Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Question from M.Y. - Designer of Elizabeth's dresses and accessories

We know that Elizabeth I was with lots of dresses and accessories. Who dsigned those for her? Did she design some of those?

I am, in particular, interested in accessories she was wearing since I watched the movie "Elizabeth, The Golden Age".

In that movie, she was wearing an interesting necklace/choker that looked like a dancing clown or something with her red/orange dress (see this Japanese site,, for detail of the accessory).
I just had to wonder who would have designed it and why.

Thank you!


Anonymous said...

The simple answer to your first two questions is "We don't know exactly." There were no "designers" of the kind that we have today. There were dressmakers and haberdashers, but big-name designers are a more modern phenomenon in England. Elizabeth had many dressmakers, but most or all of their names are not known to us today. Did she have input into how her dresses and accessories appeared? Almost certainly. Did she design any of her outfits entirely herself? We don't know for sure, but I'm inclined to doubt it.

Please do not confuse what you see in a Hollywood film with historical reality! Movie costumes are notoriously NOT accurate, even and especially in films like "Elizabeth" and "The Golden Age." They are sometimes BASED ON outfits seen in paintings from the period, but they are never more than about 60% accurate in even the very best of films. In the worst, such as Showtime's "The Tudors," they are totally laughably wrong. Hollywood is interested in entertaining you, not in giving you accurate historical presentations with dead-accurate costuming. The jewel that "Elizabeth" is wearing on that Japanese website is certainly nothing more than a modern fabrication without historical basis. But you can check Yvonne Scarisbrick's many books on Tudor era jewelery. She has photos of many of Elizabeth's jewels that survive in modern collections and museums. And she also has information on who designed and made some of them.

Foose said...

I've squinted at this on a number of sites and the pictures just aren't big enough to see what the figure is. It looks like a brooch or pendant of some sort. Those were very popular during the 16th century and usually highly symbolic -- there's a picture of Elizabeth wearing a pelican brooch in the same position, the pelican symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ.

I think these pieces were usually designed specifically by jewelers and goldsmiths to meet the request of the person who ordered it. Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a jewel depicting a lady in a storm-tossed ship, to indicate she was willing to brave the tempest (scandal, public contempt, political upheaval) for him.

In the movie, Elizabeth wears the brooch you mention at the beginning, when she's wearing blood-red and being threatened with assassination (later in the film, Mary Stuart is the one wearing scarlet for her execution). Perhaps it has some reference to martyrdom?

Alysia said...

Alexandra Byrne was the costume designer on the set of Elizabeth the Golden Age.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind and prompt answers!! M.Y.

Elizabeth said...

The little dancing man was also seen on Norfolk in Elizabeth. If you go to and look for Elizabeth under "reasearch" there are many pictures of the costume and some discussion on the little dancing man.