In the early decades of the 1500s, ruffs or ruffles, started as low frilled collars, or as frilly trim around the top of high collars.
1535 Titian Tiziano Vercelli (Italian painter, 1488-1576) Isabella of Portugal
Initially ruffs usually were starched linen cambric edged with lace. Starch had been used in England, especially in religious situations, well before the ruff appeared. About 1390, church records from Norwich listed eightpence for "vestiarium: pro coole, pro starchyng." Starch for kerchiefs was mentioned about 1440, as "starche, for kyrcheys" in Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum: dictionarius anglo-latinus princeps, by Dominican friar Galfridus Anglicus.
1540 Alessandro Bonvicino (also Buonvicino) (1498-1554), more commonly known as Il Moretto da Brescia, Portrait of a Lady c 1540
Ruffs were usually worn closed, although some large ruffs attached to partlets were worn open.
1545 Christoph Amberger (1505-1562) A Woman
Pleated writst cuffs in a style matching the neck ruff were also found on shirts, partlets and some high-necked smocks throughout the century.
1545 Titian Tiziano Vercelli (Italian painter, 1488-1576) Titian's Daughter Lavinia
Initially, the springiness & stiffeness of linen made it hold its form better than other fabrics. Linen fabrics like lawn, holland, & cambric were in high demand for ruffs.
1548 Catharina van Hemessen (c 1528-a 1560) Portrait of a Woman
Ruffs usually were pinned into place & often attached to partlets. The pleat or flute of a ruff was called a Purl & were sometimes edged with fine lace.
1550s Anthonis Mor (1519–1575) Maria of Portugal
The partlet bodice covered the chest up to the neck, a female version of the man's doublet. This style, born in Spain, became more & more common throughout Europe in the 1500s.
1550s Elisabeth of Austria in black gown by van Straeten
Younger girls would wear their partlets open in the front, while more modest married women would usually wear theirs closed.
1551 Caterina van Hemessen ( c 1528- 1560) Portrait of a Woman with a Dog
Often, textle laces or strings, sometimes called band strings, were attached to the opening of a ruff which could then be tied together to secure the ruff around the neck.
1550s Unknown German artist, A Lady
In the early years of the ruff, the art of starching, though at that time well known to the manufacturers of Flanders, was not yet in wide use in England. Starch was already in use for fine linens & laces; but in the 1500s, starchmaking became more organised and commercial in Northern Europe. Flanders, home of the famous Flemish lace, was one of the earliest centres of starch manufacturing & skilful use.
1560 Elisabeth de Valois by Alonso Sánchez Coello (Spanish painter, 1532–1588)
The use of starch allowed ruffs to be made wider without losing their shape. The art of starching ruffs, imported from the continent into England, became hightly sought-after. Philip Stubbes describes "starching houses." where ruffs were washed, starched, & set into shape with "putting sticks," conical irons heated in coals & applied to the ruff.
Unknown artist, 1550s Gabrielle d'Estrées
Clear-starching involved preparing transparent starch mixtures & knowing how to use them. Clear-starching allowed keeping delicate muslin & similar fabrics from being clogged with starch granules in the loose weave, thereby avoiding thickening caused by visible traces of starch clinging to the threads. The technique was popularized in England by Madame Dinghen van der Plasse who came with her husband to London from Flanders "for their better safeties," escaping from the bonfires of the Duke of Alva; & making a fortune by clear-starching English ruffs. She took pupils, & was much patronized by the court dandies of the time: but religious conservatives looked on the lady as something worse than a witch, & calling her clearstarch mixture the "devil's broth."
1550s Isabel Valois by Alonso Sánchez Coello
As soon as clear starching arrived in London, an observer reported that "The most curious wives now made for themselves ruffs of cambric, & sent them to Mrs Dinghen to be starched, who charged high prices; after a time made themselves ruffs of lawn; & thereupon arose a general scoff or by-word that shortly they would make their ruffs of spiders' web. Mrs Dinghen at last took their daughters as her pupils; her usual terms were four or five pounds for teaching them to starch, & one pound for the art of seething starch."
