Friday, 8 October 2021

Russet: the decline and disappearance of a fabric

by Pat Poppy, paper presented to the Materials of Early Modern Fashion, online conference 7th – 8th October 2021.


The importance of russet as a fabric first appears in the 1363 sumptuary legislation, where it is stated that, “other people that have not 40s, should wear “no cloth, except for Blanket and Russet of Twelve-pence”; presumably the fabric to cost no more than twelve pence a yard. (1) When Henry VIII issued his first sumptuary legislation in the first year of his reign, the type of fabric was not mentioned, but those not having goods above £10 in value were forbidden to wear cloth costing more than two shillings a yard. (2) That however, allowed for a far wider range of fabrics than just russet and blanket.

What data indicates that russet was a fabric worn by many of the lowest classes in the sixteenth century, disappearing by the middle of the seventeenth century? Over the last few decades several databases of clothing information have been created, these use different sources and cover different date ranges, but there is considerable overlap. The authors of the Tudor Tailor, covering the period 1485 to 1603, used a variety of sources, but especially wills from Elizabethan Essex. (3) Stuart Peachy covered the period 1558 to 1660, and again used a variety of sources including the same Elizabethan wills as the Tudor Tailor, however he looked only at those below the level of the gentry. (4) Margaret Spufford covered the period 1570 to 1714 and analysed data from probate accounts, both in an article, and later with Susan Mee in a book. (5) (6) The database I have been creating for the Stuart Tailor (hereinafter referred to as ST database), is mainly from probate inventories and wills, but also from probate accounts, household accounts and court cases, and covers 1603 to 1714. Taking these different sets of information one can track the use and disappearance of russet.

These data sets result in different information being available. For those unfamiliar with probate inventories and probate accounts, probate inventories are taken after a person’s death, where the person is usually, but not always, elderly. What was referred to as their movable property and its value was listed by disinterested men, meaning they had no interest in the outcome. Probate accounts happened when someone died leaving orphaned children, where money was taken from the value of the estate to pay for bringing up these children. With probate inventories you have garments that are often described as old, and with probate accounts you often have the purchase of fabric to make new clothes for the children.

The main issue when examining the history of russet, is that the word has several connotations, not least referring to the apple, but that doesn’t appear until the late seventeenth century. Three of the uses of the word that relate to clothing: the fabric itself, the colour and its use to indicate simply status, can sometimes be disentangled by the context in which they appear, for example  in 1617, Sir Thomas Walsingham the Elder had stolen from him “a russett cloth cloke lyned with russett velvett worth ten pounds.”  It seems most likely, given the value and the status of the owner, that the cloak was russet coloured cloth, and lined with russet coloured velvet. (7) Most of the examples of people with russet clothing are members of the common sort: paupers, servants, husbandmen, and tradesmen, but better qualities of russet did exist, although it rarely appears among the clothing of those higher up the social scale. One can speculate to whom George Lovekyn, tailor to Edward IV, provided in 1472 one “long gowne of russet cloth.” It stands out among the other gowns of satin, velvet and cloth of gold in his accounts, not least because he only charged three shillings for the making, whereas the other long gowns were twenty shillings. (8 pp. 1-12)


The OED describes russet as “A coarse woollen cloth of a reddish-brown or subdued colour, formerly used for clothing especially by country people and the poor.” (9) It appears in the early thirteenth century when a letter (in Latin) from the Bishop of Winchester to Henry III mentions five and a half yards of russet and blanket.  In 1314 the 2nd Earl of Lancaster, a grandson of Henry III, gave 168 yards of russet cloth and twenty four coats to poor men. (10 p. 282)

The wearing of russet by the poor is mentioned often. In the fifteenth century Tale of King Edward and the Shepherd, the shepherd “In russet clothing he tyret hym tho, In kyrtil and in curstbye And a black furred hode.” (11) In the 1568 Debate Between Pride and Lowliness a woman of about fifty years, and her daughter are described thus; “The woman and wench were clad in russet, both course and olde and worn so very neere, that ye might see clean through both sleeve and gusset.” (12 p. 35)

