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The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England by Kathy Lynn Emerson
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For the writer and anyone else interested in Renaissance England (1485-1649), this remarkable resource covers the day-to-day details: fashions, food, customs, family life, the Royal Court, law and punishment, holidays, city and rural living, seafaring and land occupations, alehouses, marriage, birth and death rituals--and a great deal more, written with authority in a wonderfully readable style. Included are bibliographies and internet addresses for further research.

Written by Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of many historical mysteries set during the Renaissance

Belgrave House; September 1996
216 pages; ISBN 9780974106878
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England
Author: Kathy Lynn Emerson


Both fashions and the terms used to describe garments under­went many changes during the period from 1485 to 1649. Meanings have also changed since. When we read that a woman went to church in 1617 in her “rich night-gown and petticoat,” it raises eyebrows, but it didn’t then. Also called slops (which can refer to any loose-fitting garment), the fe­male nightgown dates from the beginning of the fifteenth cen­tury. It could be made of silk, velvet, satin, or taffeta faced with fur. It fell to the ankles and had long sleeves. Although it usually served as a dressing gown, it was also worn outside the house. A man’s night­gown, on the other hand, was a dressing gown, taken off when he went to bed.

It was customary to will articles of clothing to friends and family. Thus, styles decades out of fashion at court would often be seen else­where. Only the wealthy could afford a wide range of styles and fabrics.

Portraits are full of detail, showing the texture and color of fabrics, but in general they show subjects wearing the most formal of attire. At home or in the more informal setting of the country, many of the layers, both outerwear and underwear, would likely have been shed. No simple country housewife ever cooked a meal or cleaned her house wearing a wheel farthingale!

Some clothing had specific social implications, identifying the wearer as a member of a profession or as the servant of a particular nobleman. For more details on this function of clothes and accessories, see Chapter Fourteen.



From the late fifteenth century through about 1590, the codpiece, a fabric pouch which covered the penis, existed as a separate article of male outerwear. It was padded and elaborately decorated throughout the period from 1514 to 1575, after which it gradually began to dimin­ish in size. The codpiece sometimes doubled as a pocket, in which men kept their handkerchiefs and other small items. It was secured by buckles or tied up with points, points being any ties which attached various articles of dress to each other. Points might be either visible or concealed. The wealthy had points of linen or silk thread or ribbon. The poor used strong cord or leather.

Theories about the origin of the codpiece abound. Some say it was worn as underwear first. Another possibility is that it was designed to give extra protection in battle. A third theory suggests that the codpiece was supposed to keep the oily, mercury-based cream many men applied as a treatment for syphilis from staining doublet and hose.


After the codpiece, the doublet was the most striking part of a man’s clothing, and usually the most expensive. This close-fitting garment, worn over a shirt or waistcoat and fitted to the waist, was usually made by professional tailors. In various styles it was in fashion from 1450 to 1670.

Sleeves were a separate garment. Most had wrist-ruffs or turned-back cuffs. The armhole joint was concealed by a padded roll of material or a double or single roll of tabs called pickadils. Sleeves were often a contrasting color to other garments. They changed in shape to match the fashion in doublets.

Before 1530, doublets and sleeves were “slashed” so that the layer beneath could be pulled through and “puffed.” Until about 1550 the doublet had a square silhouette from shoulder to mid-thigh and a high neck. In the period from 1550 to 1560, padded, pleated bases (a skirt) hung about six inches below the waist. From 1560 the fitted body of the doublet was longer, more padded, and had a V-shaped point in the front. It usually fastened with close-set buttons.

From 1575 to 1600, the peascod-bellied doublet was fashionable. This extended well below the hips in a shape something like a pea-pod and was rigid, unwrinkled, and stuffed with bombast (horsehair, flock, wool, rags, flax, cotton, or bran) to preserve its square-shouldered shape. Gentlemen of fashion had to be careful. If they snagged a peascod-bellied doublet on a nail, they might leak bran! The back of the doublet was lined with stiff canvas. Most of the buttons were for decoration. This doublet fastened from armpit to waist on each side like a piece of armor. The front might be further stiffened inside with a triangular piece of wood the consistency of thick cardboard.

