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For some reason, in art we mostly see white ruffs, but in the 16th and 17th century starch (then a new invention) was available in other colors as well, as we can see in this Elizabethan portrait, in which a young woman in wearing a yellow ruff (and matching cuffs). In fact, this woman is so elaborately dressed that she was long thought to be Queen Elizabeth as a princess. This does not seem possible, however, as Queen Elizabeth was Queen and in her 30s by the time it was made.

Instead, it seems to be a wedding portrait of some aristocratic young lady: red was a typical color for a wedding dress in the 16th century, and bay leaves (which she wears in her hair next to her cap) played a role in wedding ceremonies. Her clothes could hardly be more elegant, in any case. We find her sleeves (still a separate garment at that time) particularly stunning, with their zigzag embroidered meanders and the most ‘slashing’ (holes through which the wearers undergarments were visible, to show their dazzling cleanliness) we have ever seen. Want to know more about the fabulous fashions of history? Take the Fashion and Beauty tour!

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art history beauty standards fashion fashion history Metropolitan Museum

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