Ladies’ Elizabethan Separates Explored

Last time, I was musing over trim styles on doublets, but towards the end of that post I realized that perhaps the design I had in mind was a “fair-ism,” something that didn’t actually exist (or that we have record of) in the period.

This Costume Chimera is the doublet + sleeves + single closed skirt, none of those pieces matching the others.

When I searched, I found plenty of doublets + matching, open overskirts; doublet + matching sleeves, worn under a loose gown; doublet + matching overskirt + separate sleeves…

… but I really had to dig for any evidence at all of what I wanted.  I did find some possible references, but with caveats.  Here they are:

Countess of Nottingham, Catherine Carey, attr. to John de Critz the Elder, 1600-1605. It’s definitely a non-matching doublet, but the hanging sleeves appear to match the skirt. Also, the sleeves match the doublet, so it’s not *really* what I’m looking for.
1575 – German? or possibly French? – the woman is wearing a loose open jacket, but underneath, she has on a doublet. The skirt is a single, closed petticoat. We can’t tell if any of the colors match or not, so, again, this isn’t definitive evidence.
Herzogin Dorothea ur, 1577 – this is not a doublet, BUT it exhibits sleeves, bodice, and single petticoat that do not match. It’s a supposition to think that if it was done with bodices of this type it was surely done with doublets….but….again….it’s not proof.
The Village Feast (detail), Hans Bol – the woman on the right could be wearing a doublet, or she could be wearing a waistcoat. The women in the center are wearing doublets and single skirts, with open gowns over the top.
Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium, Jean Jacques Boissard, 1581 – this series of French drawings is the closest I have to proof, but again there is a caveat – the coloration on these plates was done separately (we don’t know when or by whom) and may not reflect what was reality. So the doublets shown may or may not match the skirts paired with them.
Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium, Jean Jacques Boissard, 1581 – again, the lady on the right wears a single petticoat, but the sleeves are set into the doublet and match, if the colors can be believed (which they can’t)
Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium, Jean Jacques Boissard, 1581 – the woman at center definitely exhibits the three pieces – doublet, sleeves, and single petticoat. This is the best evidence I have so far.
People Dancing on the River Bank, Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1616 – the woman in the foreground, with the yellow skirt, is wearing a single petticoat and a non-matching bodice, but it’s unclear whether that’s a waistcoat, which would be common at this time, or a doublet. Many of the other women in the image are clearly wearing waistcoats.
Lady at the virginals, from the Stammbuch of Anton Weihenmayer (plate from Pattern of Fashion by Janet Arnold) – She wears a black doublet with a pink single petticoat, but she’s in linen shirtsleeves – would she have had sleeves to tie on? would they have matched the doublet?

So as you can see, I don’t have any “yes, definitely” evidence! I also don’t have any yardage for making matching sleeves, a matching overskirt, or…any of that. So I suppose the question to myself, then, is, “is this evidence enough?”

I believe in the common-sense approach to costuming: we know that men mis-matched their doublets and slops all the time, so why wouldn’t women, especially middling class and lower, do the same thing?

We know that people were pragmatic, so is it too much to assume that a Bourgeois woman going about her daily business would pair her clothing to compliment, but not necessarily to match?

We know that clothing was discarded by the upper classes and sold again and again down the social order, so wouldn’t it make sense that a doublet from this vendor, and a petticoat from that one might be paired together?

I think so!


  • Anonymous

    April 27, 2014 at 2:32 AM

    As more evidence for you, we have on page 107 of Patterns of Fashion 3 by Janet Arnold a doublet that has been shown to be a woman's doublet that has lacing holes for attaching sleeves. Since no sleeves came with it, it's hard to say whether the sleeves would have been made to match or not, but a quote in the description mentions women wearing doublets and jerkins exactly as men do. (It's a very disapproving quote from 1583.) So basically, we have proof that the construction of the doublet would allow for mix-and-match sleeves, at least.

  • Isabella

    April 28, 2014 at 2:17 AM

    The first portrait isn't a doublet. It's actually a stomacher in a gown with the sleeves matching the stomacher. It's hard to tell due to the darkness of the dress so here's a portrait with a similar dress up on the site:

    With that one, you can easily see the orange at the sides showing that it is a dress. 🙂 There are a few extant Elizabethan/Jacobean stomachers at the V&A I think.

    You may also be interested in some commentary of the time. Phillip Stubbes complains greatly about doublets. Mostly, it's on men wearing peascod bodies (faux beer bellies) but he mentions that women wear doublets too.

    So, don't just look at women's doublets for the sleeve thing – check out mens as well. There is the extant women's doublet too: Tons of research on that one.

    In The Tailor's Pattern Book 1589, it shows women's doublets and sleeves being cut from the same cloth. There are three different examples of this. This, of course, doesn't meant that the sleeves were stitched into the armscye, just that they were matching the doublet. There are also several patterns for skirts in the book.

    • Anonymous

      April 28, 2014 at 5:31 AM

      I think the goal is less about doublets/gowns in general and more about specific instances of a bodice/doublet body with non-matching sleeves, paired with a non-matching petticoat. Lots of ladies at Faire wear outfits that are all mixed rather than matched and Lauren is looking for instances of that in historical documentation. Have you found any instances of each piece of an outfit being a separate color/material in the Elizabethan era? Most I've found are Stuart and still have some matching component or they are all men. I think for a lower class lady it would be perfectly plausible, seeing that second hand clothing was a booming business.

    • Isabella

      April 28, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      This is why I mentioned the Stubbes pamphlet. 🙂 Seeing as he states there is no difference between the way men wear doublets and the way women wear them, any depiction of a man wearing separates could be used as documentation.

  • unicornemporium

    April 28, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    I think you will drive yourself crazy trying to find exact documentation, seeing as the only evidence we have is what has survived – it would be like 500 years from now, if there were no pictures or written description of people wearing their pajama bottoms to Walmart, then no one would ever know that some people did it! LOL! or the story of the three blind men touching one part of the elephant and basing what they know about the elephant on that. If it seems logical and plausible based on what you can find, then chances are, it did happen in the period. It makes complete sense, to me at least, that middling to lower classes would have mixed and matched what they had…

  • Sam B

    November 17, 2022 at 9:28 PM

    to Isabella, The portrait of Mary Fitton is fascinating, but the top portrait here of the Countess of Nottingham is NOT a white stomacher over a black/dark dress: you can clearly see the tabs and SIDES of the white/silver garment (behind the pearls), and the shoulder “wings” at the tops of the sleeves would be dark if the gown was dark; this is a pale bodice with matching sleeves and either a black over-gown with the wide hanging sleeves, or just the sleeves alone added over the bodice. There are other images of this portrait of Catherine Carey with better lighting to see the details of dark sleeves with dark skirt on a dark background, although none that I’ve found reveal if the hanging sleeves are part of a larger garment or just add-ons. Ironically, in the higher-contrast images the skirt seems dark green while the hanging sleeves still look black…3 non-matching pieces for Lauren! Whether the lady in question referred to her bodice as a doublet or by another name is lost to history, but it definitely is a full bodice, not to mention a striking outfit.


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