1551 Pieter Pourbus ( c 1524-1584) Portrait of Jacquemyne Buuck
London Puritan Philip Stubbes described the starch & props needed to maintain these ruffs, which he clearly believed were the work of Satan himself. "The devil, as he in the fulnes of his malice, first invented these great ruffes, so hath hee now found out also two great stayes to beare up & maintaine that his kingdome of great ruffs : the one archor piller wherby his kingdome of great ruffes is underpropped, is a certaine kinde of liquide matter which they call Starch, wherin the devill hath willed them to wash & dive his ruffes wel, which when they be dry, wil then stand stiffe & inflexible about their necks. The other piller is a certain device made of wyers, crested for the purpose, whipped over either with gold, thred, silver or silk, & this hee calleth a supportasse, or underpropper. This is to be applyed round about their necks under the ruffe, upon the out side of the band, to beare up the whole frame & body of the ruffe from falling & hanging down...So few have them, as almost none is without them; for every one, how meane or simple soever they bee otherwise, will have of them three or foure apeece forsayling."
1552 Margaret, Duchess of Parma by Anthonis Mor
As the decades passes, the round ruff fastened by strings often was replaced by an arched ruff open at the front.
1554 Anthonis Mor ((1519-1575) Detial Queen Mary Tudor of England
When the detachable ruff came into its own; these large, stiffened accessories were more easily cared for & maintained without a partlet or smock attached to them.
1557 Alonso Sanchez Coello (1532-1588) Infanta Juana of Spain
Later, most ruffs were separate garments that could be washed, starched, & set into elaborate figure-of-eight folds by the use of heated cone-shaped goffering irons. The tools used in starching ruffs were called settingsticks, struts, & poking-sticks; the first two were made of wood or bone, the last of iron which was heated in the fire.
1557 Anonymous artist, Philippine Welser
Detachable ruffs did present a few problems, especially after a night of celebrating. The following advertisement appeared in the Merrurius Publicum of May 8, 1662, "A cambric whisk...quarter of a yard broad, & a lace turning up about an inch broad, with a stock in the neck, & strap hangers down before, was lost between the New Palace & Whitehall."
1557 Hans Eworth (c 1520-1574) Unknown Woman
When English ruffs grew to enormous size, he who had the deepest ruff & the longest rapier was held to be the greatest gallant. Queen Elizabeth issued a proclamation against such excess, & selected grave citizens were placed at every gate of London to cut the ruffs & to break the rapierpoints of all that exceeded a yard's length in their rapier, or a "nail of a yard" in the depth of their ruffs.
Margaret Radcliffe (1573-1599)
By 1579, ruffs had grown prodigiously in England. Ladies took to them with a fervor & would not be outdone by the ruffs of the men. It is said of the Reine Margot that, when seated at dinner, she was obliged to have a spoon with a handle two feet long for the purpose of passing her soup over her ruff, & preserving it rigid & immaculate.
1560 Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln
English Puritan Philip Stubbes fretted that mere linen was not good enough for some ruffs, & as bigger & bigger ruffs became the style, all the money spent on these collars could ruin the fortunes of Englands families. "And as though Cambrick, Holland, Lawne, & the finest cloth that mayebee got any where for money, were not good inough, they have them wrought allover with silke woorke, & peradventure laced with golde & silver, or other costly lace of no small price. And whether they have Argente to mayntaine this geare withall, or not, it forceth not much, for they will have it by one meane or another, or else they will eyther sell or morgage their Landes (as they have goodstore) on Suters hill & Stangate hole, with losse of their lives at Tiburne in a rope.& in sure token thereof, they have now newly found out a more monstrous kind of ruffe of xii, yea, xvi lengthes a peece, set 3 or 4 times double, & is ofsome, fitlie called: "Three steppes & a halfe to the Gallowes."
