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Ou the Dress, and Modes of Living, the Manners, and Customs, of the Inhabitants of the Metropolis, during the Age of Shakspeare.
BEFORE we enter on the dramatic career of Shakspeare, a subject which we wish to preserve unbroken, and free from irrelative matter, it will be necessary, in order to prosecute our view of the costume of the Times, to give a picture in this place of the prevalent habits of the metropolis, which, with the sketch already drawn of those peculiar to the country, will form a corresponding, and we trust, an adequate whole.
In no period of our annals, perhaps, has DRESS formed a more curious subject of enquiry, than during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First. The Queen, who possessed an almost unbounded share of vanity and coquetry, set an example of profusion which was followed through every rank of society, and furnished, by its universality, an inexhaustible theme for the puritanic satirists of the age.
Of the mutability and eccentricity of the dresses both of men and women, during this period, Harrison has provided us with a singular and interesting account, and which, as constituting a very appropriate preface to more minute particulars, we shall here transcribe.
"Such is our mutabilitie, that to daie there is none to the Spanish guise, to-morrow the French toies are most fine and delectable, yer long no such apparell as that which is after the high Alman fashion, by and by the Turkisk maner is generallie best liked of, otherwise the Morisco gowns, the Barbarian sleeves, the mandilion worne to Collie-westen ward, and the short French breeches make such a comelie vesture, that except it were a dog in a doublet, you shall not see anie so disguised, as are my countrie men of England. And as these fashions are diverse, so likewise it is a world to see the costlinesse and the curiositie: the excesse and the vanitie: the pompe and the braverie: the change and the varietie and finallie the ficklenesse and the follie that is in all degrees: insomuch that nothing is more constant in England than inconstancie of attire. Oh how much cost is bestowed now adaies upon our bodies and how little upon our soules! how many sutes of apparell hath the one and how little furniture hath the other? how long time is asked in decking up of the first, and how little space left wherin to feed the later? how curious, how nice also are a number of men and women, and how hardlie can the tailer please them in making it fit for their bodies? how manie times must it be sent backe againe to
him that made it? what chafing, what fretting, what reprochfull language doth the poore workman beare awaie? and manie times when he dooth nothing to it at all, yet when it is brought home againe it is verie fit and handsome; then must we put it on, then must the long seames of our hose be set by a plumb-line, then we puffe, then we blow, and finallie sweat till we drop, that our clothes may stand upon us. I will saie nothing of our heads, which sometimes are polled, sometimes curled, or suffered to grow at length like woman's lockes, manie times cut off above or under the ears round as by a woodden dish. Neither will I meddle with our varietie of beards, of which some are shaven from the chin like those of Turks, not a few cut short like to the beard of marques Otto, some made round like a rubbing brush, other with a pique devant (0 fine fashion) or now and then suffered to grow long, the barbers being growen to be so cunning in this behalfe as the tailers. And therefore if a man have a leane and streight face, a marquesse Ottons cut will make it broad and large; if it be platter like, a long slender beard will make it seeme the narrower if he be wesell becked, then much heare left on the cheekes will make the owner looke big like a bowdled hen, and so grim as a goose, if Cornelius of Chaimeresford saie true: manie old men doo weare no beards at all. Some lustie courtiers also and gentlemen of courage, doo weare either rings of gold, stones, or pearle in their eares, whereby they imagine the workmanship of God not to be a little amended. But herein they rather disgrace than adorne their persons, as by their nicenesse in apparell, for which I saie most nations doo not unjustlie deride us, as also for that we doo seeme to imitate all nations round about us, wherein we be like to the Polypus or Chameleon; and thereunto bestow most cost upon our arses, and much more than upon all the rest of our bodies, as women doo likewise upon their heads and shoulders. In women also it is most to be lamented that they doo now farre exceed the lightnesse of our men (who neverthelesse are transformed from the cap even to the verie shoo) and such staring attire as in time past was supposed meet for none but light housewives onelie, is now become an habit for chast and sober matrones. What should I saie of their doublets with pendant peeses on the brest full of jags and cuts, and sleeves of sundrie colours? their galligascons to beare out their bums and make their attire to sit plum round (as they terme it) about them? their fardingals, and diverslie coloured nether stocks of silke, ierdseie, and such like, whereby their bodies are rather deformed than commended? I have met with some of these trulles in London so disguised, that it hath passed my skill to discerne whether they were men or women.
