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Women thus had a selection of fabrics to choose from, and were able to purchase a range of accessories as well. Muffs not only kept hands warm, but functioned as substitute handbags to store handkerchiefs, money and scent.Face masks and hoods were popular too, enabling women to move around the busy city without being recognised.When Elizabeth Hazard went out in “her best apparel” her neighbours were quick to take notice and asked her where she was going.Women also dressed well if they had to appear in court and were keen to create a good impression.Yet even law-abiding women did not have to purchase all the clothes they acquired.Growing numbers of women worked as domestic servants, and were given work clothes by their employers.In Tudor and Stuart England, dress was important too, and the daily lives of ordinary women were affected by what they chose to wear – especially in London, which by 1700 was the largest city in Europe.
Working women needed to have a set of practical informal clothes for everyday wear, but would have aspired to have particular items and outfits to wear on special occasions.
By Queen Elizabeth’s reign in the second half of the 16th century, merchants were importing a wide range of different fabrics, dyes and textiles which meant that clothes were becoming more diverse and colourful.
Most of this linen and lace came from Italy and the Low Countries, but by the end of the 17th century more exotic commodities such as East Indian chintz and calicos were available too.
Christian Stappleton wore a cloak and taffeta gown when she gave evidence on behalf of her mistress, Jane Hope – although it was alleged that Jane had loaned the clothes to Christian.
One of the main reasons young single women wanted to dress well was to attract the attention of suitors and potential husbands.
Many women personalised their clothes by adding laces, ribbons and flowers, or by embroidering designs and patterns.