What did ordinary English townswomen of the 17th century look like? What did they wear, which accessories chose? How could you tell the difference between a poor and a wealthy woman? Let’s look at the middle class, circa 1650 woman. An affluent townswoman, maybe a merchant’s wife?.. Here are the pieces of clothing her attire consisted of.
As in other areas, we start from the same garment – the ever important chemise! This is the garment that will be washed often and keep your other clothes clean from your body oils. Made in linen, but with decorative seam stitching. Also, a simple coif and wool stockings.
Next layer – a petticoat. Mine is bodiced, and the bodice part is stiffened with reed – a very comfortable and supportive garment. The skirt is in wool, fashionable red/oxblood shade. The bodice is made out of a few layers of linen, with reed boning; and it laces at the sides. Side lacing was practical – no help was needed. It also allowed for expansion during pregnancy. Spiral lacing with a single linen lace is used – easier.
The skirt goes on next – depending on the season and the fabrics, one or more skirts could be worn. The woolen skirt is cartridge pleated to a waistband.
Main bodice (jacket, waistcoat, etc.) goes next. This one is in wool, lined with linen, very lightly boned and laced over a boned stomacher. Such bodices could also be worn over proper stays; or a fully boned bodice was used, and then no need for boning underneath. Lacing up takes some time, but again, it is great for regulating size – no need for different maternity clothing.
Our townswoman can afford a touch of luxury – a narrow trim in velvet ribbon. This may be her best jacket to go visiting or to church. Cuffs are laced too – practical and elegant. The jacket is based on one of the surviving original patterns.
For household chores, apron is necessary. It protects the skirts.
Collar/neckerchief next – simple linen one, folded over and pinned. Modest and keeping my bosom safe from the sun.
For going out, hat is indispensable. Again, modesty issues, but the wide brim shades my face from the sun, too.
Visiting or delivering goods to the manor? For extra elegance, linen cuffs are added to the ensemble.
On colder days, another skirt will come in handy – or when I want to show off my wealth, displaying two woolen skirts at once.
Bodices and skirts were often a “mix and match” type – here is my Sunday best in expensive black wool.
Or a bit more casual with a red wool and paned sleeves (good for summer). Same clothing for working at a manor house.
And a court fashion – similar layers, but in silk. Here is a bit earlier set in silk satin and metallic lace.
(c) Prior Attire