05 June 2010 @ 06:59 pm
Research suggestions for 16th-century English middle class clothing  
[livejournal.com profile] nuranar recently contacted me to ask me for research suggestions/inspiration for a friend of hers that is interested in starting to make historically accurate clothing for a middle class woman in Elizabethan England. I asked Ginger if she minded me asking my friends list, since so many of you do make 16th-century clothing for middle-class people in England and are way better at it and more well-informed than I am. And she said yes! So . . .

Dear LJ brain trust,

What books, websites and dress diaries/blogs do you recommend to a beginner who is interested in creating historically accurate clothing for middle class people in Elizabethan England? I believe I'm correct in thinking that [livejournal.com profile] nuranar's friend already has some sewing experience, perhaps considerable. If you do other eras or geographic areas, please feel free to weigh in with research strategies!

What I've recommended is under the cut. I've added and refined my earlier suggestions, [livejournal.com profile] nuranar!


Arnold, Janet. Patterns of fashion. Costume & Fashion Press, 1987. Print.

Mikhaila, Ninya and Jane Malcolm-Davies. The Tudor Tailor. Costume & Fashion Press, 2006. Print.

Alcega, Juan de. Libro de geometría práctica y traça. -- Available partially on Google Books here. You can buy this one at AbeBooks UK. The price/shipping isn't too bad for a costuming book.

I know that Tudor Tailor is a controversial suggestion to some people, and I agree that the pattern diagrams are a little disappointing. But! The text introduction is great, and if you use the pattern shapes in conjunction with tailors' books like de Alcega's, then you can get clothes that fit with period pattern shapes. The bibliography and footnotes are also excellent. It is a great, reputable resource for someone who is new to 16th-century clothing. Beats the hell out of Winters & Savoy, OK?

I stayed away from recommending things like Moda a Firenze and Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd because they are SUPER expensive, and I feel that they shouldn't be purchased until you're at a point to make that investment. They're also hard to get through ILL, I've discovered. But if you've got a friend who has them and is willing to share . . .


  • Elizabethan Costume Page -- Especially these parts:
    1. 16th Century Fabric Consumption by Susan Reed
    2. A Tour of 16th Century Costume
    3. Queen Elizabeth's Influence on Elizabethan Fashion
    4. Smock Pattern Generator -- Though I should point out that this is optimized for machine sewing -- the underarm gussets shouldn't be split in half -- and the pattern in Tudor Tailor is easy to size up.
    5. Pictures of Middle Class European Costume
    6. Check out the links in the Costume Books & Manuscripts section
  • Extreme Costuming -- Especially the articles! Read the articles!

  • Mode Historique -- Especially the research section! And the links section! Sarah is savvy!
  • The Elizabethan Compendium
  • Karen Larsdatter's Medieval Material Culture Linkspages
  • Reconstructing History Blog
  • Renaissance Tailor -- Especially the selections from tailor's manuals
  • Semptress
  • Festive Attyre
  • Kimiko's Website -- Especially the costume myths section.

  • [livejournal.com profile] nuranar also thought of [livejournal.com profile] demode's website, which has lots of good links, though most of her 16th century clothes are Venetian courtesan, which might not be very useful for middle-class English clothing.

    Places to look at pictures/portraits:

  • Wikimedia Commons on Elizabethan clothing: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Elizabethan_clothing -- With caution! Some stuff there is not Elizabethan; it's ren faire or Victorian interpretations of Elizabethan. But there are lots of portraits. Of especial interest are these two:
    1. Joris Hoefnagel, Fete at Bermondsey, 1569
    2. Lucas de Heere, London Gentlewomen and a Countrywoman by Lucas de Heere, c. 1570
  • Tudor & Elizabethan Portraits
  • Portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Tudor England: Images

  • I also suggest Googling for the names of Elizabethan artists as you come across them to find more images. The big miniature painter is Nicholas Hilliard, but the two mentioned above, Joris Hoefnagel and Lucas de Heere, are good choices too. But because they're both foreigners, you have to be sure you know that the subjects of their paintings are English and not some other country. Or, uh, plants. Hoefnagel did botanical illustrations, too. Wikipedia (noooo, not Wikipedia!) has a nice list of artists at the Tudor court to help find images. Unfortunately, most portraiture is of really, really rich people, so it might not be much help in putting together middle class clothing. But it can help with seamlines and stuff.

