The Elizabethan lady’s dress (1570-1580) was very modest, elegant, and even royal-looking. It had many layers of garments made from different fabrics. Oh, and by the way, the underwear items of this period were comfortable and more flexible than ordinary whalebone corsets. So, let us have a look what exactly is lurking underneath all that silk velvet of an Elizabethan attire.
The usual suspects first – a linen chemise, woolen stockings, a coif.
Stays (a pair of bodies) next. These are made in linen and fully boned in reed. Fashions of the era required either stays or bodiced petticoats, reinforced with boning. Their function was mostly bust support and providing a flat surface for the display of the gown. They were not stiff and unyielding instruments of torture – reed boning is very comfortable and provides support without discomfort. Being made of natural materials they breathe well, too.
The earliest extant examples date from the end of the second half of the 16th century; and 3 styles were in evidence. These ones are based on the Effigy stays for Queen Elizabeth. Vernon bodies and Dorothea Sabina stays are the other two styles. Lacing and adjusting assets take some time – a maid would be useful.
For pregnancy, stays were partially laced, accommodating the growing bump.
The reed boning molds to the body with wear – resulting in a light, durable and comfortable foundation garment. Apart from providing shape, it helps to distribute the weight of skirts and petticoats. And didn’t restrict movement much.
Here is an example of Vernon bodies – tabs are cut separately from the stays and are unboned.
Silk petticoat next, in fashionable red. Winter one would be in wool.
Linen partlet – modestly covering the cleavage. They could be quite elaborate affairs, too. Boobs spilling out from bodices are more Hollywood, less Elizabethan. There was a fashion for showing assets in early Jacobean period though.
Spanish farthingale next. This one is in silk, boned with cane – very light. And just like later crinolines, it is very flexible, folding down for storage or sitting.
A bum roll can be worn instead, or with the farthingale to provide some extra oomph.
Next – a kirtle in silk damask, lined with silk. Or another petticoat could be worn instead.
Gown next – mine is a skirt, joined to the bodice with hooks and eyes.
And a bodice – closing in front with hooks and eyes. Lots of fiddly hooks and eyes! The sleeves could be just laced on under the shoulder rolls – so a different pair could be worn with a different petticoat for variety.
Bling and ruffs next. Cute wrist ruffs matching the neck one.
Headdress next – French hood is well out of fashion now, a simpler billiment with a veil is worn instead.
(c) Prior Attire