Sometimes the fact that fabric is being talked about is obvious, for example, in his 1558 will, Thomas Stephens leaves to his mother, a piece of cloth of four yards, and in his matching inventory is four yards of russet and half a tod of wool together worth 10s. (13) [A tod is a wool weight equal to 28 lbs] A further example, where we know what is being made from the cloth, is in the Howard of Naworth Accounts, where in 1620 three yards of grey russet is purchased for 4s 6d, to make a doublet for a servant. (14 p. 64)

Russet does come in different qualities, and different prices. Spufford’s analysis of fabrics used for children and adolescents shows, over the period 1570 to 1610, russet being purchased at prices ranging from 5d a yard to 4s 5d a yard. These prices are still low compared with a top of the price range in the same period of 8s 6d a yard for broadcloth, 5s 8d for frieze, and 11s 9d for kersey. Spufford’s accounts include very few people with a total worth of over £300, a level above which they might be considered gentry. (5 p. 49)


What garments were made from russet? These were usually the main outer garments, and the fabric russet appears to be used across the country as can be seen by its distribution in the records. For the purpose of analysis main garments for men were: the doublet and breeches, coat and / or cloak, and less often gowns, and  waistcoats, (in the sixteenth century waistcoats are often referred to as petticoats). For women the main garments were the petticoat, waistcoat and gown, with less often coats and cloaks.

Russet was used for  men’s doublets, as witnessed by the Howard accounts from Cumberland, and for their jerkins, hose and, less often, breeches. In 1620, Thomas Mawlin, a Suffolk thatcher, left “To John Clark...doublet, russet jerkin, russet hose & stuff britches” (15 p. 34). In 1583 John Nashe, a husbandman, left a pair of russet breeches in his Hampshire will. (16)  In 1634 Francis Fuller, a yeoman, left “my old russet suit and my riding coat, he also left a russet coat. (17 p. 267) By suit he may mean a doublet and breeches.          

Russet was used for what was probably the largest and most fabric hungry of garments, cloaks. In 1618 Edward French, a husbandman, left to “Elizabeth my servant my russet cloak,” this is interesting because he was worth only a total of £9 16s 7d, and as a husbandman is of a lower status than yeoman, and yet he had a servant. (18 p. 221)

 Both men and women wore gowns, though for men by the middle of the seventeenth century these are the preserve of the elderly, the judiciary, mayors’ and aldermen [as in the two paintings here] academics, and those who wished to appear scholarly. Russet gowns were often associated with provision for paupers. Henry VIII, in 1511, gave Maundy Thursday paupers each a gown and hood made of four yards of russet cloth costing 2s 8d a yard , this is only a year after his sumptuary legislation that in theory forbade them to wear cloth costing more than two shillings a yard. (19 p. 21) 

Women’s gowns are different to men’s and continue through both the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Spufford did not include gowns in what she considered to be a standard wardrobe for girls, although she had records for 137 of them, she stated that this was because most of the girls who owned gowns had fathers worth over £150. (5 p. 56)   It may also be that gowns were less common among girls, as shown in the comment Adam Martindale made in his autobiography looking back to when his sister left home in about 1627; “Freeholders’ daughters were then confined to their felts, pettiecoates and wastcoates, … the proudest of them (below the gentry) durst not have offered to wear … a gowne till her wedding day.” ( (20 pp. 6-7) Russet for women’s gowns appears to be rare, there are only two examples in the ST database. In 1606 Joan Fielder in Hampshire left in her will,  “my best petticoat and my russet gown”. (21) and in 1611 Jane Tappertow, in Oxfordshire, left not only a russet gown, but also a russet safeguard. (18 pp. 213-4) Safeguards  were a form of protective overskirt.

