Designs From Time

16th Century Costuming Tips



Elizabethan Gown: Not Recommended Unless You know how to alter or draft a pattern to make changes.

This pattern is another that is used frequently; even by some reenactors and “costumers.” While there are definitely some serious problems with it, if you know how to draft sleeves and alter the bodice, it’s workable. But don’t follow the pattern instruction to the letter, unless you’re just wanting a “costume” rather than a gown that looks more like clothing.

The biggest flaw in this pattern has to do with the cut of the bodice. While it is not as pronounced as other patterns, there is a “gore” or side panel as I described previously. The correct silhouette is a smooth, barrel shape, not a princess fit.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

PEPLUM:  The short skirt attached to the bodice is a miss in terms of accuracy. It’s far too modern. While there was skirting or tabs attached to bodices and doublets in the 16th Century, if you study authentic portraiture of that time period, you will recognize how this rendition is not a good representation.

SLEEVES: The open bell shaped sleeves called “engageantes” are Colonial, not Elizabethan. They aren’t even close to those worn in the early Tudor era where belled sleeves folded back to the elbow.

LACE TRIMS:  Flat, lace trims made of polyester are a complete give away. While there was lace in the 16th Century, it was “bobbin lace,” and usually made from hand spun, natural fibers – also known as “ecru” lace.

MOCK FOREPART: An authentic forepart in the 16th Century was a half skirt with a triangular piece of fabric in the center worn underneath a cartridge pleated overskirt. Earlier in the time period you would see women predominately wearing a kirtle - which was like a corset with a skirt attached.  Foreparts came in fashion later and were made from a separate article of clothing that lay over the farthingale (hoop skirt). It was usually fashioned from a contrasting fabric, often quilted and highly embellished. In this pattern, the contrasting front is too wide, but more importantly, in this pattern it is sewn to the skirt, which has no pleating whatsoever!

SKIRT: As I mentioned above, the skirt should be pleated and should be separate from the forepanel. In the Elizabethan era, cartridge pleats were more commonly worn. Not all skirts were split up the middle and worn with a forepart; but many were pleated.

BUSTLED SKIRT TRAIN:  There were no bustled skirts in the Elizabethan or early Tudor time period. :(

GORED BODICE: A gored bodice with "princess lines" is one that has panels sewn in the sides that curve to fit snugly “around” the breasts. A true Elizabethan and Tudor bodice would have no darts or side panels. Tudor and Elizabethan bodices were designed to “flatten” the breasts, not conform to a woman’s figure. Bodices were highly structured, with boning and layers of stiff canvass type interlining or interfacing that helped stiffen it. Sewing two pieces of fabric together, even with fusible interfacing is not enough structure, and is an unfortunate faux pas I see repeated in the majority of the costumes I see offered by seamstresses who have not done their research.

FABRICS:  The polyester satin fabrics are an inexpensive option, butthey are absolutely not appropriate for reenacting.



The pattern pictured is probably one that is the most often mislabeled  as "Renaissance,"or "Medieval" but it has no features remotely similar to either. It's one of the biggest offenders in terms of historical inaccuracy. In fact, it doesn’t even fit into the “inspired” category it’s so far from the mark.

What’s wrong with it? – You ask. Everything!

First off…

STOMACHER:  Using contrasting fabric in the center of the bodice is indeed a detail you would find in Elizabethan clothing, but the shape in this example is not a desirable version.  In the 16th century it would be a more elongated “V” shape, more popular in the 1590s and early 1600s.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

I have a love-hate relationship with commercial costume patterns.  On one hand, I depend on designers such as Margo Anderson (it's quicker than drafting my own), but Simplicity, McCalls, and Butterick have misled thousands of historical fashion enthusiasts - including those among the reenactment community. Most commerical patterns are tailored for the beginning costume enthusiast, or for those who want to create a fun costume and dress up, but most of them are not historically accurate. There are patterns out there sold commercially that are more historically based, tailored toward reenactors.  Of course, for those who know how to alter commercial patterns there are "hacks" you can do to make them more accurate.  For those who aren't confident in altering a pattern, I recommend starting with those that are more historically accurate.

Many sewests are afraid of Margo's patterns because of their historical accuracy. But nothing could be farther from the truth. If you want to LEARN, and you want your garb to be as close to accurate as possible you absolutely need to start with a professionally drafted and researched pattern collection; and Margo's instruction manual that comes with each pattern puts the measly two to three page diagram and instructions you get in other commercial patterns to shame.

I will start by pointing out commercial patterns that are not recommended - IF your goal is for authenticity, or you will be working as a hired actor at fair, you will need to strive for more accuracy. Most of the following patterns are irredeemable, and would take so much pattern alteration to make them passable, that it's just not worth your time and effort. Some are passable with only minor alterations.  I've used a grading system for your assistance: 

A = Excellent resource!

