This page’s menu:

Fashion Of 16th Century

of men and women in the 16th century is said to have gone through three
different phases. The styles differed quite noticeably from one phase to the
next. However, the general dates that these phases took place are not the same
for men and women. For men, the earliest phase was a transition from medieval
styles to the styles of the Renaissance. Following this period, the German
influence was prominently seen in men's fashion. Spanish influences were strong
in the final phase. Between 1500 and 1515 men's basic costume consisted of linen
shirts, doublets, (padded, close-fitting body garments with or without sleeves
worn over the shirt) hose, codpieces, (bag or box of fabric worn to conceal the
front opening of breeches) jackets, bases, gowns, cloaks, caps and/or hats.

Shirts were made of white linen and cut full and gathered into a round or square
neckline, often decorated with embroidery or cutwork. They had long, raglan
sleeves. Doublets and hose were laced together, the doublets being only waist
length. Hose were seamed into one garment with a codpiece at the front. In one
version the doublet was cut with a deep V at the front, which sometimes had a
filler of contrasting color inserted under the V. Laces could be used to hold
the open area together, and also to hold the sleeves in place. Jackets,
sometimes worn over doublets, were similar in shaping and made with or without
sleeves. It is often difficult to discern from period illustrations whether men
are wearing doublets or jackets as their outermost garments, especially after
bases grew in popularity. Bases were short skirts worn with a jacket or doublet
for civil dress; over armor for military dress. Made from a series of lined and
stiffened gores (wedge-shaped pieces of fabric), bases carried on in civilian
dress until well into the mid-century, and over armor for even a longer period.

Gowns were long, full garments with huge funnel-shaped of large hanging sleeves
that opened down the front. The front facings were made of contrasting fabric or
fur and turned back to form wide, decorative revers (similar to lapels). Younger
and more fashionable men wore shorter gowns, ending below the hips. Gowns were
worn over doublets or jackets. Circular cloaks were worn over doublets and hose
outdoors for warmth. The cloaks were open at the front with a slit up the back
to make it easier to ride horseback. During this time, men cut their hair
straight across the back in a length anywhere from below the ears to the
shoulder and combined this with a fringe of bangs across the forehead. A few
popular hat styles were French bonnets, (a pill-box shape with a turned-up brim
that might have decorative cut-out sections in the brim) skull caps or hair nets
holding the hair close to the head topped by a hat with a basin-shaped crown and
wide brim turned up at one point. Many hats were decorated with feathers. The
second phase, 1515 to 1550, emphasized fullness in the construction of the
costume with large, bulky, puffed areas. Garments were ornamented with
decorative slashings, (slits in a garment to show puffing of contrasting color
and material to form a decoration) or panes, (slashings in material allowing
colored underling to show- often embroidered) under which contrasting linings
were placed. Shirts, doublets and jackets continued much as before, with the
addition of slashings, as mentioned earlier. Instead of having separate bases,
some doublets and jackets were cut with gored (flared) skirts. Some had no
sleeves; some had wide U- or V-shaped necklines beneath which the wide neck, the
doublet, and part of the shirt was often visible. Bases (short skirts) were
still worn with armor. Sleeves of the outermost garment were cut very full,
often with a puff from armhole to elbow and a closer fit from the elbow to the
wrist. Hose were held up by lacing them to the doublets. Some were divided into
two sections, upper stocks (seat part of trunk hose also known as ‘overstocks'
and ‘breeches') and nether stocks, which were sewn together. Codpieces, the
pouches of fabric for the genitals sewn at the front of the upper stocks, were
sometimes padded for emphasis. Although upper stocks and nether stocks continued
to be attached, upper stocks eventually took on the appearance of a separate
garment, and were cut somewhat fuller than the lower section. Style variations
included long breeches, fitting the leg closely and ending at the knee or more
rounded breeches ending at the hip. Both of which may have been paned with
contrasting fabric placed beneath the panes. Also during the second phase,
slight alterations in cut and trimming of gowns were made for increased width.