A kirtle is a garment for women usually worn with an over gown. (22) It is a term common in the sixteenth century, which, like russet, disappears by the middle of the seventeenth century. There are no russet kirtles in the ST database. In 1555, Thomasine Petre of Essex travelled to take a place in the household of Lady Exeter, among the items purchased was “iii yards brode russet at 2s 6d the yarde for a kyrtell.” This is not the garment of an ordinary woman, her father was a knight, and one of Henry VIII’s secretaries, a post he managed to keep through the reigns of Edward VI and Mary, and into the reign of Elizabeth. (23 pp. 15-33)

Petticoats are most commonly associated with women, but in the sixteenth century men also wore petti – coats, literally short coats, however, the term seems to die out and be replaced by the term waistcoat. These do not seem to be made of russet for men, possibly because for them they were more of an undergarment. Andrew Boorde’s 1542 advice was, “next your sherte use you to wear a petycote…made of stammel or linsey-wolsey.” (24 p. 26)  Russet was a common fabric for women’s petticoats, a coroner’s inquest into the 1606 suicide of Joan Hawkins shows that, among other garments, she owned a russet petticoat worth 12d. (25 p. 163) The last mention of russet in the ST database is for a petticoat. In 1636 Rebecca Howlet, a Suffolk widow, left a russet petticoat to Mary Bensted. (26 p. 11) So far the assumption has been that russet is an undyed cloth, the only mention of a colour has been grey, but in 1623 Frances Moyse, another Suffolk widow, left a “grain russet petticoat,” the term grain indicates that the petticoat was red. (15 p. 296) A fabric that was in grain, was dyed with kermes, a small scale insect which was originally thought to be some form of grain. It dyed a bright red, scarlet colour, and was superseded by the use of cochineal when that became available. (27) The Tudor Tailor states that of the petticoats left in Essex wills in the sixteenth century, 52% were described as red and 40% as russet, which as they say could be either the colour or the fabric. (3 p. 40)

Waistcoats are, in the first half of the seventeenth century, a more common garment for women than for men, however the ST database has only one russet waistcoat, among the forty two for which a fabric is given. In 1630 Katherine Goslen, left a russet waistcoat to her daughter in law. (17 p. 22)

The final garment to examine, again worn by both men and women, is the coat. The 1550 inventory of William Mackerell, a Hampshire man worth only £5 0s 4d in total, had “a coat of russet, the price 3s 4d” (28) In 1587 Oxfordshire, Thomas Claridge a husbandman worth a more substantial £37 1s 0d, had a russet coat worth 5s 0d. (29 p. 233) Coats are also among the last mentions of russet in the ST database. In 1635 Grace Cheape, a Suffolk widow, left to her sister “my stammel petticoat, one of my hats, a red waistcoat and a russet coat.” (17 p. 362)

Different data sets can show how the use of russet changes over the centuries, however trying to compare datasets can be difficult. Peachey states in his analysis that where the fabric of a garment was given, 38% of the wool based fabrics in his database, were of russet. After russet the next most common wool based fabric in Peachey is frieze. Peachey treats the century he covers, 1558-1660, as a whole, and does not break it down further within those dates, so it is impossible to see the rise and fall of various fabrics.  Spufford does make such a breakdown in her article, she also includes the generic term cloth when it is used, as does the ST database. Peachey does not include this term, so comparisons of Peachey’s results with those of Spufford or the ST database will come with a lot of caveats.

Spufford splits her data into three time frames; 1570-1610, 1610-1660 and post 1660. Taking her wool-based fabrics: cotton, frieze, baize, russet, kersey, broadcloth and cloth and the period 1570-1610, her most common wool based fabric is also russet at 26%, followed by cloth, cotton and then frieze. However, move to the 1610 to 1660 data and the most common wool based fabrics are cloth, kersey and frieze, with russet at less than 10%. Spufford has no russet after 1660.  This compares with the ST database where, taking the period 1603 to 1660 and only wool based fabrics, the common terms are cloth and stuff, which together account for over 50% of the garments, followed by stammel, russet, kersey, serge and frieze. Like Spufford, the ST database has less than 10% russet, and no russet after 1660, with the last mention in the ST database being 1636, showing that the decline in the use of russet dates firmly to the first half of the seventeenth century.

