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Women’s fashions of the 1600-1680 years

Women’s fashions of the 1600-1680 years 3

Women’s fashions of the 1600-1680 years

Women’s fashions of the last years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign continued to be worn for a Hmp after James I came to the throne; yet during the first quarter of the seventeenth century there ramp a period of transition bringing with it a gradual elimination of the earlier extravagances.

At the beginning of the century there were, in addition to the formal dress with its wide farthingale and high standing ruff, several rather more informal types, a loose gown with petticoat, a loose gown with jacket and petticoat, or sometimes simply a jacket and petticoat. These were worn with a modified version of the wheel farthing ale or, more usually, with the french farthingale (cul postiche or bum roll). This was a roll padded with cotton or horsehair which was tied round the waist over the hips. It might consist of a single roll, large or small, or several narrow rolls held together with tapes and arranged to form a circle whose outside rim was strengthened by a strip of cane or whalebone. After about 16×5 the large wheel farthingale began to be discarded, though it lingered on into the 1620’s. Small hip rolls, however, continued to be worn. No farthingales or farthingale dresses seem to have survived until the present day but fortunately there are a few gowns and jackets still, from which the cut of seventeenth- century clothes can be deduced.


The farthingale dress worn on formal occasions consisted of a separate bodice and skirt. The bodice of this dress had a circular basque which spread out horizontally over the wheel farthingale, and the skirt was worn open in front to show the underskirt. In the seventeenth century the bodice was called a ‘body’ or ‘pair of bodies’. The underskirt retained its name of‘ kirtle for a while, but later became ‘petticoat’, a name which was also used until the end of the eighteenth century for any skirt closed all round. During the first part of the century, the large padded sleeves of the earlier bodice were replaced by simple straight sleeves with additional long hanging sleeves, over the top of which were set epaulettes (wings). The early bodice had usually been worn open in front, each side being attached to a long central triangular piece of material known as the ‘stomacher’. The stomacher was discarded and the front bodice was now cut in one with a low U-shaped neckline. The skirt, which now hung straighter than the earlier one, was not so open in front and was often closed all round. As a rule the dress would be carried out in one material only, the same trimmings being used for bodice and skirt. The low- necked bodice could be cut from two pieces of material, front and back, joined together towards the back by two side seams running from the armhole down to the waist with a very slight inward slope, like a man’s doublet. The back was always cut high to the neck, where a small stiffened collar would support the ruff. If the front of the bodice was to be worn high to the neck, extra seaming was necessary. There would have to be either a centre front seam shaped to take the bust, or two side seams that followed the line of the earlier front worn with the stomacher, that is, running from the shoulders over the bust and inclined inwards to the waist centre front. (On a large woman the low necked bodice might also require front seams.)
The sleeves were cut in two pieces like those in a man’s doublet. The bodice always had a strong interlining and was worn over a heavily stiffened under-bodice-‘the whalebone body’. This also was cut from two pieces of material with two side seams shaped into the waist with a long pointed front. The sides were cut two or three inches longer than the waist, and were slit up into tabs to allow for the curve of the hips, or separate tabs were added from the waist to which the farthingale was tied.
Unlike the earlier skirt which was circular in cut, the skirt accompanying this bodice would have been made from several widths of material, each unshaped, or only slightly gored on each side, and gathered or pleated on to the waistband. The skirt fullness could also have been attached to a small circular yoke fitting over the top of the farthingale.
About 1615 the waistline began to rise. If the bodice had front-side seams, these now moved down from the shoulders to start from the armhole, and sloped in towards the centre front, which was slightly pointed. The back seams also moved towards the centre back at the waist; the shoulder seams widened, and the basque was discarded. This bodice could be cut from four pieces: front, back and two underarm pieces. Sleeves were unchanged, though occasionally the front seam was left open. The skirt, whether open or closed, hung rather straight over small hip pads. This was the style of dress worn in England until c. 1625.

