What Clothes Did Poor Women Wear in the Elizabethan Era?

Lower-class women in the Elizabethan era were forced by law to wear clothing made of cheap material in dull or pale colors. Poor men and women would layer their clothes made of sheepskin, linen or wool and would sometimes decorate their outfits with slashes or velvet trim.

During the Elizabethan era, fashion was literally dictated by the Sumptuary Laws, or "Statutes of Apparel," enforced by Queen Elizabeth I in June 1574. Bright colors, rich fabrics and certain expensive materials were considered signs of luxury and rank and were reserved for those with the highest social rank. Only the Queen, her mother, sisters and daughters were allowed to wear purple silk under the law. Even certain animal furs could only be worn by a woman of a specific rank.

Because of the limitations of the apparel laws, peasants began slashing the outer layers of their gowns or doublets to show the clashing color of the layer beneath. They would puff out the material underneath through the slashes to emphasize the clashing colors and fabrics. The only adornments allowed for lower-class women were velvet, taffeta and silk trimmings, as long as they were the correct color, and buttons on hats, cloaks, coats and caps.