Thursday, 31 July 2014

One woman’s clothes - 1628-1637

C Johnson. Unknown woman c.1630
 In an earlier post I looked at the clothes bought for Nicholas LeStrange for his marriage in 1630, and that post gives the background to the family. In this post I will look at the clothes provided to Elizabeth LeStrange between 1628 (when she was 13) and 1637 (after her wedding). As with the previous post I have not looked at the originals, but at the book on the LeStrange accounts. (Whittle & Griffiths, 2012)

Over the nine year period fifteen outfits were purchased, some included accessories others did not. Between 1628 and 1632, the time she reached the age eighteen, she would have been growing, and over this period she received seven outfits. Between 1633 and her marriage in June 1635 she received four outfits. Two outfits were purchased for her wedding, one four months after her wedding and one (the most expensive) in April 1637. These outfits did not constitute the whole of her purchases of clothing, as items such as shoes, stockings, linens, gloves etc. were purchased separately. In addition from the age of 21 she received an annual allowance for clothes of £40 a year, equivalent to the income of a tradesman’s family.

The outfits purchased for Elizabeth range in cost from £3 10s for a petticoat and waistcoat of black silk-watered mohair in 1635, to £61 17s 10d for a plush and silver and gold tissued grogram outfit given to her as a present after her marriage.

To get an idea of what her outfits might have looked liked above is a 1630 portrait by Cornelius Johnson of an unknown woman. Her outfit is very similar in style to this 1633 portrait, also by Johnson, of Lady Margaret Hungerford. Johnson was one of the most popular portrait painters of his day until Anthony Van Dyck returned to England in 1632. Using Van Dyck’s paintings as examples can be problematical because, as Gordenker (2001) has argued, Van Dyck can “simplify” his sitter’s dress to produce a style sometimes referred to as “careless romance.”

The garments

 There were: 10 Petticoats, 9 Gowns, 7 Waistcoats, 1 Kirtle, 3 Stomachers, 2 (pairs of) Bodies,
2 (pairs of) Sleeves, 1 Roll, and 1 (set of) Gorget and cuffs.

Petticoats: By this time separate skirts are referred to as petticoats, in the sixteenth century petticoats could be referred to as having an upperbody. (Huggett, 1999) Randle Holme (1688) (who will be much referred to) calls petticoats “the skirt of the gown without its body; but that is generally termed a peti-coat, which is worn either under a gown, or without it.” It is sometimes difficult in Alice’s accounts to pick out which fabric goes with which garment. Sometimes a petticoat and waistcoat will be purchased together as in “petticoat and waistcoat of watered sky-coloured taffeta with silver lace, £8 16s. However sometimes there is an amount of fabric purchased for a gown, possibly with an integral skirt, and a further amount for a petticoat to wear under it, as in 18 yards of crimson tammel for a gown, plus 9 yards of white and red Norwich damask for a petticoat.

1620s outfit photo c.1929
Gown: Gown is a term that, like petticoat, is changing its meaning. A gown can be what you wear over, either a waistcoat and petticoat combination, or a pair of bodies with sleeves and maybe a stomacher and a petticoat. In 1630 16 yards of black tufted grogram were purchased for a gown, and 12 yards of lemon coloured satin for a waistcoat to go with it.  There was a petticoat but we don’t know if it was black or lemon, only that half a yard of yellow perpetuana was bought to border the petticoat. Gowns rarely survive but there was one in a French collection before the Second World War, as shown in this very old photograph. A rear view of something similar can be seen in one of Hollar’s prints from his 1640 Ornatus Muliebris series. A gown can also mean the whole ensemble, the bodice part and the petticoat part, even though they are separate. Randle Holme (1688) describes a woman’s gown as having “several parts” among which he includes; the stays, the stomacher, the sleeves, and the skirt or gown skirt.

Waistcoats: Do not think of men’s waistcoats, these are very different. Randle Holme (1688) describes a waistcoat as “the outside of a gown without either stays or bodies fastened to it ....some wear them with stomachers.” He also speaks of them having gored skirts, so probably with a stomacher they looked like this 1620-1630 example in the Museum of London, a pattern for this appears in Waugh (1968), diagram no. 4; or without a stomacher like this pink silk waistcoat from 1610-1620 in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Detailed information, photographs and patterns for the pink silk waistcoat appear in North and Tiramani (2011) so I am not sure why the photos on the V&A website are in black and white.

