Ruff (clothing)

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A ruff from the early 17th century: The Regentesses of St Elizabeth Hospital, Haarlem (detail) by Verspronck
A ruff from the 1620s

A ruff is an item of clothing worn in Western, Central, and Northern Europe from the mid-16th century to the mid-17th century. The round and flat variation is often called a millstone collar after its resemblance to millstones for grinding grain.

Ruff of c. 1575. Detail from the Darnley Portrait of Elizabeth
Lace ruffles in the early 17th century


Tally iron, or goffering iron, for ironing lace and making ruff collars; long rod to the right, curved stand for the rod to the left (York Castle Museum)

The ruff, which was worn by men, women and children, evolved from the small fabric ruffle at the drawstring neck of the shirt or chemise. Ruffs served as changeable pieces of cloth that could themselves be laundered separately while keeping the wearer's doublet or gown from becoming soiled at the neckline. The stiffness of the garment forced upright posture, and their impracticality led them to become a symbol of wealth and status.[1]

Ruffs were primarily made from linen cambric, stiffened with starch imported from the Low Countries. Later ruffs were sometimes made entirely from lace. However, lace was expensive since it was a new fabric, developed in the early sixteenth century.[1]

The size of the ruff increased as the century went on. "Ten yards is enough for the ruffs of the neck and hand" for a New Year's gift made by her ladies for Queen Elizabeth I in 1565,[2] but the discovery of starch allowed ruffs to be made wider without losing their shape. Later ruffs were separate garments that could be washed, starched, and set into elaborate figure-of-eight folds by the use of heated, cone-shaped goffering irons.

Ruffs were often coloured during starching, with vegetable dyes giving the ruff a yellow, pink or mauve tint.[3] A pale blue colour could also be obtained via the use of smalt, although Elizabeth I took against this colour and issued a royal prerogative: "Her Majesty's pleasure is that no blue starch shall be used or worn by any of her Majesty's subjects, since blue was the colour of the flag of Scotland ..."[4]

Setting and maintaining the structured and voluminous shape of the ruff could be extremely difficult due to changes in body heat or weather. For this reason, they could be worn only once before losing their shape.[1] At their most extreme, ruffs were a foot or more wide; these cartwheel ruffs required a wire frame called a supportasse or underpropper to hold them at the fashionable angle. Ruffs could make it difficult to eat during mealtimes, similar to the cangue.[5]

By the start of the seventeenth century, ruffs were falling out of fashion in Western Europe, in favour of wing collars and falling bands. The fashion lingered longer in the Dutch Republic, where ruffs can be seen in portraits well into the seventeenth century, and farther east. It also stayed on as part of the ceremonial dress of city councillors (Senatoren) in North German Hanseatic cities and of Lutheran clergy in those cities and in Denmark, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland.

The ruff was banned in Spain under Philip IV (orchestrated by Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares).[6]


A priestess in the Church of Denmark wearing a ruff (2015)

Ruffs remain part of the formal attire of bishops and ministers in the Church of Denmark (including Greenland) and the Church of the Faroe Islands and are generally worn for services. The Church of Norway removed the ruff from its clergy uniform in 1980, although some conservative ministers, such as Børre Knudsen, continued to wear them. Ruffs are optional for trebles in Anglican church choirs.[7] The judges of the Constitutional Court of Italy wear a robe with an elementar ruff in the neck.

Spanish members of the Order of Malta and of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre wears ruff collars in their church attire.

Underground artist Klaus Nomi used a ruff as part of his concert attire toward the end of his life, both to complement the Renaissance-era music he focused on during his late career, and to hide the Kaposi's sarcoma lesions on his neck.

In the twentieth century, the ruff inspired the name of the Elizabethan collar, used to prevent animals from reaching and worsening an injury.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c xxxxx. "The Fashion Historian: Ruffs". The Fashion Historian. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  2. ^ Mary S. Lovell, Bess of Hardwick, Empire Builder 2005:184.
  3. ^ Picard, Liza. Elizabeth's London (2003)
  4. ^ Forbes, T. R. Chronicle from Aldgate (1971)
  5. ^ Westman, Hab'k O. (1844). Transactions of the Society of Literary & Scientific Chiffoniers. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 58. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  6. ^ Pennington, D. H. (1989). Europe in the Seventeenth Century (2nd ed.). Harlow: Pearson. p. 382. ISBN 0-582-49388-9.
  7. ^ Wenlock Chalice and Paten set. "croftdesignshop". croftdesignshop. Retrieved 24 August 2012.


  • Janet Arnold: Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, W. S. Maney and Son Ltd., Leeds 1988. (ISBN 0-901286-20-6)

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