Main garments of the types examined could also be made from flax based fabrics, the ST database has canvas doublets, and garments appear from mixed fibre fabrics, such as fustian and linsey-woolsey which were used for doublets, breeches, coats, cloaks and petticoats, or from leather, which was used for jerkins, doublets and breeches and so the percentages given for wool based fabrics are not valid for all garments.


The disappearance of russet as a fabric does not mean that the word disappears, as mentioned earlier, it was also used for a colour. In 1422 when Henry IV entered London it was ordered that every householder attending be in  “blac or ellis russet.” Now that may imply russet as a colour or, because russet was usually undyed, an undyed cloth. (9)   It is more obviously a colour later when in 1532–3  Henry VIII regulated the Apparel of the Barons of the Cinque Ports and reference was made to “Veluette, satten, and damaske, being of the colours of blacke, tawny, or russet.” (30) The colour russet was described in 1573 as, “If you will mingle a little portion of white with a good quantitie of redde, you may make thereof a Russet, or a sadde Browne, at your discretion.” (31)  E. L. in 1596 also considered it a brown, “whose colours gaye, to russet browne was turnd.” (32) When the term French russet is used it appears to imply a colour rather than a fabric.  In a play by Middleton someone is directed to take papers and “Scorch 'em me soundly; burne 'em to French-russet.” (33)

Sometimes is it difficult to see whether what is being written about is the cloth or the colour, and assumptions have to be made, for example when in 1550 John Lipscombe leaves three coats described as “1 coat of russet, 1 coat of green, 1 coat of blue 12s 8d,” the assumption is made that russet is a colour. (34) Often the term russet colour is used, which makes it easier, as in Alice Lowe’s 1647 will where she leaves “a linsey woollsey coat and a russet colour coat with two laces about the bottom” (35 p. 64) Sometimes an assumption can be made based on the description of the fabric, for example a 1633 purchase of “2 yeards of russett jeanes fustian 2s 8d”, where jeanes fustian is the fabric, and russet the colour. (14 p. 293)  Sometimes unpicking it can be difficult, as in John Hacke’s 1550 “an old doublet of fustian with red russet sleeves, price 1s 4d” (36)


The use of russet or the wearing of russet, to indicate simply a common person, sometimes in a derogatory sense, appears around the end of the sixteenth century.  Matthew Sutcliffe, Dean of Exeter, in a published dialogue, in answer to a comment that “eccelesiastical persons do not wear in journeying, cloaks with sleeves,” berates the “the flatcapped, short cloked,  russet clothed, and lether breeched broode of Puritans.” (37 p. 134)  It is less derogatory in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost where he writes of “russet yeas, and honest kersie noes.” Possibly the most famous quote, using russet in this sense, is from  Oliver Cromwell saying that, “ I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain, that knoweth what he fights for, and loves what he knowes, than that which you call 'a gentleman,' and is nothing else.” Russet had completed its transition from a fabric that almost everyone was supposed to wear, to meaning just a simple country person.


1. Laws, statutes. 37 Edward III c1, 3-19.

2. —. 1 Henry VIII, c.14.

3. Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. The Tudor Tailor: reconstructing sixteenth-century dress. London : Batsford, 2006.

4. Peachey, Stuart. Clothes of the Common People in Elizabthan and Early Stuart England. Bristol : Stuart Press, 2014.

5. Spufford, Margaret. Fabric for seventeenth century children and adolescents' clothes. Textile History. 2003, Vol. 34.

6. Spufford, Margaret and Mee, Susan. The Clothing of the Common Sort 1570-1700. Oxford : OUP, 2017.

7. Middlesex Sessions Rolls. Middlesex County Records: Volume 2, 1603-25. Originally published London: Middlesex County Record Society, 1887. [Online] [Cited: 20 August 2021.]