Bodies: Elizabeth received two pairs of bodies, these are often seen as equating to eighteen century stays, or nineteenth century corsets, which they do to a certain extent. They are boned and can be undergarments, but can be covered with an outer layer making it suitable for visible wear. They can also come with separate sleeves, as in the pink set from the 1660s in the Victoria and Albert Museum, information and a pattern for this appear in the second North and Tiramani (2012) book. Both the outfits purchased for Elizabeth’s wedding came with bodies, a pair of bodies for 8s and a pair of damask bodies for £1 2s. In addition either the gown or, more likely, the waistcoat in Elizabeth’s black and lemon outfit was stiffened, as the accounts for it include a sum for bents. Bents were stiff or rigid reeds that were used instead of whalebone to provide stiffening to garments. 

Sleeves: Two pairs of sleeves appear in the accounts and in both cases they are listed with a stomacher. They may be like the sleeves that come with the pink bodies mentioned above, and lace to an armhole.

Van Dyck. Henrietta Maria
Stomachers: The stomacher is the infill covering the stomach, or as Holme says, “is that peece that lieth under the lacings or binding of the body of the gown.” This lacing over a stomacher can clearly be seen in this Van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria. Unfortunately stomachers rarely survive with the garment they were designed for, although several stomachers on their own do survive as in this late 17th century example in the Feller Collection.

Kirtle: One kirtle is listed. By the 1620s this is a very old fashioned term. It was falling out of use by the late 16th century as Huggett (1999) has shown in her comparison of wills from the third and fourth quarters of the sixteenth century. It is generally considered that a kirtle had a body, which could be made of a different fabric to the skirt, and was worn under the gown. (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006)

Roll: Farthingales had gone out of fashion by 1620, but some fashionable women still used what Holmes referred to as “bearers, rowls, fardingales” to “raise up the skirt at that place to what breadth the wearer pleaseth, and as the fashion is.”

Gorget and cuffs: A gorget according to the OED is a covering for the neck and breast. Unlike a neckerchief, which was usually square, the gorget was curved and was therefore bracketed with rails, which were a lightweight shoulder cape, as in Corbet’s circa 1635 poem which says, “To the Ladyes of the New Dresse, That weare their gorgets and rayles doune to their wastes.” An example is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and is described in detail in North & Tiramani (2012, pp. 116-121). The bone (bobbin) lace on the cuffs, since they were purchased as a set, would probably have matched the lace on the gorget, and a £6 12s cost more than some of her petticoat and waistcoat sets. Here is a collar and cuffs set from the 1630s in the V&A, in this example the collar is tucked into the neckline of the gown and is not worn at the throat.

The fabrics

As well as fabrics most would recognise, such as satin, damask and taffeta, there are many fabrics that are less well known. Listed below are these fabrics and definitions for them as well as an indication of how they were used. The definitions used here all come from the OED online edition or Beck (1882) unless otherwise stated:

Baize (bays): This is not the baize we think of today used for covering snooker tables and the like. It was one of the new draperies. Beck states that it was introduced to England in 1561. The OED describes it as “A coarse woollen stuff, having a long nap,” but in the seventeenth century it is often described as slight or thin. In the accounts it is used for a scarlet petticoat,

Camel’s hair (camlet): This is a fabric which is very difficult to pin down, as Beck says, “the changes have been rung with all materials in every possible combination, sometimes wool, sometimes silk, sometimes hair.” It is often mentioned with, or conflated with grograms, as in a charter of 1641 which has “grogram or mohair yarne” and “chamletts or grograms” In the accounts it is used for a petticoat.

Grogram: The OED has this as a coarse fabric of silk, of mohair and wool, or of these mixed with silk; often stiffened with gum. This was used for three of the gowns, one of them is described as tufted grogram, and another, which is in silver and gold, as tissued. There is a later, 1660s, silver tissue dress in the Fashion Museum at Bath.

