Fashion 1625 to 1650 - Part 1 the 1620s: French Influence

Published on 17 January 2024 at 21:33

The period of fashion history I’m most interested in fits nicely into the reign of King Charles I of England. Charles ascended to the throne upon his father’s (King James I) death in 1625 and his rule officially ended with his public execution by beheading in 1649.



Fashion changed slowly in the past – in comparison to the fast fashion we have today – but it did, however, change. Over the 24 years of Charles’s reign there were several distinctive styles. Let’s take a look at them …


I had intended for this to be just one post, but once I started to write it, and it needed to be image heavy to illustrate the points I was making, I decided to split it into three parts.


Part one – The 1620s: French Influence

Part two – The 1630s: Elegance & Restraint

Part three – The 1640s: The War Years


You can find out more about the general clothing terminology used during the 17th Century here.  


Jane, Countess of Winchester, wearing a waistcoat with virago sleeves and tabs around the waist, and matching petticoat. Note her wide spreading collars, multi layered cuffs, and short, blunt fringe of hair across her forehead.

What came before …


The fashions of the early 17th century developed from those of the reign of Elizabeth I, who died in 1603. That icon of Elizabethan fashion – the ruff – still held sway for many years to come and was as much a hallmark of the Jacobean era as it was Elizabeth’s. Women still wore huge French (wheel) farthingales to support their long, full skirts, whilst men strode about in full, padded trunk hose.


King James I and his wife Anne of Denmark, Charles I's parents. You can clearly see the influence of Elizabethan fashion.


By the time of Charles I’s reign, women left off their unwieldy farthingales, men preferred softer knee length breeches, ruffs went unstarched, and were frequently replaced by flat collars, edged with beautiful - and expensive – lace, by both sexes.


The 1620s – French Influence


The new king married the French princess Henrietta Maria in 1625, after which date fashion in England took on a decidedly French flavour.


Portrait miniature of a young Queen Henrietta Maria. Note her jewel encrusted virago sleeves, lace collar wired to stand away from the body, and string of pearls arranged asymmetrically around her body.


For formal wear women wore fitted gowns, which were cut to display the petticoat and waistcoat/bodies with sleeves worn underneath. Waistlines had been rising since the 1610s. The armholes of gowns had small, stiffened shoulder wings. These remained in fashion for many years, and were just as popular with men.


One of the most distinctive looks of the early years of Charles I’s reign were virago sleeves. These sleeves were cut into panes, or long strips, then tied just above the elbow with ribbons, causing them to balloon out in two puffs. The panes were often beautifully decorated, having their edges bound with braid or ribbon, worked with embroidery, sometimes with added spangles, or 17th Century sequins. Gown sleeves were half length and open down the centre front, displaying these complex sleeves underneath. Sleeve length generally shortened, the cuffs terminating somewhere between wrist and elbow, respectable women revealing some parts of their arms for the first time in over a thousand years.

Martha, Countess of Lindsey. This is exactly the type of fashion brought over from France by Henrietta Maria when she arrived in England in 1625.

For more informal occasions the gown might not be worn, the waistcoat and petticoat combination being acceptable at such times. Then the tabbed waistline of the waistcoat could be seen. This remained a feature of female fashion throughout Charles’s reign, adapting to the changing waistline.


Linen waistcoat with silk embroidery. These garments were popular during the early years of the 17th Century and can be seen in many portraits.


Waistcoats started off as everyday wear for the working classes back in the mid-16th Century. By 1600, elite women were wearing these practical, and comfortable garments for informal wear, usually beautifully embroidered with multicoloured silk threads. During the 1620s waistcoats started to be made using luxury fabrics, such as satin, often with a matching petticoat. Waistcoats were always hip length, the portion below the waist having triangular pieces inserted, or square tabs attached, flaring out over the full gathered skirts worn underneath. Waistcoats usually had sleeves, and always fastened at the front, often with contrasting coloured ribbons tied in bows. The more formal – and fashionable – waistcoats were stomacher fronted, not meeting edge to edge, but having the resulting gap filled in with a stomacher, a stiffened triangular piece of fabric, which the waistcoat was laced over with ribbon. Gowns could also fasten using this method.


Low square necklines were edged with deep lace collars, and several could be worn at the same time. One of the collars might be wired to stand away from the body. Collars (or bands) were constructed from long pieces of linen and sewn with many small darts to shape the collar to fit around the neckline. If extra coverage was needed in this area, a kerchief could be worn, a square piece of linen, folded in half diagonally, and draped and fastened about the neck and shoulders in various ways. Alternatively, a high-necked smock could be worn, or a separate linen partlet. Partlets covered the neck, chest and shoulders only, and could be worn under or over the waistcoat. Cuffs might be made from multiple layers of tightly gathered linen. There was a general rule when it came to items of clothing made from linen – if you could afford it trim it with lace, the wider the better. When geometric Italian needle laces started to go out of fashion, deep scallops of scrolling Flemish bobbin lace took its place.


Charlotte, Countess of Derby. Note her trimmed virago sleeves, the multiple layers of collars, and the simple pearl jewellery, including asymmetrically arranged string around her shoulders and chest. 


Jewellery was kept simple - a single strand of large pearls encircling the throat, paired with single or double pearl drop earrings. There was a brief fashion for jewelled chains or long ropes of pearls to be draped asymmetrically about the shoulders. More long lasting was the trend for large pendants pinned at the breast, usually with a dangling pearl drop suspended underneath.


Hairdressing was simple, and it was acceptable for fashionable ladies with dressed tresses to go bare headed, although it was always thought decent to cover the head when going outside. The hair was flatter than previously and taken straight back off the face. The locks at the side of the head were sometimes left loose. If this was the case then the hair was cut relatively short, no longer than jaw length, and usually tightly curled and frizzy. The hair at the back of the head, however, was always left very long and secured in a knot at the back of the head, possibly sewn in place with fabric tape or ribbon. A very sparse and short fringe might have been worn across the forehead, one of the few times in fashion history – before the 1870s – that fringes were seen in women’s hairdressing.


LeftAnne Hale         Right - Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham

Both women have fashionable late 1620s hairstyles (the duchess with a short blunt fringe), and wear virago sleeves. Mistress Hale wears multiple collars and a black felt hat.


Most women would have covered their hair most of the time, and ladies of quality were no exception, especially if they had not had their hair fashionably dressed. Linen coifs or caps were simple, and worn close to the head, and usually accompanied by a cross cloth, a triangular piece of linen worn across the forehead, covering the hairline and tied behind the head. The coif was then pinned to this keeping it in place. Wealthy women had their coifs and cross cloths embroidered and edged with narrow lace.  If going out of doors, women wore hats made from fur or wool felt, the shape following the male fashion. Common styles had wide brims which could be cocked, or pinned up in various ways. Alternately, tall crowned hats with narrower brims were wore, especially amongst women from the middling sort.


Shoes followed the masculine fashion. Before 1600 shoes were completely flat, or might have a low, cork wedge or platform sole. During the early 17th Century shoes started to be constructed with a separate heel piece. By the 1620s the heels had started to increase in height – for both men and women. Shoes were made with a sort of T-bar – being fastened over the instep with latchets, or straps coming from the rear of the shoe. These were secured over a long tongue, the side sections of the shoe being open to display the stockings worn beneath. Fashionable shoes were made from pale, fine leather, could have punched decoration, and were fastened with large fabric ‘shoe roses’.

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