After this philippic, we shall proceed to notice the Dress of the Ladies, commencing with that of the Queen, who is thus described by Paul Hentzner, as he saw her passing on her way to chapel, at the royal palace of Greenwich. Having mentioned the procession of barons, earls, knights, etc., he adds,
"Next came the queen, in the sixty-fifth year of her age, as we were told, very majestic ; her face oblong, fair, but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little booked; her lips narrow, and her teeth black (a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of sugar); she had in her ears two pearls, with very rich drops; she wore false hair, and that red; upon her head she had a small crown;—her bosom was uncovered, as all the English ladies have it, till they marry; and she had on a necklace of exceeding fine jewels; her bands were small, her fingers long, and her stature neither tall nor low; her air was stately, ber manner el speaking mild and obliging. That day she was dressed in white silk, bordered with pearls of the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk, shot with silver threads; her train was very long, the end of it borne by a marchioness; instead of a chain, she had an oblong collar of gold and jewels. While we were there, W. Slawata, a Bohemian baron, had letters to present to her; and she, after pulling off her glove, gave him her right hand to kiss, sparkling with rings and jewels. The ladies of the court followed next to her, very handsome and well shaped, and for the most part dressed in white."+
A few articles of the customary dress of Elizabeth, not adverted to by Hentzner, and particularly the characteristic ruff and stomacher, it may be requisite to subjoin. The former of these was profusely laced, plaited, and apparently divergent from a centre on the back of her neck; it was very broad, extending on each side of her face, with the extremities reposing on her bosom, from which rose two wings of lawn, edged with jewels, stiffened with wire, and reaching to the top of her hair, which was moulded into the shape of a cushion, and richly covered with gems. The stomacher was strait and broad, and though leaving
* Holinshed, vol. i. p. 289, 290.-Harrison's Description of England. Hentzner's Travels in England. Edward Jeffery's edit. 8vo. 1797. p. 34.
the bosom bare, still formed a long waist by extending downwards; it was loaded with jewels and embossed gold, and preposterously stiff and formal.
The attachment of the Queen to dress was such, that she could not bear the idea of being rivalled, much less surpassed, in any exhibition of this kind.
"It happenede," relates Sir John Harrington, "that Ladie M. Howarde was possessede of a rich border, powderd wyth golde and pearle, and a velvet suite belonginge thereto, which moved manie to envye; nor did it please the Queene, who thoughte it exceeded her owne. One daye the Queene did sende privately, and got the ladies rich vesture, which she put on herself, and came forthe the chamber amonge the ladies; the kirtle and border was far too shorte for her Majestie's height; and she askede every one, How they likede her new-fancied suit?' At lengthe, she askede the owner herself, If it was not made too short and ill-becoming ?'—which
the poor ladie did presentlie consente to. Why then, if it become not me, as being too shorte, I am minded it shall never become thee, as being too fine; so it fitteth neither well.' This sharp rebuke abashed the ladie, and she never adorned her herewith any more."
Neither could she endure, from whatever quarter it came, any censure, direct or indirect, or her love of personal decoration.
"One Sunday (April last)," says the same facetious knight, "my lorde of London preachede to thee Queenes Majestie, and seemede to touche on the vanitie of deckinge the bodie too finely. -Her Majestie tolde the ladies, that If the bishope helde more discourse on suche matters, shee wolde fitte him for heaven, but he shoulde walke thither withoute a staffe, and leave his mantle behind him :' perchance the bishope hathe never soughte her Highnesse wardrobe, or he Woulde have chosen another texte."+
Of this costly wardrobe it is recorded in Chamberlaine's epistolary notices, that it consisted of more than two thousand gowns, with all things answerable; and Mr. Steevens, commenting on a passage in Cymbeline, where Imogen exclaims— "Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion; And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls, I must be ripp'd,"-
give us the following interesting illustration.
"Clothes were not formerly, as at present, made of slight materials, were not kept in drawers, or given away as soon as lapse of time or change of fashion had impaired their value. On the contrary, they were hung up on wooden pegs in a room appropriated to the sole purpose of receiving them; and though such cast-off things as were composed of rich substances, were Occasionally ripped for domestick uses (viz. mantles for infants, vests for children, and counterpanes for beds), articles of inferior quality were suffered to hang by the walls, till age and moths bad destroyed what pride would not permit to be worn by servants or poor relations.
"When a boy, at an ancient mansion-house in Suffolk, I saw one of these repositories, which (thanks to a succession of old maids!) had been preserved, with superstitious reverence, for almost a century and a half.
"When Queen Elizabeth died, she was found to have left above three thousand dresses behind her."
With such a model before them, it may easily be credited, that our fair country women vied with each other in the luxury, variety, and splendour of their eccentricities in this way, and a few remarks on his allusions, with some invectives from less good-tempered observers, will sufficiently illustrate the subject. Benedict, describing the woman of his choice, says, "her hair shall be of what colour it please God;" an oblique stroke at a very prevalent fashion in Shakspeare's time of colouring or dying the hair, and which, from its general adoption, not only excited the shaft of the satirist, but the reprobation of the pulpit. Nor were the ladies content with disfiguring their own hair, but so universally dismissed it for that of others, that it was a common practice with them, as Stubbes asserts in his Anatomie of Abuses, to allure children who had beautiful hair to private places, in order to deprive them of their envied locks.
Nugæ Antiquæ apud Park, vol. i. p. 361.
+ Ibid p. 170.
That the dead were frequently rifled for this purpose, our poet has told us in more places than one; thus, in his sixty-eighth sonnet, he says
"the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchres, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head,
'And' beauty's dead fleece made another gay;
and he repeats the charge in his Merchant of Venice,—
"So are those crisped snaky golden locks,
Which make such wanton gambols with the wind,
To be the dowry of a second head,
The skull that bred them in the sepulchre."