B = Passable with some alterations.

C = Passable, but LESS desirable.

D = Less than desirable - but a Renaissance standard that has become the "norm."

F = Fail - Not recommended

Commercial Patterns:

"Historical Inspired vs Historically Accurate"

Having now seen a visual reference for the nuances to each era of corset...You will now know which style you need to look for when shopping for your Elizabethan wardrobe. 

An additional word about snoods: Please, avoid the kind you purchase that are made of shiny, slick polyester threads; like those you'd see worn for the WWII (1940s) era. I know many vendors at fair sell these types of snoods, but they really aren't period appropriate, and frankly, they don't hold up well. Purchase one that is hand-made and made of natural threads, like those fashioned by Lady McSnood. 

Check out my Recommended Vendor Links page to purchase these wonderfully reproduced snoods by Lady MacSnood.

Collared Smocks, Chemises, & Camicas:

Whether square neck or collared with a pleated ruff, a chemise or noblewoman's/nobleman's shirt is an absolute must!  I recommend having at least two. This allows you the option of wearing a fresh shirt/chemise during faire weekend, or when one is being laundered.

The shirts/chemises pictured are fashioned from the finest Belfast Irish handkerchief weight linen on the market. It's butter soft, lightweight - which aids in keeping you cool, and it has a tight weave to make it durable. You will never want to wear anything else!

Foreparts & Sleeves

Foreparts and sleeves were absolutely interchangeable! The well-dressed Elizabethan lady would have several pairs of sleeves and matching foreparts. 

Foreparts should NOT consist of a single layer of silk or any fabric that is thin enough to show the "ribs" of your farthingale beneath! If this is the case, you will need to wear multiple petticoats over your farthingale or quilt your forepanel/forepart. You should never be able to see the ribs of your farthingale (hoops) beneath your forepart. This is another faux pas I see at faire! 

If you cannot afford an entire new gown, you can change out the sleeves and forepart, and add some new trim, and Viola! You have a fresh, new look!! 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Historical Shoes!

American Duchess offers reproduction shoes for many eras. These beautiful "Stratfords" are an authentic reproduction of an Elizabethan Court shoe - right down to the hash-marks! The perfect addition to complete your Elizabethan wardrobe.  Worn by men as well, and men's sizes are available!

Historical Jewelry

Jeweled Collars...Necklaces...Bodice Jewelry... Brooches...and Girdle Belts!  I highly recommend the word of "Adornmynts."  I have many of her pieces which have withstood a decade of wear. I hate to be negative, but several members in my guild purchased jewelry from Sapphire & Sage which fell apart after only one day at faire. Until they address their quality control issues, I no longer recommend them to my clients.

Headdresses: French Hood, Attifets

Now this is where you can really shine! Whether it is a theatrical version - blinged to the gills with trim and pearls - or a more sedate Anne Bolyen version, or those seen in the slide show from designer Lynn McMasters, these pieces will add polish to your ensemble!  

Next!...the Heart Attifet as seen in "The Tudors." After searching for years for a pattern, I finally drafted my own. These pieces are now available exclusively through Designs From Time.


Well-chosen accessories are what gives you the truly polished look of a well-dressed Elizabethan Lady. Because most of my clients commission me for the Renaissance period, here's some advice on what pieces you need to add to your foundation - period appropriate bodice and overskirt, assuming of course that you have your appropriate corset, farthingale, and bumroll.  All of these accessories are AVAILABLE through this website!  If you don't see it listed, just ask for it! 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Farthingale - Hoop Skirt

The Farthingale is cone-shaped rather than "bell" shaped like the crinolines you see during the Civil War. The bell shaped skirts is how the term "Southern Bell" was coined. But for the Elizabethan wardrobe you need a proper fitted farthingale. The picture shows muslin, but farthingales were fashioned of bright colored silk. can cheat and buy one of those six tiered hoop skirts from a bridal shop, but you will need to completely remove the upper most hoop, and narrow the top three hoops so that the shape is more conical. You will also want to remove the ruffle from around the bottom. 

For middle class or merchant class, or for Italian styles, a corded-petticoat or corded farthingale is appropriate (see picture to the right). Rather than metal "rings" thick cording or even hemp rope is threaded through the casing in a spiral.  

(The corded farthingale is not my work by the way - it was created by a fabric artist  - Sandy Snowden ( She did a great job!

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Eduardian: 1901 - 1910

This is the era known for the "Gibson Girls." Queen Victoria has now passed away, and Eduard is King. Now comes the true insanity to the hour-glass figure. Insanely small waists now become the fashion. Corsets are longer, and fit over the hips and buttocks, and rest below the breasts. They also have garters attached. 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Colonial - 18th Century "Stays"

The notable differences were that the waist is slightly drawn in rather than barrel shaped, and the boning or stays changes direction often.

