The Elizabethan era was a golden age for England. A time when new discoveries and conquests were being made abroad and a significant era of peace and stability reigned at home. The clothing worn by Elizabethans was quite elaborate and detailed and was an important way of providing information about the wearer. Social class, rank and status were all signified by the dress of each individual.
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The dress of the Elizabethans was governed by the strict enforcement of the sumptuary clothing laws. These laws laid out quite specifically what each social class was allowed to wear. An Elizabethan could not simply choose what to wear independently of these laws without risking a harsh penalty. These laws were made to ensure the strict maintenance of social classes and structures. For example only royalty were allowed to wear clothing lined with ermine. Nobles were allowed to wear clothing trimmed with animal fur of lesser value, and so on down the social ranking system.
The Elizabethan period was an exciting age of discovery in science and mathematics and this spirit was reflected in the clothing of the upper classes. Geometric shapes began to emerge in clothing instead of the natural curves of the body. Padding, quilting and the use of whalebone for stiffening was used for this effect. Waists were designed to look small and men often wore corsets to achieve this look. The Elizabethan age in the upper classes was known as the peacock age as the nobility wore ever increasingly elaborate costumes with fine material such as velvets, satins, furs and silks to attract attention in court.
Men's fashion in the Elizabethan age was defined by the sumptuary laws and as such differed vastly as to whether an individual was of the nobility or upper classes or a member of the poor working class. Even if a rich man had many times more wealth than a duke for instance, if he did not have the title he could not dress like a duke. Elizabethan men's clothing consisted of many layers where stockings, a corset and a codpiece were all important items of underclothing. Over clothing usually consisted of a doublet, breeches, a cloak, a ruff and a hat.
Women wore a very elaborate and extensive list of underclothing during the Elizabethan period. A light smock was worn usually with a corset or bodice. Stockings or hose and a hooped skirt known as a farthingale were also worn. In addition a woman may also have worn a stomacher, petticoat, girtle and partlet. Other clothing usually consisted of a gown with fitted bodice. Ruffles were very popular as were a type of headdress known as a snood. In general women were covered head to toe, with every part of the body concealed except for the face and hands.
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