MALVOLIO: ”Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown; having come from a day-bed, where I have left Olivia sleeping…” (Twelfth Night)
“And thou the velvet—thou art good velvet; thou’rt a three-pil’d piece, I warrant thee. I had as lief be a list of an English kersey as be pil’d, as thou art pil’d, for a French velvet.” (Measure for Measure)
In the Elizabethan era, Velvets were imported from Italy. They indicated luxury and status, and there were rigid laws in place about who and who could not wear velvet.
In “Clothing in Elizabethan England,” Liza Picard writes: “Only earls could wear cloth of gold, or purple silk. No one under the degree of knight was allowed silk ‘netherstocks’ (long stockings) or velvet outer garments. A knight’s eldest son could wear velvet doublets and hose, but his younger brothers couldn’t. A baron’s eldest son’s wife could wear gold or silver lace, forbidden to women below her in the pecking order.”
Men’s hats were very popular, and the most popular material for making them was velvet.
“The Fabric’s The Thing: Literal and Figurative References to Textiles in Selected Plays of William Shakespeare“ by Nancy J. Owens and Alan C. Harris gives us a bit of insight into different types of velvet and what was most valued: “Velvet, trimmed or patterned, piled or pressed, cut or uncut was the favored material for fashionable styles...In line with our comments on kersey and silk above, velvet was a cloth of the nobility and the wealthy…In essence, Vincentio asks: Are you simply in a disguise feigning wealth or is there something of greater meaning or substance?”