1560s Unknown Lady, formerly identified as Mary Queen of Scots by an Unknown Artist
Reflecting the popularity of starch in England, the state papers of the reign of Elizabeth, grant the monopoly of the manufacture of starch to one Richard Young, described as a justice, about the year 1688. In December 1689, there was a prosecution against an infringer on the patent. The subject of this was "Charles Glead, gentleman, now resident in Kent, found & proved a maker of starch at one Mr Draper's, a gentleman in Bedenwell in the said comity." Mr Glead, it appears, did not attempt to deny the allegations against him, but confessed that he had also made starch "at his father's in Oxfordshire." Indeed, he had the hardihood to declare to the queen's messengers that he would make starch notwithstanding any patent or other warrant yet granted, unless it was set down by act of parliament. Another instance of starch patent infrigement occured about the year 1600, when the authorities descended upon the house of Osmund Withers of Taunton, who was charged with a like infringement.
Countess of Bedford Lucy Harrington by Marcus Gheeraerts
Ruffs, or ruffled collars, framed the face & dictated the hairstyles of the age which were generally short for men & swept up for women.
1560s Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria by Mor
Ruffs or ruffles were sometimes added to the cuffs of sleeves. Pleated cuffs in a style matching the ruff were also found on shirts, partlets, & some high-necked smocks.
1560s Giovanni Battista Moroni (Late Italian Renaissance painter, c 1520–1578) Portrait of a Woman with a Book
As ruffs began to grow in width & because lace came in narrow strips, several needed to be sewn together to form the 9 or so inches it might take to make a large ruff.
1560s Margaret Russell 1560-1616, Countess of Cumberland Artist Unknown
Most ruffs were white, because lace was expensive & if it was dyed it might not be able to be washed successfully so that it could be used again.
1562 Hans Eworth Margaret Audley 1539-1564, Duchess of Norfolk
But among the upper classes who were less concern about cost, ruffs were colored by adding water soluable color to the starch used to stiffen the ruffs.
1564 Sisters Ermengard and Walburg von Rietberg
Ruffs were often colored during starching process, vegetable dyes were used to give the ruff a yellow, pink or mauve tint.
1565 Margaret Clifford, Countess of Derby, or A Lady of the Wentworth Family, by Hans Eworth
A pale blue color could also be obtained via the use of smalt, though Queen Elizabeth I issued a Royal Prerogative, "Her Majesty's pleasure is that no blue starch shall be used or worn by any of her Majesty's subjects, since blue was the color of the flag of Scotland."
1566 Lady Jean Gordon, first wife of the Earl of Bothwell by an artist of the Nethlandish School
Stubbes wrote of how they added color to their ruffs, "And this starch they make of divers substances — of all collours & hues, as white, redde, blewe, purple, & the like."
c 1569 Isabel de Valois, Queen of Spain
As travel & communication increased throughout the latter half of the century, fashion became more easily adopted across the continent.
1568 Portrait of Elisabeth de Valois.
By the 1550s, the ruffles were still quite small & usually box-pleated, but layers of ruffling were stacked on each other for a thicker, fuller ruff. These ruffs were full at the sides & back of the head, and then tapered down, as they reached the front.
1568 Adriaen van Cronenburgh (1520–1604) Katheryn of Berain, the Mother of Wales 1535-1591
Ruffs of the 1550s & 1560s were decorated primarily along the edges, with black, gold, silver, or other contrasting embroidery. Some ruff edges were even decorated with spangles.
1569 Perhaps Lady Helena Snakeborg, Marchioness of Northampton by an artist of the British School
In 1583, Puritan Philip Stubbes wrote of the perils of wearing a ruff out in wind & rain. "But if Aeolus with his blasts, or Neptune with his stormes chaunce to hit uppon the crafie bark of their brused ruffes, then they goe flip flap in the winde, like rags flying abroad, & lye upon their shoulders like the dishcloute of a slut."
