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The Historical Gazette

This Month's Edition

Below are some excerpts from this month's issue on Elizabethan England:

Of Hearth and Home

Elizabethan homes were becoming more elaborate, with better construction and more individual rooms. With the decrease of defense systems necessary, homes could be built less as fortresses, and more as places of comforts. They were distinguished by the use of gables and protruding bays, with symmetrical fronts.

Timber-framed houses were becoming popular, with a foundation. The first 2 or 3 courses were of masonry or stone to protect the wood from the damp. Over that were laid the oak sill plates, then the studs, which were generally closer together than our current 16 inches. Above these were sills and joists for the upper floors, often projecting out over the story below.

The studs were filled in between with plaster and twigs (wattle and daub), or for the wealthy, brick. The oak frame was allowed to weather to a soft gray, in contrast to the tarred black we see today on these homes. The homes of the most wealthy continued to be made of brick and/or stone. They were now more outward facing, rather than closing in upon themselves, built in an E or H shape, or around inner courtyards, gardens being of as much importance as the house itself........

Clothes Make the Woman (or man)

Elizabethan clothing was characterized by fashion extremes. The simpler fashions gave way to excesses. Large drum farthingales, ruffs the size of platters, and padded doublets were the rage. The exploitation by Spain of the New World and England’s privateering brought increased gold and goods to the wealthy.

Women’s fashions were particularly extreme, rivaled only by the hoop skirts of Georgian and Victorian ladies and they introduced the fashion of a two-piece dress.

The clothing consisted of a simple cambric or holland chemise as the undergarment, which was a long gown, gathered to the neck and wrists, with dolman sleeves, either with an open collar tied in front (to be worn under a high-necked gown), or a low gathered neck worn under the square neck gown, so that only the top edge of lace or ruffle could be seen. The chemises could be decorated with a quantity of lace, embroidery or cutwork (reticella). Sometimes, in conjunction with this, particularly in cold climates, was worn a partlet, a simple shirt- like item, gathered to a neck band that was seen above the square edge of the gown, mistaken for a chemise. Over this could be worn a waistcoat for warmth.

Next was the corset, an extremely stiff boned affair, with numerous canes or rushes to give the flat-chested long waisted look so popular. Several layers of petticoats were worn (Parliament passed a law to encourage wool trade which required all women of less than noble rank to wear at least one wool petticoat!). The middle petticoat was attached to a farthingale in wealthier women: the Spanish cone style (popular 1545-160), the French tub shape (1560-1580) or the French drum-shaped one (1580-?). The drum shape was flat on the top and protruded from the wrist at a right angle (up to four feet!), like a platter, then fell sharply down...

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