Women’s fashions of the 1600-1680 years


Jackets, known as ‘waistcoats’ throughout the seventeenth century, were informal wear for ladies of quality and the habitual costume of other classes. The early specimens which have survived are the beautifully embroidered ones dating from the end of the sixteenth century to c. 1630. These jackets are a distinctive English fashion, and reflect the Englishwoman’s skill in embroidery and her love of gardens. Most of them are of white linen and embroidered all over. The early designs, worked in black or coloured silks, are coiling stems enclosing conventionalized flower and fruit motifs, sometimes with birds and insects in addition. Later designs are more fluid, and in one colour only. In the more elaborate jackets, gold and silver threads are used, as well as sequins, and they are edged with gold lace.
The basic cut is the same throughout. The two front pieces, with centre front shaping, are joined to the back by two side back seams. The jacket is cut a few inches below waist level to form a basque which is achieved by slitting the bottom and inserting triangular gussets. In the earlier jackets the back seams run from high in the armhole slightly in to the waist; there is one gusset centre back, and three or more each side, set to a low waist; usually there is a collar. The sleeves are cut from two similiarly shaped pieces, straight to the elbow and then curved forward to take the bend of the arm, with a front seam set well forward and inserted at a point high into the armhole. The sleeves are wrist length, with a small cuff. Later jackets follow the broader fashion line; that is, the shoulder seams widen, and the back seams, set lower in the armhole, slope in and are from two to three inches apart at waist level. The gussets are set to the higher waistline, and the collar is omitted. The sleeves are often very wide, cut from one piece of material and gathered top and bottom. The neckline may be quite high or very low.
One jacket only has been preserved with an accompanying petticoat. This is also white, but of heavy cotton, and the design is larger in scale and more coarsely worked. It is cut straight, gathered to the waist, and embroidered all over except for a few inches round the top which is covered by the jacket-basque. In portraits and miniatures of the period these jackets are shown worn with long loose gowns, the petticoat being of a different material.
Skirts, or petticoats, for simpler styles of dress were cut from several unshaped widths of material and gathered or pleated into the waist. For a more elegant line both back and front would be cut slightly circular; that is, with the waist curving upwards each side and with gored side seams. They were ground length, without trains. The skirts given in the Spanish books are of this type.

Women’s fashions of the 1600-1680 years 2


From mediaeval times a garment that hung loose from the shoulders was called a gown, and in France a robe, a distinction which lasted until the gown became incorporated with the dress in about the middle of the seventeenth century. Women’s gowns were ground length, sometimes with a slight train. They were cut without a waist seam and were worn loose or held in to the waist by a sash or ornamental girdle. Usually they were sleeveless, but sometimes they had long hanging sleeves, and they always had epaulettes. Earlier gowns were often worn closed in front from neck to waist, but in the seventeenth century this had become a fashion for older women or merchant’s wives. The gown was cut with two fronts and one back piece, with side seam towards the back. When worn open, the fronts were narrow at the top and the width round the bottom was arranged by having extra fullness pleated into the armhole under the arm. The sides were straight or gored. The back was cut wide, and the fullness was pleated into the neck and shoulders. A small stiffened collar at the back of the neck supported the ruff. Loose gowns were also worn as what we now term dressing-gowns but which then were called ‘nightgowns’. This is a somewhat misleading term as it was also used for informal dress worn during the day. The French were more logical-they called a dressing-gown a robe de nuit and an informal dress a robe de chambre. See plate 5; Diagram I.


The best silks, velvets, damasks, cloth of silver and gold, etc., also lace, came from Italy and were very expensive. In both England and France laws were continually being passed prohibiting their import. Very little silk was made in England and French silks were not of a high quality. They were therefore often enriched by slashing, pinking, embroidery, etc. As with the men’s doublets of this date, all the bodice seams might be outlined with two or more rows of narrow braid, the same trimming being repeated on the skirt. Skirts worn with elaborately embroidered jackets often had a deep border of rich embroidery as well as having the hem edged with lace or fringe. The borders of the gown and epaulettes were edged with braid or embroidery, but very often just scalloped.
All dresses had some form of neck wear. The farthingale low-necked bodice had the high standing fan-shaped ruff which needed to be supported by a frame made from wire or buckram. The closed Elizabethan ruff was still worn, usually with high-necked bodices. The standing band was a semi-circular collar, also with a wire frame. The falling ruff-several goffered layers attached to the top of a deep neck band-was more customary with informal dress. ‘Band’ was the contemporary name for a collar. Collars were often attached to the ‘partlet’: this was a false front, or chemisette, which filled in the low neck of the bodice. Ruffs and collars were made from fine linen, lawn or lace, or lawn edged with lace. The laces used were heavy needlepoint such as reticella, point de Venise, and by the end of the period bobbin laces were also worn. Long aprons of gauze or of fine lawn, often beautifully embroidered, were fashionable informal wear. These were at first worn under the basque or the jacket, and later over it, to give the higher waistline. Short circular capes, and longer ones for travelling, were worn throughout the century. The ‘safeguard’ was an extra skirt, or part of a skirt, which protected the dress when the wearer was travelling or on horseback.