I’ve always really liked the ‘dark times’ in England’s history during the 17th century, of course not for the murder of Charles I, but how the English tried to follow the principles of the Puritans, yet always falling back into their old immoral ways. When it comes to the fashion of the 1640’s and 50’s you always think of black and white fabrics, boring, over-sized plain hats and simple coifs, but, was it really that dull?
Having a look at it now in more detail I’ve realised that in their choice of simple clothing they were making their own fashion impacts with subtle details in the large kerchiefs round their necks, trimmed with lace and the large starched ruffs, often trimmed with lace or seriously over-sized.
They also showed a tiny glimmer of embroidery, as can be seen in the portrait above, the bodice is decorated with gold threads, while there is a small embroidered, organic pattern on the coif, perhaps reminding others of the importance of nature and where we all originally come from, Adam and Eve.
Yet it is still possible to distinguish the rich and poor from each other, which perhaps wasn’t the puritan believe but more about rich women following the fashions of the day.
This portrait above possibly shows how fashion was beginning to develop into the beautiful colours and silks and satin’s of the 1660’s, nearer the end of the Cromwellian period. The detailed embroidered silks on the under-skirt, the opened exposed sleeves and bodice with intricate detail all demonstrate a part of history moving forward, while the contrasting black and white and large kerchief show a society continued belief in a conservative form of fashionable attire.
These simple dress codes spread across both sides of the English civil war however, the Royalist also demonstrating their preference for simple dress in their portraits of the day as much as the parliamentarians.
The dark, simple military Armour became popular among both groups after Peter Lely’s defining portrait of Oliver Cromwell with ‘warts and all’. The Puritans simple taste also inspired future generations of sombre fashions, such as the Victorians in their period of modesty with simple lace trimming on cuffs and neckerchiefs reaching over the shoulders. Perhaps it’s not boring and just needs more observation?