The ruff which was worn by both men and women, evolved from the small fabric ruffle at the drawstring neck of the shirt or chemise. They served as changeable pieces of cloth that could themselves be laundered while keeping the wearer's doublet from becoming soiled at the neckline.
The discovery of starch allowed ruffs to be made wider without losing their shape. Later ruffs were separate garments that could be washed, starched, and set into elaborate figure-of-eight folds by the use of heated cone-shaped goffering irons.
At their most extreme, ruffs were a foot or more wide; these cartwheel ruffs such as the one in the portrait to the right required a wire frame called a supportasse or underpropper to hold them at the fashionable angle.
By the end of the sixteenth century, ruffs were falling out of fashion in Western Europe, in favor of wing collars and falling bands. The fashion lingered longer in Holland, where ruffs can be seen in portraits well into the seventeenth century, and farther east. It also stayed on as part of the ceremonial dress of city councillors (Senatoren) in North German Hanseatic cities and of Lutheran clergy in those cities and in Denmark.
In the twentieth century, the ruff inspired the name of the Elizabethan collar for animals.