Act iii. sc. 2.
The hair, when thus obtained, was often dyed of a sandy colour, in compliment to the Queen, whose locks were of that tint: and these false ornaments or "thatches," as Timon terms them, were called periwigs; thus Julia, in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, contemplating the picture of her rival, observes,
Periwigs, which were first introduced into England about 1572, were to be had of all colours; for an old satirist, speaking of his countrywomen, says, "It is a woonder more than ordinary to beholde theyr perewigs of sundry collours." A distinction, however, in wearing the hair, as well as in other articles of dress, existed between the matrons and unmarried women. "Gentlewomen virgins," observes Fines Moryson, weare gownes close to the body, and aprons of fine linen, and go bareheaded with their hair curiously knotted, and raised at the forehead, but many (against the cold, as they say) weare caps of hair that is not their own."
To some of the various coverings for the hair our poet refers in the Merry Wives of Windsor, when Falstaff, complimenting Mrs. Ford, exclaims, "thou hast the right arched bent of the brow, that becomes the ship-tire, the tirevaliant, or any tire of Venetian admittance."
The ship-tire appears to have been an open flaunting head-dress, with scarfs or ribands floating in the air like streamers, or as Fenton himself, in the fifth act of s this play, describes it,
"With ribbons pendant flaring 'bout her head."
The tire-valiant, if the text be correct, must mean a dress still more showy and ostentatious; and we know that feathers, jewels, and gold and silver ornaments, were common decorations in these days of gorgeous finery. Nash, in 1594, speaks of "lawn caps" with "snow-resembled silver curlings;"* and a sarcastic poet in 1595 describes
"flaming heads with staring haire,
Venice and Paris were the sources of fashion, and both occasionally furnished a more chaste and elegant costume for the female head than had been the objects of Falstaff's encomium. The "French hood," a favourite of the times, consisted simply of gauze or muslin, reaching from the back of the head down over the
* "Christ's Tears over Jerusalem," 4to. 1594.
"Quippes for upstart new fangled Gentlewemen: or a Glasse, to view the pride of vain glorious Vemen," 4to. 1595.-Vide Restituta, vol. iii. p. 255.
forehead, and leaving the hair exposed on each side.*
Cauls, or nets of gold
thread, were thrown with much taste over their glossy tresses, and attracted the notice of the satirist just quoted:
"These glittering caules of golden plate
Wherewith their heads are richlie dect,
In judgment of the simple sect."+
Another happy mode of embellishment consisted of placing gracefully on the hair artificial peascods, which were represented open, with rows of pearls for peas. The lady's morning-cap was usually a mob; and the citizens' wives wore either a splendid velvet cap, or what was called the Minever cap,' with peaks three inches high, white, and three-cornered.
Paint was openly used for the face:
"These painted faces which they weare,
Can any tell from whence they came;"
and masks and mufflers were in general use; the former, according to Stubbes, were made of velvet, "wherewith when they ride abroad they cover all their faces, having holes made in them against their eyes, whereout they looke. So that if a man knew not their guise before, should chaunce to meet one of them, would think he met a monster or a devil, for face he can shew none, but two broad holes against their eyes, with glasses in them;"S the latter covered the lower part of the face only, as far as the nose, and had the appearance of a linen bandage. So common were these female masks in Shakspeare's days, that the author of "Quippes for newfangled Gentlewemen," after remarking that they were the offspring not of modesty but of pride, informs us that
"on each wight now are they seene,
The ruff, already partly described under the dress of Elizabeth, was common to both sexes; but under the fostering care of the ladies, attained, in stiffness, fineness, and dimensions, the most extravagant pitch of absurdity. It reached behind to the very top of the head, and the tenuity of the lawn or cambric of which it was made was such, that Stowe prophesies, they would shortly "wear ruffes of a spider's web." In order to support so slender a fabric, a great quantity of starch became necessary, the skilful use of which was introduced by a Mrs. Dingen Van Plesse in 1564, who taught her art for a premium of five guineas. Starching was subsequently improved by the introduction of various colours, one of which, the yellow die, being the invention of a Mrs. Turner, who was afterwards concerned in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, was dismissed with abhorrence from the fashionable world, in consequence of this abandoned woman being executed at Tyburn in a ruff of her favourite tint. The extreme indignation with which Stubbes speaks of the use of starch is highly amusing :
"One arch or piller," says he, "wherewith the devil's kingdome of great ruffes is underpropped, is a certain kind of liquid matter which they call starch, wherein the devill hath learned them to wash and die their ruffes, which, being drie, will stand stiff and inflexible about their neckes. And this starch they make of divers substances of all collours and hues, as white, redde, blewe, purple, and the like."
We are further informed by the same vehement satirist, that the ruff had the additional support of an underpropper called a suppertasse, and that its plaits were adjusted by poking-sticks made of iron, steel, or silver, that, when used, were heated in the fire, a custom against which he expresses his wrath by relating a
Strutt's Customs, vol. iii. plate 22. fig. 9.
Restituta, vol. iii. p. 256.