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Jacobean Era Society, Fashion & Clothing

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson we will look at several aspects of one of the most interesting periods in the history of England: the Jacobean Era. We will see how society was structured, what was fashionable then and how people dressed. It will surely be interesting!

The Time of James I

The Jacobean era is a period of English history that coincides with the reign of James I. It is commonly understood that this era goes from 1603 to 1625. It is the era following the Elizabethan era, that of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the predecessor of James I.

During the Jacobean era, there was a great development in the decorative arts, science, and in architecture. It should not be forgotten that at this time William Shakespeare wrote some of his most important works, such as 'King Lear', 'Macbeth' and 'The Tempest'.

Let's see how society was in these years, such as what objects and behaviors were fashionable and how people dressed.

King James I.
king

Jacobean Era Society

The society of the Jacobean era was very hierarchical. It was a society organized as a pyramid: at the top sat the King and the Royal family. A little lower, the aristocrats. Then the ministers. Finally, the popular classes. During the reign of James I, the basic structure of this pyramid did not change, but little by little, a middle class, coming from the nascent industry and merchant class, was able to gain more and save money, subsequently raising their social capital.

Men and women had very different roles. The men worked outside the home. The women looked after the house and the children and were subordinate to the men. Most of the children's education was done in homes, especially if families were accommodated. But more and more people were able to start sending their children to schools. Also here the difference between boys and girls was seen. Once elementary education had been completed, the boys continued to study but the girls were taught to govern a house, cook, sew and other household tasks.

Religion had an important role in society at this time. In England, most of the population was of Anglican religion and was intolerant against the Catholics, as they were in the time of Elizabeth I. On the other hand, besides practicing the official religion, the majority of the population had numerous superstitions. Almost everyone believed in witchcraft. It was believed that witches signed pacts with the Devil and, in return for their loyalty, the Devil gave them powers. They could inflict misfortune on people if they so chose. Along with witchcraft came the witch-hunt. The 17th century was a time when there were many persecutions against witches and witchcraft.

Witches being hanged in England, 17th century.
witch

Fashion in the Reign of James I

In the Jacobean era there was an English transition from the styles of the Renaissance to those of the Baroque period.

The Renaissance seeks balance and is inspired by classical antiquity, ancient Greece and Rome. The Baroque is a more variegated style, full of ornaments and curves. It is very ornate.

This transition can be seen in some aspects of fashion, such as furniture or needlework. An observer can see the simplicity of the Elizabethan era change by gaining adornment and excess.

Woman in 1610.
mary

The Furniture

Jacobean furniture was large, heavy, and ornate. It was made with very resistant materials, usually oak or pine wood. The most often created furniture were large chairs, tables, chests, and cupboards. As the technique to make them was very simple, carved scrolls, incisions, and other adornments were added to them. In addition, some of the furniture was painted.

For upholstery fabrics of very good quality were used: linen, silk, velvet or leather.

Jacobean court cupboard.
forniture

Needlework

Needlework was very fashionable at this time. People made embroidery of great quality and delicacy. Flowers, birds, and fruits were often embroidered. The embroideries were used to decorate the houses, to upholster furniture, or to decorate the objects of daily use. Jacobean-style embroidery was much appreciated in later times and the needlework of this era influenced the work that came into fashion after it.

Embroidered linen jacket.
needlework

Clothing

Men

Jacobean men wore their hair medium-length. Their hats were high-top and narrow-winged and they were a must-have accessory. Trousers, as in previous eras, reached the knee and adjusted to fit it. The rest of the leg, from the knee to the foot, was covered with silk stockings (the most elegant), or wool or cotton stockings (the less well-dressed or in more informal suits).

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