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During the Elizabethan period, fashion served as a mode for self-expression for all social classes. At the beginning of the era, women's clothing was particularly modest, with garments designed to cover nearly every inch of the wearer's body, from neck to ankle. Gowns were characterized by a fitted bodice to accent the wearer's small waist, square shoulders, and a ruffled yoke (particularly for the upper classes, as ruffles indicated high social status). Women's shoes were not particularly important during the period, as they were always hidden by floor-length skirts. Wealthy ladies often wore large gold pendants and a French "hood" on the neck for adornment. As the period progressed, waistlines became straight (as opposed to a V-shaped "princess" cut of earlier years), and sleeves became tight-fitted, rather than ruffled.
A headdress known as a "snood" was a type of hairnet that became highly popular during the Elizabethan era. Similar headdresses appeared, such as a bag-coif which featured a gathered bag at the back covering the wearer's head. The fabric of the bag could match the dress, or could be made of a plain black silk, covered with gold netting. In Italy, a fashionable early 16th century headdress known as the "balzo" was similar to a snood. It was a large gathered bag, often made of woven strips of fabric, fancy gold material and lace, or other materials, worn over the hair. From the front, it looked more like a roll worn over the hair, as the greater portion of its bulk was above the head.
Men's fashion during this period experienced dramatic changes. At the beginning of the era, men wore embroidered "jerkins" (vest-like shirts with buttons down the front), and loose-fitting pants that extended at the knee. Wealthy men donned shoes of fine leather, and either a flat velvet or silk hat, or a tall crown hat made of fabric or feathers. As the era progressed, gentlemen wore cloaks fastened by a chain and crucifix, fine silk stockings, and beaver hats or bonnets with a plume on one side.
Food and Cooking
During Elizabethan times, Western peoples generally ate two meals during the day: "dinner"
at noon and "supper" around 6:00 in the evening. At a feast, guests usually sat on benches,
with chairs reserved for the only most honored guests. Commoners used wooden bowls and spoons
at their meals, and also ate with their bare fingers rather than forks. Salt was a rare commodity,
and meat was in short supply in most households. The lower and middle classes generally ate grains and
vegetables, while the nobility enjoyed eating meats and sweets. In general, Elizabethan cooking
was generally sweeter than cooking today, although sugar was an expensive luxury.
Meats were often cooked with fruits for flavoring. Desserts were commonly flavored with almond, as vanilla and
chocolate were rare.
Sports, Games and Leisure
Recreation during the Elizabethan Era encompassed spectator blood sports, team sports, and
individual amusement activities. Most of the sports of the Elizabethan era were carried over from the Medieval period.
In reference to "blood sports," large crowds of both men and women of all classes flocked to see bear
baiting or bull baiting.
Bearbaiting involved a bear tied to a stake by a long rope. The animal was put into a pit where four or
five large, fierce dogs (or in some cases, lions) were let in for the sole purpose of attacking the confined bear.
Any dogs that might survive the bear's retaliation were pulled off just before the bear was killed.
The dogs would be considered winners if the large animal was killed, but losers if many of them
were disabled that the rest refused to attack. Sometimes apes were used instead of bears. Bullbaiting was much
the same as bear baiting, except that the bull was let into the pit and "worried to death" (teased or hurt until
it died). Cockfighting was another popular blood sport. Roosters were fitted with sharp blades on each
foot and put into a pit to fight to the death.
Team sports gained in popularity during Elizabeth's reign. They, too, were rough and violent
like the sports involving animals. Common men played football (not an ancestor of American football,
despite the similarities) received its name not because the ball was kicked but because all the
players went on foot. It was extremely violent as there were few rules. Hurling, a combination
of hockey and polo, had some players on foot, others on horseback. The object of the game was to
strike a ball (with a stick or a club) so that it went over the opponents' goal. Country hurling
might match the entire adult male populations of two villages, and the goals might be three or four miles
apart. Soccer was also played, but the government frowned upon it since it was the cause of many riots and bloodshed.
Hunting was a favorite pastime for the wealthy during this time.
The hunt allowed the rich nobles to show off their fine horses, hawks, clothing, and weapons.
Horses were displayed by their breeding, most commonly by nobles, and ranked by endurance,
speed, beauty, and strength. From the hunting rounds, the wealthy would often establish a
breeding tree of some sort in an attempt to create the perfect breed. Additionally,
many fashions were established or displayed during hunting trips. The nobles often arrived
in new outfits that the wealthy and underclass surrounding the hunt would emulate,
thus spreading the style. New weaponry also appeared at such events.
Queen Elizabeth herself enjoyed hunting; at age 67, she was occasionally found on
horseback loving the "thrill of the chase."
Fencing was one of the most popular of sports. Betting was commonplace as one of the contestants
might bet that he could hit his opponent a certain number of times. In addition, much time
was spent with the sport of hawking - very popular with gentlemen. Training a hawk or a falcon
began with the capturing of a wild bird, then taming it by sealing its eyes with needle and thread,
then tying the thread back over the head of the bird so that the trainer could open and close the bird's
eyes at will. The temporary blinding made it very easy to train the hawk or falcon to hunt other birds.
Bells were attached to the birds legs so that the trainer could keep track of its whereabouts.