peascod

Fencing Doublet

c.1580

This doublet is a rare example of sixteenth-century male clothing, very little of which has survived. The cut of the doublet, particularly the protruding “peascod” waist, is typical of fashionable costume of the 1570s and 1580s. The delicate silk embroidery and the use of gold and silver metallic yarns are additional indicators of its high quality. The padded ribs on the chest, back, and sleeves suggest that the doublet was also intended as a protective garment. It was probably made for wear during fencing practice, which was at the time an essential part of every gentleman’s education.

The MET

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Italian Decorated Parade Armour of King Philip III of Spain from 1585 on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

From top to bottom, the Burgonet, breastplate and gauntlets comes from a a series presented to the Spanish royal family in the 1580′s. Tailor-made parade armour was iron clothing: the pointed ‘peascod’ breastplate imitated fashionable doublets. Draped with fine silk sashes and with helmets sprouting plumes of ostrich feathers. Such armour was for effect and display rather than protection in battle. Inspired by ancient Roman armour it transformed Renaissance nobles into classical heroes.

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It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Normally in these posts, I focus on a specific fashion trend. But today I’m taking a step back and discussing an era as a whole. Elizabethan fashion is incredibly distinct and iconic. When you mention fashion history to someone, Elizabethan dress is often one of the first things they think of. This is thanks in no small part to the infamous monarch herself and thriving empire she ruled, and, of course, Shakespeare. But how did such a unique fashion come into existence? Let’s break it down piece by piece.

First of all, it is important to note that all the trends I discuss today were popular for both men and women. It will come as no shock when I tell you that just about every piece of Elizabethan fashion developed out of a desire to show off personal wealth and status. Just like nearly every other fashion trend throughout history (particularly pre-20th Century.) The most iconic piece of Elizabethan fashion is without a doubt the ruff, but since I did a separate post on that a while back (read here) I’m going to skip over it today. 

The base of the opulent Elizabethan look was the fabric itself. Heavy silk brocades and velvets were the preferred style, and by far the most expensive. Silk, which was expensive to start with because of how it is made, had an added expense in England because it had to be imported. In fact, the queen complained that too much money was leaving the land to purchase fine fabrics abroad. Velvet needed more silk to create it due to it’s pile (thickness) adding more to its cost. To make these already expensive fabrics even more costly, they were often covered in intricate embroidery, all done by hand, often using precious metal thread. Further embellishment was added with beading, for which using real pearls was highly desired. 

These luxurious fabrics and elaborations needed a vast canvas to be displayed upon. Sleeves became larger, skirts became wider, hose (men’s trousers) became fuller. Additionally, layers of clothing became fashionable, meaning even more fine fabrics. This brings us to the next major trend in Elizabethan fashion- slashing. As I have mentioned in past posts, due to the high cost of textiles, clothing would often be altered and remade over and over to save on costs. However, if only small strips of fabric were left, they could not be remade. Sleeves and hose would commonly be made out of narrow panels, while petticoats and doublets would be decoratively cut and slashed, almost perforated. This rendered the fabric difficult to reuse, showing that the wearer was wealthy enough to always purchase new. Additionally, all of these gaps in garments allowed for the fabric beneath to be shown off.

The final iconic aspect of Elizabethan dress was padding. Women would wear padded rolls at their shoulders. These prominent accents would be bedecked in embellishments such as ribbons, beading, and even jewels. More padding was added around their hips, offsetting their long, conical bodices. Even men got in on the padding trend, adding thickness to their stomachs in a style known as the peascod belly. That’s right, Elizabethans were way ahead of the dad-bod trend (of course, in this instance it was more about showing that they had the ability to eat well.) All of this was in addition to the puffed-out sleeves.

This extreme fullness and the incredibly heavy fashions would fade out of fashion over the next several decades, however showing off wealth remained just as popular. It was merely done in a more delicate manor. Yet it is that bold, heavy look which makes Elizabethan fashion so iconic.

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