Partlet, England, early 17th century. Partlet, England, early 17th century. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. T.13-1956.

A partlet is a type of upper body garment worn in western Europe, during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It was more commonly used by women than men. The partlet was used to fill in the low, square neckline of a gown. Middle class and informal aristocratic dress always kept the bosom and neck covered, with either a smock or partlet.

In general, the low-cut style of gown without a partlet was only appropriate for formal dress. Initially the partlet was worn on the outside of the garment. Partlets were generally made of a light-weight material, such as lawn (a fine linen cloth). They could be black, white or coloured and were often embellished with cord, embroidery, jewels and/or lace.

Over the years, the partlet migrated from outside the garment to be worn underneath the gown, but over the corset or stays. Detachable sleeves were added that often matched the partlet. What is sometimes seen as a smock or shirt in a painting is often a partlet with sleeves. Matching embroidered partlet and sleeve sets were sometimes given to women as gifts.

There are various records of members of the English court, including Queen Elizabeth I of England (r: 1558-1603), receiving such sets as New Year gifts. There is also a painting of the Queen wearing a partlet. Some partlets had a collar that again could be simple or very elaborate in form. Sometimes these were flat forms, on other occasions they had a gathered collar similar to a very small ruff (a pleated collar). During the late sixteenth century, the partlet collar was often used to protect the main ruff from rubbing against the neck and face (it was easier to wash the partlet than the ruff). As the ruff became larger, so did the partlet, in order to help anchor and support the ruff.

See also the TRC Needles on the Portrait of Margaret Graham, Lady Napier; Portrait of a Young Girl.

Digital source (retrieved 12 June 2016).

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 16 April 2017).


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