In the front of the stays, it is either vertical or radiates diagonally from the center line. It is slit to form tabs, and in some versions a thick "busk" is inserted in the center front. On the sides, it tilts, sometimes drastically, to form the body into the desired V-shape.  This continues around to the back where the boning returns to true vertical on either side of the eyelets.. The desired shape for this time period is still to flatten the breasts. It is also back laced. 

Tudor & Elizabethan -

16th Century

 "Pair of Bodies"

The desired shape accomplished with the corset for this time period, more accurately referred to as a "pair of bodies," was a barrel shape. The waist was not cinched in to make it narrow as you see in a Victorian and Edwardian era corset. 

For the Tudor & Elizabethan silhouette the breasts are flattened and pushed upward. Later in Elizabeth's reign, just before she died, the corset became more elongated. The Pair of Bodies pictured has straps, but it can also be strapless. It is back-laced - which would be proper for a Lady who would have "attire maids" to help her dress, but front laced would also work if you wished to be able to lace yourself into your small clothes without assistance. Besides the "barrel' shaped torso, another distinguishing characteristic to look for is the direction of the boning - which should be "up and down" rather than angled as you will see in a 18th Century era corset. The tabs can be "slits" or sewn on separately. 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/


1603 to 1650

The Jacobean era begins in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth died and left the throne to James Stuart, the son of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland/France.  There are noticeable differences in Jacobean and Late Elizabethan fashions if you understand what to look for.

The cartwheel farthingale, which had become popular during the later years of Elizabeth's reign is still in fashion - at least in the earlier years of James 1, but fashions take a noticeable turn later in his reign.

You see wider and longer lace cuffs on the sleeves, the lace ruffs worn on supportasses become square in appearance; and later the necklines begin to round out with short wings at the shoulders.


1558 to 1603:

The Elizabethan era  finds women's fashions beginning to ape those of men's. Elizabeth begins to wear a "doublet" that is fashioned like men's clothes. In Spain, doublets were en vogue - as the reproduction of the 1570 Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia dress by "Truly Carmichael" seen in the slideshow (solid white gown).

The bodices become more pointed - later they become more exaggerated in an attempt to appear more "phallic" - at the same time, men's cod pieces become 'smaller.'

The sleeves become narrower, and more decorative. Blackwork and polychromatic (multiple colored) embroidery comes into fashion.

The skirts become fuller, using more fabric and cartridge pleating.

Later, in the 1580s and 90s, the ruff (ruffled lace collar) becomes wider, and eventually morphs into a wide lace collar held up by a wired supportasse - as seen in the gown from the movie "Elizabeth: The Golden Age".

By the way, even children were dressed like adults as seen in the slide show.


In early Tudor fashion women did NOT wear a farthingale (cone shaped hoops). The Spanish Farthingale is said to have been introduced into England by Katherine of Aragon. See the black and white sketch.

The bodice is not pointed at the base, but rather cuts straight across or has a slight curve below the navel. The pointed bodice came into fashion later during Elizabeth's reign. The neckline is square - NOT rounded.

The sleeves are "belled" and fold back up to the elbow - rather than being tighter fitting or highly embellished or paned. They are often fashioned from furs, but were also fashioned from velvets. 

The skirts are narrower. In the early Tudor Period they often were not pleated but made of gores.

The undersleeves, worn on the forearms, were usually highly decorative. The gabled hood is in fashion as seen in the colored sketch (used as the cover of Margo Anderson's Tudor Lady's pattern), as well as the Frenchood.  The over-partlet is also a common fashion accessory.

The word "Renaissance" has been (for the lack of a better word) bastardized by the retail or fashion industry; more specifically on Ebay, Etsy, and Pinterest.  "Renaissance" is often used by vendors to sell clothing ranging from "boho" to Victorian and Colonial styles, but usually they are neither Elizabethan nor Renaissance. I will not win any popularity awards by saying this, but . . . not everyone working under the auspices of the title "historical costumer" understands these differences, nor do they understand the appropriate fabrics, construction, colors, etc., of the time period.

Those who know me personally can tell you that I do NOT participate in criticizing others' work. I just DON'T do it!  It's rude, and arrogant! However, I am a "consumer advocate" and try - when approached - to help assist fellow reenactors or historical enthusiasts by steering them toward my fellow costumers who have the same dedication to quality and customer service. It's an unfortunate truth that there are costumers who are hobbyists who sell costumes but have done little, if any, research - and are operating on a bare bones knowledge about the era we call the "Renaissance."  I say this not as an attempt to make myself or my work appear more appealing. I always say, there is a market for everyone's work. It depends on the personal goal of each individual client. That said, those who "dabble" is historical costume, or are retailers, often use the term "Renaissance" or "Elizabethan" when labeling their clothing as a way to tap into the Renaissance Reenactment market. But, the point I'm laboring to make is that these vendors may not have the same knowledge as someone who has invested in a personal library and spent considerable time in research regarding your particular era of interest.  If you (the consumer) don't have a basic working knowledge about what makes historical fashion more authentic, how will you know that the costume you just purchased is mislabeled "Elizabethan" or "Renaissance," or that while it may be more "affordable," it's not on point for what you'd be expected to wear as a hired actor to portray a certain character at Renfaire.