The collars widened and three new sleeve types developed. One new style was
sleeveless, but with wide, extremely deep armholes lined in contrasting fabric
and turned back upon themselves to show off the lining. Another was to have
short, very full, puffed-and-slashed or paned sleeves. And last, long hanging
sleeves also became popular. Beretlike styles with feather plumes and moderately
sized, flat crowned hats with small brims and feather plumes were popular in
this stage. Beards became fashionable and haircuts were short. By the beginning
of the third phase, 1550 to 1600, a new combination of garments had evolved, and
men no longer appeared in short jackets or longer skirted jackets and hose.

Instead, the upper hose and nether hose had evolved into large, padded breeches
(called trunk hose), which was joined to nether or lower stocks. Alternatively,
separate breeches were worn, with hose kept in place by garters. The codpiece
gradually went out of style and gowns were largely replaced by shorter and
longer capes. Short capes were cut very full, flaring out sharply from the
shoulder. During the middle of the century, men displayed the small, square
collar of the shirt at the neck edge of the doublet. Next, the collar of the
shirt became a small ruffle, and in the final stage of evolution the ruff
developed as a separate item of costume, separate from the shirt. Very wide,
often of lace, and stiffly starched, the ruff became one of the most
characteristic features of costume during the second half of the 16th century
and continued into the first decades of the 17th century as well. Doublets had
high cut necks with varying shapes and finishes. They were made with a row of
small, square flaps called pecadils just below the waist. Sleeves were still
padded, but followed the shape of the arm and narrowed as the century
progressed. By 1600 sleeves had become unpadded and closely fitted. Waistlines
followed the natural waist at the back, but dipped to a point at the front,
where padding emphasized the shape. By 1570, the amount of padding increased and
the point at the front of the doublet became so pronounced that it was called a
peascod belly as it resembled the puffed-out chest of a peacock. The jacket was
similar in shaping and worn over the doublet. But it usually had short puffed
sleeves or pecadils at the arm with no sleeve; the sleeve of the doublet beneath
became the outermost sleeve. Trunk hose were made in several different shapes.

There was the melon shape, usually paned, heavily padded, and ending at the hip
or somewhat below (about the shape of a pumpkin).. Some trunk hose sloped
gradually from a narrow waist to fullness around about mid-thigh, where they
ended. This type was called gallygaskins or slops. Others had a short section,
not much more than a pad around the hips, worn with very tight-fitting hose.

This form had limited use outside of very fashionable court circles. Trunk hose
and doublets were heavily padded with bombast (a stuffing made of wool,
horsehair, and short linen fibers called tow, or bran). Excessive use of bombast
led one observer to suggest that a man was carrying the whole contents of his
bed and his table linen as stuffing in his trunk hose. It was also said that the

English parliament house had to be enlarged to accommodate the bulky trunks of
the members. Breeches were separate garments worn together with separate
stockings. Some were skintight, some were wide at the top, tapering to the knee
(called Venetians) and others were wide and full all throughout (called open
breeches). In this time period men allowed their hair to grow longer once again
and beards and mustaches remained popular. Hat styles included those with
increasingly high crowns, some with soft shapes, others with stiffer outlines.

Brims tended to be narrow. The high-crowned, narrow-brimmed hat was a capotain,
and this style remained popular until well into the 17th century. Trimmings for
hats included feathers, braid and jewels. For women, the first fashion phase,

1500 to 1530, was a transition from the styles of the Medieval period as it was
for men. The chemise (like a long nightgown) continued to be the women's
undergarment. Gowns were fairly plain; drab colors predominated. Women wore
long, full cloaks over their dresses when needed for warmth. On ceremonial
occasions women wore gowns with the open mantle fastening with a chain or braid
at the front. Women wore either a single dress or two layers consisting of an
outer and an underdress. If two dresses were worn, the outer skirt might be
looped up in front to display the contrasting skirt of the underdress. Trains on
outer gowns often had decorative underlinings. The train was buttoned or pinned
to the waist at the back in order to show the lining fabric. Most often dress
necklines were square, with the edge of the chemise visible; they might be cut
with smaller or larger V-shaped openings at the front or at both front and back.

