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Early 17th Century Costume And Dress - 1589-1643

( Originally Published 1926 )



From the extravagant, elaborate, and uncomfortable dress of the reign of Queen Elizabeth to the plain dress of the Puritans seems a far cry, but in point of fact this transition took place in a little less than fifty years. Changes in fashions came gradually, brought about in some cases by the attempt to make a more comfortable mode of dress, and in others from the love of novelty. Owing to the amount of padding worn in men's garments and the tight lacing and heavy embroideries on those of the women, clothing in the preceding century was formal and uncomfortable. Every part of the human frame that could be tortured came in for its share.

The women of England seem to have broken away from these fashions before their sisters in France, as Montaigne in the early part of the seventeenth century speaks of the method of obtaining the Spanish figure as "a gehenna of suffering," saying that the waists of the women were "drawn in and compressed by great couches, which enter into the flesh itself," and that sometimes they even died from the effects of this torture. Extravagance in dress kept up in France for a much longer period than in England, and we find little or no effort to curb it until the time of the French Revolution.

Henry IV was responsible for much of the elaborate dress of France during the early part of this century ; he was extremely fond of fetes, balls, and entertainments of all kinds, and set the pace, his court following. While the men were not quite so effeminate as they had been in the preceding reign, they still wore their hair in curls and ringlets, and used perfumes and toilet accessories in profusion.

In England costume was becoming looser and more comfortable; the jerkin had lost most of its padding and the trousers had become knee-breeches, which were either buttoned or tied about the knee and were worn rather generally by civilians.'

Women's Dress.—During the early part of the seventeenth century, through the influence of Marguerite of Valois, the silhouette of the vertugadine had taken on a bell shape, and a full-plaited skirt-like arrangement was added to the basque or bodice at the waist-line, which was being lengthened to a point. The vertugadine was larger than ever and was sewed into the skirt at the hip.

The ruff had developed into a huge standing collar, either made entirely of lace or a combination of fine muslin and lace, stiffened to extend at the sides and back. The neck of the bodice was cut very low and square.

The tight sleeves and the under-petticoat were generally of the same material, while the bodice, full oversleeves, and overskirt were of a contrasting material and color. The bodice laced up the front and was finished at the waistline by a narrow ribbon. Embroidery, heavily incrusted with jewels, was still used, and gold and silver galloons were making their appearance.

At the baptism of the children of Henry IV, September 14, 1606, the queen wore a gown covered with 3,200 pearls and 3,000 diamonds. We read accounts of Gabrielle d'Estrees, in 1594, wearing a gown so loaded with pearls and sparkling gems that she outshone the light of the torches. She carried a handkerchief which cost 1,900 francs; she also possessed a "cotte of Turkish cloth of gold, with flowers embroidered in carnation, white and green, and a gown of flowered green velvet lined with cloth of silver and trimmed with gold and silver braid, and pipings of carnation satin."'

The vertugadine disappeared; in 1630, although the skirts were still full and long and the waist became more comfortable, the long point was given up, the entire bodice extended four or five inches below the normal waistline, and was cut up in squares; these may have been made by leaving the seams of the waist unsewn over the hips, as they correspond with the seams that are outlined with galloon above the hips, and they are usually bound with the same galloon that is used on the seams. The bodice was either buttoned up the front to the square neck, or laced over a stomacher of another color, or a chemisette of white embroidered muslin. The sleeves had broadened again and were slashed from the top to the tapering wrist; a huge puff of another color held them out at the shoulder; another type of sleeve was called the leg-o'-mutton; it was cut in one piece, with excessive fulness at the top, and tapered to the wrist; the fulness was held out by means of an inside stuffing, and the wrist terminated in a turn-back flaring cuff of lace.

The low neck was finished with a broad turned-down collar of lace. When the dress was cut high, the collar turned down from the neck in a manner similar to the men's, and came down on the chest in two points; this later developed into the Puritan collar with which we are so familiar. The waistline was decorated with rosettes of ribbon, or bows, sometimes encircling the waist, or a narrow sash of another color was used.

