Queen of Couture

In the latter half of the 16th century, one of the greatest lovers of clothing in history  lived. Her name was Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England and Ireland. The Virgin Queen sat on the English throne from 1558-1603 (45 years) and during this time, accumulated a collection of over 2,000 dresses and 600 pieces of jewellery!!

“Gloriana” was a true clothes' horse. Elizabeth quite simply adored elaborate clothing made from very expensive fabrics and jewels. It has been suggested her lack of clothing in her child hood resulted in her vast collection as Queen. Elizabeth was a fashion influencer. The dresses she wore were considered to be a serious fashion statement by women in her court and the public at large.

In 16th Century England, the clothing you wore had a direct correlation with how wealthy you were. Clothing was extremely expensive and quickly became a form of currency. Suptuary Laws enabled one to assess social status at one glance. This enforced dress code colours. Only the very wealthy were allowed to wear purple.

“Gloriana” was fastidious about her appearance and very aware of the power of appearance and clothing. It is said it took at least 2 hours to dress The Queen in the morning.

Elizabeth was well aware she needed to convey wealth, power and authority. She often used foreign clothing trends as a form of international diplomacy when meeting with other monarchs and ambassadors.

QE1 adopted black and white as a colour code. White appealed to The Queen as it suggested purity and virginity and black for wisdom. Black perfectly showcased her magnificent collection of jewels. And she loved to wear lots and lots of pearls!! The more strands, the better!!

As a result of inheriting an empty treasury on her father’s death, Elizabeth was very frugal with her expenditure on clothing and jewels. A large proportion of her vast wardrobe was gifts presented to her by aristocrats (looking for favours) as New Year gifts. Often these gifts of clothing were remodelled over time or used to pay staff. Yes indeed, Elizabeth was seriously thrifty!!

In the aftermath of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell sold Elizabeth’s entire collection of clothing. The only surviving piece was found in a church and it had been used as an alter cloth for centuries…. Another interesting story and blog!!


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