Those giant Elizabethan collars… did people actually wear those things or were they just for portraits?
Pictured above: A big fucking Elizabethan collar. But did people actually wear those things around all the time, or was it just something cool to put on when you were having a portrait done?
The ruff which was worn by men, women and children, evolved from the small fabric ruffle at the drawstring neck of the shirt or chemise. They served as changeable pieces of cloth that could themselves be laundered while keeping the wearer’s doublet from becoming soiled at the neckline. The discovery of starch allowed ruffs to be made wider without losing their shape. Later ruffs were separate garments that could be washed, starched, and set into elaborate figure-of-eight folds by the use of heated cone-shaped goffering irons.
Ruffs were often coloured during starching, vegetable dyes were used to give the ruff a yellow, pink or mauve tint. A pale blue colour could also be obtained via the use of smalt, though for an unknown reason Elizabeth I took against this colour and 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.” 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 the fashionable angle…
So in a nutshell, they were useful in an age where laundry was done pretty rarely to cover up the fact that you’ve been wearing the same shirt for two weeks straight.