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Clothing history

damascusannie | Posted in General Discussion on

As many of you are aware, I’m fascinated by period clothing–from any period. In April, we will be attending a wedding at the Renaissance Festival near Dallas, TX so we (my daughter and I) have been really doing a lot of research on Tudor/Elizabethan clothing. Holy smokes! I have literally spent dozens of hours looking at costume sites, reading and planning my dress. Today I found some great books at second-hand bookstore.

What’s most intriguing to me is how simple the basic garments were, especially in the pre-Elizabeth years. Many of the things that make a Tudor costume look complex are just superficial add-ons: fabric tabs, fur, gems, lace and embroidery. The use of expensive silk and velvet made them extremely expensive to make as well.

The author points out that in Tudor England there was no true middle class, you were either noble or desperately poor. I think I disagree since there was an active merchant class which would compare to our middle class, but it was an era where the class differences were very extreme. This merchant class constantly sought to raise its social standing by mimicking the nobility and there are portraits of wealthy merchants and their families dressed almost as sumptuously as the nobles of the age.

I also found it interesting to learn that knitted stockings didn’t become popular until the reign of Elizabeth. Prior to that, stockings were made from fine wool cloth, cut on the bias to create the stretch needed for stockings. When Elizabeth was given a pair of knitted silk stockings, she made them popular in spite of their relatively high cost: 5 pounds a pair. There is a record of her brother Edward having been given a pair of silk hose, but he was never the fashion icon that his sister became and apparently the fad didn’t take hold until Elizabeth adopted it.

Annie in Wisconsin, USA
~~Doodlestein Designs Quilt Patterns
~~Finely Finished: Machine quilting worked on a treadle sewing machine.
See patterns, quilting, and National sewing machines at: http://community.webshots.com/user/damascusannie


  1. jatman | | #1

    Hi Damascusannie,

    I love period costumes, too. Not sure how I heard about this (and I haven't seen the movie yet) but there is a website for The Duchess that allows you to look at the costumes - you can click on them and zoom in and twirl them to see the back, too. It's here:


    And thank you for more fun facts about the history of clothing!


    1. damascusannie | | #2

      Very cool! Thanks for sharing.

  2. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #3

    One of my favorite fashion history books, unfortunatly is packed away somewhere, or I would tell you the name and author, is about everyday clothing through the ages. Because so much of the wealthier stuff was carefully maintained and stored away, it was preserved, but the everyday stuff wore out and became rags. So little was known except from drawings and pictures, and the few items that have literally been unearthed. I have to agree with you about the middle classes. For some of the same reasons, they lived as expensively as they could, to better themselves, but wore the garments out, often having them remade to follow the fashion. Cathy

  3. rodezzy | | #4

    Very interesting.  As always you amaze me.  How do you knit silk?  Where they knitted by hand?  Were the strands very thin?  Do you have any pictures of the stockings?  I love knitted items and this has really intrigued me.

    1. damascusannie | | #5

      I can get silk yarn that's about sport weight. It's just spun and plied like any other yarn and I hear it's great for an extra layer of insulation under a pair of wool socks. And these days it's not as expensive as some of the animal fibers, like alpaca.

  4. JanF | | #6

    You may already have these books
    Janet Arnold The Patterns of Fashion - ISBN 0-333-38284-4
    by Macmillan
    Interesting technical info with scaled patterns u can copy/adjust etc. small range but accurate and general info is interesting!

    1. damascusannie | | #7

      I don't have this one--thanks!

  5. sewchris703 | | #8

    You might be interested in the website of the company that I do contract sewing for: http://historicenterprises.com/ We're getting ready for the joust coming up. I spent today sewing horse caparasons. And I have several more pleated coats and hose to make before Nov 1st. And probably more items but I don't know what else yet.


    1. damascusannie | | #10

      Thanks--I'll have to take a closer look when I have more time. On a quick peek, it looks like you specialize in an earlier era than the one I'm shooting for, roughly 1500-1530. This RenFest is presided over by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. However, I'm interesting in ALL periods, so it looks fascinating even if I don't really use any of it this time.

      1. sewchris703 | | #14

        You're welcome.  The great thing about working for them, at least as far as Dylan is concerned, is that he gets  to visit the armoury and we get free tickets to the joust.


        1. damascusannie | | #15

          I've got a similar thing with a big group of "buckskinner" reeactors next summer. A friend made the raffle quilt for a big regional reenacting event in North Dakota and I'll be quilting it for them. In exchange, I asked for five raffle tickets and weekend passes to the event. We'll be going in costume to that, too.

    2. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #13

      Chris, thanks for posting the site!  Fascinating!  I think I really have died and gone to heaven.  Love this kind of stuff.  Cathy

  6. fiberfan | | #9

    http://www.elizabethancostume.net/ has good information.  You might be interested in Working Women's Dress in 16th Century Flanders.  I tried a corset from the corset pattern generator on the web site.  The only problem was I don't look good in a 16th century corset.  I am thinking about making a costume for Halloween, guess I will wear a real bra if I make one.  Festive Attyre is another site that is fun to read.  I particularly enjoy the dress diaries as I can read about the how and why.


    1. damascusannie | | #11

      Oooo! Both excellent sites--I'll be taking a closer look when I have more time!

    2. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #12

      Thank you for posting those sites!  I think I am in heaven!  Cathy

  7. sewingkmulkey | | #16

    Oh Annie - you'll have such fun at the festival!  My family and I attended the one near Houston (which is the original) the Friday after Thanksgiving last year.  We saw all kinds of dress there from authentic to over-the-top!  People really stretch their costuming to whatever they "think" it should be.  You'll have a marvelous time!


    1. damascusannie | | #17

      I love RenFests. We've gone to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival a few times and loved every minute of it! I can't wait!

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