“And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled…” (Sir Thomas More)
Petruchio: “… And now, my honey love,
Will we return unto thy father’s house
And revel it as bravely as the best,
With silken coats and caps, and golden rings,
With ruffs and cuffs and farthingales and things,
With scarfs and fans and double change of brav’ry.
With amber bracelets, beads, and all this knav’ry.”
(The Taming of the Shrew)
In “Shakespeare in 100 Objects,” Stephanie Appleton tells us that “ruffs were made from fine linen which was starched to hold its place when pleated, with the finished article being stitched directly onto the neckband…Very often cuffs for sleeves were made to match a ruff: together these were called a ‘suit’, and Shakespeare has Petruchio make reference to this trend in The Taming of the Shrew, above.” Unlike many articles of clothing in the Elizabethan era, the ruff was worn by all classes of people.
According to Appleton, ruffs would get dirty very easily and would need to be washed all the time. It was actually very costly to maintain them.
In Clothing in Elizabethan England, Liza Picard elaborates on this: “Ruffs were worn by both sexes, by old and young, courtiers and working people. They began as a simple frill at the neck of a full-cut shirt, where it was gathered into a neck band. They culminated in the astonishing structures worn by Elizabeth in her state portraits. At first they sagged limply round the neck, until someone hit on the idea of starching them – an art in which the Dutch excelled. Successive restorers of portraits have made all the ruffs in ancestral portraits a uniform white, but in fact they were tinted pink or yellow, much more becoming. Blue seems to have been reserved for prostitutes.” It’s very interesting to know what colors were associated with different people during this time period.