It’s the end of the week, so you know what that means: FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today we’re talking about another iconic piece of historic fashion- the ruff. It is such an extreme and distinct piece of fashion, and one which seems highly impractical. It is also one of the few pieces of historical fashion that was equally popular among men and women. So
where did it come from?
During the Renaissance, both men and women
wore a simple muslin gown as a slip-like undergarment. These pieces
would often be tightened around the neck with a drawstring, causing it
to appear rouched or ruffled around the neck. At the same time,
necklines of outer-garments began to lower, so that this ruffled edge
became visible. It became a common practice, particularly among the
wealthy, to add a lace embellishment to the exposed edge.
the neck ruffle became a more prominent accent, people naturally began
to put more effort into perfecting it. This was aided greatly when in
1560, it was discovered that starch could be used to stiffen fabric.
Around this time, ruffs became their own garments, separated from the
muslin gown. This was for a few reasons. As a separate piece, they could
be more structured and elaborate. They were also then able to be
cleaned separately, as the delicate lace needed more gentle care than
the durable muslin. Finally, the collar being separated from the gown
meant that women were able to sport the fashionable frills while still
exposing their cleavage, a common practice in the 16th Century.
soon as the collars became separated, they took on a whole new life.
They became vastly more elaborate, with perfectly starched and ironed
pleats and loops. A metal iron very similar to a modern curling iron was
used to shape the loops. This style of ruff, the style most people
today associate with the word ruff, was known as a fraise collar. They
were often made with matching cuffs, which were also detachable. Fraise
collars were often extremely wide, largely in thanks to Queen Elizabeth I.
When the monarch was still fairly new to the throne, she had to battle
to be accepted and respected in her position. To make herself appear
more severe and intimidating, she wore giant cartwheel ruffs. She even
tried to impose a law that people outside of court could not wear ruffs
beyond a certain width, though those who could afford elaborate ruffs in
the first place rarely obeyed these demands.
Ruff sizes and
styles shifted constantly over the next century or so. Women would
occasionally wear open ruffs, which would fasten to the top of their
bodices as opposed to wrapping fully around their necks, known as the
Medici collar. The stiff pleating eventually gave way to softer ruffles,
and by the Cavalier age in the 17th century, a simple, flat collar with
lace trim was all that remained of the ruff.
Want to learn more about the ruff? Check out these books:
Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare, by Sarah Downing
In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, by Anna Reynolds
Have a question about fashion history you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!