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.

Book Review – …isms: Understanding Fashion

…isms: Understanding Fashion is a guide to Western fashion practices over the past several centuries by Mairi Mackenzie, a specialist in Cultural and Historical Studies at The London College of Fashion. The book envisions fashion through the iconic figures and sociopolitical circumstances that influenced the trends and anti-trends in costume over the years.

Organizationally, it is structured like a travel guide or a text-book. A “How to use this book” section introduces the hokey, yet useful icons in each section to delineate material such as “Introduction,” “Key Words”, “See Also” (related practices), and “Don’t see” (contrary practices). A preference for flowing text led me to regularly skip to the “Main Definition” of every ism. Despite its engagement with the format of a User’s Manual, the main content flows with an engaging readability that is impressive for a reference book.

Mackenzie skillfully distills the several hundred years of fashion into concise descriptions of specific aesthetics and influences. The book is arranged by century starting with the 17th and 18th Centuries. The evolution and decline of Baroque and Rococo fashions are examined as the direct result of a changing socioeconomic climate in 17th Century France. While clothing was once a statement of privilege, the egalitarianism of the French Revolution led to the decline of fanciful fashion by the end of the 18th Century.

In the 19th Century, the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution enabled a burgeoning middle class that imposed stricter social etiquettes. Mackenzie explores the ways in which codes of class and gender were presented in fashion, focusing in particular upon how women’s clothing became more physically restrictive as a direct reflection of women’s constricted place in society.
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A Cultural History of Fashion in the 20th Century: From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk

Bonnie English wants to teach you Fashion 101 (minus the student fees and late night study sessions) and she aims to “unravel the complications and contradictions behind stylistic change in order to chart the history of modern fashion.”

A senior lecturer in Art Theory at the Queensland College of Art, English has created a very respectable academic treatment of the last century of fashion. She begins her narrative with Louis XIV, predecessor of metrosexuals everywhere, and extends her analysis into globalized contemporary fashion, with everything from Comme des Garçons to Laura Ashley prints in between. What is most notable about the content of this volume is the way English handles her broad topic; there are some powerful fashion images in this book, but this is no pretty coffee table accessory. English selects unique subjects within fashion for each chapter and zeroes in to prevent a deluge of meaningless and broad historical summaries.

“Swimsuits” by Sonia Delaunay (1928)

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