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In Tudor and Stuart England, dress was important too, and the daily lives of ordinary women were affected by what they chose to wear – especially in London, which by 1700 was the largest city in Europe.
In 1616, Thomas Tuke published a pamphlet called , in which he complained that “once a yeere at least” an Englishwoman “would faine see London, tho’ when she comes there, she have nothing to doe, but to learn a new fashion”.
In 1660 Elizabeth Pepys, the wife of the famous diarist Samuel, changed her clothes before she went to see her husband and their friend at The Miter, a tavern in Wood Street.
In May 1684 Joan Kirk refused to go and visit her husband’s cousin because she believed she lacked clothes which would be “good enough to go a visiting”.
When Elizabeth Hazard went out in “her best apparel” her neighbours were quick to take notice and asked her where she was going.
Women also dressed well if they had to appear in court and were keen to create a good impression.
Wealthy women, such as the wives of London citizens, shopped at the Royal Exchange and the New Exchange, but tailors, shoemakers, embroiders, glove-makers and milliners could be found throughout the City and in neighbouring Westminster.
But dress mattered to older women too as it reflected their status and authority.
Although hostile to those who lavished too much time on their appearance, Tuke’s comments about women coming to the capital in order to view the latest trends were accurate.
A major attraction of London was the range of shopping opportunities.
By Queen Elizabeth’s reign in the second half of the 16th century, merchants were importing a wide range of different fabrics, dyes and textiles which meant that clothes were becoming more diverse and colourful.
Most of this linen and lace came from Italy and the Low Countries, but by the end of the 17th century more exotic commodities such as East Indian chintz and calicos were available too.