Friday, June 7, 2013

Elizabethan Fashion

I’d like to discuss something of driving importance…the Elizabethan Ruff. I know that beheading was a popular norm in the time, Henry the VIII chopped off at least 3 of his 6 wives’ heads. He was at a 50% rate when he died, and may have upped that percentage had he lived longer. Was this need to cut peoples’ heads off caused by the Elizabethan Ruff? The Ruff had the effect of making a person’s head look as though it had all ready been detached from the body and presented on a platter. I don’t think there is any place in the world that still uses the Ruff in fashion, except the circus and adorning dogs who have and obsessive compulsion with scratching themselves bloody…well, that’s not really a Ruff is it, more a funnel.  

Another interesting Elizabethan devise was the Farthingale, or hooped skirt. The Spanish version know as the fertugado was brought to England by Catherine of Aragon (she lost her head). They were a rather modest, ‘A’ type structure that any engineer would envy. Then the French got hold of it and the next thing the Farthingale had more hoops than a Native American dancer. Even so the Farthingale for Queen Elizabeth wasn’t enough; she added the prefix “great” onto it. Dipping to the front, ridding up behind, the gown looked like a ship diving down into a trough in some tempestuous storm. It’s no wonder why palaces needed to be so big. Imagine a dance floor populated by an armada of Great Farthingales swirling about like out of control bumper cars. Now, I understand that Queen Elizabeth’s favourite dance was La Volta, where there was some lifting and jumping about involved. I know a bit about dance and find it hard to imagine how someone could possibly lift a woman dressed in a Great Farthingale and keep all their teeth.

The other interesting thing I’ve noticed about the Elizabethan dress was that it came in parts. There was a Roll, a Stomacher, a Petticoat, a Kirtle, a Forepart, a Partlet, a Gown, Separate Sleeves and the notorious Ruff. It’s no wonder you needed a cast of thousands to assemble a lady for society. Elizabeth had four ladies of the bed chamber to dress her and then a bevy of Elizabeth clones to keep her from running people over because a Great Farthingale did limit one’s visibility. King James, Elizabeth’s replacement, solved this problem by entirely dispensing with changing his clothes altogether. As the old ones dissolved he just clothed himself in new clothes. Shakespeare knew King Jame’s taste, that’s why he wrote ‘The Scottish Play.’

Clothing must have inhibited Elizabethan love making…or maybe that’s why the clothing came apart in pieces. Let me think about that. 

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