Market woman wearing a black partlet with a white lining over a reddish kirtle, Netherlandish, 1567.

A partlet (or partlett) was a 16th-century fashion accessory. The partlet was a sleeveless garment worn over the neck and shoulders, either worn over a dress or worn to fill in a low neckline.[1][2]

The earliest partlets appeared in European fashion late in the 15th century.[3] Comments on a miniature dated to c. 1485 note a Flemish style of partlet in that period.[4] The English word "partlet" dates from at least 1515.[5]

Partlet makers emerged,[6] putting out a product often made of silk or linen, and worn to fill in the low necklines of both men's and women's Burgundian dress. Men continued to wear partlets, usually of rich materials, with the low-cut doublets of the early 16th century.[1][7]

Early in the 16th century, partlets worn by women were made using a variety of fabrics and colors, although black was most popular. Black partlets worn over the gown, usually of velvet or satin for the upper classes, are an earlier style.[8][9] A wardrobe warrant of June 1538 ordered black velvet for a "French partlet" for Princess Mary.[10] Depictions which have been made by painters of such black partlets may be seen in a number of portraits of Tudor court ladies which were made by Hans Holbein the Younger[11] (in England between 1526 and c. 1540), as well as in the works showing market women which were produced by Dutch painters throughout the 16th century.

Fine partlets made of linen lawn, with small standing collars and ruffles, could be worn directly over a low-necked smock, or over the kirtle. The "Pelican Portrait" of Elizabeth I shows the Elizabethan fashion for matching partlet and sleeves worked with blackwork embroidery.[12] Such sets of partlet and sleeves were common New Year's gifts to the queen. In 1562, Lady Cobham gifted the queen "a partelett and a peire of sleeves of sypers wrought with silver and black silke".[13]

Elaborate lattice-work partlets such as that worn by Eleanor of Toledo (1522-1562) in one of her portraits by Bronzino could be decorated by goldsmiths[14] with gold, jewels and pearls. This was called "Caulle fashion" in England.[15] In 1563 Elizabeth's silkwoman Alice Montague employed a woman "altering and translating" the queen's partlets.[16] 1568 Elizabeth I set her "Mistress Launder" to work to "translate" her partlets with 520 pearls costing a penny each.[17]

The origin of the term 'partlet' (attested from 1515) is uncertain, but it may derive from 'Dame Partlet', a traditional name for a hen, perhaps in reference to the ruffle of feathers on some hens' necks.[18]


See also


  1. ^ a b Cumming, Valerie; Cunnington, C. W.; Cunnington, P. E. (2010-11-23). The Dictionary of Fashion History (Reissue ed.). Oxford ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 150. ISBN 9781847885333.
  2. ^ Johnson, Caroline (2011-12-01). Jane Malcolm-Davies; Ninya Mikhaila (eds.). The Queen's Servants: Gentlewomen's Dress at the Accession of Henry VIII. Lightwater, Surrey England: Fat Goose Press Ltd. p. 22. ISBN 9780956267412.
  3. ^ Compare: Cumming, Valerie; Cunnington, C. W.; Cunnington, P. E. (2010) [1960]. "Partlet". The Dictionary of Fashion History (revised ed.). Oxford: Berg. p. 150. ISBN 9780857851437. Retrieved 5 May 2023. Partlet [...] Period: 1500-1550. A sleeveless jacket or merely a covering for the upper part of the chest and neck left exposed by a low-cut doublet, then fashionable.
  4. ^ Kren, Thomas (16 July 1992). "Some Illuminated Manuscripts of The Vision of Lazarus from the Time of Margaret of York". In Kren, Thomas (ed.). Margaret of York, Simon Marmion, and The Visions of Tondal: Papers Delivered at a Symposium Organized by the Department of Manuscripts of the J. Paul Getty Museum in collaboration with the Huntington Library and Art Collections, June 21–24, 1990. Getty Publications virtual library. Malibu, California: Getty Publications. p. 144. ISBN 9780892362042. Retrieved 11 May 2023. [...] the style of costume, while generally found in France and Flemish Burgundy during the 1480s, has certain features, such as the woman's partlet in the miniature of Lust (fig. 96), which are most common to Flanders.
  5. ^ "partlet". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.) - "Any pynchyd shyrt or pynchyd partlet of lynnyn cloth or playn shyrt garnysshyd or made wyth sylke or gold or sylver".
  6. ^ "Second-hand clothes in sixteenth-century Edinburgh". 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2023. [...] a partlet maker, David Courtie owed money for pile and half pile black velvet at £12 the ell.
  7. ^ Picken, Mary Brooks (1957). A Fashion Dictionary. Funk & Wagnalls. p. 244.
  8. ^ Hayward, Maria (2007). Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds, UK: Maney. pp. 166–7. ISBN 9781904350705.
  9. ^ Mikhaila, Ninya; Malcolm-Davies, Jane (2006-04-01). The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress (1st ed.). Hollywood, Calif.: Costume and Fashion Press. p. 70. ISBN 9780896762558.
  10. ^ Hayward (2007), p. 166
  11. ^ Compare: Wornum, Ralph Nicholson (1867). Some Account of the Life and Works of Hans Holbein: Painter, of Augsburg, with Numerous Illustrations. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 296. Retrieved 16 June 2023. [Lady Butts] has on also a white partlet, with black embroidery on the collar, which is often seen in Holbein's portraits, very skilfully managed [...].
  12. ^ Arnold, Janet (1988). Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe unlock'd: the inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes prepared in July 1600, edited from Stowe MS 557 in the British Library, MS LR 2/121 in the Public Record Office, London, and MS V.b.72 in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. Leeds [England]: Maney. p. 22. ISBN 0901286206.
  13. ^ "Six Wills Relating to Cobham Hall" (PDF). 1877. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  14. ^ An inventory of possessions of a Queen of Scotland includes "one partlet of gold-fret set upon crammesy satin, with 12 diamonds, 14 rubies, 25 pearls; one [partlet] of cloth of gold; one partlet of white taffeta with three pearls; one partlet of taffeta goldsmith's work [...].Strickland, Agnes; Strickland, Elizabeth (1850). "Life of Margaret Tudor, Queen of James IV". Lives of the queens of Scotland and English princesses connected with the royal succession of Great Britain. By A. Strickland. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood & Sons. p. 137. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  15. ^ Hayward (2007), p. 167
  16. ^ Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd (Maney, 1988), p. 224.
  17. ^ Elizabeth Goldring and others, eds, John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources, vol. 5 (Oxford, 2014), Appendix 16, Account of the Queen’s Purse, 1559-1569, ed. by Jayne Elisabeth Archer and trans. by Sarah Knight, p. 252.
  18. ^ "partlet". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)