16th century

Clothing the Elizabethan Poor

A beggar woman, symbolizing poverty. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

A beggar woman, symbolizing poverty. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

There’s not much available on what the penniless wore in the 16th century. They had hardly anything of value and rarely showed up in pictures of any kind.

Fortunately, there are some sources available. I’ve just put one of them online:

Excerpts from the account books of the Tooley Foundation: Poor Relief in Ipswitch, 1580s-1590s

Ipswitch was lucky to have a generous and civic minded merchant, Henry Tooley, donate his substantial estate to helping the poor of the town when he died. The Tooley foundation maintained hospitals and poorhouses, worked to employ the poor, housed, fed and clothed those with nowhere else to go, and–most admirably of all–kept precisely detailed accounts of what they spent all of their money on.

The records date from the 1580s and 1590s. A variety of clothing items were bought and made for men, women and children at the various houses and hospitals.

Peasants harvesting grain. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

Peasants harvesting grain. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

Women received the following items, paid for by the Tooley foundation: petticoats, waistcoats, frocks (aka gowns), smocks, shoes, knit hose, aprons, coifs, kerchiefs,leather shoes and neckerchiefs. Men received shirts, doublets and hose, jerkins, ruff bands, knit hose, long coats and leather shoes.

A woman would receive either a “peticote and a wastcote” or “one frocke”, but not both; and for the men, they almost always received “one jerkine and i payre of bryches”, or “one cote”, with doublets mentioned only once. Which raises the interesting possibility that, in this case, a jerkin was either a) a synonym for doublet, or b) worn directly over the shirt.

The fabrics used for these items were cheap and practical. (more…)

Elizabethan Petticoats

What’s a petticoat?

In 100 words or less, a petticoat is:

Lia de Thornegge's Red petticoat

Lia de Thornegge’s Red petticoat

  • Usually a skirt with a sleeveless, front-lacing bodice; sometimes a separate skirt tied to a bodice with points, and sometimes a skirt with a sleeved, front-lacing bodice.
  • Usually red, especially for the lower and merchant orders.
  • Usually closed with lacings, though there are a few references to petticoats closing with hooks and eyes. Some petticoats had placards pinned or fastened across the lacings in front.
  • Made of wool or silk fabric; no references to linen or fustian petticoats have been found.
  • Frequently had bodices and skirts of different colors and fabrics.
  • were often lined or interlined with stiff fabric, like fustian or buckram, for support.
  • Until the 1580s, were the primary garment (alongside the kirtle) used for supporting the bosom and achieving the period, flat-fronted silhouette.



What’s a Petticoat? | Petticoats for Re-enactors: some considerations | Search for Petticoats in DressDB | Where can I find out More about Petticoats? | Making a Petticoat |
Additional References to Petticoats