Earlier this year, when a girlfriend at work suggested I come with her to one of the many area Renaissance fairs, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to revisit something that I had enjoyed as a child and that had fostered my early love for costumes. But this time, I would approach my costume from a more educated, enlightened perspective.
And so, in usual fashion, I began researching. Right off the bat, I knew I would do better to start with an outfit appropriate to a lower-class impression. All the glitz and glamour of an upper class Elizabethan court gown is lovely to look upon, but expensive and difficult to do properly. Accordingly, I set my eye on a comfortable, tidy, working-class ensemble like the ones shown in all the Dutch genre paintings of the period. In particular, these paintings by Pieter Aertsen inspired me:
The lady on the left is wearing a practical and versatile ensemble: Her sleeveless dress is enhanced with an apron, a removable partlet, and pin-on sleeves.
Here are the same pin-on sleeves and partlet, but this time with a wide-brimmed straw hat (very appealing to this sunburn-prone girl).
This lady has on a simple white head-wrap of some kind to keep her hair covered and clean.
More straw hats, aprons, and pin-on sleeves.
As I began wading through the wealth of research and information on this period that can be found on the internet, two sites in particular stood out from the rest, both for the volume of information, and for the detail and clarity of instruction. The first is Drea Leed's excellent Elizabethan Costuming Site, which catalogs her own research on many related subjects in addition to linking to many sites. The information is very helpfully arranged by subject. I spent days following almost every link on the page.
The second is this site, which details the construction of an outfit very much like the one I wanted to make: simple, working-class clothing that is highly accurate in look and construction.
The other resource that I stumbled onto early in my research was The Tudor Tailor. This book is a definite must for anyone wanting to recreate clothing from this period. It is brimming with useful information and anecdotes, period portraits and images of extant garments, and a series of patterns that can form the basis of a wardrobe for the humblest of working-class laborers or the queen herself.
After studying these resources, I determined that the simplest and most accurate ensemble would consist of the following items:
pin-on wool sleeves
black wool partlet
linen coif and forehead cloth
Quite a lot of stuff to make! And of course, I decided early on that I would have to sew it all by hand for accuracy. Stick around to find out how I put it all together!