After 1590 an alternative style was shorter and hollow-bellied instead of convex and after 1620 the rigidity of outline gradually diminished. By 1630, so-called Cavalier dress, with a higher waist, was in fashion. The doublet was usually left unbuttoned from the breast down. Puritans wore doublets similar in appearance but undecorated and looser. After 1640 the doublet was again short and without an obvious waistline.

The wealthy had doublets made of brocade, satin, taffeta, and velvet. The poor wore canvas, fustian, and leather.


Below the waist, men wore hose, a term used only for the male garment during the years 1400 to 1620. Until around 1570, hose re­ferred to either the breeches (upper stocks) or the netherstocks (lower stocks, also called simply stocks), although after 1545 hose generally meant the netherstocks alone. The term upper stocks went out of use at about that same time. Breeches fastened to the doublet or waistcoat with points and covered the body from the waist around the seat and over part or all of the upper leg. Gentlemen’s stocks were knitted. The hose of poorer people might be sewn of rough textiles and the bottom might he footless, toeless, or stirrup-shaped.

The term tights was not in use at all during this period, and until the 1660s the word stockings usually referred to women’s hosiery, although records do show that Edward VI received a gift of silk stockings made in Spain.


Underwear was optional. Shirts were underclothing and commonly made of linen, although they might be made of line lawn or silk. They were also used to sleep in. Stays were worn under some doublets in the period 1603-1625.



The female equivalent of the doublet, at times even called a doublet, was the body, pair of bodies, or bodice. It had two parts, the stomacher (a triangular front section) and the bodice proper, which was joined to the stomacher at the sides with ties, hooks, or pins. Like a corset, the stomacher was stiffened with busks (flat lengths of bone or wood) inserted in pockets. The neckline varied greatly and might show the underclothes beneath or bare skin or be filled with a partlet. The partlet may have gotten its name because it parted the little round face ruff which could be opened or closed with aglets (laced through eyelet holes) or hooks and eyes. When the partlet had sleeves, they were not sewn on but were rather a separate article of clothing attached with points. After 1550, necklines had either collars or ruffs attached to them. Very low necklines appeared in the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras.


The gown, at first an overdress worn open in front and extending from shoulders to ground, came to mean a woman’s dress. The word dress was not used in its modern sense but rather to refer to the entire ensemble, as in  “court dress.” What looks like a dress to us is the kirtle.


Prior to 1545, kirtle referred to the combination of bodice or jacket and skirt. After 1545, the two parts were separate and the term kirtle generally meant only the skirt. By 1625 the term was obsolete and the garment was called a petticoat. The early kirtle had openings at the front in both sections, at top to show the stomacher and at bottom to reveal an underskirt called the forepart.


Sleeves were fastened to the bodice at the shoulder line by ribbon bows or hooks or pins concealed by decorative rolls of fabric known as wings. A ruffle or cuff at the wrist matched the ruff or collar. Sleeves might be in two parts in contrasting colors and came in various shapes. From 1525 to 1560, a funnel shape was common. From 1540 to 1550, sleeves might also be bell-shaped, worn over embroidered undersleeves and tied back to show puffs of the shift beneath. After 1560, sleeves might he gathered, tapered, or full. By 1580, leg-of-mutton sleeves, also called trunk or demi-cannon sleeves, were in fashion.


As far as can he determined, women in this period, at least in England, wore neither panties nor underdrawers. In the Middle Ages it had been argued that the wearing of braies (men’s pants) by women could provoke, by friction, undesirable “heat” in the female genitals, and the practice was thus discouraged. In Italy and France, women started wearing long, trouserlike drawers in the 1530s, but the fact that this practice still struck English travelers as odd as late as 1617 seems to indicate that Englishwomen did not adopt the fashion. Cloth pads were used during menstruation, but how they were held in place is unclear.