Lacings held the V-shaped opening together. Bodices (the upper part of the
dress) were fitted, skirts were long and full, flaring gently from the waistline
to the floor in the front and trailing into long trains at the back. There were
several different sleeve styles which included smooth-fitting narrow sleeves
with decorative cuffs, wide funnel shapes with contrasting linings, and hanging
sleeves. Whenever two layers were worn, the underdress usually had closely
fitted sleeves; the outermost sleeve was large, full, funnel-shaped or hanging.

The second phase of costume for women, 1530 to 1575, was marked by Spanish
influences whereas men's styles of this period had been more directly influenced
by German styles. Spanish influence was not evident in men's clothing until the
second half of the century. One important aspect of the Spanish influence was a
tendency to emphasize dark colors, especially black. The changes in women's
clothing after 1530 represent a gradual change in style, not a radical one.

Significant changes took place in the construction of dresses. Instead of an
underdress and an outerdress, women wore a petticoat (an underskirt) and on
overdress. The overall look was more like an hourglass. Bodices narrowed to a
small waistline. Skirts became more rigid and gradually expanded to an inverted
cone shape with an inverted V opening at the front. Many dresses were untrained
and ended at the floor. Bodices and skirts of dresses were sewn together. The
bodice narrowed and flattened, becoming quite precise. The waist dipped to an
elongated V at the front. A rich, jeweled belt outlined the waistline, and from
the dip in front its long end fell down the center front of the gown almost to
the floor. At first, necklines were mostly square, but later were made in a
variety of more closed styles. Some were high, closed necklines with standing,
wing collars. There were neck fillers, part of the chemise, which were closed up
to the throat and ended in a small ruffle. Others were ruffs of moderate size at
this phase of their development, worn with high, fitted collars. The first of
many changes in sleeve styles came early in the period when German- and

Italian-style sleeves were adopted. Some of the following styles developed.

First there was a sleeve narrow at the shoulder, expanding to a huge, wide
square cuff that turned back upon itself. This cuff was often made of fur or of
heavy brocade to match the petticoat. A detachable, false sleeve decorated with
panes and slashes through which the linen of the chemise was visible might be
sewn to the underside of the cuff or, if the chemise were richly decorated, the
sleeve of the chemise might be seen below the cuff. Another sleeve style was
made with a puff at the shoulder and a close-fitting, long extension of the
sleeve to the wrist. Though worn elsewhere, this style was especially popular in

France. A sleeve full from shoulder to wrist where it was caught into a cuff was
also popular. Lastly, sleeves that were wider at the top and narrower at the
bottom became fashionable. Some remarkably complex sleeve styles developed,
especially those worn at the Spanish court, utilizing combinations of fitted,
full, and hanging sleeves. Sleeve decorations included cutting and paning with
decorative fabrics and fastening the panes with aiguillettes (small, jeweled
metal points). Padded rolls of fabric were sometimes located at the joining of
the bodice and sleeve. These were supposed to hide the laces fastening separate
sleeves to bodices. Petticoats were worn to accent one's ensemble. They were
mostly invisible except for a small V at the front of the skirt which showed
their presence. Petticoats were cut from rich, decorative fabric such as velvet
or brocade. Because the back of the petticoat was covered completely by the
skirt of the dress, it was usually made with a less expensive, lighter weight
fabric. The flared, cone-shaped fashion skirts required support to achieve its
desired rigid shape. This means of support was provided by a Spanish device
known as a Spanish farthingale. It was a construction of whalebone, cane, or
steel hoops increasing in size from the waist to the floor and sewn into a
petticoat or underskirt. Originally a Spanish style, the ropa was an outer gown
or surcote (an over garment of rich material, often with fur-linging) made
either sleeveless, with a short puffed sleeve, or with a long sleeve, puffed at
the top and fitted for the rest of the arm's length. It fell from the shoulders
unbelted in an A-line to the floor. Some versions closed in the front, but most
were open to display the dress beneath. In the last quarter of the century, 1575
to 1600, the first changes were seen in the shape of skirt, which grew wider at
the top. Instead of the cone-shaped Spanish farthingale, a padded roll was
placed around the waist. The English called these pads bum rolls,
"bum" being English slang for buttocks. The farthingale was modified
to obtain greater width and for better support of the dress than was provided by
these rolls. In the new modified version, circles of whalebone, cane, or steel
were the same diameter from top to bottom instead of increasing in size from the
waist to the floor. Steel or can spokes fastened the upper hoop to a waistband.