8. Sutton, Anne F. George Lovekyn, Tailot to Three Kings of England, 1470-1504. Costume. 1981, Vol. 15.

9. Oxford English Dictionary. Russet. "russet, n. and adj." OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2021, Accessed 18 August 2021.

10. Cunnington, Phillis and Lucas, Catherine. Charity Costumes of Children, Scholars, Almsfolk, Pensioners. London : Black, 1978.

11. Tale of King Edward and the Shepherd. s.l. : W. De Worde, 1508.

12. Thynne, Francis. The Debate Between Pride and Lowliness . London : Shakespeare Society, 1841.

13. Victoria County History, Hampshire. Newnham Probate Material 1541-60, Hants RO 1558U/222. [Online] [Cited: 19 August 2021.]

14. Ornsby, G. ed. Selections from the Household Books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle. Publications of the Surtees Society. 1878, Vol. 68.

15. Allen, M. E. ed. Wills in the Archdeaconry of Suffolk 1620-1624. Woodbridge : Suffolk Records Society, 1988.

16. Victoria County History, Hampshire. Mapledurwell Probate Material 1581-1600, Hants RO1583B/59. [Online] [Cited: 20 August 2021.]

17. Evans, Nesta, ed. Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1630-1635. Suffolk Records Society. 1987, Vol. 29.

18. Brinkworth E.R.C. and Gibson, J.S.W. eds. Banbury wills and inventories. Pt.1, 1591-1620. Banbury Historical Society. 1985, Vol. 13.

19. Johnson, Caroline. The King's Servants: men's dress at the accession of Henry VIII. Lightwater : Fat Goose Press, 2009.

20. Martindale, Adam. The Life of Adam Martindale. s.l. : Cheetham Society, 1845.

21. Victoria County History: Hampshire. Nately Scures Probate Material 1601-20, Hants. RO 1606B/20. [Online] [Cited: 21 August 2021.]

22. Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. Leeds : Maney, 1988.

23. Buck, Anne. The Clothes of Thomasine Petre 1555-1559. Costume. 1990, Vol. 24.

24. Cunnington, C. Willett and Cunnington, Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century. London : Faber, 1970.

25. Tankard, Danae. Clothing in 17th century provincial England. London : Bloomsbury, 2020.

26. Evans, Nesta, ed. (1993) Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1636-1638. Suffolk Records Society. 1993, Vol. 35.

27. Hofenk de Graaff, Judith H. The Colourful Past: Origins, Chemistry and Identification of Natural Dyestuffs. Riggisberg : Archetype Publications Ltd and Abegg Stiftung, 2004.

28. Victoria County History, Hampshire. Upton Grey Probate Material 1501-60, Hants. RO 1550B/583. [Online] [Cited: 24 August 2021.]

29. Havinden, M. A. Household and Farm Inventories in Oxfordshire, 1550-1590. London : HMSO, 1965.

30. Laws, statutes. 24 Henry VIII, c.13.

31. Anon. A very proper treatise, wherein is briefly sett for the art of limming,. London : Imprinted by R. Tottill, 1573.

32. L., E. Romes monarchie, entituled the globe of renowmed glorie. [Online] 1596. [Cited: 21 August 26.];idno=A11028.0001.001.

33. Middleton, Thomas. A Game at Chess. London : s.n., 1625.

34. Victoria County History, Hampshire. Upton Grey Probate Material 1501-60, Hants. RO 1551U/072 . [Online] [Cited: 26 August 2021.]

35. Earwaker, J.P. Lancashire and Cheshire wills and inventories 1572-1696. Manchester : Chetham Society, 1893.

36. Victoria County History, Hampshire. Up Nately and Andwell Probate Material 1541-1560, Hants. RO 1550U/32 . [Online] [Cited: 28 September 2021.]

37. Sutcliffe, Matthew. An Answer to a certaine libel supplicatorie, ... . [Online] 1592. [Cited: 26 August 2021.]

38. Wood, H. W. ed. Wills and inventories from the registry at Durham, part 4, [1603-1649]. Publications of the Surtees Society. 1929, Vol. 142.



