Fit For a Queen

Ten things about the gowns of Queen Elizabeth I

1 // The Tudor Mode of Dress
This portrait (above) represents the Tudor style of dress, as this portrait is from before Elizabeth was Queen. There’s a huge difference in the style of dress—the neckline is much lower and the silhouette much simpler, with much less jewelry and embellishment.

2 // A Queen Comes into her Own
The coronation portrait (above left) is a perfect example of the Elizabethan style—the Farthingale skirt, shoulder rolls, the high neckline, the ostentatious, over-the-top embellishment. The entire point of this garb was to make this young girl look imposing and invincible, because there were many people who did not want Elizabeth to be queen.

3 // Dressing to Impress
Royalty in the 16th century was expected to dress to impress upon everyone their wealth and power, and Elizabeth took this to heart. Henry VII, Elizabeth’s grandfather, had not been well liked because of his preference for simple dress, for it gave people the impression that he was miserly. Queen Elizabeth was perfectly aware of this and knew exactly how to use the power of perception to her advantage.

4 // Childhood Memories
Some people believe, however, that Elizabeth’s preference for incredibly rich garb stems from her impoverished upbringing (her mother, if you remember, was Anne Boleyn, and after her mother fell out of favour and was executed, the young princess did not receive as much money for her household, and often wore old or ill fitting clothing). The reality is that Elizabeth was incredibly thrifty. She kept impeccable records of her clothing expenses, and often had gowns taken apart and reassembled into new outfits.

5 // Budget Babe
Compared to her successor, James I, Elizabeth spent £9535 on clothing in four years, while James spent £36,377 in only one.

6 // A Gift Fit for a Queen
One of the ways Elizabeth saved money was by receiving gifts—England was one of the most powerful nations in the Western world during Elizabeth’s reign. Its Navy was recognized as the best, and money was pouring in from the colonies in newly discovered Americas. She often received gifts of clothing on New Year’s Day from those who wished to receive favour.

7 // Tomboy
At the height of her power, Elizabeth favoured high necklines, and even almost masculine dress. It was common for young, unmarried women to favour a lower neckline, and Elizabeth did not usually do this. She also favoured darker colours, and the style of bodice she made popular elongates the torso and creates an androgynous look. I don’t think was a coincidence—Elizabeth was a woman in a man’s world, and it was probably in her best interest to diminish her femininity and project her power, hence the androgynous silhouette and gem studded gowns.

8 // Body Modification
Corsets were more prevalent in 16th century England than in some other countries, for example, Italy. Venice even had a ban on the garment in 1547, though by the 1590s (considered Elizabeth’s “Golden Years,” I wonder if that’s a coincidence?) they were much more prevalent there.

9 // Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Elizabeth’s dress wasn’t just influenced by how she wanted to be perceived—it was also very cold in England at this time, as Northern Europe was going through a mini Ice Age. So all the heavy fabric and layers and padding was also a necessity that influenced everyone’s clothing decisions.

10 // Cover Me in Jewels
Jewelry was considered a must for the nobility of the Elizabethan Age, though Elizabeth took it to a whole new level by having her gowns themselves covered in jewels and pearls. Jewelry was a physical manifestation of one’s wealth and power, so if your wife had no jewelry, you would not be considered a person of prominence.