Englishwomen wore a chemise, shift, or smock as their undermost garment. Usually of linen and ankle-length, this garment might be gathered at the neck to form a soft ruff, which would then show, instead of a partlet, above the garments worn on top.

Body-stitchets (stays) were an early form of corset. These were made of heavy canvas, boiled leather (called a basquine and worn over a quilted underbodice), and even iron. More than one might be worn at the same time. Trim sometimes showed above the garments worn on top. The husks used for stiffening were made of wood, steel, or cane until about 1600, after which whalebone came into fashion.

The farthingale was worn by women of fashion from 1545 through the 1620s. This structure of hoops of rushes, wood, wire, or whalebone was used to extend the skirt under which it was worn. It converted the columnar skirt of the fifteenth century into the cone shape of the sixteenth. There were three distinct versions. The Spanish farthingale was bell-shaped. Originally vertugado, it was in fashion in Spain in the 1470s and was introduced in England by way of France (where it was called the vertugale from about 1530). The French farthingale was a padded roll worn around the hips to create a cylindrical effect. It was in fashion from about 1570. The wheel, cartwheel, or drum farthingale was in fashion in the late sixteenth century. The flat top of the cart­wheel above the hoops was made of canvas. It had a hole for the waist and attached with tapes. The skirt fell directly over the drum shape and the material was gathered into a narrow waist.

For home wear, women wore plainer fabrics. An open gown might be worn like a housecoat over a bodice and petticoat of embroidered linen. The word petticoat could be used for any skirt or underskirt and usually several were worn.


In cold weather people simply added more clothing: a long gown, a jacket of lambskins, a fur-lined cloak, padded garments, boot hose with long boots, and extra petticoats and shirts. Both sexes wore scarves, mufflers, and mittens.

There were no special riding habits but some women hunted and hawked in men’s clothing, wearing breeches and high boots.


Infants were swaddled (wrapped in cloth bands), a practice that was encouraged by doctors who subscribed to the theory of humours (see Chapter Six for more details). Swaddling was believed to prevent the baby from losing too much moisture. Swaddling bands almost completely immobilized children during the first four months of life. At four months the arms were freed but not the legs.

Young children of both sexes were clothed alike, in gowns that fell to the feet, aprons, bibs, and caps, until they were four or five years old. Older children were dressed as miniature versions of adults.


Crude clothing identified the ordinary countryman: coarse homespun woolen garments of reddish brown for the best garment, worn with kersey or knitted hose and heavy hobnail shoes. Field clothes were fustian tunics with loose breeches and canvas leggings buskined (tied in place) with strips of cloth. Samuel Rowlands (1609) describes a typical countryman’s headgear as a “greasy hat that had a hole ate through by some rat.” After about 1560, the “thrummed” (fringed or shaggy) hat became associated with the poor. There seems to be no distinctive dress for the poorest class of women, but a country maidservant might wear the bodice of her petticoat “laced before” and a blue or black kirtle.


Women’s Hairstyles

Women dyed their hair, bleached it in the sun, and washed it with alkalized water. Golden hair was highly esteemed but all shades of red and auburn found favor at court even though very little hair showed beneath some headgear. From about 1560, hair was curled and pulled back from the forehead, dressed over a pad and interwoven with pearls and jeweled ornaments. In the 1620s, hair was styled “tete de mou­ton”—frizzled at the sides with a high bun at the back and ornamented with ribbon, pearls, or flowers. Maids were hairdressers for their mis­tresses. Women might also wear wigs.

Men’s Hairstyles

Early in the sixteenth century, hair was worn shoulder length or bobbed to the bottom of the ears. By 1520, chin level was fashionable and by 1530 styles went even shorter, especially at the back. Hair might be combed forward at the front to form a short fringe over the fore­head. In the mid-sixteenth century men added a trimmed beard and mustache to short hair. Later in the century, hair was longer at the sides. From 1625, men of the court party wore ringlets cascading down their backs. When a single ringlet was tied with a ribbon bow and pulled over the shoulder it was called a love-lock. Men did not wear wigs.