    Anybody else have any suggestions? I'm sure I'm forgetting lots of things I should have in there! I am trying to stay away from modern sewing pattern suggestions, since those aren't actually as helpful as texts/websites if you're trying to do research yourself.
    ( Post a new comment )
    [identity profile] kass-rants.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)

    I wear this constantly. Complete historical notes are included. And it comes with a toll-free help line. =)
    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
    I am trying to stay away from modern sewing pattern suggestions, since those aren't actually as helpful as texts/websites if you're trying to do research yourself.
    [identity profile] kass-rants.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 09:50 am (UTC)
    Modern, huh? So reading the historical notes that are gathered in the Tudor Tailor is somehow more "researchy" than reading mine? Oh, I see. Yes. That makes sense. Thanks.
    [identity profile] demode.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 12:53 am (UTC)
    The Tudor Costume Page http://peronel.info/index.htm -- super helpful, esp. re: period construction techniques.
    [identity profile] demode.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC)
    Oh, and for looking up specific artists, I LOVE Artcyclopedia http://www.artcyclopedia.com -- it's super comprehensive.
    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:09 am (UTC)
    Yes, that's a great site! I think I even had it bookmarked. *blush*

    Web Gallery of Art is good for looking up artists and paintings, too, though probably not as comprehensive as Artcyclopedia.
    [identity profile] jljonsn.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
    Ganseys. Stylish, and the only real way you will survive in the 18th century.
    [identity profile] jljonsn.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
    or 16th. Or any other period, for that matter. They're the only reason humans survived the ice age, don'tchaknow.
    [identity profile] jljonsn.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:03 am (UTC)
    Not just the little ice age. The real one. If you watch the movie, you'll notice the hunters all wore them. Under their fur-lined parkas, so ok, maybe you DON'T notice them, per se, but physics demand that they must be there.
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    [identity profile] jljonsn.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
    Char just hit me. I don't know why.
    [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
    You cracked me up.
    ext_46111: mcgonagall[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:00 am (UTC)
    It's best to keep these things a mystery. Women! Jeez!
    [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
    Thanks so much - this is a great post! *adds to memories*
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    [identity profile] marymont.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
    Winter* & Savoy isn't as bad as people say. There isn't much in the way of direct reference, but the longer I study the real deal, the more in that book comes out to be accurate.

    However, it isn't meant to be scholarly. It was meant to show Renaissance Faire participants how to get the look.

    *note: Janet Winter does not spell her name with an S. She was one of the first Laurels in the SCA, Mistress Janet of Breakstone. Great Lady, always happy to share her knowledge and a good joke.
    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
    No, Winter & Savoy is really bad. They suggest using zippers and elastic, among other things. It's not for use for accurate costuming, though many people do. There's just no way it can be used as a reference book for accurate Elizabethan costuming.
    [identity profile] kass-rants.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
    Winter and Savoy is as bad as people say. The more I research the 16th century, the more I mourn that W&S was so popular for so long. The true statements they make are few and far-between and there's no effective way to guide a newbie.
    [identity profile] butterbobbin.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
    I'm the friend [livejournal.com profile] nuranar is info-fishing for. :-) This is all really helpful and I'm going to have a lot of fun digging through all the links/books you've recommended here.

    I'll probably have some more specific questions as well, but I'll wait until I've looked through this info first because I may have more to add to the list after that.

    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:06 am (UTC)
    Yay! Please feel free to ask, and I'll do what I can to find an answer for you. :D

    ETA: Also, you should check out museum collections. The Victoria & Albert Museum has lots of 16th-century items in their collection, and a lot of it is online.

    Edited 2010-06-06 06:01 am (UTC)
    [identity profile] butterbobbin.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
    OK, will do that too!

    All right, here are a couple questions. What did babies wear? I have a 6-month old (who will be 9 months when our faire happens) and am curious what I could make for her. I saw on one video where the lady had her baby in a fabric sling-type thing, but couldn't really see what the baby was wearing.

    Also curious what social standing a seamstress/tailor would have had (since that is what I do). I had assumed that such a person would be "middle class", hence my original interest in that realm of clothing, and I'm not sure whether she would fall in the upper or lower realm of that. Perhaps it depends on who her clientele was?

    ...I have no idea how to Elizabethan-ise my husband's job. He's a web developer... hehe! But I expect he would wear the clothing appropriate to whatever my own social standing would be.
    florentinescot[personal profile] florentinescot on September 12th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
    don't mind me, I'm just lurking, but they wore exactly the same thing that the adults did. If you can stand it, Simplicity used to have an infants/toddlers pattern that had the suit that the Infant Edward VI (if I got my number right) was painted in.