All too often consumers choose their costume based on "cost" rather than quality; and more often than not, these vendors who sell costumes for Renfaire for $300, unfortunately have no clue about the nuances of cut and construction that truly lends itself to quality. A bargain isn't a bargain if what you're purchasing is sub-standard. If you attend fair as a paying patron, the nuances I point out may not matter. In that case, ROCK ON!  But, if your goal is to purchase, or to create your own, ensemble to participate at fair as a member of the Cast, then you'll want to pay attention.

As a historical costumer and enthusiast, I'm often baffled that the majority of people don't have a clue that Elizabethan, Colonial, Victorian, and Edwardian were centuries apart. Yes, I admit, I cringe when I see Victorian or Bohemian fashions labeled as Renaissance, but as my grandmother would say, "You catch more flies with sugar than lemons," so I don't make it a habit to go around correcting people. However, when I'm working with clients, or those who contact me with questions, I will offer instruction.

As a self-made historian and historical costumer I've spent nearly two decades in research and honing my own abilities. I learn something new all the time. Because I'm a consumer advocate, it is disheartening to see consumers duped into purchasing something I know is more fit for Halloween than for reenactment - - something that will fall apart after one fair season; or the materials used are cheap or inappropriate, or the seamstress has scrimped on the amount of fabric for the skirt, or has attached a colonial style sleeve with engageantes (circular ruffles) to an Elizabethan-ish gown, and they don't know the difference.

Not all of my work is 100% accurate. I struggle sometimes with my inner "purist" and the business woman. I often have to choose functionality over factuality. I've been harshly berated by other costumers for my use of embroidery and embellishment. But as I've often said, "I make what my clients want me to make." How accurate it is depends on their level of taste, and their budget - but my patterns and construction are on point.

 My intention in writing this section is help you - the consumer - to understand the nuances in style between each respective era, so that you will be an "informed consumer" and be able to spot quality historical clothing reproductions from those that are only loosely inspired by the time period you choose. You will also know what corset and undergarments you need to purchase to complete your ensemble.

Tudor, Elizabethan, Colonial, and Victorian

First of all, let's start with some pictures of  the respective eras: Elizabethan, Colonial, and Victorian, Tudor (Technically, the fashions from the Elizabethan era was "Tudor" - but as reenactors and costumers the word "Tudor" is used to represent the period when Henry VIII or Mary Tudor was on the English throne). I will also cover the Jacobean period - or the early 17th Century (This era refers to the period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of James VI of Scotland, who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James 1 of England), as well as the Restoration, Georgian, Colonial, and Regency eras.

Elizabethan Toque & Escoffions

These jaunty little head-pieces were very fashion-forward for the Elizabethan lady, and are very comfortable to wear! Toques are so lovely paired with a blackwork or goldwork caul or a gold corded snood.  Escoffions were another brimless hat. Worn at the back of the head, often peaked in front, and highly embellished with jewels - as shown in both the black and white sketch and color portrait, as well as my example worked in champagne gold silk.  I have replicated both patterns and they are available for retail.

Cauls, Coifs & Snoods

Cauls and snoods are wonderful accessories that will take your ensemble to another level; however, one of the faux pas I often see are ladies wearing snoods and cauls as a stand-alone accessory. These pieces are made to be an accessory to your hat or flat-cap, but please, please, do NOT wear them alone without a hat!  Pair a snood or a Caul with your riding hat, tall hat, flat cap, or Italian Flat cap, or Toque.

Cauls can be made of linen, or silk and embellished with blackwork or even gold work (gold metallic threads). If you DO use gold work, please make sure you consider your character's title and wealth as cloth of gold or gold and silver worked thread was VERY, VERY expensive!  - The equivalent to about $45,000. 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Elizabethan Ruffs

An appropriate Elizabethan Ruff would be made of linen, edged in black work or linen & ecru lace. PLEASE do not use polyester lace; nor a piece of pleated ribbon! I see these sold on Etsy and Ebay, but they are not period appropriate when made of those materials. 

Colored linen and lace IS period appropriate...but it needs to be 100% cotton or linen, and the lace should be ecru or cut-work. 

Elizabethan Tall Hat

Tall hats are akin to it's cousin, the slanted riding hat. Historically the brim of these hats were smaller, but my client requested I widen it to help with sun block.  All in all, an excellent visual of a well-accessorized Elizabethan Gentleman!