Most men were clean shaven before King Henry VIII set the style for beards and mustaches in the 1520s. Under Mary and Elizabeth there was no one predominant fashion but the trims included the bodkin beard (long, pointed, in the center of the chin only), the Cadiz beard (a large, disordered growth), the pencil beard (a slight tuft of hair on the point of the chin), the spade beard (cut in the shape of an ace of spades and popular with soldiers from 1570 to 1605), and the swallow’s tail beard (forked but with the ends long and spread wide). From 1550 to 1600, it was never in fashion to wear a mustache without a beard. After 1600 the clean-shaven look came back into style. The Vandyke beard (a carefully trimmed mustache and pointed chin heard) was popular during the reign of Charles I.


Puritans disapproved of cosmetics and the poor could not afford them, but women who could used them in an effort to achieve what was considered the “standard” for beauty: very white skin, red lips, and lamplike eyes.

A powder made of ground alabaster was used to whiten the skin. Or one could apply a lotion made of beeswax, asses’ milk, and the ground jawbone of a hog. White fucus, another popular whitener, was made by grinding up the burned jawbone of a hog, sieving it, and laying it on with oil of white poppy. Many of these homemade mixtures were benign but some caused scarring and other skin problems. Ceruse was white lead (a poison) mixed with vinegar. Other whiteners were a mixture of borax and sulphur, a lotion made of white of egg, alum, borax, poppy seeds, and powdered eggshell, and a glaze of egg white.

Fucus was a generic term for red dye used to redden the lips. It may have been made of madder or of red ochre or of red crystalline mercu­ric sulfide (which ate the flesh). To redden their cheeks, women used a mixture of cochineal, white of hard-boiled egg, milk of green figs, alum, and gum arabic.

A freckle was any kind of spot and was anathema to the Elizabethan woman. To get rid of spots she applied birch-tree sap or ground brim­stone or oil of turpentine or sublimate of mercury (a poison).

Kohl was used to emphasize the eyes, and another poison, bella­donna, was put into them (a custom imported from Venice) to produce huge, velvety pupils.

Dental Care

Dental care was primitive, but people did attempt it, usually by vigor­ously rubbing or washing their teeth with mixtures such as white wine and vinegar boiled with honey. Toothpicks and tooth-cloths were popu­lar gift items. The toothbrush was known by 1649 but was not yet in use in England.


Almost everyone, male and female, wore scent of some kind. Henry VIII's favorite perfume combined musk, rose water, ambergris, and civet. Sweet marjoram was the major ingredient in Queen Elizabeth’s favorite scent. Other perfumes used aloe, nutmeg, and storax. Scents like rose water and lavender water were distilled at home. More exotic scents were imported.

To cover unpleasant odors, the result of infrequent washing, fabrics were also heavily perfumed. The custom extended to accessories, and one seventeenth-century recipe for perfuming gloves advises steeping two spoonfuls of gum-dragon all night in rosewater mixed with four grains of ground musk and eight grains of ground civet before adding half a spoonful of a mixture of oil of cloves, cinnamon, and jasmine. This blend was then beaten into a thin jelly and rubbed all over the gloves, after which they were left in a dry, clean place for forty-eight hours. The final step was to rub the gloves with the hands until the gloves became limber.


aprons: Worn by working classes and country housewives throughout the period. From 1600 to 1640, fashionable ladies wore elegant and elaborately decorated versions.

boot hose: From 1560 to 1680, large, loose boot hose were worn inside boots to protect the hose. They were turned down just below the knee.

