17th Century Trends for Women

In the beginning of the 17th century, Queen Elizabeth I was still a fashion icon for women in England. The voluminous skirts and embroidered jackets that the Queen favored remained in style in England nearly two decades after her death. The embroidery often depicted flowers, birds and other scenes from nature. The skirts were rounded in a wheel shape. Collars were also round and stiff- it would take servants carefully ironing and starching to create the desired effect. We get a unique look into the foundation garments thanks to an intimate portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southhampton. You’ll notice just how extensive her long her stays are, which help to create the desired stress.

Artist unknown. Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, ca. 1600. Oil on panel. Private Collection (Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry)
Artist unknown (British). Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1600. Oil on wood; 113 x 88.3 cm (44 1/2 x 34 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 11.149.1. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911.

By the middle part of the 17th century, women’s clothing had become much simpler. Instead of elaborately embroidered jackets, upper class women were wearing satin and soft fabrics with a loose drape. The sleeves went from being tight to being loose and often slit so the shift underneath could be seen. Collars, which had been gradually softening into the falling band style, were likely to be lace and lay flat on the dress. Some of the more fashionable women skipped the collar all together so they could show of some of their decolletage.


Workshop of Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599-1641). Queen Henrietta Maria of England, 1640s. Oil on canvas; 131.3 x 102 cm. Copenhagen: Statens Museum for Kunst,

Source: Fashion History Timeline; Fashion Institute of Technology

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