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Room 8
The Second Half of the 16th Century - Stockings and Tights worn with Shorts

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When the Spanish royal court gained command and became the new center of the western Christian world due to its ascent to a naval and colonial power and through the emergence of absolutism in the second half of the 16th century, Spain began to dominate fashion throughout Europe. The colorful, lively and worldly fashion of the previous years was replaced by the Spanish fashion - a rather severe look with dreary colors - beginning in the 1620's.


Spanish fashion of shorts and long silk stockings or tights, mid-16th century.

Fine silk stockings or tights were worn beneath the quilted shorts popular in Spain. As it seems, Spain was the leading producer of stockings during this time.


German aristocrats wearing the Spanish fashion, late 16th century.

One of the first references to knit stockings in this time was a pair of silk tights, which were a gift from the Spanish royal court to the English King Henry VIII. in 1539.  

King Henry VIII. of England, probably one of the first people to wear a pair of Spanish knit silk tights.

Something similar to a pair of tights from the mid-16th century was a part of the costume collection of the Historical Museum in Dresden, but they were lost at some point. They belonged to either the elector Moritz (1521-1553) or August of Saxony (1526-1586), whose clothing inventory mentions only 8 pairs of silk stockings, which shows how exclusive knit stockings were in the 16th century.


"Tights" or long silk stockings which are sewn onto a pair of gray linen underpants, with a triangular opening for the Braguette. From the belongings of the elector Moritz (1521-1553) or August (1526-1586) of Saxony.


Silk stocking from the estate of the elector August of Saxony (1526-1586), 2nd half of 16th century.

Until well into the 16th century, stockings did not play a major role for the female population of the Western world, since the long, flowing dresses did not show much of the stocking. With the availability of luxurious, knit silk stockings, these became the new "must-haves" in women's fashion. The first woman to own such a pair of stockings in England was supposedly Mary Stuart (1542-1568), followed by Queen Elizabeth I., who received a pair in 1561 as a present from the Countess Montague.

Nevertheless, lady's stockings remained hidden und the women of the 16th and 17th centuries found it scandalous if their feet were seen. Even when they were walking, they made sure that their toes were always covered by the hems of their dresses. Even horse carriages had devices - trapdoors - which were used to shield women's feet from unwanted stares while they were exiting.


Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland (1542-1568), assumed to be the first owner of knit silk stockings.


Queen Elizabeth I. of England received her first knit silk stockings as a gift from her waiting maid, the Countess Montague, in 1561.

With the invention of the knitting frame in 1589 by the theology student William Lee from Woodborough, the first "machine-knit" stockings were produced in England. These first machine-knit stockings were relatively coarse, though, and could not compete with fine, silk, hand-embroidered stockings.


Machine-knit boy's silk stockings, with gold and silver threads knit into the silk, late 16th / early 17th century.


In the late 16th century, variations of Spanish shorts can still be found in Italy and Germany. In Germany, the quilting was often omitted, so the Spanish shorts developed into harem pants. After 1635, the somewhat baggy knee-breeches without the Braguette and quilting asserted themselves.


The Spanish shorts developed
into harem pants in Germany,
late 16th century.

Stockings and sometimes tights
continued to be worn under
harem pants, late 16th century.

Knee-breeches from the
first third of the 17th century.


to room 9: The 17th Century