boots: Boots were well-fitted, sometimes with outside lacing. By the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, they reached above the knee. They might be of leather or of russet cloth. Those hanging loose about the leg and turned down and fringed were called “lugged boots.” Cockers were knee-high boots of rough make worn by laborers and countrymen. From about 1585, brogues were worn by poor people and some soldiers. Buskins were riding hoots and reached the calf or the knee.

fans: The hand fan appeared in England by 1572, having previously been in use in both France and Italy, and quickly gained wide popular­ity. Large feather fans were round or semicircular and often had a small mirror at the center. Others were made of embroidered silk or velvet. Sir Francis Drake presented Queen Elizabeth with one of red and white feathers with a gold handle inlaid with half moons of mother-of-pearl and diamonds.

girdles or waistbands (belts): Women’s girdles might be made of silk, ribbon, velvet covered with small plaquettes, embossed metal, or metal links. The fashion of wearing a girdle from which trinkets were suspended continued until about 1600. Wealthy men wore girdles of gold, silver, embroidered fabrics, velvet, or silk. The poor made do with caddis, a woven tape.

gloves: Worn by everyone and popular as gifts, they were usually gauntleted and embroidered on the backs and cuffs.

handkerchiefs: In use from the sixteenth century on, they were also called muckinders (a slang term which could also mean a baby’s bib) and napkins.

hats: Men remained uncovered only in the presence of royalty. Other­wise, if a man removed his hat to greet a lady, he put it right hack on, indoors or out. The size of hats increased under James I and large feathers and other objects, such as gloves, handkerchiefs, and ribbons might he stuck onto the hat and into the hatband. Hats for both sexes were made of velvet, silk, felt, taffeta, beaver, and ermine. Beaver hats were rare until around 1580. During the second quarter of the seven­teenth century most men wore either hats with moderate crowns and wide brims turned up at one side or a sugar-loaf-shaped hat called the copotain. Among women, close-fitting linen caps (coifs) were worn indoors and hoods or hats were added on top to go outdoors.

jewelry: Often made from melted-down coins, the most popular types of jewelry were bracelets (made of ornamental gold links, enameled and jeweled; of rows of pearls or beads of amber, coral, or agate; of long, black, tubular heads called bugles; or of hair), brooches (worn by men and women to hold feathers to hats and by women to ornament the bodice), carcanets (hanging collars of linked ornamental design set with jewels from which hung little pendants; rarely seen except at court), chains (gentlemen’s were frequently enameled; ladies wore long chains of stones or pearls), earrings (not worn until the late Elizabethan period, they were then seen on both men and women), pendants (worn suspended from chains or ribbons to hang just below the chest), and rings. Rings were worn by all classes and ranged from signets to cameos, intaglios, rings set with precious stones, and memo­rial rings.

masks: Worn to shield the wearer from the sun when riding and to hide identity, some had glass-filled eyeholes.

muffs, snufkins, or snoskyns: Made of cloth or fur, the smaller models hung suspended from a woman’s girdle.

pomander: A hollow perforated sphere containing a waxed perfume ball impregnated with scent. Men wore pomanders suspended from a chain. Women attached them to their girdles. Often constructed of gold or silver and set with jewels or engraved or enameled, a poman­der might be any size and could contain ambergris, musk, cloves, or hartshorn. An alternative style was constructed to look like an orange, with quarters secured at the base by hinges that opened outward when the top was unscrewed.

shoes: Men’s shoes were generally flat-heeled and might be made of leather, silk, brocade, or velvet and decorated with silver or copper gilt buckles or large ornamental rosettes of silk. Under Henry VIII most shoes were duck-bill shaped. Shoes that more closely fitted the shape of the foot came into fashion in 1554 but they continued to have broad toes. Some had ankle straps. Styles of men and women’s shoes went by the same names: mule (a slipper with no heel piece), pinson (a light indoor shoe), pump (a single-sole shoe, close-fitting to the ankle, of cloth or thin leather with flat heels), and slipper (a low-cut indoor shoe). Women’s overshoes, which raised the wearer out of the mud, included chopines, clogs or pattens (with wooden soles), and pantofles (cork-soled skuffs which became common after about 1570).

