Elizabethan Collars: 16th Century English Elegance

A Brief History of the Elizabethan Collar

Picture this: the year is 1562, and you've just received an invitation to a party at the royal court. What do you wear to impress Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers? Why, an Elizabethan collar, of course! These extravagant neck ruffs were all the rage in 16th century England, symbolizing status, wealth, and refinement. The bigger and more elaborate the collar, the more fabulous you were considered to be.

Originally inspired by the pleated linen collars worn by Spanish nobility, Elizabethan collars quickly took on a life of their own in England. The collars evolved from modest beginnings to elaborate, multi-tiered creations, resembling the petals of a flower or a halo surrounding the wearer's head. They were starched and wired to maintain their shape and could be worn with or without a matching ruff to cover the neck and shoulders. The peak of Elizabethan collar fashion came in the late 16th century when the "cartwheel ruff" - a large, circular collar with many layers of pleats - became popular among the upper class.

Constructing an Elizabethan Collar

If you're anything like me, you're probably wondering how these gravity-defying collars were constructed. After all, it's not every day that you see someone wearing a neck accessory that looks like it could double as a satellite dish. The secret to Elizabethan collar construction lies in the use of starch and wires.

To make an Elizabethan collar, a long strip of linen or lawn (a fine, lightweight fabric) would be tightly pleated, with each pleat containing anywhere from 2 to 6 layers of fabric. This would create a dense, accordion-like effect. The pleats were often stitched or held in place with pins, and then the entire collar would be soaked in a mixture of water and starch. The starch not only stiffened the fabric, but it also helped to create a smooth, shiny surface that was more resistant to dirt and grime.

Once the starch had dried, the collar would be carefully shaped around a series of wires that had been sewn into the fabric. These wires provided the necessary structure to support the collar's elaborate design. The wires would be bent into various shapes - circles, crescents, hearts, or even letters of the alphabet - and attached to the wearer's doublet, gown, or corset with pins, ribbons, or hooks.

Practicality, or Lack Thereof

Sure, Elizabethan collars certainly made a statement, but were they practical? In a word, no. These large, delicate collars were cumbersome and difficult to maintain. Their starched surfaces attracted dust and dirt, requiring frequent laundering. Additionally, the collars limited the wearer's mobility and obscured their peripheral vision, which must have made attending court functions and participating in social events somewhat challenging.

That said, practicality was not the point of Elizabethan collars. These collars were all about status and image. They were a visual representation of one's wealth, and the more elaborate the collar, the more powerful and influential the wearer was perceived to be.

Modern Interpretations and Uses

While Elizabethan collars may not be the most practical fashion accessory, their unique and eye-catching design has endured and continues to inspire modern fashion. Variations on the Elizabethan collar have appeared on high-fashion runways, in films and television shows, and even in the world of cosplay and historical reenactments.
  • In the world of haute couture, designers such as Alexander McQueen and Valentino have created garments featuring exaggerated collars reminiscent of the Elizabethan era.

  • In the realm of film and television, Elizabethan collars have appeared in productions such as "Shakespeare in Love" and "The Tudors," adding a touch of historical accuracy and drama to the costumes.

  • For those interested in cosplay or historical reenactments, recreating an accurate Elizabethan collar can be a fun and challenging project. There are numerous tutorials and patterns available online to guide you in your quest to create the perfect ruff.
So, while the Elizabethan collar may not be the most practical fashion choice for modern times, its enduring popularity is a testament to the enduring appeal of 16th-century English elegance. Who knows - perhaps you'll be inspired to don your own Elizabethan collar for your next costume party or formal event. Just be prepared for a lot of attention and the occasional neck cramp!

Article kindly provided by foreverinfashion.org