Perpetuana: Another of the new draperies. OED describes it as a durable woollen fabric, but Beck mentions that John May in 1613  complained that although it had kept its width and length its pitch (pick) had gone down from 1200 to 800. Half a yard of this fabric was used to border a petticoat.

Plush:  A rich fabric of silk, cotton, wool, or other material (or any of these combined), Beck describes it as a long napped velvet. Twelve yards of this (cost £12), was used together with 11¼ yards of gold and silver tissued grogram (cost £36) to make Elizabeth’s most expensive gown.

Princely: This does not appear in the OED or Beck, so we really don’t know what it was.

Tabby: Is a general term for a silk taffeta, but in this case it is described as brocaded tabby, and 6 yards are used in the tissued gown.

Philizela: Is not in the OED or Beck, but may well be philoselle which in both is a wrought silk. This was used for a crimson gown.

Sarcenet: A very fine and soft silk material made both plain and twilled. This was used for a petticoat, a waistcoat and a gown.

Tammel: Now this could be stammel, which according to the OED is, a coarse woollen cloth, or linsey-woolsey. More likely, given the other fabrics purchased for her, it could be Tammy (also spelt as Tammis), which the OED describes as “A fine worsted cloth of good quality, often with a glazed finish.” This was used for three gowns.

The lace

There is tendency to think of lace entirely in terms of white, and of either bobbin or needle lace. Where the reference is just to bone (bobbin) lace, as in 10 yards of bone lace, then this is probably true, but Elizabeth also has black and metallic laces. Lace at this period can refer to lace in a modern sense, but it can also refer to what today we would probably refer to as braid. The metallic laces are listed not only by length, but by the weight of the metal in them, as in 28 yards of silver bone lace weighing 32¼ ounces. A bodice dating to 1650-70 in the Museum of London shows this type of heavy silver lace decorating the front. There was a law suit in the 1590s when a gentleman was charged by his tailor for a certain weight of metallic lace, his servant thought there wasn’t enough and took all the lace off and weighed it, discovering that it was 80 ounces less than had been paid for. (Levey, 1983) There are also references in Elizabeth’s clothing to galloon lace (which is a braid lace), whip lace, edging lace and comparsed lace.

The colours

Two of the gowns and four of the petticoat and waistcoat sets were black, which was an extremely popular colour, and appears in almost every fabric type, grogram, satin, taffeta, lace, tammel, damask, princely and mohair.  One gown and the kirtle with a stomacher were a pearl colour. One gown was silver, for her wedding, and another silver and gold, which was the most expensive garment purchased.

Reds were traditionally a colour often used for petticoats. Elizabeth has two gowns of crimson, one with a white and red damask petticoat, and the other with a watchet (light blue-green) and yellow stitched taffeta for the petticoat, sleeves and stomacher. Three yards of scarlet baize were used for a petticoat.

One of the black gowns, purchased at the time of her brother’s wedding, had a lemon coloured satin waistcoat, and half a yard of yellow perpetuana was used to border the petticoat.

Blue appears only as a watered sky coloured taffeta for a waistcoat and petticoat set.

One waistcoat and petticoat set was of green watered taffeta, and five yards of green stitched taffeta was used in another outfit, though it is not obvious what it was for.


Beck, S. W., 1882. The draper's dictionary. London: Wharehousmen and Drapers Journal.

Gordenker, E., 2001. Anthony Van Dyck and the representation of dress in seventeenth century portraiture. Turnhout: Brepols.

Holme, R., 1688. Academie of Armourie. s.l.:s.n.

Huggett, J., 1999. Rural costume in Elizabethan Essex: a study based on the evidence from wills.. Costume, Volume 33.

Levey, S., 1983. Lace: a history. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mikhaila, N. & Malcolm-Davies, J., 2006. The Tudor tailor. London: Batsford.

North, S. & Tiramani, J., 2011. Seventeenth century women's dress patterns, book 1. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.

North, S. & Tiramani, J., 2012. Seventeenth century women's dress patterns, book 2. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.

Waugh, N., 1968. The cut of women's clothes 1600-1930. London: Faber.

Whittle, J. & Griffiths, E., 2012. Consumption and gender in the early seventeenth century household: the world of Alice Le Strange.. Oxford: O.U.P.

The two photographs from paintings are via Wikimedia Commons.


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