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Arched Riding Hats

Elizabethan Riding Hats are a great accessory for women and men alike! If you have short hair, or hair dyed an unnatural color,  just wear a blackwork biggins or caul with this hat and you will look the part of an Elizabethan gentleman or gentlewoman. 

Embroidered Collared Partlets & Chemisettes

This Italian partlet (Maria de Medici) is over-the-top gorgeous! It's an iconic piece that many of you have drooled over.  I've had the embroidery work reproduced for the Maria de Medici, Snackenborg, and Elizabeth-1 paintings and these pieces are now available in my store. Colorful, highly embellished partlets or "chemisettes," as I like to call them, were especially popular and worn in warmer climates or during the summer months when wearing over sleeves would be too uncomfortable. The colorful embroidery work and pearls are a stunning option, and very period appropriate. Pair them with a double, or wear it with a bodice and all eyes will be on you!

Collared Partlets with Ruff

Collared partlet, like its collarless cousin, will take your gown to the next level! The quintessential elongated neck with small ruff. So elegant!! You can see by the 16th Century portraits I've included in the slideshow that they were very en vogue.  Comparable fabrics used in the 16th century would be called "Cloth of Tissue."  Today look for "100% Silk Organza, 100% Cotton or Silk Voile, or a very fine handkerchief weight linen - I use a very high quality Belfast handkerchief weight linen purchased from my favorite vendor who is listed on my "Recommended Vendor" page here on my website. It costs a bit more, but you can't compare the comfort! - and it's gorgeous.

Collarless Partlet

This open or collarless partlet is a simple and elegant addition to your Elizabethan wardrobe. In warmer climates, this style of partlet will pull your ensemble together without feeling overheated. It's also a great option for those who don't like snug-fitted clothing around their neck, as some of the more traditional partlets can feel restrictive. 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Bumroll, Please!

Bumrolls, Pads, and Petticoats. 

Forgive the pun...but the next "must have" you need to accomplish the Quintessential Elizabethan wardrobe is a bumroll! 

I cannot count how many times I've heard my clients say, "But, a bumroll, makes me look fat!" 

​We women are too often concerned that wearing these essential pieces will increase the size our hips, but what you need to understand is that in order to make your waist look smaller, you need these extra layers and accessories! Forget about your insecurity over your hips looking bigger! That's the desired look!! Not only that, but it is necessary to rest your cartridge pleats on a bumroll to make them "lay" correctly and to support the stitching. They are "hand" stitched and heavy! Trust me, a bumroll is a must!  Just as importantly, is that a bumroll helps distribute the weight of your skirt and pleats so that it does not pull or lay heavily on your lower back, which can be extremely painful after a while.

1880s Victorian


The hour-glass shape is beginning to be more exaggerated, and you now see more embellishments and decoration. The spoon shaped busk is also a feature you now see. 

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/
img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Civil War - 1860s

The corset in this time period hits mid-breast - and has a hint of what we might call "cups." It no longer flattens the breast completely, but pushes them up and together. Also.... Ladies, corsets in this and later time periods are NOT laced from bottom to top. Double laces are used then laced top to the middle, bottom to the middle, and both ends are pulled together. The corset has a busk in front with metal latches. It is Pre-Laced, fastened in front first, then the laces are pulled snug by the wearer and tied around the waist, so that a woman did not need to be laced into her corset by a servant. You also begin to see the waist being cinched in more tightly, and hitting lower on the hips.

How to Accomplish the

Quintessential Elizabethan Wardrobe

There are some definite "Do's" that will affect the way your reproduction clothing will fit. If you want to truly "look" the part, whether it is Elizabethan, Steampunk, or Colonial there are wardrobe items you simply cannot skimp on! 

So, if you're new to all this. . . where do you start? 

A Corset!!

Investing in a well-made, gown of rich fabrics and frills and then wearing it without the proper corset, bumroll, farthingale (crinoline, cage hoops, panniers, and petticoats for other eras), is the biggest tragedy I see! It makes me die a little! 

Historical clothing from the three eras aforementioned were not meant to be worn with a modern day bra! A corset is an absolute MUST Have! It will not only pull you in, but will smooth out your silhouette - your torso, waist, and back - and shape your breasts either up, or up and inward, depending on the time period. A corset is simply not an option if you want to ensure the proper look and carriage. It is also necessary to preserve your reproduction clothing - more especially the costly fabrics used! Clothing was tightly fitted, and without the proper corset and stays the seams of your beautiful gown will be strained and rip! These lovely silks were not meant to hold you in! That's the job of your corset!

Whether you are very thin, or rubenesque, nothing will ruin the look of your gown more quickly than failing to wear the proper corset! But not just "any" corset will do. You must wear the correct corset for each respective time period. 

A Corset for Every Time Period

"One of the biggest faux pas made by unknowing consumers is to go on Ebay or Etsy and nab a $40 lingerie style corset, lace yourself in, and expect that it will work with historical costumes - more especially an Elizabethan gown."