It was called the wheel, drum, of French farthingale. This style was not used in

Italy or Spain at this period where the older, hourglass shape of the Spanish
farthingale with a slightly padded roll at the waist was preferred. Although it
was essentially a northern European style, many women in northern Europe
continued to wear Spanish farthingales, or dresses widened slightly at the waist
with bum rolls or small, wheeled farthingales. Dresses worn over wheel
farthingales had enormous skirts that were either cut and sewn into one
continuous piece all around, or open at the front of sides over a matching
underskirt. A ruffle the width of the flat shelflike section of the farthingale
was sometimes attached to the skirt. To avoid having the body appear
disproportionately short in contrast with the width of the skirt, sleeves were
made fuller and with very high sleeve caps. The front of the bodice was
elongated, ending in a deep V at the waist. Additional height came from high
standing collars and dressing the hair high on the head. In the late 1500's
ruffs grew to enormous widths. Made of sheer linen or of lace they had to be
supported by a frame called the supportasse or by starching. The following are a
few different styles of ruffs. One consisted of gathering one edge of a band of
fabric to the size of the neck to form a frill of deep folds. Some were round,
flat lace pieces without depth of folds like a wide collar. Others had several
layers of lace rounds placed over each other, covering the lower part of the
neck. Then there were open ruffs, almost a cross between a collar and a ruff,
which stood high behind the head and fastened in front into a wide, square
neckline. A conch or a conque as known in French, was a sheer, gauzelike veil so
fine that in some portraits it can just barely be seen. It was cut the full
length of the body from shoulder to floor and worn like a cape over the
shoulders. At the back of the neck it was attached to a winglike construction
that stood up like a high collar behind the head. Some references consider the
conch to have had some significance as a widow's costume, and this may be true
in France; however, in England it seems to have been more widely worn for a
purely decorative element of dress by women, such as Queen Elizabeth, who were
never widowed. The custom of having married and adult women cover their hair
with a coif (under cap often embroidered and curved over the ears) continued. In
the last two-thirds of the century, more hair was visible. The hair was combed
back from the forehead, puffed up slightly around the face, then pulled into a
coil at the back of the head. To balance the width of the wheeled farthingale,
extra height was gained by dressing the hair high and decorating it with jeweled
ornaments. Hats popular toward the end of the century were generally small, with
high crowns and narrow brims and trimmed with feathers. Jeweled nets and caps
were also worn.


Boucher, Francois. 20,000 Years Of Fashion. New York: Harry N. Abrams,

Incorporated, 1987. Davies, Stephanie Curtis. Costume Language A Dictionary Of

Dress Terms. Malvern: Cressrelles Publishing Company Limited, 1994.
"Fashion." The World Book Encyclopedia, 1987, Micropaedia, vol. 7, p.

52. Tara, Maginnis. "15th century fashion." Internet,,

April 4, 2000. Tedrow, Steven M., M.ed, Social Science Dept. Head, Curlew High

School, personal interview. Tortora, Phyllis and Keith Eubank. Survey of

Historic Costume Third Edition. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1998.