Category Archives: Clothing

Clothing Court Men

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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Clothing Court Elizabeth

A Brief History Of The Ruff

The ruff, so synonymous with Elizabethan England, has always exerted a certain fascination over me, and here I embark on a quick foxtrot through its history.

The earliest ruffs were shirt frills which overlapped the collar of the doublet, and thus stood to attention. However by 1570, as the doublet collar grew higher up the neck, the ruff developed into something larger, more complicated and eventually detachable. Ruffs came in many shapes and sizes but the one which often comes to mind is the cartwheel ruff.



Ruffs had hundreds of pleats, and were anything from 5 to 22cm wide, comprising of up to five and a half metres of fabric. Given that anyone wearing five metres of pleated fabric around their neck is going to feel somewhat uncomfortable, ruffs were often constructed from very fine soft materials such as lawn or cambric. The higher up the social ladder a person was, the more elaborate and flashy their ruff would be. Some Elizabethan fashion victims even wore two or three at the same, tiered, ‘three falling one upon another, for that’s the new edition now.’

But ruffs were not restricted to the aristocracy. They were worn by almost everyone. The working classes, restricted by cost, had to put up with inferior, and one assumes more uncomfortable ruffs, since, although smaller, they were made of a coarser fabric.

Setting a ruff involved sending it off to be ‘set’ by a professional laundress. Following specific instructions, she could ‘set’ the ruff with big wide curves, or smaller curves, depending on the mood of the owner. In addition to all the frills, one’s ruff could also be decorated with lace, jewels, or embroidery if one had the means.

A description by the witty pamphleteer Philip Stubbs of Elizabeth I’s ruff on one state occasion, lends some eye-popping detail to the extent to which the ruff might be ornamented: ‘It was profusely laced, plaited, and apparently divergent from a centre on the back of her neck; it was very broad, extending on each side of her face, with the extremities reposing on her bosom, from which rose two wings of lawn, edged with jewels, stiffened with wire, and reaching to the top of her hair, which was moulded into the shape of a cushion, and richly covered with gems.’



Stubbs helpfully describes the additional support of an underpropper called a suppertasse [a wire support attached to the clothes which the ruff could be pinned to], and comments that the ruff’s plaits were adjusted by ‘poking-sticks made of iron, steel, or silver, that, when used, were heated in the fire’. These poking sticks were used to pleat the ruff and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Originally made of wood or bone, by 1573, as Stubbs points out, the ruff makers had realised that heated sticks worked much more efficiently.

To keep ruffs upright, starch was often used. The ruff was washed and allowed to dry then liberally plastered with starch before being set by the laundress: ‘One arch or piller, wherewith the devil’s kingdome of great ruffes is underpropped, is a certain kind of liquid matter which they call starch, wherein the devill hath learned them to wash and die their ruffes, which, being drie, will stand stiff and inflexible about their neckes. And this starch they make of divers substances — of all collours and hues, as white, redde, blewe, purple, and the like.’


Although we always imagine the ruff to have been white, as Stubbs asserts, they did in fact come in a wide variety of colours.

Perhaps fortunately for history, the ruff fell out favour during the reign of James I, and was replaced instead by the more conventional lacy collar.

Sources: Susan Vincent, Liza Picard, Nathan Drake, Philip Stubbs, NPG

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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