The Quick 10: The Fashions of Queen Elizabeth I

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Many, many years ago today (451 years ago, to be exact), the world changed when Elizabeth I took the throne. She's been a popular subject in recent years with the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth movies and Philippa Gregory books, so you probably already know the basics"¦ what you may not know about is her fabulous couture collection. Here are a few facts about Elizabeth's passion for fashion.

elizabeth1. She was a notorious clotheshorse and had a wardrobe that would be the envy of any fashion-minded woman. It's estimated that she owned at least 2,000 pairs of gloves alone.
2. Elizabeth didn't wear makeup until a bout with smallpox in 1562 left her with a lot of facial scars. That's when she started to really cake it on. It wasn't like today's mineral makeup though "“ Elizabeth's makeup was actually deadly. She painted her face with white lead and vinegar, which poisoned her slowly over time.
3. Despite popular belief, dental care was very important to Elizabethans and they realized that hygiene was key to keeping their teeth. Even so, the means they had to keep their teeth clean were not so great. Even Elizabeth herself ended up having so many rotted teeth that her cheeks started to cave in from lack of support. To combat this and give the impression of robust health, she stuffed her cheeks with rags for public appearances.

4. Although she loved ornate dresses, Elizabeth shunned the jewels and embroidered silks in private and wore plain dressing gowns. She was reputed to wear the same one for days on end when she could.

5. She may have worn the first wristwatch to appear in England. One of the Queen's suitors (he was also a Queen's Favorite) presented her with a watch face that was enclosed in a bracelet. Previously, portable timepieces had been limited mostly to pocket watches.

6. Even Elizabeth knew the power of the LBD (that's little black dress). Although her closet contained dresses in all colors imaginable, her favorites were ones that were black and white. She felt that these colors best represented purity and virginity "“ she was, after all, known as the Virgin Queen. Although in her case, the "little" in "little black dress" hardly has a place "“ the trend at the time was to wear farthingales, hoop skirts and petticoats under a dress.

7. Despite her lavish wardrobe, Elizabeth actually didn't spend that much of her budget on clothes, even spending just a fifth of what some of her male successors spent. Many of her clothes were gifts, and she also had existing dresses constantly restyled to look different by cutting off sleeves or adding embellishments.

8. It wasn't uncommon for Elizabeth to pay her ladies in waiting with clothes from her wardrobe instead of with actual money.

9. It has been speculated that the Queen loved having so many rich clothes because she severely lacked them as a child. After Henry VIII declared that her mother, Anne Boleyn, was a witch and had her beheaded, Elizabeth was considered illegitimate and received pretty poor treatment. Her nanny had to write to the King and his staff to beg for some decent clothes for his daughter to wear, saying,

"beseeching you to be [a] good lord to my lady...that she may have some raiment for she hath neither gown, not kirtle nor sleeves, nor railes, nor body stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor mufflers nor biggins. All this her grace must have. I have driven off as long as I can, that be my troth I can drive it no longer. Beseeching you my lord that ye will see that her grace may have that [which] is needful for her."

10. Elizabeth was kind of like Lady Gaga. OK, I might be exaggerating a little, but what I mean is that she was a fashion trendsetter. Her fashions would be so outrageous in terms of volume, embellishment and extravagance that no one other than the Queen herself could possibly have pulled them off. Instead, the styles trickled down and became watered-down copies as it went through each level of society. Her ladies-in-waiting might have decent facsimiles of her styles, but by the time they reached the common folk, they were bare bones copies. It's sort of like seeing a crazy outfit on the runway at Fashion Week and then finding the more wearable, affordable version of it at Forever 21 three months later.

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January 15, 2010 - 12:46pm
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