spectacles: Eyeglasses were known as early as the thirteenth century and generally available after about 1520. Demand increased after the invention of the printing press. The Guild of Spectacle Makers was chartered in 1629.

stockings: Women’s stockings were held up by garters below the knee. Silk, worsted, and fine yarn were all in general use for stockings by 1580.

watches: The “Nuremberg Egg,” a portable timepiece invented by Peter Henlien in 1502, may be a myth, but “pocket sundials” were in general use by 1545 and “traveling clocks” are frequently mentioned after 1575. Early watches were large and might be octagonal, oval, or round in shape. Their outer covers were pierced with elaborate open­work to enable the strike to be heard. After about 1580 the size de­creased and watches were used as personal ornaments.


arched hood (1580-1620): This hood made an arch over the head and was associated with widows.

beguin or Flemish hood: A rectangle of linen carefully folded into a symmetrical headdress and caught together at the nape of the neck.

biggin: A cap men wore to bed. It tied under the chin with laces or ribbon.

bone grace or bongrace (1530-1615): A flat, square cap with a short flap of velvet on each side.

bonnet: A generic term for the French hood. Low, flat men’s hats were also called bonnets.

braies: Leg coverings worn under long robes and tunics, these were the forerunners of hose worn as outerwear.

bum-barrel, bum-roll, or waist bolster: A padded roll tied around the waist under the skirt to hold it out.

canions (1570-1620): Tubular, thigh-hugging extensions worn over the area from breeches to knee. Separate netherstocks could be gar­tered either over or under the canions.

cap: In men’s wear, a cap was a hat worn by an inferior person. Wom­en’s caps were worn indoors or under hats.

cassock (1530-1660): Worn by men and women, this was a loose, hip-length coat with a small collar or hood.

caul: A skull cap of silk, often worn by maidens. Caul was also used as a term for a bag-shaped hair net (of gold mesh lined with silk or made entirely of silk thread or human hair), which held the hair hack in a coil. This could be worn alone or under a hat.

cloak: Long cloaks were worn by both sexes. From about 1545, men also wore, indoors and out, a short, full cloak, richly lined, with a high upstanding collar. The Spanish cloak (1535-1620) was hooded. The Dutch cloak (1545-1620) had wide, hanging sleeves. The French cloak (1570-1670) reached the knees and was worn over one shoulder and gathered up over the arm.

coat: A short-sleeved or sleeveless jacket or jerkin which was worn over the doublet.

court bonnet (1575-1585): A pillbox of velvet trimmed with jewels and feathers and worn over a caul.

drawers: This male undergarment is mentioned as early as 1150 but was not universally worn.

falling band or falling collar (1540-1670): Any turned-down collar, often lace-edged, worn instead of a ruff.

forepart: Any underskirt, usually highly decorated, revealed through the inverted-V opening in the front of a skirt.

French hood (1530-1630): A small bonnet made on a stiff frame and worn far back on the head. Folds of material fell below the shoulders from a short flat panel at the back. Usually dark in color but decorated with biliments (borders of silk, satin, or velvet trimmed with gold or jewels), it was worn over a fine linen cap called a crespin or creppin.

gabardine: A long, loose overcoat with hanging sleeves, worn by both sexes and all classes.

gable headdress (1500-1540): Square, it had two long back panels and front lappets.

gown: For men this was either a sleeveless mock-coat or a cloak with ornamental sleeves. In Tudor times gowns were worn primarily by older men and professionals and on ceremonial occasions. For women the gown was an overdress worn for added warmth or greater dignity. It could be close-bodied or loose and have long or short sleeves or sleeves hanging loosely from the shoulder. Ceremonial gowns might have a train.

head-rail (after 1630): A large square of material pinned around the back of the head. Less fashionably, a kerchief might be draped over the head for covering.

