"Every box was full... with most noble and richly dressed ladies, 600 and more in number.... their clothes of such various styles and colours as to be indescribable; the most delicate plumes on their hats, and in their hands as fans; and on their foreheads strings of jewels, and on their necks and bosoms and in their girdles, and on their garments in such quantity that they appeared so many queens"
Orazio Busino, Chaplain to the Venetian Embassy, 1618
Pleasure Reconciled to virtue

Costumes in the Masque

The Greek and Roman myths influenced both the stories of the masque and the costumes. Men might wear Roman-style armour in their role as the hero. The example on the right shows a drawing of buskins, a popular style of theatrical boot during the Stuart era. They imitated ideas of Greek and Roman sandals.

Buskin shoes - example by Pearson Scott Foresman

Did you know? 
It was not just the masquers who would get dressed up for the masque! The men and women in attendance would get dressed up too – it was an event in which the finest clothes would be worn, with their best jewels and fabulous hats.

"... and then came a number of musicians dressed in the long red robes of high priests, with golden mitres, and in their midst was a goddess in a long white costume."
Orazio Busino, Chaplain to the Venetian Ambassy, 1618
Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue

Masks for Masques
The mask was a very important aspect of the masque. In fact one person said  “their show, for I cannot call it a masque, seeing they were not disguised nor had vizards” – showing the importance of disguising the face for such events. The masque developed from the mumming and disguising, which can be traced back to the thirteenth century, and where masks where also worn to disguise the identity of the wearer.

French Court and Ballets
Like the English court masques, the French had their own form of spectacular entertainment which were hugely popular. Like the English version, the French ballet was used to give a positive image of the state. Equally, Greek and Roman myths inspired the text of these performances, and they used dance, music and mime. The costumes reflected the fantastical nature of the performances and could be so big that they restricted the movement of the performers. Daniel Rabel was the artist who created these fabulous designs, alongside many others for these spectacular entertainments.

Daniel Rabel, design for Eight Night Spirits, Ballet du Chasteau de Bissestre, Court ballet of Louis XIII, 1632. The V&A.

Jacobean and Caroline Style
In the early days of the Stuart era, the farthingale was popular; this was a large hooped structure which was worn under the skirts of ladies to create the desired shape. These kept increasing in size and at one court masque it was reported that several ladies had such large hoops that a passage became blocked and several courtiers missed the masque. After this event, James I proclaimed that “this impertinent garment takes up all the room at court” and banned it from his presence. Under Henrietta Maria, the French style dress was adopted, which was very low cut at the front, and softer petticoats became more common than the stiffer hoops. Silks, satins, laces and velvets were popular with the court – these were all very expensive. Ribbons, lace, embroidery and artificial flowers would all be used to accessorise and trim their gowns. Rosetted, heeled shoes were popular. Magnificent jewels would be worn on the dresses, necklaces and anywhere else they could find to put them! The audience would be dressed in their finest gowns, these styles also influenced the costumes for the masque. The corset worn would keep the posture and figure of the woman straight and correct, the bum roll worn to increase the skirt size, would also keep the women’s arms slightly rounded, as they could not rest flat against the body. This would help them stay in the correct position and posture for dancing.

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Parties at the Stuart Court

Discover more with some of our Blog Posts!

Queens of the Masque

Find out the role of the Queens Anne & Henrietta Maria in creating masques!