Much lace was smuggled into the country from Venice and Florence, as edicts were passed forbidding its importation into France in order to protect the home industries. The bourgeoise wore ribbons instead of lace ; this was especially true of the maids, and all France was "ribbon mad." This fashion developed to a great extent in England during the reign of Charles I, when colored ribbons in bunches were worn. Later in the century the upper skirt was made of a contrasting material and was raised in the back and on the sides to show the under-petticoat, made of a handsome, patterned goods. Heavy brocades, satins, and velvets were used and colored embroidery was added for decoration.

The Commonwealth.—In England, with the coming of the Commonwealth we find the dress of both the men and women stripped of all possible accessories. This was a time of restraint and formality, and also a time of revolt against extravagance. The general outline or silhouette remained much the same with the women, the only difference being that all the squares below the waist were cut away, with the exception of the two at the back, leaving a round, normal waistline. The skirts were plain and full; in the country districts they were often looped up over a petticoat. Lace was removed from the linen collar and cuffs, and a lawn kerchief was used in the place of the collar in some instances; an apron covering the entire skirt in front was worn with this kerchief, and a tight lawn cap covered the hair.

The materials were plain but rich—heavy silks and woollens in shades of gray, brown, and black. They were sometimes relieved by color in the undersleeves which showed through the slashes. This costume is very familiar; it corresponds to that of the Pilgrim Fathers. For outer garments the shoulder cape and the long, circular cape with a loose hood were the favorites, and they also had separate hoods of black silk or velvet, which tied under the chin.

Men's Dress.—More comfort was being emphasized in the dress of the men. The jerkin lost most of its stiff padding, and was buttoned to the neck; the flaring collar took the place of the ruff, and during the reigns of Charles I in England and Henry IV of France it became a broad turned-down collar edged with pointed lace . The Van Dyke portraits of Charles I and other notables of this time make us familiar with this type of collar, which is often called by his name. The sleeves were finished at the wrist with a deep turned-back cuff. The Venetian breeches of the preceding century had given way to the more closely fitting trousers, which were fuller at the waist and tight at the knee, where they were held in place by buttons or laces which terminated in rosettes of ribbon with long ends or "points."

At the waist the jerkin was finished in a full, plaited skirt four or five inches deep, or cut in squares or slashes similar to those worn by the women, and the entire costume was trimmed with gold and silver galloon or bands of embroidery at the edges. A belt or broad sash tied at the side was often worn over the jerkin.

"Trunk-hose," as they were called, were also worn, and, as their name implies, were used to carry many belongings. An anecdote is told of a man who was called up before the court for carrying prohibited articles in his trunk-hose; he was able to convince the judge to the contrary, however, by producing the following: "A pair of sheets, two table-cloths, ten napkins, four shirts, a brush, a glass, a comb, and a nightcap !" These trunk-hose were expensive. "They were made of silk, velvet, satin, damask, and other precious stuffs besides; so that it is a small matter to bestow twenty nobles, ten pounds, twenty pounds, forty pounds, yea, an hundred pounds upon one pair of breeches, and yet this is thought no abuse neither."

Long velvet cloaks or short capes which hung from the back of the shoulders added elegance as well as warmth to the costume; the latter formed part of the costume indoors, and gave an artistic bit of color to the entire dress, blue being one of the favorite colors. The usual method of carrying the long cape was to wrap it over the left arm when not in use. During the Commonwealth we find a large, loose coat, somewhat similar to the modern overcoat, becoming popular; the neck was finished with a broad turned-down collar, and the turned-back cuffs of the same material were buttoned to the sleeve with three buttons.

Foot-gear—High boots were worn with this costume; the loose tops either flared or were turned down to form deep cuffs, and a broad, bow-like piece of leather ornamented the instep. The correct thing for more formal dress were slippers with square toes and huge ribbon rosettes or bows at the instep; silk hose, generally white, went with these. Boots of soft, pliable leather were also in vogue for formal occasions. Their immense tops were lined with lace and silk, and much thought was used in the apparently careless method of arrangement. The tops were so large that a peculiar straddled walk was the result.

Women wore expensive colored silk stockings; red ones, called "bas fiammette," cost seventy-five francs the pair. With these they used satin slippers in red or blue, with square toes, and heels of red in varying heights. Flaps fastened with love-knots or huge rosettes finished these at the instep. Crimson velvet pattens with high cork soles were used in the street to avoid the mud.