Saturday, 28 August 2021

Major Hugh Buntine's Nightcap

 A nightcap in the Glasgow collection has an attached label which states: “this cap belonged to Major Buntine, uncle of William Baillie of Monkton.”

Little if anything is known of Buntine’s early life. He joined the Covenant army, and served under Lesley at the Battle of Philiphaugh (13th September 1645) Oliver Cromwell rewarded him by making him ‘Muster-Master of the Horse’ for Scotland. In late 1659 George Monck sent him with a letter to Robert Montgomery with a view to using the English army in Scotland to assist with the imposition of a political settlement. A letter from Moray to Bruce in April 1660, indicates that he was in Breda at the time that Charles II made his Declaration. In 1670, he bought an estate which included Law Castle in West Kilbride. Soon after, an Act of Parliament granted ‘in favour of Major Hugh Buntine, … the lands and barony of Kilbride’. He died in 1681.

The nightcap is in red silk velvet, constructed from six conical sections, embroidered in silver threads, silver-gilt braid and gold spangles worked in basket weave, plaited braid with twisted couching depicting stylized fruit motifs, including pomegranates. The highlights are embroidered over thick cords to create the raised and padded effect. It is lined with undyed  linen.

For further information see Rebecca Quinton, Glasgow Museums: Seventeenth century Costume (Glasgow: Unicorn Press 2013) and the museums online entry;id=447014;type=101

 Buntine's nightcap. Glasgow Museums. CCNC 4.0



Saturday, 6 March 2021

Vizards and Masks

Vizards, also known as masks, were worn by gentlewomen in the sixteenth through the seventeenth and possibly into the eighteenth centuries. They could also sometimes be worn by men, as in a quote from a translation of Stefano Guazzo’s work, “There are certaine glorious fellowes, who at shrovetide goe with Maskes on their face”, (1) and nearly a century later Stanley wrote, “Some wild young men.., lay in wait for him, attired like furies, with vizards and torches.” (2) The terms seem to be used fairly interchangeably. Stubbes uses both terms “When they [ladies] ride abroad, they have invisories, or masks, visors made of velvet, wherewith they cover all their faces.” (3)

Figure 1. Detail from Hollar showing how a half mask is fastened


In the sixteenth century, in England, they are used a lot in plays and revels; Elizabeth I even had her own vizard maker, John Owgle, and payment is made for example for a “dozen of viserdes with shorte berdes.” (4) One of their main uses seems to have been to preserve the complexion from sun or wind.  Holme describes a mask as “a thing that in former times gentlewomen used to put over their faces when they travel to keep them from sun burning.” (5) They became fashionable wear, both as a protection and simply to hide the face. Their use by criminal elements is shown in a 1657 record where, William Pearce taylor and John Kent barber where taken by the watch “in the company of others as daungerous and suspitious persons”, they having “having severall disguises about them as vizors, perriwigs and some kinde of womens apparell .” (6) Their use was of course, associated by many with vanity, as can be seen in a detail from the Maerten de Vos, print of c.1600 ‘The Vanity of Women: Masks and Bustles’ (Figure 2) 

Figure 2. Detail from Maerten de Vos "The Vanity of Women" Metropolitan Museum, New York

Styles of vizard.

Vizards or masks come in two types one that covers the full face, and a half mask covering just the eyes and nose. When masks are purchased, the style is often not indicated. Half masks were fastened with ties around the back of the head, and sometimes over the top, as can be clearly seen in the detail of a Hollar plate from Ornatus (Figure 1). A full face vizard which survives was found during the renovation of a stone building in Northamptonshire (Figure 3). It weighs about an ounce (30 grams), the outer fabric is black velvet, the lining is silk, and in between is pressed-paper, the three layers then being stitched together.  It fits perfectly with the description written by Randle Holme (1627-1699), ‘[It] covers the whole face [...] holes for the eyes, a case for the nose and a slit for the mouth [...] this kind of Mask is taken off and put[on] in a moment of time, being only held in the Teeth by means of a round bead fastened on the inside [...] against the mouth.’ (5) Another survival from the end of the seventeenth century is the miniature mask made for the doll, Lady Clapham, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The inner surface of this is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3. Surviving mask found in Northamptonshire