    Holbein -- child approximately 2
    tedeisenstein[identity profile] tedeisenstein.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:31 am (UTC)
    ....and I happen to know of a small, struggling Internet bookstore with a couple of those books now available!
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    [identity profile] sarahbellem.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:39 am (UTC)
    The Tudor Tailor IS good as a beginner's resource. What irks me is people slavishly copying the costumes in it and using it as their main source of documentation when they really ought to be moving into their own areas of research. *Deleted: Bitchy SCA commentary about people not doing original research*

    But that's a general gripe of mine about most costuming books, even Patterns of Fashion. And I'm bitchy about things like original research, which, I've learned, is not always what people care about. ;)

    I'm also totally flattered you put my website on that list. Yay! Someone finds it useful! :)
    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 05:51 am (UTC)
    Yay, Sarah! <3 I do find your website inspiring and useful! It is, way back in the crusty ages of the internet, what made me want to learn about this stuff. And it continues awesome. :D

    I have heard people say that TT isn't a good resource, because you can do all the same things with PoF and some brains. I . . . disagree. Pretty strongly. I think TT is a lot broader in scope and talks about things in the text intro that PoF doesn't. But I totally hear you about not doing original research and copying things. That can be difficult and frustrating, especially if you are doing original research and not copying.
    [identity profile] sarahbellem.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
    TT can be summed up as "really really really good theatrical how-to with an excellent bibliography", as far as I'm concerned. There's too much in the book that is actually 100% made up by Ninya, and while it's based on her research, it's all really her conjecture at the end of the day*. I took a class on 16th c. headwear and at one point I had the uncomfortable task of asking where the teacher got her info from on one particular style of headgear that I happen to know A LOT about (guess which one), and hadn't run across anything in my research that looked remotely like what she had made. And her response was "Oh, I got it out of the Tudor Tailor." I somehow managed not to *facepalm* right there.

    So, while there's stuff in TT that *is* what's in PoF, there's also stuff in there that was developed by Ninya over the course of her career to streamline difficult and fussy bits of costumes, and/or redacting based on really super minimal amounts of info and which she will readily admit she basically invented. It's something that, if you're starting out on Eliz/Tudor costuming and you think you're really going to get into it, you want to comb it for the footnotes and bibliographical info because there's a lot of useful stuff that isn't in a diagram. But the stuff that is diagrammed is only going to get you so far. It is what it is.

    *Caveat: This is basically what we all do, at the end of the day, obviously. We take the tiny piece of info we have and we try to make sense of it as best we can. But I think there's a big distinction between doing the legwork yourself and trying to formulate a working hypothesis on your own, versus just copying it out of a book because it's in print and somehow that makes it ResearchTM. And lest anyone think I'm picking on Ninya, I'm not. I've had people come up to me and announce with great enthusiasm that they made X thing EXACTLY LIKE MINE. It's actually pretty creepy.

    Edited 2010-06-06 06:15 am (UTC)
    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 06:36 am (UTC)
    I do agree that TT as far as the pattern drafts go could be a lot better, which is why I recommend using the pattern drafts to get a shape with known, standardized measurements and then adding seam lines/goes/whatever using tailor's manuals and PoF for period layouts. What really gets me about the pattern section is all the cotton muslin/calico that's used. Oof. As you say, its real value lays in the stuff that's not in a diagram. And the pictures in the front. I, uh, look at the pictures a lot.

    As for French hoods -- :( That class would be one of the bad ways to use TT. It shouldn't be a bible. PoF shouldn't be a bible, either.

    And copying your clothes is creepy. Even your clothes are really awesome. (I might be jealous of your white silk jacket with black trim. Maybe sad that I didn't think of making one before you did.)
    [identity profile] sarahbellem.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 06:47 am (UTC)
    Heh. It's wool, not silk. And it currently needs the right sleeve reattached after I wore it to Kentwell a few weeks ago and ripped it out after a hardcore butter churning incident. ;)

    That's right. I wore my cream Elizabethan jacket TO KENTWELL. Observe!
    ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
    I swear that at one point in my life, I actually retained what I read. But I guess that means I can make myself a white silk jacket -- after all it wouldn't be exactly like yours. :| Just kidding, Sarah!

    You wore it with jeans, you maniac! Obviously you should have held back with the butter churning -- you didn't know your own strength.
    [identity profile] chargirlgenius.livejournal.com on June 6th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
    Exact same thing with the Medieval Tailor's Assistant. It's a good start for people who are just trying to look good, and you have a whole range of looks in just one relatively inexpensive book. Everybody wants to kvetch about it, but I have one in my library specifically to hand to newer folks when they want to get started.
    [identity profile] macaodghain.livejournal.com on July 23rd, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
    My favorite bit out of the Tudor Tailor, honestly, is the little people.