A Common Englishwoman's Outfit

My interest in the clothing of English common women started over a year ago when we found out that our greyhound rescue group, First State Greyhound Rescue, had a booth at the Pennsylvania Ren Faire. That year the Faire Scenario was set in 1567. I figured as the keepers of “Her Majesties’ Hounds”, we shouldn’t dress above our station.

Figuring out how common people would have dressed is not always the easiest task. Portraiture of the day was commissioned by the wealthy and does little to indicate what the working class wore. Genre art was sometimes designed to titalate and we cannot assume the women are decently or fully-dressed.

One reliable picture is pictured at left. Netherlandish painter Lucas de Heere’s watercolour of English merchant and working class women from the 1570s. I decided to base my outfit on that of the rightmost figure, the one holding a chicken in her right hand. I figure that she is most likely represenative of a woman who works around animals. She wears an overdressed laced over another dress, a ruffled collar and cuffs, and a coif and blocked hat. Her apron and partlet, however, do not seem shaped in any way, but merely pinned on.

Another picture of common people in the 1570s is the Fete at Bermondsey, a part of which is shown at right. This large picture shows all levels of society enjoying the festival. The two women selected at right appear to be wearing separate bodices and skirts. However, it was common practice to replace worn out garment parts with new pieces bought second-hand. So the difference in colour may not necessarily indicate a lack of waist seam. Both wear aprons and coifs (and one a hat) like the previous example. The woman on the right wears a square partlet tucked into her kirtle instead of the unshaped partlet of her friend to the left. Both appear to be wearing pinned-on sleeves.

Smock

Kirtle

Overgown

Partlet

Sleeves

Cap

Apron

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