OVERVIEW

Womenswear

Wikipedia summarizes fashion from 1550-1600 in Western Europe overall, writing:

“Western European clothing was characterized by increased opulence. Contrasting fabrics, slashes, embroidery, applied trims, and other forms of surface ornamentation remained prominent. The wide silhouette, conical for women with breadth at the hips and broadly square for men with width at the shoulders had reached its peak in the 1530s, and by mid-century a tall, narrow line with a V-shaped waist was back in fashion. Sleeves and women’s skirts then began to widen again, with emphasis at the shoulder that would continue into the next century. The characteristic garment of the period was the ruff, which began as a modest ruffle attached to the neckband of a shirt or smock and grew into a separate garment of fine linen, trimmed with lace, cutwork or embroidery, and shaped into crisp, precise folds with starch and heated irons.”

Wikipedia summarizes 1580s womenswear, writing:

“Women’s outer clothing generally consisted of a loose or fitted gown worn over a kirtle or petticoat (or both). An alternative to the gown was a short jacket or a doublet cut with a high neckline. The slashing technique evolved into single or double rows of loops at the shoulder with contrasting linings. By the 1580s these had been adapted in England as padded and jeweled shoulder rolls.

The common upper garment was a gown, called in Spanish ropa, in French robe, and in English either gown or frock. Gowns were made in a variety of styles: Loose or fitted (called in England a French gown); with short half sleeves or long sleeves; and floor length (a round gowns) or with a trailing train (clothing).

The fashion for wearing or carrying the pelt of a sable or marten spread from continental Europe into England in this period; costume historians call these accessories zibellini or “flea furs”. The most expensive zibellini had faces and paws of goldsmith’s work with jeweled eyes. Queen Elizabeth received one as a New Years gift in 1584. Gloves of perfumed leather featured embroidered cuffs. Folding fans appeared late in the period, replacing flat fans of ostrich feathers.

Jewelry was also popular among those that could afford it. Necklaces were beaded gold or silver chains and worn in concentric circles reaching as far down as the waist. Ruffs also had a jewelry attachment such as glass beads, embroidery, gems, brooches or flowers. Belts were a surprising necessity: used either for fashion or more practical purposes. Lower classes wore them almost as tool belts with the upper classes using them as another place to add jewels and gems alike. Scarves, although not often mentioned, had a significant impact on the Elizabethan style by being a multipurpose piece of clothing. They could be worn on the head to protect desirable pale skin from the sun, warm the neck on a colder day, and accentuate the color scheme of a gown or whole outfit. The upper class had silken scarves of every color to brighten up an outfit with the gold thread and tassels hanging off of it.”

Elizabeth I of England in Parliament Robes

Fig. 1 - Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Flemish, 1561-1636). Elizabeth I of England in Parliament Robes, 1585-90. Oil on panel; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Source: Wikipedia

Lady Elizabeth Walshe

Fig. 2 - Anonymous (Flemish). Lady Elizabeth Walshe, 1589. Oil on wood; 64.7 x 49.5 cm. Marygate: York Museums Trust. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of a Noblewoman

Fig. 3 - Lavinia Fontana (Italian, 1552-1614). Portrait of a Noblewoman, 1580. Oil on canvas; (45 1/4 x 35 1/4 in). Washington D.C.: National Museum of Women in the Arts. Source: The Masterpiece Cards

Elizabeth I

Fig. 4 - John Bettes the Younger (British). Elizabeth I, 1585-1590. Oil on panel; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of A Lady with Child

Fig. 5 - Francois Quesnel (French, 1543-1619). Portrait of A Lady with Child, 1585. Oil on canvas; dimensions unknown. London: The Weiss Gallery. Source: Pinterest

Queen Elizabeth I

Fig. 6 - Unknown Artist (British). Queen Elizabeth I, 1588. Oil on panel; (38 1/2 x 28 1/2 in). London: National Portrait Gallery, NPG, 541. Source: National Portrait Gallery

Menswear

Wikipedia summarizes 1580s menswear, writing:

“Men’s fashionable clothing consisted of a linen shirt with collar or ruff and matching wrist ruffs, which were laundered with starch to be kept stiff and bright. Over the shirt men wore a doublet with long sleeves sewn or laced in place. Doublets were stiff, heavy garments, and were often reinforced with boning. Optionally, a jerkin, usually sleeveless and often made of leather, was worn over the doublet. During this time the doublet and jerkin became increasingly more colorful and highly decorated. Waistlines dipped V-shape in front, and were padded to hold their shape.

Men wore stockings or netherstocks and flat shoes with rounded toes, with slashes early in the period and ties over the instep later. Boots were worn for riding.

Short cloaks or capes, usually hip-length, often with sleeves, or a military jacket like a mandilion, were fashionable. Long cloaks were worn for inclement weather. Gowns were increasingly old-fashioned, and were worn by older men for warmth indoors and out. In this period robes began their transition from general garments to traditional clothing of specific occupations, such as scholars.”

Portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton

Fig. 1 - Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Flemish, 1561-1636). Portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton, 1580. Oil on canvas; 114 x 127 cm (44.88 x 50 in). Private Collection. Source: Art Renewal

Portrait of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. Portrait of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, 1585. Oil on panel; (44 1/2 x 35 7/8 in). London: National Portrait Gallery, NPG 362. Source: National Portrait Gallery

Portrait of Felix Platter

Fig. 3 - Hans Bock the Elder (German, 1550-1624). Portrait of Felix Platter, 1584. Oil on panel; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Source: Wikipedia

Portrait of Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Lord High Admiral and later 1st Earl of Lincoln, wearing an arming doublet and holding a compass

Fig. 4 - Artist unknown (British). Portrait of Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Lord High Admiral and later 1st Earl of Lincoln, wearing an arming doublet and holding a compass, 1580. Oil on panel; 57 × 51 cm (22.4 × 20.1 in). Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, WA1845.4. Presented by Bernard Mould, 1707. Source: Wikimedia Commons

CHILDREN’S WEAR

Portrait Giuliano II Cesarini aged 14

Fig. 1 - Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, 1530–1625). Portrait Giuliano II Cesarini aged 14, 1586. Oil on canvas; 186 × 115 cm (73.2 × 45.3 in). Private Collection. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sophia de Legnica

Fig. 2 - (Swedish). Sophia de Legnica, 1580. Oil on canvas; dimensions unknown. Source: Wikimedia

Young Boy with Dog

Paulus Moreelse (Dutch, 1571-1638). Young Boy with Dog, 1636. Oil; 311 x 427 cm. Source: Pinterest

References:

Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1580-1589
Rulers:

Historical Map of Europe 1580. Source: Emerson Kent

Events:
  • 1582 -Pope Gregory XIII implements the Gregorian Calendar.
  • 1583 – The Queen Elizabeth’s Men troupe of actors is ordered to be founded in England.
  • 1584 – The Maronite College is established in Rome.
  • Primary/Period Sources

    Resources for Fashion History Research

    To discover primary/period sources, explore the categories below.
    Have a primary source to suggest?  Or a newly digitized periodical/book to announce?  Contact us!

    Digitized Primary/Period Sources

    Secondary Sources

    Also see the 16th-century overview page for more research sources… or browse our Zotero library.

    Online

    Books/Articles
    Pinterest