Elizabethan Costumes

Couple in Elizabethan costume

Elizabethan costumes are a lot of fun for Renaissance fairs, costume parties and Halloween, and they are the perfect choice for masquerades. Here's all you need to know about finding the perfect Elizabethan costumes for your next party.

Elizabethan Costume History

What, exactly, is an Elizabethan costume? The Elizabethan period covers the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, or the time between 1550 and 1600. Even those who have been alive for less than 50 years know that fashions can vary widely over that amount of time, so there is really a wide range of costumes that can be called Elizabethan.

In addition, the people of the court and upper classes wore very different clothing from those who lived in the countryside. But most people think of the upper-class clothing when they want to dress in Elizabethan costumes.

Anatomy of a Woman's Costume

If you want to be historically accurate, your costume should include many, many layers of clothing, including:

  • a shift or smock, which is a simple cotton dress worn to protect the outer dress from sweat and body odors
  • stockings made of cloth, wool or silk
  • a corset
  • a cone-shaped hoop skirt often called a Spanish Farthingale or verdingal
  • a "bumroll" or padded piece to emphasize the hips and make the skirt stand out more
  • a petticoat or underskirt
  • shirt
  • gown and sleeves
  • shoes

Ruffs were also popular, and hair was often made into elaborate styles. Makeup and jewelry would also be required for upper-class women. For a much more detailed look at each piece of the Elizabethan costume, check out this great article at The Elizabethan Costume Page.

Costumes for Men

The most common Elizabethan costumes for men are the open, "swashbuckling" shirts and breeches or pants. This is the common attire for the lower and middle classes, and could be embellished with a vest, hat, or other accessories.

Upper-class men wore similar clothes, but made of finer fabrics and more embellished. A popular addition to an upper-class man's costume would be a jerkin or fitted vest with "wings" over the shoulders. Velvet or other fine fabrics would be used, and silk stockings were a must.

Buying Elizabethan Costumes

There are many options for buying Fancy Elizabethan or Renaissance fair costumes. Many costume shops seek to provide people with authentic period clothing, which of course costs more than your average mass-produced Halloween costume. But if you like attending Renaissance fairs or hosting Elizabethan costume parties, it will be worth it to invest in a good costume.

Here are some places to look for costumes:

Making Your Own Costumes

One of the wonderful things about Elizabethan costumes and Renaissance costumes is that so many people have a passion for this time period. They love dressing up in these costumes, and they also love making their own costumes based on a lot of research into what was really worn at the time. This is great news for the crafty costumer, because you can easily find patterns and project suggestions for all sorts of different costumes on the Internet. There is a seemingly unlimited number of patterns out there, for everything from undergarments to weapons.

Here are a few of the best sites to get you started:

  • The Elizabethan Costume Page has a ton of links to patterns and advice on how to draft your own patterns, lace your garments properly and even apply makeup in period fashion.
  • Sempstress has some great patterns and instructions for drafting your own.

Even if you aren't a master sewer, these pages can give you good ideas for making your own costumes that don't involve an immense amount of sewing. Garbmonger, for instance, suggests using baggy sweatpants that tie at the waist as a substitute for breeches. They instantly hold below the knees, right where you want them.

Elizabethan Costume Accessories

Fancy jewelry (or costume jewelry) is a must for the upper-class Elizabethan woman. Jewels were also often worn in the hair, which can be a great addition to your costume. A fan is another nice touch.

For men, hats are a great addition to a costume, no matter what class of man you're portraying. Weapons such as daggers, knives and swords can be a nice addition, but always check with the fair you are attending or the people throwing the party to see if real weapons are allowed. Fake weapons are fine for the less hard-core reenactors.

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Elizabethan Costumes