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Gowns

Gowns

The only appropriate outfit for a well-bred woman of the sixteenth century was a complex ensemble that is known by the simple terms "gown," or "dress." These gowns, depicted in great detail in the many surviving paintings from the period, reveal the riches available to the members of the courts that surrounded European royalty. They could be constructed of luxurious materials like silk, velvet, and lace; lavishly adorned with pearls, beads, and jewels; and decorated with the most intricate patterns of stitching and embroidery. Those gowns worn by members of royalty and wealthy noblewomen were truly works of art. Even common women dressed in gowns that mimicked the wealthy in form, though not in the quality of the materials.

The lavish gowns worn by women from this period were made from at least three distinct parts: a bodice, a skirt, and sleeves. The bodice covered the torso and was similar to a man's doublet, the tight fitting double-layered garment that covered the body from shoulders to waist. The neckline opening of the bodice could vary widely in size, though the most common style was to have a large opening that revealed much of the shoulders and crossed the chest in a slight upward curve just above the breasts. By the end of the century necklines had grown very daring, revealing a woman's cleavage. Most often, however, the area above the neckline was filled with a chemise, a light, sometimes transparent shirt that rose to the neck and that very often ended in an attached and highly decorative ruff, a wide pleated collar. The front of the bodice was a V-shaped panel that came to a defined point at or below the waist. This triangular panel, called a stomacher, was often stiffened with bone or wood and padded with bombast in order to create a flat-chested appearance.

Attached to the bottom edge of the bodice was the skirt. While the bodice was intended to give the woman a slim silhouette, the skirts worn in the sixteenth century were very wide and full and reached all the way to the floor. Skirts were made of overlapping panels and used yards and yards of fabric. They were given their distinctive shape by farthingales, rigid hoops made of cane, bone, or wood. Stitched to the interior fabric of the skirt and anchored at the waist, these farthingales could give the skirts a distinct cone shape, as with the Spanish farthingale, or a drum or wheel shape. Some gowns had a wide opening at the front of the skirt that revealed either a separate underskirt or an interior panel of a different fabric, called a partlet. Women might also wear a decorative apron at the front of the skirt or a safeguard to protect the skirt when the woman was outdoors.

The final component of the gown was the sleeves. Some bodices had attached sleeves, but many sleeves were made separately and were attached to the bodice at the shoulders by means of points, or small ties. Sleeves varied tremendously in style, from formfitting to quite puffy, from a simple single fabric to intricate panels of several fabrics with lace, ribbons, and bows. Most sleeve styles combined some form of puff, often at the shoulder, with sections of more closely fitted fabric. Sleeves usually ended in an ornamental cuff. Many women also wore false sleeves, which hung at the sides of the dress.

Gown styles varied slightly from country to country, with Germans preferring a high-waisted look and Spanish women preferring a cone-shaped skirt, but all grew more ornate as the century progressed. Queen Elizabeth I of England, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, was known for her fantastically lavish gowns, and she set the style for all of Europe. At her death she was said to have possessed over three thousand different gowns.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Cassin-Scott, Jack. Costume and Fashion in Colour, 15501760. Introduction by Ruth M. Green. Dorset, England: Blandford Press, 1975.

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

LaMar, Virginia A. English Dress in the Age of Shakespeare. Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1958.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[See also Volume 3, Fifteenth Century: Doublet ; Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Bombast ; Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Farthingales ; Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Ruffs ; Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Sleeves ; Volume 3, Seventeenth Century: Gowns ]

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"Gowns." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gowns." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gowns

"Gowns." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gowns

Gowns

Gowns

The primary garment worn by women of all social classes was the gown, consisting of a close-fitting bodice with attached decorative sleeves and full skirts. Though the basic form of the garment was very similar to gowns worn during the sixteenth century, a variety of changes made seventeenth-century garments quite distinct. Perhaps most notable were changes in the way skirts were worn.

The gown of the early seventeenth century continued the fashions of the sixteenth century. Skirts were given their shape by stiff farthingales, or underskirt hoops, and bodices were stiffened with flat stomachers. Sleeves were puffy and full, completely covering the arms. Beginning in about the 1620s the styles began to change quite noticeably. The first change, a shortening of the sleeves to reveal a woman's wrists, marked the first time women's arms were visible in the hundreds of years of European costume history. Soon women's arms could be bared up to the elbow. Often, however, more modest women would wear an undershirt with long lacy sleeves that came over the wrist.

The 1630s saw a general softening of the outline of women's gowns. Stomachers became less rigid and the bodice was allowed to follow the natural contours of the body. Skirts became less rigid as well, as farthingales went out of favor in every European country except Spain, where they remained in use. Underneath the top skirt women now wore petticoats, sometimes several petticoats, to give the skirt shape.

Fashions changed once more after the 1650s. Stomachers grew stiffer and flatter once again, and they also lengthened and came to a point below the line of the waist. As with men's costume, women's gowns sought to give the wearer a thin, elongated profile. Perhaps the most important changes had to do with skirts. Overskirts began to be parted to reveal decorative petticoats. In a popular style called a mantua, or manteau, the overskirt was pulled up at the front and sides and fastened in flowing billows or bunches, revealing a decorative petticoat. The outer skirt of the mantua was often worn very long to form a train, a length of skirt that trails on the ground. Another popular late-century style was the décolleté neckline, a low cut neckline which revealed the upper part of a woman's breasts. More modest women, as always, tended to cover this area with a scarf or a light undershirt.

Women of all classes wore gowns, though there were wide differences in materials and the complexity of the tailoring. Among the wealthy satin was the most popular fabric, followed by velvet and rich brocade. These fabrics were often carefully embroidered, though they were never as ornate and ornamented as in the sixteenth century. Poorer women might wear gowns made of wool or cotton. The tailoring of their garments was much simpler. While a rich woman's bodice might be made of a dozen different panels, a poor woman's was made of just a few. And while a rich woman might wear five to ten rustling petticoats, a poor woman might wear no petticoat at all beneath her overskirt.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Cassin-Scott, Jack. Costume and Fashion in Colour, 15501760. Introduction by Ruth M. Green. Dorset, England: Blandford Press, 1975.

Hatt, Christine. Clothes of the Early Modern World. Columbus, OH: Peter Bedrick Books, 2002.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Gowns ; Volume 3, Seventeenth Century: Stomacher ]

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"Gowns." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gowns." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gowns-0

"Gowns." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gowns-0