hood: The generic term for a head covering. A countrywoman’s hood around 1520 was of white linen with lappets, which might be tied over the top of her head.

jerkin or jacket: A sleeveless vest worn over the doublet. The short jerkin (five to six inches below the waist) came to England with Philip of Spain in 1554. The jerkin of cloth or leather was worn by civilians from 1545 to 1575 and again from 1620 to 1630. As military garments throughout the period, “buff’ jerkins were made of leather.

jump jacket: A Dutch style favored by Puritans of the 1640s, this was worn with matching Dutch breeches, “bucket-top” boots, a square white linen collar, plain white cuffs, and a wide-brimmed black felt hat.

mandilion: A loose, thigh-length overcoat with a standing collar and loose sleeves. It was popular from 1520 to 1560 and again from 1577 to 1620. After 1620 it was called a Manderville and used only in livery.

Mary Stuart hood (1550-1630): Similar to a French hood but of sheer cloth such as lawn, trimmed with decorative fabric and edged with lace. The front border had a V- or U-shaped curve above the middle of the forehead. Widows frequently wore the style in black silk with a falling back section.

Monmouth cap: A knitted wool cap that fit the head and had a brim and a long peaked top that hung over one side and ended in a tassel. These were common from the 1570s to 1625, especially among soldiers and sailors.

nightcap: Any casual indoor headgear. It was not worn to bed.

nightclothes: Any informal morning or evening attire.

night rail: A garment in which some wealthy women slept by the mid-sixteenth century. Sleeping in the nude or in a shift, shirt, or smock was more common.

pipkin (1565-1595): A taffeta hat trimmed with ostrich feathers and decorated with jewels. It had a moderate crown, a narrow, fairly flat brim, and was worn over a caul.

rebato (1580-1635): A collar wired to stand up around a low-necked bodice.

ruff (1550-1630): A circular collar of cambric or lawn in the form of a starched and crimped or pleated frill, the ruff or ruff-band came to England from France. From 1562 to 1577, ruffs measured about three inches wide and two inches deep. They were separate articles of cloth­ing by 1570. The cartwheel ruff was in fashion from 1580 to 1610 and the fan-shaped ruff from 1570 to 1625. The latter was made almost entirely of lace. Men’s ruffs were generally higher in back than in front, following the line of the jaw to frame the face and set off the shape of the skull. One from 1589 measures nine inches from neck to edge.

sack: A loose dress for country wear.

safeguard (1570-1630): An outer skirt worn for protection against weather and dirt during travel.

slop-hose: Sailors’ breeches.

slops or galligaskins: Any wide, loose breeches.

tippit: A short shoulder-length cape for women.

trunk hose, round hose, or French hose (1540-1625): A style of breeches for men who wanted to show off their legs. Trunk hose consisted of a padded ring, to which long nether-stocks were sewn.

tunic: Belted tunics were worn by the working classes.

Venetians or knee breeches: Any breeches fastened at the knee and separate from the netherstocks. They might be distended with vertical rolls of padding down the inside of each side seam. The codpiece was not worn with Venetians, which buttoned or tied in a concealed front opening.

waistcoat (1485-1525): Optional male undergarment, usually quilted, to which the breeches were fastened. A woman’s dressing jacket was also called a waistcoat.

wimple: Cloth covering the head, chin, and shoulders. In the country a woman might wear a straw hat over a wimple.


Spinning, weaving, and knitting were all practiced in England by the sixteenth century. An improved type of spinning wheel, the Saxony wheel, was introduced in the 1530s. Woolen cloth was produced at home but more exotic fabrics (including cotton) were imported. All those listed here were available by 1570.


bombazine: Variously described as a plain twilled fabric made of cotton and wool, as a silk and wool blend, and as a silk and cotton blend, bombazine was usually black but was available in colors by the end of the sixteenth century.

borato: A thin, light blend of silk and wool.

buffin: Used in doublets and other garments.

camlet or chamlet: Closely woven fabric of camel’s hair and silk (or wool or cotton).

damask: Textile woven of silk and linen with light and shade effects. True damasks were silk but the term came to mean any fabric with an elaborate design woven into it.

fustian: Cotton and flax or flax mixed with wool, with a silky finish. Fustian was used as a substitute for velvet.

mocado or mockado or mock velvet: A deep-piled velvet with better grades made in silk and inferior grades in wool, silk and wool, or silk and linen.


