Tudor and Stuart fashion moments

Portrait of Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton, attributed to George Gower, 1577, at Montacute House, Somerset (Sir Percy Malcolm Stewart bequest). ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

I vividly remember seeing this portrait years ago at an exhibition about Elizabeth I at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It sang out with its self-confident fashion sense. 

It comes as no surprise that this woman, Elizabeth Knollys (pronounced to rhyme with bowls), Lady Leighton, is thought to have been in charge of the Queen’s wardrobe – in effect a kind of fashion adviser or dresser.

Portrait of Margaret Layton, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts, c. 1620. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Her own appearance is very sophisticated, the orange dress echoing her reddish hair, but toned down by the black slashed bodice (if that this correct technical term), with the pattern of the slashes seeming to mimick the bow fastenings, and set off by various jewels which also return in her sassy tall hat with its elegant pink feather.

The portrait of Margaret Layton together with the linen jacket worn by the sitter, embroidered with coloured silks, silver and silver-gilt thread, made c. 1610-1615, altered c. 1620. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A slightly later fashion moment, from the Jacobean period, has been preserved at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where a c. 1620 portrait of Margaret Layton is shown next to the actual jacket she can be seen wearing in the picture.

Portrait of a lady, possibly Vere Egerton, Mrs William Booth (m. 1619), attributed to Robert Peake, at Dunham Massey, Cheshire. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

At Dunham Massey we hope to create something similar later this year: fashion student Jennifer Craig is working on a recreation of the costume of Vere Egerton, to be displayed near her recently acquired portrait. The current plan is to partly open up the costume, to show how it was constructed and what it would have been like to wear.

One of Jennifer Craig's sketches. ©Jennifer Craig

Jennifer is keeping a blog called Recreating the Costume of Vere Egerton to show the results of her research and the progress with the costume.

15 Responses to “Tudor and Stuart fashion moments”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Perfect little appetizer. More, more, please…

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Barbara, I will try to find some more ‘fashion moment’ material. Jennifer’s blog will be one to watch, too.

  3. little augury Says:

    I have signed in to Jennifer’s blog-and look forward to reading about her progress. Fashion and history reveals so much to us when coupled together, not to mention the beauty. Thanks Emile and look forward to reading NTH this year. pgt

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gaye, thank you – your blog is of course the ultimate example of the juxtaposition of fashion with design, history, biography and many other things.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    JoAnn Spears (@6of1JoAnnSpears) has just told me of this amazing recreation of a Jacobean woman’s jacket by Plimoth Plantation in 2009: http://www.plimoth.org/jacket

  6. Susan Holloway Scott Says:

    Wonderful images!

    I was going to tell you about the Plimoth jacket, but I see another reader has beaten me to it. *g* In person, it truly is an amazing achievement, and hints at how brilliant an entire court dressed in spangles, gold lace, and jewels must have been.

    The Plimoth jacket is currently on display at Winterthur. Here’s a link to the excellent web-page they’ve created for it:

    http://www.winterthur.org/pdfs/Plimoth-Jacket.pdf

    Good luck to Jennifer – we’ll all be eagerly watching her progress.

  7. Susan Walter Says:

    In many ways the undergarments are as interesting as the lavish outer, and key to understanding the way the garment is worn. I remember how exciting it was when the Layton jacket / portrait combo turned up. These sorts of exercises are tremendously important in terms of giving people an insight into how the wearer lived in quite intimate detail. It provides clues to how they moved and stood, what assistance one needed to dress, how one achieved particular silhouettes (not always obvious just looking at paintings).

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Susan (HS), thanks very much for that really informative additional link. I think Jennifer’s project will be slightly different, as there were dozens of people working on the Plimoth jacket whereas she is on her own, but I am sure she will appreciate your interest.

    Susan (W), thanks and yes the social history and body language aspects of historic costume is so interesting, isn’t it? All that embroidery on those Jacobean costumes, and the tight fit of the jackets, must have restricted or guided one’s movements quite extensively. Susan (HS) has just done a fascinating post on the Two Nerdy History Girls blog about how the ‘natural’ silhouette of Empire dresses made having pockets in or under skirts difficult, thereby stimulating the developments of reticules and purses and so on (http://bit.ly/xZJZE2).

  9. Jolie Beaumont (@JolieBeaumont) Says:

    These portraits are absolutely gorgeous – and thanks so much for sharing information about the Plimoth jacket project. I think a woman would have to have a lot of confidence to wear clothes that involved so much work to make; I know I’d be in deadly fear of spilling something on it and ruining the exquisite design.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Quite – but then those wearing haute couture today have to be careful with their canapes too :) And the very fact that the Layton jacket was preserved may indicate that it, like an haute couture piece, wasn’t actually worn that often.

  11. Gésbi Says:

    These are exquisite! I am also very impressed by the ruff worn by Lady Leighton which could be at first sight a fine example of best contemporary lace work with its airy, wiry look.

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that ruff is very stylish, isn’t it, and it echoes and contrasts with (no doubt deliberately) her stylishly done up curly red hair.

  13. style court Says:

    Emile — I’m so behind with my comments. Treasure Hunt began 2012 with a bang — the striking lustreware above and now this Elizabethan goodness in particular. I think the Atlanta-based sculptor Elizabeth Turk would appreciate the ruffs. I’m intrigued by how the embroidered leaf-like shapes seem to dance across the jacket. Looking forward to exploring Jennifer’s work and blog. Thanks so much for this post.

  14. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    What a wonderful idea to have a fashion student recreate something so divine to bring a painting to life dhahling!
    Lady Leighton was clearly simply FAB!

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney and HRH, I am very pleased you like my first posts of the new year. It is difficult to see in the small image of Lady Leighton, but apparently one of the Elizabethan fashion strategies was to ‘slash’ or ‘pink’ clothes, which meant cutting slashes or shapes out of the top fabric and letting the lining or fabric beneath show through. Sometimes they would even pull the under-fabric through the holes in the topmost fabric and let it puff out – very mannerist, very ‘designer’ :) And as you say the slashes in the Leighton portrait seem to dance across the jacket, and echo the equally jaunty little bows, and there are lozenges in the ribbon around her neck as well. And the ruff (which you notice too) somehow ‘lifts’ the whole ensemble with its frothy brightness

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