The earliest partlets appeared in late 15th century fashion. They were made of silk or linen, and were worn to fill in the low V 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.
Early 16th-century women's partlets were made in 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 early style. A wardrobe warrant of June 1538 ordered black velvet for a "French partlet" for Princess Mary These black partlets may be seen in a number of portraits of Tudor court ladies by Hans Holbein the Younger, as well as in Dutch paintings of market women throughout the sixteenth century.
Fine lawn (linen) partlets, 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, in this instance covered with a sheer layer of cypress decorated with narrow stripes of gold lace. Such sets of partlet and sleeves were common New Year's gifts to the queen. In 1562 Lady Cobham gave her "a partelett and a peire of sleeves of sypers wrought with silver and black silke".
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. For similar garments, see guimpe and chemisette.
The "Pelican Portrait", ca. 1573–75
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