The word meant any cloth made from the cotton plant. Cotton was imported as a raw material from Smyrna and Cyprus.


Linen was any cloth made from flax.

beaupers: Linen cloth similar to bunting.

cambric: Fine linen.

canvas: Coarse linen cloth which, early in the sixteenth century, was imported from France.

dorneck: Linen made in Norfolk and used for servants’ clothes.

dornicks: A checked table linen. Dornick was the Flemish name for the city of Tournai and dornicks originally applied to any fabrics manu­factured there.

Holland: Any fine linen.

lawn or cobweb lawn: Any very fine, semitransparent linen cloth.

sammeron: It was “finer than flaxen and coarser than hempen.”


Produced by silkworms, both silk thread and finished fabric were im­ported throughout the period. By 1599, looms were being used to knit silk stockings, waistcoats, and other garments.

brocade: A rich silk cloth embroidered in gold and silver. Later, bro­cade meant any fabric with a raised, figured pattern.

caffa: A rich silk cloth similar to damask.

sarcenet: A fine, soft silk of taffeta weave.

satin: A glossy silk fabric with a smooth surface.

sussapine: A costly silk textile.

taffeta: A rich, thin silk used for doublets.


Woolens are any fabrics made from carded, short-staple sheep’s wool and fulled (shrunk, then beaten or pressed). The New Draperies were worsted or semi-worsted fabrics made with combed, long-staple wool and not fulled. They were introduced to England from the Netherlands by Protestant refugees in the 1560s and included sackcloth, serge, fri­zado, bays (or baize) and says. Later “New Draperies” came to mean any novelty cloth.

broadcloth: A fine woolen cloth of plain weave, two yards wide, pro­duced in England from the twelfth century on.

cotton cloth: A woolen cloth of which the nap has been “cottoned” or raised, such as baft and frieze. This was manufactured in the North, especially around Manchester.

lemister: A fine woolen used for knitting caps.

puke: An imported woolen cloth or any woolen textile dyed before weaving.

russet: Coarse reddish brown, gray, or neutral color woolen homespun.

Other Fabrics

buckram: A coarse linen or cotton fabric used in hose and gowns.

calico: A cotton or cotton and linen fabric imported from the East and therefore costly. Calico later became the generic name for any cloth imported from the East. It was not the pattern we associate with the term today.

cloth of gold: Cloth woven with gold wire or flat strips of gold or both.

crape: A thin transparent silk, or silk and linen, used in mourning veils.

furs: Amice (gray squirrel), bauson (badger), beaver, cony (rabbit) ermine, fox, lettice (similar to ermine), lizard (lynx), and sable were all used in clothing.

kersey: A double-twilled say of wool or of silk and wool.

rash: A twilled textile of silk or wool.

tripe: Imitation velvet made of wool or thread.

velvet: Imported until the late seventeenth century and made of silk or cotton. Branched velvet was any figured velvet.


Arnold, Jane. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620. Hollywood, CA: QSM, 1985.

Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century. Boston: Plays, Inc., 1972.

Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century. Boston: Plays, Inc., 1970.

Lister, Margot. Costumes of Everyday Life: An Illustrated History of Working Clothes from 900-1910. Boston: Plays, Inc., 1972.

Norris, Herbert. Tudor Costume and Fashion. Mineola, NY: Dover Books, 1997. A reprint of the 1938 edition.

Scarisbrick, Diana. Tudor and Jacobean Jewelry. London: Tate Publishing, 1995.

Yarwood, Doreen. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. New York: Bonanza Books, 1978.