1570 Clelia Farnese by Jacopo Zucchi or Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795)
Queen Elizabeth's ease with foreign languages & love of more exotic foreign styles of dress played no small part in the adoption of new styles in England.
1570 Lettice Knollys, second wife of Robert Dudley, Lettice Knollys, attr George Gower 1540-1596
Queen Elizabeth's ruffs were made of the finest lace cut-work, enriched with gold, silver, & precious stones. She used up endless yards of cut-work, purle, needlework lace, bone lace (tatting) of gold, of silver, enriched with pearls, & bugles & spangles, placed in the fabrication of her three-piled ruff.
Barbara Daughter of Ferdinand I, attr to Ferdinand I, c 1562-65.
In 1583, Puritan Philip Stubbes wrote of the decorated, ostentatious women's ruffs, "Then, last of all, they are either clogged with golde, silver, or silk lace of stately price, wrought all over with needle woork, speckled & sparkled heer & there with the sonne, the moone, the starres, & many other antiquities straunge to beholde...Some are wrought with open woork down to the midst of the ruffe & further, some with purled lace so cloyd, & other gewgawes so pestered, as the ruffe is the least parte of it self."
Daughter of Ferdinand I (Elena or Barbara ), attr to Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) c 1563.
In 1583, Puritan Philip Stubbes also wrote of Queen Elizabeth's ruff, "It was profusely laced, plaited, & apparently divergent from a centre on the back of her neck; it was very broad, extending on each side of her face, with the extremities reposing on her bosom, from which rose two wings of lawn, edged with jewels, stiffened with wire, & reaching to the top of her hair, which was moulded into the shape of a cushion, & richly covered with gems."
1573 Mary Denton attributed to George Gower
By the end of the 1500's ruffs were almost entirely of lace made of both needle & bobbin type lace.
1574 Gabrielle de Rochechouart by Corneille de Lyon
The chief utensil for keeping ruffs in order was the "poking-stick of steel." By the aid of the poking-stick heated in the fire the folds of even the most decorated ruffs were ironed into the precise symmetry so admired in the 1500s.
1575 c Elizabeth FitzGerald, Countess of Lincoln
Under the stiffening care of starch & poking-sticks the ruff expanded to the width of "a quarter of a yard." This vast structure of gauze was called in England "the French ruff." This style ruff was called in London the French fashion. But when Englishmen came to Paris, the French knew it not, &, in derision, called it the English monster.
1578 Alice Brandon (1556-b 1608) wife of artist Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1618) who painted this miniature
Matching shoulder-ruffs were popular in Venice, from the 1570s.
1578 Lady Philippa Conings by George Gower
In the 1580s, ruffs generally began to expand even further outward. They became slightly flatter, no longer filling the space from shoulder to neck; instead, the figure-eights became wider & flatter & the ruff itself became wider in diameter.
1578 Mary, Queen of Scots after Nicholas Hilliard
In 1583, Puritan Philip Stubbes described the size & textiles used in ruffs. "They have great & monsterous ruffes, made either of Camericke, Holland, Lawne, or els of some other the finest cloth that can be got for money, whereof some be a quarter of a yard deep, yea, some more, very few lesse; So that they stand a full quarter of a yarde (& more) from their necks, hanging over their shoulder poynts, instead of a vaile."
1578 Unknown Lady by Nicholas Hilliard
At their most extreme, ruffs were a foot or more wide. These cartwheel ruffs required a wire frame called a supportasse or underpropper to hold them at a fashionable angle.
1578 Unknown Lady by Nicholas Hilliard
These supporters could be wire frames worn around the neck or cardboard covered in linen. They often had points or holes with which to lace them into a doublet or bodice neck.