Head-dressing.—A most noticeable change in the mode of dressing the hair came in when Anne of Austria, the wife of Louis XIII, introduced the fashion of "garcettes," or curls, to take the place of the padded wigs of the last century. The hair was parted in the centre and hung in short curls on each side of the face and forehead, and in the back of the neck, in a boyish fashion. Bows of ribbon, plumes, and jewels were used for formal occasions, while caps and coifs were worn for informal dress.

Hats with broad brims and high crowns, banded with gold or silver and ornamented with a bunch of plumes, were in high favor. It is probable that these hats may have had something to do with the altered style of hair-dressing ; it would have been difficult to keep them in place unless the hair was arranged simply. The women of the lower classes still wore the chaperone, or hood; it took the form of a small, pointed coif, with a veil hanging down the back and over the shoulders, the point being fastened down in front with pins. In 1587 the hair was powdered, and even powdered wigs were worn at a later period.

This custom of powdering the hair adds much to the face of a beautiful woman and often enhances that of the plainer; the white softens the lines and brings out the color in the eyes and complexion. Brunettes used violet powder and the blondes iris. A sort of gum was used to hold the hair in place. The peasants and lower classes used flour and the dust of rotten oak.

In France men wore "love-locks," a curl at the left side considerably longer than the rest of the hair. They often wore earrings and stuck roses behind their ears. Their beards were cut in points or in the shape of a fan, and were about three fingers in length. Moustaches and beards were kept in shape by means of wax, and were dressed overnight and protected by a small bag called "bigotelle." In England articles in the expense account of one James Master, 1646-1676, show that men used cosmetics and powdered their hair as well as the women. The entries of "four ounces of powder for the hair," at one shilling, occur quite frequently, and a later entry shows that a pound of jasmine powder and a pair of white gloves amounts to six shillings and six-pence. These expense accounts give an accurate idea not only of the type of garments worn but the actual cost of the same.

Hats were made of velvet or felt with high crowns and broad, drooping brims decorated with sweeping plumes; these gave the finishing touch to the costume. Henry IV wore a small velvet toque or cap, with a white feather, which became the rallying-point of his followers in battle, their war-cry being: "Follow the white plume." This toque is still worn and is called a la Henri Quatre.

Gloves, embroidered and scented, were a part of every wardrobe, for both the men and the women; they were generally made with gantlets which were embroidered and sometimes set with jewels. Strange names were given to these gloves, "a la occasion, a la necessite, a la cadanet, a la Phyllis," and many others. For ordinary wear we find mention of cordovan double-seamed gloves at six shillings and sixpence for two pairs, and some gloves seem to have been sold for one shilling and threepence a pair.

Accessories.—Muffs were a part of women's costume, appearing in France during the reign of Louis XIII, and the muff dog, a tiny creature, was carried in "my lady's muff."

The strange fashion of wearing patches was revived ; mention is made of them in print in 1655. They may have originated from the plasters worn as a cure for headache, or the idea may have been borrowed from Rome, whose senators and others wore them in the decadent days of the Empire. Each lady carried her box of patches, with a mirror in the lid, and it was no uncommon sight to see her stop and replace a patch, much as the flapper powders her nose, or combs her short hair in public. They were placed on the face to accent some special feature, or mark of beauty, and were cut in different shapes, such as "stars, moons, crowns, slashes, lozenges, and even a coach and four." This strange fad lasted until the time of the regency in France. Fans, masks, and much jewelry in the form of pendants, bracelets, rings, chains, and girdles were also in vogue, and the men wore jewelled buttons on their cloaks and jerkins.

These excessive modes of dress were especially found in France, although after the re-establishment of the Stuarts on the English throne, through Charles II, the royalists of England adopted many of the extravagances that had been given up during the Commonwealth, and "Ribbon-makers and wig-makers, lace-makers, tailors, and shoemakers pour out thankful offerings at the altar of Fashion." The dress of the men became more effeminate than ever for nearly a century, when the pendulum swung back again to plain attire, where it has remained ever since.



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