The Writer’s Guide to 1550-1600 Men’s Fashion

Although the fashions of the second half of the 16th century were dominated by England’s Elizabeth I, the men of this period were not about to fade into the background. Middle- and upper-class men were peacocks in their own right and dressed to impress and show off their social status and wealth.

Underwear

Just as the previous half of the century, a linen shirt was the base layer worn by every class of men. Of course, the higher up the social ladder a man was the finer the linen and the more elaborate the embroidery.

Hose was still worn on the legs but it was becoming more like stockings than pants. It became more common for hose to not be joined at the crotch or even to come up that far. Almost all men worn some variation of breeches from the rugged and plain ones sported by peasants to the impractical and heavily embellished slops, Venetians and canions worn by the middle and upper classes. [1] Only in Italy did it remain fashionable to wear only hose on the lower body, with the two legs fully sewn together. This style is why actors in productions set in Renaissance Italy, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, wear tights.

Charles IX of France wearing doublet, jerkin, ruff, slops, hose, cape, and flat cap. Photo source.

Outerwear

The doublet and jerkin were still the standard items worn over the shirt. The fashionable silhouette had moved away from the wide shouldered look of the previous half century, becoming leaner with a V shaped waist.

Middle- and upper-class men took to boning their doublets or wearing a male version of pairs of bodies to suck in the gut and achieve the fashionable flat belly. [2] Although, around 1570, a padded look known as a peascod belly came briefly into fashion. [3] Over time the cod piece shrank back into a convenience flap. Those with wealth used the best fabrics they could afford and lavished an incredible amount of decoration on their clothing. Older men still wore the gown for additional warmth but it was an outdated look and became tied to specific occupations, such as scholars.

Lower class men normally wore their own more practical version of the doublet that was less tailored and often made of homespun fabric. This garment could be sleeveless or have sleeves, which were often laced in and thus removable.

All social classes wore long cloaks with hoods in bad weather. Upper class men would also wear short capes, often richly trimmed or lined in fur.

Shoes were low and flat with boots being worn for hunting and riding.

A 1568 painting of Flemish peasants. The men are wearing baggy hose and short doublets. Photo source.
A 1594 woodcut depicting English gardeners. They are wearing cotehardies reminiscent of the 15th century as well as hose and low shoes. Photo source.

Ruffs

Men also jumped on the ruff fashion and delighted in embellishing them as much as the ladies. Starting as a modest ruffle at the neckband of a chemise or partlet, the ruff became a separate garment and eventually grew to an enormous circumference that needed wire and starch to keep its shape.

Hair and Headwear

Hair was mostly short during this period although longer styles became popular in the 1580’s. In the 1590’s, the fashion among young men was a lovelock, one long section of hair hanging over the shoulder.

Where men really went crazy was with beards. All shapes and sizes were popular with the fashions changing often. [4]

A variety of hats were worn. The flat cap was still in style for all social classes. Tall hats and riding hats became popular among the middle and upper classes and were usually highly decorated and bejeweled. [5]

King John III of Sweden wearing a fashionable beard, ruff, and tall hat. Photo source.

Jewelry

A variety of jewelry was still extremely popular including pins, rings, earrings, and brooches. It became the style during the second half of the century to cut slits in the knuckles of gloves so the rings underneath could be seen. [6]


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Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Winter, Janet & Cayolyn Savoy: Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580, Other Times Publications, 1979.
 [2] Vincent, Susan (2009). The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today. Berg. p. 49. ISBN 9781845207632.
 [3] Arnold, Janet: Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women 1560–1620, Macmillan 1985. Revised edition 1986. (ISBN 0-89676-083-9)
 [4] Cunnington, C. Willett; Phillis Cunnington; Charles Beard (1960). A Dictionary of English Costume. London: Adam & Charles Black LTD.
 [5] Tortora (1994), p. 167
 [6] Cunnington, C. Willett; Phillis Cunnington and Charles Beard (1960). A Dictionary of English Costume. London: Adam & Charles Black. 

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