1597 Frances Aylworth c 1556-1605, Lady Reynell by Robert Peake
In 1583, Puritan Philip Stubbes wrote of women's ruffs, "The women use great ruffes, & neckerchers of holland, lawne, camerick, & such cloth, as the greatest thred shall not be so bigge as the leasthaire that is: then, least they should fall down, they are smeared & starched in the devils liquore, I meane Starch: after that, dryed with great diligence, streaked,patted & rubbed very nicely, & so applyed to their goodly necks, &, withall, underpropped with supportasses (as I tolde you before) the stately arches of pride: beyond all this they have a further fetch, nothing inferiour to the rest; as, namely, three or foure degrees of minor ruffes, placed gradatim, step by step, one beneath the other, & all under the Maister devil ruffe. The skyrts, then, of these great ruffes are long & wide every way, pleted & crested ful curiously, Godwot."
Mary Rogers, Lady Harington c 1585-1590 Unknown English artist.
It was not only the Puritans who took exception to the ruff. John King (1559-1621), Bishop of London, said from his pulpit: "Fashion brought in deep ruffs & shallow ruffs, thick ruffs & thin ruffs, double ruffs & no ruffs. When God shall come to judge the quick & the dead, he will not know those who have so defaced the fashion he hath erected."
1585 Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester attributed to George Gower (The Marquess of Bath)
The Reverend Hall, Bishop of Exeter (1574-1656), in a sermon, after having severely censured ruffs, farthingales, feathers, & paint, concluded with these words: "Hear this, ye popinjays of our time; hear this, ye plaster faced Jezabels: God will one day wash them with fire & with brimstone."
1585-90 Unknown Lady by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1585-90
During the 1590s, both small & large open falling neck ruffs & larger standing ruffs & more open bodice areas became popular.
1595 Detail from portrait of an unknown lady Marcus Gheeraerts II.
Toward the end of the 1500s, fashion dictated a more feminine & seductive image for women which was achieved by opening the ruffle in front to expose the neck & the top of the breasts. The ruff was often constructed on gauze wings raised at the back of the head.
1596 Joan, 1st wife of Edward Alleyn by an artist of the British School
During the 1570s-1620s, the fan shaped ruff with an open neck usually was worn by unmarried women. Philip Stubbes wrote of these women's ruffs, "Sometimes they are pinned up to their eares, sometimes they are suffered to hang over their shoulders, like windmil sayles fluttering in the winde; & thus every one pleaseth her self with her foolish devices, for as the proverb saith: "everyone thinketh his own wayes best."
Elizabeth Stafford (c.1546-1598-9)
By the end of the 16C, ruffs were falling out of fashion in Western Europe, often in favor of wing collars. But ruffs continued to be worn in both Britain & on the European continent well into the 17C.
1595 Perhaps Elizabeth Hastings (c 1546-1621) attr to William Segar
On the visit of James I (1566-1625) to Cambridge in 1615, the vice-chancellor of the university issued an order prohibiting "the fearful enormity & excess of apparel seen in all degrees, as namely, strange piccadilloes, vast bands, huge cuffs, shoeroses, tufts, locks & tops of hair, unbeseeming that modesty & carriage of students in so renowned a university."
1600 Catherine Henriette de Balzac d'Entragues
Note about the charming Mr Philip Stubbes: During the Elizabethan era, pamphlets & broadsides commenting on life in England were sold. One author was Londoner Philip Stubbes (c 1555-1610) educated at both Oxford & Cambridge Universities. He was a conservative, religious Puritan who who could not abide to social ills or excessive dress of the day. One of his works was "The Anatomie of Abuses in England in Shakspere's Youth" in which he ridiculed the fashions of the age, including ruffs. He recorded its publication in the London Stationers' Register in March of 1583.
1840 George Aungier's The History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery, 1840
1868 Littell's Living Age, July, August, September 1868 Boston Littell & Gay
1873 Chamber's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, & Art, by William & Robert Chambers, Volume 50 1873 47 Paternoster Row, London,
1638 The Truth of our Times; revealed out of one Man's Experience by Way of Essay, by Henry Peacham