Each era has its own unique silhouette or "fit." One of the biggest faux pas made by unknowing consumers is to go on Ebay or Etsy and nab a $40 lingerie style corset, lace yourself in, and expect that it will work with historical costumes - more especially an Elizabethan gown.  Historical corsets are not interchangeable! Each era has their own nuances in fit and silhouette - - and corsets from Victoria Secret or others made to be worn as lingerie or out "clubbing" are NOT going to work. If you don't know the difference between an Elizabethan, 18th Century, or Victorian corset by sight, let me show you. 

Wear it plain as seen in the Italian portrait, or have it embellished with poly-chromatic (multiple colored) embroidery or black work. Black work is not literally "black" embroidery. It's simply the style of embroidery. While black silk thread was very common, embroidery in red, blue, and brown were also popular colors.

1860s - Skirts are getting even fuller - some of them spanning six feet of space! Flounces and ruffles are more predominant. This is the era of the "Southern Bell" - named for the large bell shaped crinolines and voluminous gowns made popular by the film "Gone With The Wind."

1870s - We see the bustle emerging, but the era of the "cage bustle" will appear later, after Victoria's death, eventually replaced by the natural form, and then the sleek lines of the Edwardian era.

You see the disappearance of the ruff in favor of broad lace or linen collars. Waistlines rose for both men and women. Other notable fashions included full, slashed sleeves and tall or broad hats with brims. For men, hose disappeared in favor of breeches.The silhouette, which was previously close to the body with tight sleeves and a low, pointed waist, gradually softened and broadened. Sleeves became very full, and in the 1620s and 1630s were often paned or slashed to show the voluminous sleeves of the shirt or chemise beneath.

Spanish fashions remained very conservative. The ruff lingered longest in Spain and the Netherlands, but disappeared first for men and later for women in France and England.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Simplicity 3809


Again - you see a noble gown lacing up the front, and the bodice is gored, as I described initially in the first pattern critique.  The peplum on the bodice is not styled accurately. The headdress is medieval, not Elizabethan.

The lower class costume has a peasant style blouse with short, 3/4 length sleeves worn off the shoulders. You would be considered a prostitute if you showed this much skin. Not even farm workers would pull their chemise off their shoulder!

If you're goal is to dress the part - neither of these patterns are a win.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/
img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

McCalls P251


The blue and gold gown has the same issues: gores in the bodice, poorly designed sleeves - again not detachable, and  shoulder treatment to add more interest. The skirt is all one piece, rather than an over skirt and forepart. The partlet is sewn into the gown. While this can have some advantages, it terms of holding it in place, it’s better to use it as an “under partlet” as it was designed. Also, she’s not wearing a chemise! This just wasn’t done! And the headdress design is also very costumey.

The Green gown is not an authentic design. It’s a hodge podge of early Tudor and an Irish lein. It's fitted horribly, and you can tell that neither model is wearing a corset. Where the heck is the farthigale (hoops) for the green gown? This is a mish-mosh of medieval and Elizabethan, and not an appropriate Elizabethan design.

The undersleeves also need stiffening - and she is not wearing a chemise! You never want to use mock chemise sleeves. The whole purpose is to place a barrier between your skin and your fabrics, to wick away perspiration, body oils, and dirt.

The skirt is fuller and cartridge pleated, which really isn't authentic to the early Tudor period that this represents, but - - many reenactors make an Elizabethan style bodice with a matching Tudor style bodice and wear it with the same skirt. It's a more affordable cheat, but it's not exactly accurate, and I prefer Margo's Tudor Lady's patterns found at the following website:

Simplicity 3782


I classify this in my "No" column. The bodice option is fairly close to how an authentic 16th century bodice would be cut, but it's NOT great. The doublet (the burgundy gown in the upper left corner of the pattern cover) is an absolute FAIL.  I used this pattern a couple of years back. I was pushed for time and bought this pattern at Walmart. I wore it once, and hated it. It has a very undesirable and awkward fit in the collar and shoulder area. Rather than fitting flat against the shoulder it has an odd and unattractive slant from the shoulder to the stand up collar and it puckers where the shoulders meet the collar! The collar and lapels are cut as one piece, rather than a collar that is inset as a separate piece. No amount of fiddling with it seemed to fix it. It makes your shoulders look twice as wide. The collar is way too short in the back and it's also unattractive. Without some major re-drafting, this is really not an easy fix. While I love the concept of wider lapels, this particular pattern is not one I recommend. I ended up having to deconstruct the entire doublet and make drastic alterations, drafting an insetting a separate collar. If you want an authentic doublet pattern, purchase Margo Anderson's patterns.

