Mandillions & Netherstocks – Elizabethan Men & Their Dress

Following on from the history of the ruff, in this post I want to explore male clothing in Elizabethan England. 

The basic components of male dress in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the doublet, hose, cloak, and ubiquitous ruff. The doublet was a fitted jacket worn over a shirt; padded and boned, with buttons down the front. As with all clothes, for both rich and poor, the stylings may have been similar, but the details varied greatly depending on the purse of the wearer, so doublet buttons would run from plain wood to fancy jewels. During the latter part of the 16th Century the padding in doublets evolved into the ‘peascod belly’; a style which ballooned out from the stomach, lending a curious pregnant air to the wearer.

Sleeves were either sewn in, or were detachable to allow for changing moods and climate. By 1575 sleeves were quite padded, and fashioned into leg of mutton shapes.  Jerkins, similar to a doublet but sleeveless, could be worn over the doublet for extra warmth. The aristocracy favoured jerkins of silver cloth, or silk, in fact anything elaborate and show offy, but the poor man made do with one of simple plain leather.  Over all this came the gown. Older men wore long gowns, which reached down to the ankle, the sleeves hanging at a similar length.

Younger, fashionable men wore them short, or chose a cloak instead. The Elizabethan cloak was something of a fashion statement. It could either be circular or semi-circular, and was often fastened at the neck. Usually waist-length, it was lined, fur-trimmed and ornate. The traditional way to wear it was over one shoulder, Walter Raleigh style. One version, known as the mandillion, trendy in the 1580s, was a sort of hip-length jacket with sleeves, worn sideways, so the neck rested on the shoulder, and the sleeves were rendered obsolete, making the wearer look, frankly, ridiculous.

Men’s waists were defined by a girdle, usually made of leather, although again, this could be accessorised with jewels and embroidery. The average man would use his girdle to carry his purse, and perhaps a few tools. For the toffs, the girdle was another chance to flash the cash. By the time of Elizabeth it was no longer necessary for the aristocracy to wear armour on a regular basis, but many kept an ornamental set or two, to wear to impress the Queen at jousting events.

Moving on down, we come to the hose, which covered the legs and was made in two parts; upper and nether. The upper hose, essentially breeches, surrounded the body from the waist down as far as the knee, and ‘trunk’ hose was especially popular. Trunk hose resembled a large pair of inflated shorts  – ballooning out from the waist, and tapering in around the upper thigh. This look was fashionable with men who really wanted to display their shapely legs. The less physically fortunate might prefer something slightly longer and more modest.  Trunk hose could be and often was ludicrous, with enormous amounts of padding and stiffening, and even ‘panes’; panels sewn into the hose, in gaudy silks, which the wearer could pull through the outer fabric and puff up before strutting off to Court.

The infamous codpieces of early modern England were thankfully on the decline by the time of Elizabeth’s reign.  Essentially a pouch which fastened to the crotch of the upper hose, held together with string or buttons, or presumably ribbons if one could afford it, the codpiece was designed to draw attention to the endowments of a gentleman.  Hollow and stiff, they came in a variety of shapes, and sizes. Some were discreet, some were generously padded; and in essence it came down to the taste, and perhaps the modesty (or not), of the individual.

Below the knee, men wore lower hose; essentially stockings, the fineness of which would depend, as with all else, on the wealth of the wearer. Poor men might make do with wool stockings, and a plain set of garters [bands designed to keep the stocking in place].  The fashionable man about town might have netherstocks of finest silk, held up with beribboned garters, and perhaps decorated with fancy designs. When it comes to  underwear, knickers as such had  not yet been born, so men were forced to use their shirt tails as a pair of makeshift pants. There were linen drawers available to men, but many would have considered these an unnecessary luxury.In cold weather men wore waistcoats under their doublets, and nightcaps to sleep in. Sleeping smocks of linen were also available, but seem to have been somewhat interchangeable with the linen shirt worn under the doublet. An indoor version of the outer gown, the nightgown, could be worn for relaxing by the fire.

In terms of footwear, sturdy leather shoes or boots known as ‘start-ups’ were worn when walking anywhere of any distance. As is clear from many portraits of the period, men also wore neat little pumps; perhaps reserved for parties and when having one’s portrait painted, to show off the legs to good effect. Thigh-length  boots were also worn, with fancy stockings called boot hose, which would be rolled down over the top of the boot to reveal fine embroidery or intricate patterns.

Hats were common place. Serving to keep the head warm, they could also be serious fashion statements. Serving all tastes, from the puritan to the flamboyant, hats existed in a multitude of styles and designs, and could be topped off with jewels, embroidery, and even jaunty feathers. Gloves, like hats, were both essential in cold weather, and provided a final opportunity to show off.

Sources: as For A Brief History of the Ruff

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  • June 26, 2011 - 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I loved this post, I have been kind of avoiding it, didn’t think I would be interested. I was wrong. It must have taken them ages to get dressed in the morning. And I think you are right, the all must have looked and felt a bit if a tit, and that Moroni looks a piece of work! Great illustrations. Fabulous post.

  • January 14, 2010 - 10:36 am | Permalink

    What a interesting post! I’m very much afraid it makes our modern dress look very dull. Perhaps we could persuade some of our 21st century couturiers to re-introduce the ruff? But not the cod-piece. I draw the line at the cod-piece!

  • January 13, 2010 - 4:21 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading this post at least as much as you enjoyed the research and writing. Thanks

  • Anonymous
    January 13, 2010 - 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I have never understood the demise of the codpiece

  • January 13, 2010 - 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Joanna! Yes indeed, the Speedo is probably the modern day equivalent. Actually hygiene-wise, although we imagine them to have been smelly, the linen shirts next to the skin would have been washed fairly regularly. Having said that, I still wouldn’t want an Elizabethan boyfriend!

  • January 13, 2010 - 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating! I guess the equivalent of the codpiece today would be guys strutting along the beach wearing speedos? Also – knowing what we know today about their hygiene – and the all those layers of clothes – they must have all been pretty stinky. Fun post!

  • January 13, 2010 - 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for such positive comments! I think the codpiece should make a triumphant return & become compulsory for all European men.

  • cailinos
    January 13, 2010 - 1:13 pm | Permalink

    As ever, enthralling. Still do not comprehend urge for discomfort…I suppose the codpiece=wonderbra, but those minipantaloons,everything so stiff (scuse me)Great stuff, and your illustrations are superb. Thanks

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