Picture of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabethan Gowns

  • Interesting Facts and information about Clothing & Fashion - Elizabethan Gowns
  • Fashion - Elizabethan Gowns
  • Clothing for Women
  • Extract from pamphlet by Philip Stubbes regarding Elizabethan Gowns dated 1583

Picture of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabethan Gowns

Clothing and Fashion - Elizabethan Gowns
The gowns and fashions worn by Elizabethan women of the Upper Class were influenced by geometric shapes rather than the natural shape of the body. To achieve these shapes padding (bombast) and quilting, together with the use of whalebone or buckram for stiffening purposes, were used to gain this geometric effect.


Creating the shape of Elizabethan Gowns
Corsets were worn under gowns to give a flattened and triangular shape. A farthingale was worn beneath gowns. A farthingale was a hoop worn beneath a skirt to extend it horizontally. They were also referred to as Verdingales they were shaped like a funnel or a barrell.

  • The Spanish farthingale provided a straight line from the waist to the hem
  • The French farthingale, called the French Wheel, provided a domed shape from the waist to the hem

Rolls were also worn under the gown, tied around the waist, which supported the weight of the skirt and assisted the farthingale in enabling the skirt to extend horizontally. An underskirt, or kirtle, covered the farthingale and roll. The front of the underskirt, or kirtle, was highly decorated as it formed the front of the gown - the other, unseen, panels of the underskirt were made of less expensive material. The overskirt came next.

The Elizabethan Gown
An overskirt (split in the middle to reveal the front panel of the kirtle) was attached to a bodice to form the gown. There were two different types of bodice - a high neck and a low neck

  • The Low, square necked bodice
  • The High necked bodice

The sleeves came in a variety of styles, some with padding, and were also added separately ( they were tied or pined ) Padded 'wings' on the shoulders concealed the joins. Ruffs were added to the the collar area of the gown and occasionally around the cuffs. Some of the skirt panels were extended to make trains but these were impractical and used for important occasions. The Elizabethan 'gown' was made up of a collection of separate items.

Materials and Fabrics used for Elizabethan Gowns
The materials that gowns were made of were expensive - silk, satin, velvet, taffeta, scarlet and sarcenet (Sarcenet was a delicate silk fabric and scarlet referred not to the color but to a plain fabric). Many of these sumptuous materials and the dyes to produce their rich colors were imported, at great expense, from the continent - and they were only allowed to be worn by the Upper Class women, according to the Sumptuary Laws. The fabrics were further embellished with fine needlework and embroidery and decorated with jewels, spangles, pearls.  Cloth of Silver, Tinselled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with any gold were often worn. Tinsell was a fabric was had a metallic sheen but was less expensive than gold or silver.

The Elizabethan Fashion of Slashing Gowns
The limitations of Elizabethan dress and clothing led to a new fashion being created. Both men and women began to slash their clothes. The slash or cut in the outer surfaces of garments, which included gowns,  exposed the contrasting color of the linings beneath. The linings would be pulled through the slash and puffed out to further emphasize the contrast of colors, fabrics and materials. An alternative to the 'slashed' garment was to 'pink' the material of the gown. Pinking was cutting a specific shape, commonly a diamond shape, from the garment to allow the fabric beneath to be pulled through - a more delicate form of slashing. Styles of gowns were slashed, jagged, cut, carved, pinked and laced with all kinds of different colors.

Elizabethan Gowns - a comment dating back to 1583.
During the Elizabethan era pamphlets were printed and distributed commenting on life in Elizabethan England. A writer of one such pamphlet was a well travelled Londoner called Philip Stubbes. He was believed to have been born c1555 and died c1610. He was well educated and attended both Oxford and Cambridge University. He was also a strict Elizabethan Puritan and held firm views on any social practices which, in his view were, unfitting  true Christians. He named his work " The Anatomie of Abuses " in which he strongly criticised many of the fashions and clothing worn during the Elizabethan era. It was entered in the Stationers' Register on 1 March 1583. This pamphlet includes his view and some valuable information about Elizabethan Gowns



"There Gownes be no lesse famous also; for some are of silk, some of velvet, some of grogram, some of taffatie, some of scarlet, and some of fine cloth, of ten, twentie, or fortie shillings a yard. But if the whole gowne be not silke or velvet, then the same shall be layed with lace, two or three fingers broade, all over the gowne, or els the moste parte. Or, if not so (as lace is not fine enough sometimes), then it must be garded with great gards of velvet, every gard foure or six fingers broad at the least, and edged with costly lace; and as these gownes be of divers and sundrie colors, so are they of divers fashions, changing with the Moon, for some be of the new fashion, some of the olde, some of this fashion, and some of that, some with sleeves hanging down to their skirts, trayling on the ground, and cast over their shoulders, like Cow-tayles. Some have sleeves much shorter, cut up the arme, drawne out with divers and sundry colours and pointed with silk-ribbons very gallantly, tyed with true-loovesknottes (for so they call them)."


Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Gowns
Some interesting facts and confirmation of information about Elizabethan gowns can be obtained from the words of Philip Stubbes. A first hand impression of the fashions of the Elizabethan era are invaluable - but the Elizabethan style of writing can be hard going. The following information has therefore been taken from the points he made on Elizabethan gowns:

  • The Cost of material for gowns ranged from ten, twenty to forty shillings per yard - extremely expensive
  • The materials that gowns were made of:
    • Silk
    • Velvet
    • Grograine or Grogram ( A costly, fine ribbed material)
    • Taffeta
    • Scarlet (scarlet referred not to the color but to a plain fabric
    • Fine cloth
  • Sometimes layered with lace and ribbons
  • Often changing fashion and different styles and lengths of sleeves

Cloaks / Capes
"Some have Capes reaching downe to the middest of their backs, faced withVelvet, or els with some fine wroght silk Taffatie at the least, and fringed aboutvery brauvely; & (to shut up all in a word) some are pleated & crested down theback wonderfully, with more knacks than I can declare."

Petticoats and Kirtles
"Than have they petticotsof the best cloth that can be bought, and of the fairest dye that can be made. And sometimes they are not of cloth niether, for that is thought to base, but of scarlet, grograin, taffatie, silk and such like, fringed about the skirts with silk fringe of chaungable coloure. But which is more vayn, of whatsoever their petticots be, yet must they have kirtles (for so they call them), either of silk, velvet, grograin, taffatie, saten, or scarlet, bordered with gards, lace, fringe, and I cannot tell what besydes."


Elizabethan Gowns
Additional details, facts and information about Elizabethan Clothing and Fashion can be accessed via the Elizabethan Era Sitemap.

Fashion and Clothing - Elizabethan Gowns

  • Interesting Facts and information about Clothing & Fashion - Elizabethan Gowns
  • Clothing for Women - a geometric shape
  • Costly materials used
  • Slashing and Pinking materials
  • Stuffing, quilting and bombasting
  • Extract from pamphlet by Philip Stubbes regarding Elizabethan Doublets dated 1583

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Elizabethan Gowns


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