Elizabeth I's Wardrobe
Queen Elizabeth was a great follower of fashion. While in private she preferred to wear simple gowns, and would reputedly wear the same plain gown for two or three days, when she was in public, she dressed to impress. Clothes were an important status symbol to the Elizabethans, and a person had to dress in accordance with their social status. It was thus in keeping that the Queen dressed more magnificent than everyone else. No one was allowed to rival the Queen's appearance, and one unfortunate maid of honour was reprimanded for wearing a gown that was too sumptuous for her. The maids were meant to complement the Queen's appearance, not to outshine her. In the later years of the reign, the maids wore gowns of plain colours such as white or silver. The Queen had dresses of all colours, but white and black were her favourite colours as they symbolized virginity and purity, and more often than not she wore a gown of these colours. The Queen's gowns would be gorgeously hand embroidered with all sorts of coloured thread, and decorated with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and all kinds of jewels. A book entitled Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked, details some of the jewels that fell off the Queen's gowns when she wore them.
Like all aristocratic Elizabethan women, the Queen would typically wear a chemise, a corset stiffened with wood or iron, a petticoat, a fathingale, stockings, a gown, sleeves, and a neck ruff and wrist ruffs. With the discovery of starch, ruffs became even more elaborate.
To complete her appearance, the Queen would wear accessories such as a fan, a pomander to ward off foul smells (and it was thought infection), and a lot of jewellery including earrings, brooches, necklaces of diamond or pearl, and finger rings. The Queen could be quite sentimental about jewels given as gifts and she cherished a pearl necklace given to her by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a ruby and diamond ring that contained a miniature enamelled portrait of her mother, Anne Boleyn, along with a portrait of herself. This ring was on her finger when she died.
QUEEN ELIZABETH'S RING
Other accessories the Queen would sometimes wear included a miniature Prayer Book attached to her girdle and a watch encased in a bracelet. This was given to the Queen by Robert Dudley and is
the first known wrist watch in England.
For the outdoors, the Queen would wear rich velvet cloaks, gloves of cloth or leather, and in warm weather, she would wear hats to shelter her pale face from the sun. For riding or hunting she would wear special riding outfits that gave easier movement. She would also wear boots such as these.
The Queen was never fully dressed without her make-up. In the early years she wore little, but following her attack of the smallpox in 1562, she would wear quite a lot to cover up the scars left on her face. She would paint her face with white lead and vinegar, put rouge on her lips, and paint her cheeks with red dye and egg white. This make-up was very bad for her health, particularly the white lead, as it slowly poisoned the body. While the Elizabethan tried very hard to take care of their teeth, and knew that to keep them clean was to keep them healthy, they did not have very sophisticated dental care, and teeth rotted. As a consequence, Elizabeth had to have several teeth removed as she grew older. To prevent the appearance of hollow cheeks, she would stuff rags into her mouth. It was very fashionable to wear a wig, and the Queen did so from a young age.
The Queen had a substantial influence on the fashion of her time, and encouraged her courtiers to dress well.
For more information see The Elizabethan Costuming Page