The costs and who purchases them

The accounts for the Marquis of Hertford’s family in 1641 have ‘for three maskes for the three ladies 4s 6d,’ which would make them 1s 6d each. (7) Slightly cheaper examples were available, the Howards of Naworth purchased several between 1619 and 1624, in both velvet and satin, for prices between fourteen and twenty two pence. (8)

It would seem that this was an accessory that was adopted by the emerging middle classes, as several tradesmen have them in stock. John Uttinge, a chapman of Great Yarmouth, had six silk masks valued at 2s 6d in 1628, another chapman William Mackerell of Newcastle had four masks valued at 2s 4d in 1642. (9) In the 1660s both Ralph Eyton, a clothier of Bristol and Benjamin Marshall, a mercer of Lincoln, had masks in stock, while the 1679 probate inventory of Henry Mitchell, a haberdasher of Lincoln, recorded vizards in stock at 1s each. (10) (11)

When in 1669 Giles Moore, rector of a Sussex parish, took his niece, who was probably around 14 years old, to London with him, the purchased a considerable amount of clothing for her including a mask. (12) They seem to have been worn fairly commonly in London. Pepys comments on them several times, noting that “Lady Mary Cromwell, who looks as well as I have known her, and well clad; but when the House began to fill she put on her vizard, and so kept it on all the play; which of late is become a great fashion among the ladies, which hides their whole face.” (13) He then goes out the same day and purchases one for his wife at the Exchange.

Figure 4. Interior of Lady Clapham mask, Victoria and Albert Museum


While the survival and most images seem to show black masks, they could come in several colours, Gosson has “the tallow-pale, the browning -bay, the swarthy-blacke, the grassie greene, the pudding-red, the dapple-graie,” (14) and the Coke family archives have green masks being purchased for the children. (15)


1. Guazzo, Stafano. The civil conversation, translated out of French by George Pettie. London : Richard Watkins, 1581.

2. Stanley, Thomas. History of Philosophy. London: : Mosley and Dring, 1655.

3. Stubbes, Philip. Anatomie of Abuses. London : Richard Jones, 1583.

4. Feuillerat, Albert. Documents relating to the office of the revels in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Louvain : Uystpruyst, 1908.

5. Holme, Randle. The academy of armory. Chester : The Author, 1688.

6. Middlesex Sessions Rolls: 1657. In: Middlesex County Records: Volume 3, 1625-67. Originally published London: Middlesex County Record Society, 1888. . [Online] [Cited: 6 March 2021.]

7. Private Purse Accounts of the Marquis of Hertford, Michaelmas 1641-2. Morgan, F. C. 1945, Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 25, pp. 12-42.

8. Selections from the household books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth castle. Ornsby, George. Durham : Publications of the Surtees Society, 1878, Vol. 68.

9. Spufford, Margaret. The great reclothing of rural England: petty chapman and their wares in the seventeenth century. London : Hambledon Press, 1984.

10. George, E. and George, S. Bristol probate inventories, Part 2: 1657-1689. Bristol : Bristol Records Society publication 57, 2005.

11. Johnston, J. A. Probate inventories of Lincoln citizens 1661-1714. Woodbridge : Boydell, for the Lincoln Record Society, 1991.

12. Tankard, Danae. Clothing in 17th century provincial England. London : Bloomsbury, 2020.

13. Pepys, Samuel. Diary, Friday 13th June 1663. [Online] [Cited: 5 March 2021.]

14. Gosson, Stephen. Pleasant Quippes For Upstart Newfangled Gentlewomen. London : s.n., 1595.

15. Cunnington, C. Willett and Cunnington, Phillis. Handbook of English costume in the 17th century. 3rd ed. London : Faber, 1972.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Taffeta and velvet hats


Museum of London survival
For a few decades at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century fabric hats, particularly of taffeta and velvet were very popular. Philip Stubbes in his 1583 work Anatomie of Abuses has a go at virtually everybody, complaining about “Cottagers' daughters in taffatie hats” and that “he is of no account or estimation amongst men, if hee have not a velvet or a taffatie Hatte.”


