached to the skirt. To avoid having the body appeardisproportionately short in contrast with the width of the skirt, sleeves weremade fuller and with very high sleeve caps.
The front of the bodice waselongated, ending in a deep V at the waist. Additional height came from highstanding collars and dressing the hair high on the head. In the late 1500’sruffs grew to enormous widths. Made of sheer linen or of lace they had to besupported by a frame called the supportasse or by starching.
The following are afew different styles of ruffs. One consisted of gathering one edge of a band offabric to the size of the neck to form a frill of deep folds. Some were round,flat lace pieces without depth of folds like a wide collar. Others had severallayers of lace rounds placed over each other, covering the lower part of theneck. Then there were open ruffs, almost a cross between a collar and a ruff,which stood high behind the head and fastened in front into a wide, squareneckline.
A conch or a conque as known in French, was a sheer, gauzelike veil sofine that in some portraits it can just barely be seen. It was cut the fulllength of the body from shoulder to floor and worn like a cape over theshoulders. At the back of the neck it was attached to a winglike constructionthat stood up like a high collar behind the head. Some references consider theconch to have had some significance as a widow’s costume, and this may be truein France; however, in England it seems to have been more widely worn for apurely decorative element of dress by women, such as Queen Elizabeth, who werenever widowed. The custom of having married and adult women cover their hairwith a coif (under cap often embroidered and curved over the ears) continued. Inthe last two-thirds of the century, more hair was visible.
The hair was combedback from the forehead, puffed up slightly around the face, then pulled into acoil at the back of the head. To balance the width of the wheeled farthingale,extra height was gained by dressing the hair high and decorating it with jeweledornaments. Hats popular toward the end of the century were generally small, withhigh crowns and narrow brims and trimmed with feathers. Jeweled nets and capswere also worn.
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Davies, Stephanie Curtis. Costume Language A Dictionary OfDress Terms. Malvern: Cressrelles Publishing Company Limited, 1994. “Fashion. ” The World Book Encyclopedia, 1987, Micropaedia, vol. 7, p.
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Head, Curlew HighSchool, personal interview. Tortora, Phyllis and Keith Eubank. Survey ofHistoric Costume Third Edition. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1998.