In regard to the second option, the bodice and skirt, it's not an accurate look. They have sewn the bodice to the skirt. While there are some gowns for the 16th Century that this could be done, the technique they have used in this pattern is ALL WRONG, and I don’t recommend following the pattern instructions; especially if you’re going to use tabs or skirting. It just looks “costumey” otherwise. You get a much better overall desired appearance keeping the bodice and skirt separate pieces.

This is what a paned upper sleeve should look like - not just strips of trim. I used this Simplicity pattern to create the lining, but I cut the pattern in pieces, rather than to leave it all as one piece. The panes are just strips I measured and cut with a wheel cutter - after I had embroidered the fabric on my embroidery machine.

If you’re looking for authenticity, I wouldn’t recommend this pattern without some very specific alterations.


1660 TO 1707

Restoration fashion is also known as Carolean fashion and is easily identified by excessive curls worn in the hair of both men and women, as well as copious ribbons, bows, puffs, flounces, and feathers used for adornment, and the shortening of sleeves.

Ribbons and lace, in particular, appeared everywhere from shoes to sleeves and even on men’s walking sticks. Their excessive use has come to define fashion of both sexes during this period. Lace was so valued, in fact, that pirates stole large amounts of lace exports from ships sailing to the US colonies. Sleeve-length began to change as people now viewed longer sleeves to be obstructive and impractical.

The shape of the bodice is an exaggerated "V" and falls predominately "off the shoulder."

Wait. . .That's NOT "Elizabethan" or "Renaissance?"

From the American Revolution period of 1776 to the 1790s, fashion takes a drastic turn as it enters the Napoleonic and Regency time periods. With the Redingote, we see skirts becoming slimmer. Cage paniers and bum pads are no longer in fashion. Clothing is comfortable and less restrictive.

Waking Gowns: It would be made in the most fashionable style, with beautiful trimmings, and would be worn while shopping or walking through the park. A walking dress could also be worn to pay calls on other families They often had trains - which were really not conducive to this particular activity.

Afternoon Dress
:  These were carriage or traveling dresses. These were made out of slightly heavier fabrics, ones that would resist wrinkles more than a cotton muslin. Also, they tended not to have as many trimmings, which could become crushed during a long carriage ride.: 

Evening Gowns: For evening wear, light fabrics were still favored, but they were richer. Very fine muslin, silk satin, duchesse silk and light taffetas were all popular.


1837 to 1876

The Victorian era spans a time period of 63 years during the reign of Queen Victoria of England, from 1837 until her death in 1876. Fashion changed a lot in that time period.

1830s and 1840s- Fashions are moving away from the empire style waistlines of the 1820s; dropping once more and becoming tighter to create a more hourglass figure, and skirts are becoming fuller again. Pleated necklines and  pleated bodice fronts are becoming fashionable, and corsets are tight laced. The hoop or crinoline is not yet in fashion; women are wearing multiple layers of petticoats.

1850s - known as the Antebellum, or pre-civil war time period - shows skirts getting fuller. The pleated bodices are replaced with tighter fitted styles.  Necklines are raised to the throat - especially for day wear. The pouf at the shoulder or upper sleeves are gone, and they are either straight and tight fitted or belled. Crinoline hoops are coming into fashion.

Simplicity 9929


View A and B are not English - so I'm not going to comment. They are also NOT Elizabethan or Tudor.

View C is supposed to be a Tudor style gown, but again it misses the mark. By now you should be able to spot what's wrong with the sleeves and the bodice - If not, the sleeve's bells are too narrow, there are no under sleeves, the bodice laces in front at the sides. Some bodices laced in the back on both sides. This particular pattern is another one I don't recommend.

Simplicity 7756


Neither gown is historically accurate. Elizabethan and Tudor era gowns did NOT have rounded necklines. The sleeves are belled, but don't fold back on this pattern. It laces up THE FRONT. Kirtles could and did lace up the front, but they were worn underneath a Tudor style over gown - not as an outer gown. Kirtles were boned and were worn in place of a corset or a pair of bodies. A noble woman would not lace her gown up the front in this fashion. If they did, as in Italian fashion, the laces were hidden.

The turban on View B is not accurate to the Tudor or Elizabethan time period, but is similar to something you might see in the medieval period. The smock worn under neath the gown is "gathered" around the neck. This really isn't historically accurate, but is a fashion made popular at Ren Faire. An Italian Camica was gathered around the neck, but it was not gathered by a draw string.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Butterick B5440:


Again, the stomacher is too wide. There are gores in the bodice. The skirt is way too narrow for the nobility or gentry to wear at court. The underskirt or forepanel is gathered around the waist rather than laying smooth. There is no farthingale (hoops). The tabs on the bodice are embellished with "Stars." Stars? - This just wasn't done!

It also appears as if she’s wearing neck and wrist ruffs without a chemise or an under-partlet! 

