Thursday, August 21, 2008

Question from Gervase - Pearls and stones on gowns

Having been looking at 16th century portraits, not only of Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, etc., but ladies of Court, they all have their gowns adorned with pearls (pearls seemed to be bountiful) and precious gems etc., I wonder, what did they do to remove the gems from the gowns. They couldn't possibly keep those gowns for very long, I don't know if they had deodorant etc. but surely, they must have had stains, etc. on them. What a job that must have been! But I always wonder if the seamstresses' continually made these fabulous gowns, or had to wait until the Queen made up her mind about style etc.. I would love to hear from our group with the answers..........


  1. From what I have been able to gather from over the years is that the gems and pearls were sewn on to each gown...albeit loosely enough to allow them to be transferred to another outfit.

    Gems and pearls were constantly being switched between garments, just as sleeves went with different costumes. Lady maids and seamstresses' were able to fill their days with moving the precious items from garment to garment.

    As for cleaning...that was impossible...mainly because of the delicate fabrics. Beating those in a tub with a paddle would have ruined the silks and other expensive materials. A theory was that if the clothing was hung in the area of the privy that would stop moths from eating the fabric. Other than that, there really wasn't any way to get clothes 'clean', except for maybe a good brushing.


  2. On the contrary, I would think that a gown would be kept for a very long time, given the expense. And after it had run it's course with the original owner, it would be passed down or altered into something else. Besides, wasn't the purpose of wearing so many layers under the gown to protect it from getting dirty? You would wash your linen undergarments that had been in contact with your skin, and leave your expensive silk gown alone.

  3. if you were a noble, you would give your gowns to your maids or servants, who could sell or keep them, or you might even sell them yourself if you were strapped for cash. an interesting side note on clothing is the sumptary laws. only persons of certain ranks could wear costly materials. if a noble lady handed down a very expensive gown with gold or silver tissue, certain furs, and in some cases silk or velvet, these components had to be removed prior to the servant's wearing these clothing items. of course, the lady's seamstresses probably saw to this first.


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