16th Century Working Class Elizabethan Outfit

Gen dressing in doublet and petticoat in the Cape Merchant's officeThese are the new pieces I've created to make a 16th century English working class outfit, for costumed interpreting at the Jamestown Settlement. While the shift is old, and in need of replacing, the rest of the outfit is mostly recent.

The entire outfit consists of:

  • high necked linen shift
  • linen petticoat bodies
  • wool petticoat
  • wool doublet
  • apron
  • coif and flat cap

More information about the shift and Elizabethan shirt construction is available on my page on creating a 16th Cent shirt.

Petticoat Bodies: The second layer is the linen petticoat bodies. The foundation garment is essential for fitting the outer layers, so it was the first piece made. I decided to make a single piece petticoat bodies instead of a separate pair of bodies and a petticoat. Items that look like petticoat bodies can be seen hanging in a tailor's shop in woodcuts from the period (source later). The Tudor Tailor also outlines patterns and construction methods for creating a petticoat bodies for the Tudor period.

First the bodies are patterned and constructed. I used a pattern from Laura Mellin for a "pair of bodyes" obtained years ago for the bodies construction. These consist of three layers of linen, but my next set will have at least four to prevent the boning from working itself through one layer. Five pieces of cable tie boning are used on each side as suggested on the Tudor Costume Page. Here is the boning layout. petticoat bodies full finished view
petticoat bodies boning layout petticoat bodies top
And here is the bodies as laid out for final construction. The bodies pieces, lining and interlining were cut out, boning channels sewn, and then assembled at the side back seams. The straps were made to fit at the front after eyelet holes were constructed for lacing. Once the bodies were finished except at the bottom edge, the petticoat was pleated on, and then the lining was tacked down to hide the seam. Final details were hemming the petticoat, and top stitching around the edges of the bodies. After a month the bodies needed to be taken in (due to weight loss), which was easily done at the side back seams.

Finished petticoat bodies: front and back.
petticoat bodies-frontpetticoat bodies- back

Wool Petticoat: Over the petticoat bodies, a wool petticoat is worn. First the two panels of the skirt are seamed to create one large tube. Laura Mellin has a theory on period seaming that involves finishing each pattern edge, and then whip-stitching the pieces together, instead of using a running or back stitch. For this petticoat I finished the vertical edges of the panels and then seamed them using this method to create the tube skirt, prior to pleating to a waistband.
period seaming- whipstiching
Whip-stitching the two finished edges together.
period seaming- seam pulled flat inside
The finished seam, as seen on the inside of the garment.
period seaming- ouside view
The finished seam, on the outside, once laid flat. No ironing necessary.

The finished tube body of the skirt is then cartridge pleated onto a waistband that closes either on the front or the side by lacing through eyelet holes in the waistband. Hem as needed. So far mine still has the selvedge as the hem, but that should be remedied soon.

Wool Doublet- work in progressWool Doublet: The wool doublet is the final outer layer over the shift, petticoat and petticoat bodies. This was constructed similar to men's doublets of the era. In fact I altered my husband's doublet pattern as a starting place for one to fit me. It consists of one back piece, two front pieces seamed to the back in side seams, collar, shoulder and waist skirtings (epaulets and peplums?), and cut wool piping at the neck and cuffs. Here the doublet is seen as a work in progress, prior to ironing, and the addition of buttons, buttonholes, and wrist decoration. The black and gray fine herringbone patterned wool is lined in a red linen.
Swatch seen here:
fabric swatches for the doublet

The buttons used are pewter replicas of 16th Century buttons purchased from a friend who excels at pewter casting and research, Kymber Miner. They have a lovely domed shape and work quite well.

Apron, Coif and Flat Cap: First, none of these pieces were made by me. The coif and aprons were purchased from the Gardiner's store years ago, and have proven very useful. The apron is a simple hemmed rectangle with a sewn casing pocket for the apron cord. I have worn the coif tied around a bun, with no pinning and no slipping throughout an entire day of work. The flat cap was knitted by Heather Bryden as a thank you gift, and I cherish it. But while I did not make any of these pieces, they are essential for the finished look. An apron is required to keep the clothes and hands clean during any kind of work, while the coif and flat cap keep the hair clean and tidy. Please visiting Isobel Bedingfield's/Laura Mellin's page, for more information on period headwear as well as period hairstyles.

More images of the finished pieces:
At Jamestown Nov 2006 , first the completed outfit as described here, and then worn without the wool petticoat, but with a cartridge pleated linen petticoat on under the petticoat bodies. The second picture was taken on a warmer day when the additional warmth of the flat cap and the wool petticoat was not required in Virginia. Please note the dirty aprons from lots of work.
Working woman's outfit, 16th cent Working woman's outfit, 16th Cent Gen at NOTT
The third picture is from April 2007at Night on the Town. Doublet is worn open so you can see the bodice of the petticoat bodies.

Pieces of the outfit as worn at Atlantian Twelfth Night, January 2007. Doublet is worn rolled and pinned into place on the bodies, creating the effect of a velvet stomacher. (The petticoat bodies were being taken in, so were out of commission.)
Doublet and wool petticoat worn at Atlantian Twelfth night close-up of the doublet worn rolled and pinned back in place over bodies

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560-1620, Drama Books, ©1985.

Knapp, Emily. Making the Clothes: the kirtle. [Article] The Tudor Costume Page. Retrieved online 10/2006 at:

Mellin, Laura. Working Women's Clothes in 1580s London:  Servant, Alewife, Housewife. [Article] ©2006. Retrieved online at:

Mikhailya, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. Tudor Tailor: reconstructing sixteenth- century dress. ©2006 Costume & Fashion Press

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