A Brief History of Ruffs

Ruffs The largest single use for lace was in ruffs. Both upper class and middle class men and women, wore ruffs. Quite often they had both wrist and neck ruffs but not always. As with the rest of their costumes, the ruff of a middle class person would have been of the same style as that of the upper class person but made from less expensive materials.
The wearing of a ruff defines the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603). During Henry the VIII's time the ruff was just a small frill surrounding a tall collar. In the 1560's the ruff which had evolved into a large separate article of clothing tied on by strings, was introduced to England from France.
At first, these ruffs were mostly starched linen cambric edged with lace. By the end of the 1500's ruffs were almost entirely of lace. These lace ruffs were made of both Needle and Bobbin type lace. Because lace came in narrow strips several were sewn together to form the 9 or so inches it might take to make a large ruff. These large ruffs had to be supported by both starch and wire frames. Most ruffs where white because lace was so expensive that if dyed you might not be able to use it again. But they did add water soluable color to the starch that they used to stiffen the ruffs.
During the period 1570-1625 the fan shaped ruff with an open neck was worn by unmarried women. The standing ruff survived into the 1620's but from 1615 to 1640 the falling ruff was more popular.
For more see "Elizabethan Costuming" by Jan Winter & Carolyn Savoy. This book has a good section on building ruffs.

Torrey Griffith in an accordion style ruff (white) and small gold ruff

Photo by Delia Trafton
Last Revision: 28 June 1998

Copyright Lynn McMasters, © 2007
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