By the time Shakespeare wrote of “Taffata phrases, silken tearmes precise,” taffeta had already been in use for two hundred years. Taffeta is a silk fabric that is mentioned by Chaucer and in 1388 Chief Justices wore green taffeta, but what type of silk was it? The modern definition of taffeta in the OED is “A fine, crisp, and usually lustrous fabric of a plain weave in which the weft threads are thicker than those of the warp.” Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1721 has it as taffety and says simply that it is a kind of silk, while Samuel Johnson’s dictionary describes it as a thin silk. One specific type of taffeta is changeable taffeta, in 1650 Fuller wrote of “changeable Taffata (wherein the woofe and warpe are of different colours) seems of severall hues, as the looker on takes his station.”

Velvet Velvet appears in English slightly before taffeta, it first being mentioned in 1320 in the Wardrobe accounts of Edward II. Florio (1598) has ' a stuff of silk called velvet.’ Velvet has a raised pile, and sometimes there are two piles one raised higher that the other, and even three piles, so in A Winter’s Tale a mercer states that “I have serv'd Prince Florizel, and in my time wore three-pile."

 Henry Unton 1586. Tate (CC-By-NC-ND)

Survivals and the construction of the hats.

In most, but not all survivals, the silk is gathered or placed over a hard base sometimes a felt. It is this that gives the shape. If a softer shape is required, then that hard base is not there. This applies equally to the brim. All, like most hats, are lined in the crown and brim, it is interesting that in 1631 the inventory of Frances Jodrell has an “ould taffatie lining for a hatt,” so this was valuable enough to be list separately in her probate.

There are a few survivals of these fabric hats, the Museum of London has one at  a black patterned silk velvet dating to 1580-1600.

The Germanischen Nationalmuseums  has two

The pink Example in the GNM

One c.1600 is of an originally pink velvet, lined with taffeta. Further information and a pattern is in Janet Arnold. Patterns of Fashion. The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560 – 1620. London 1985, p.34, 94.

The other from 1575-1600 is of silk, the fabric is a brown corded silk lined with a lighter weight silk. Again, the pattern is in Janet Arnold. Patterns of Fashion. The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560 – 1620. London 1985, p.33, 94.

A later survival, in the Livrustkammaren in Stockholm, was ordered for Queen Kristina's coronation in 1650. The hat is of purple/red velvet embroidered with designs in gold thred, over a hard felt base. The brim was originally lined with ermine, replacement ermine can be seen on the displayed hat.


Cost of the hats

The 1593 inventory of Exeter haberdasher Thomas Greenwood contains dozens and dozens of felt hats, and also a considerable number of taffeta and velvet hats, ranging from 6s 8d to 15s each. The cheapest would appear to be plain, while the 12s hats are taffeta lined with velvet, and the 15s hats are described as embroidered. His velvet hats were more expensive at 18s each. Another haberdasher in 1580, Richard Fitzherbert of Coventry, also had wide selection of hats in stock including velvet, taffeta, felt, worsted, and silk.

Who owned the hats?

While Simon Isam, a tailor of Ipswich, had “an old taffetta hat” in his 1618 probate inventory, notwithstanding Stubbes complaints, the majority of these hats were owned by wealthy gentlemen or those of some social status. Elizabeth Hurte, of Coventry, a widow worth at her 1578 probate £126, had among her belongings seven hats and four taffeta hats. The Earl of Oxford paid in 1579 'To William Tavy, capper, for one velvet hat, and one taffeta hat, two velvet caps, a scarf, two pairs of garters with silver at the ends, a plume of feathers for a hat, and another hat band. £4 6s 0d.'