While the sleeves "appear" to be two separate pieces, it's an overall Fail.


img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

Simplicity 2589


This particular pattern is actually not a bad rendition. Not great, but not bad. Other than the fabrics they used for this gown as well as on the French hood, it’s actually a pretty good pattern resource, but you need to add structure to the bodice, i.e., metal boning in the front to keep the bodice point from flipping up - - and also, PLEASE don’t use upholstery fabrics!! - especially upholstery velvets as those shown in the pattern cover. They may be cheaper, but they are too bulky and too heavy!! While there ARE some upholstery fabrics that are acceptable, you have to be extremely cautious in your choices to avoid heat stroke when wearing a gown in these heavy fabrics.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

The sleeves in the original pattern, again, are not a good design. They flare out at the wrists, and it’s a cheap cheat for a cuff and ruffle. I don’t like the way they look attached or sewn into the bodice. To me it feels like a cheat. And when it’s hot, you’ll want to be able to remove your sleeves - which was period appropriate to the Elizabethan period as they often swapped out the lower sleeves and forepanel.

You would need to add some tabs around the arm hole, to hide your laces if you construct detachable sleeves.

However, all that said, overall the bodice it’s a fairly workable pattern - if you make some alterations. I would lengthen the bodice point, as well.

img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/
img src="htt0ps://" alt="Elizabethan Costume"/

There is a way to take this bodice pattern and alter it to make it more authentic. You can Google it, and find tutorials for this technique. But if you plan to use this pattern, you will also need to know how to draft more appropriate sleeves - as the sleeves in this pattern are “mocked.”

My other critique is the straps on the bodice and the sleeves. Straps in authentic Elizabethan clothing were cut into the back piece and then brought around to the front and attached to the finished bodice. This helps with the “puckering” or buckling that can happen if you don’t custom draft a pattern to the exact specifications of each client. I prefer to custom drape my clients and draft a pattern, but not everyone can do this; therefore, the option of attaching the straps as described previously would be the preferred method if you wish to stick to authenticity.

In terms of the sleeves, these are NOT a good rendition, and I don’t recommend using the pattern. Elizabethans were known for having multiple sets of interchangeable sleeves and foreparts; which meant that the lower sleeves would need to be detachable; not all the time, but if they are going to be sewn into the bodice make them amazing! A poorly designed or constructed sleeve can make or break a good design. The sleeves, bodice embellishment, skirt facings, and forepart are where you want to pay attention. The pouf and panes at the top of the sleeve in this particular pattern, which is meant to serve as an “upper” sleeve, are sewn as one piece.  With some changes, this could look amazing, but generally the sleeve pattern looks far too “costumey,” in my opinion.

Most gowns in 16th Century portraiture that have a paned upper sleeve do not appear as they do in this pattern. Granted, they have tried to make this pattern “construction friendly” for all sewing levels, but using bits of trim for the panes (rather than actual panes or strips of fabric that are piped and trimmed on the edges) just don’t look as rich and luxurious. If you’re going to go to the trouble of purchasing beautiful fabrics, don’t skimp on the details. Take the time to do it right!


 1811 to 1820

This is the era when clothing becomes more streamlined. Gone are the huge full skirts, cage hoops and paniers, and the highly embroidered frock coats and waist coats. The corsets or stays are evolving into "short stays" that resemble something like a modern sports bra; and the stays that do cover the entire torso are not stiff or fully boned as in other eras. You still see embellishment on women's fashions, but they are much more sedate. Men's clothing is tailored but plain. This is not an era of excess as seen in other time periods.

During this time period we see "rules" of dress, or gowns worn for specific activities, i.e., clothing worn for specific events or hours of the day, such as:

Morning Gowns. These were plain, usually white, light weight muslin  fabrics that were worn around the house but NEVER worn out in public!

Day Dresses: While similar to a morning gown, these were made specifically to be 'seen' in public. They were still made of light weight muslin, but often were fashioned of printed muslins. During the day, one's bosom was entirely covered. Even dresses with low scoop necklines were filled in with a chemisette (a dickey made of thin material) or fichu (a thin scarf tucked into a low neckline). Unlike today, cleavage was NOT a daytime accessory.


1720 - 1790

You can see the changes happening in 1720 and 1730 that will lead us into the wild Rococo fashions in France identifiable by Marie Antoinette.

Skirts are fuller worn with layered petticoats and cage paniers. Bodices are still fitted with pointed bases. Sleeves are 3/4 length with layers of frills called engageantes made of lace or pinked fabric.

This particular time period is one I see erroneously labeled as "Renaissance" or even "Elizabethan."  Here's where you find people attaching the circular ruffles on a 3/4 length sleeve and calling it "Renaissance."  I can spot the different eras at a glance and the nuances of each time period are obvious, but thanks to commercial costume patterns which blur the lines, we see many patterns out there that ape a certain style, but for those who haven't done the research they wouldn't know the difference.