In the 17th century there was a seismic shift in society. It was no longer a case of lower classes aping those above them in the hopes of ascending the rungs on the hierarchical ladder. Clashing ideologies set the stage for what was to become England’s Civil War. Images from this era show that these ideologies led to different forms of dress for the opposing factions. The contrast between the styles of the Cavalier and the Roundhead echoed the contrast in their ideologies.
The Puritans’ separation from mainstream belief began in Elizabeth’s reign. When James I succeeded Elizabeth I as sovereign, the Puritans felt threatened, first moving to Holland then setting sail from England for the new world. The Mayflower pilgrims led the way for English settlers of various degrees of religious faith or, indeed, faith in their own enterprise to start a new life in a new land. Of course, the settlers brought with them attitudes and beliefs culled from English society.
Back at home in England, these beliefs and clashing ideologies resulted in the Civil War. When Cromwell and the Roundheads were triumphant, men quickly had their Cavalier ringlets shorn and women pulled back their hair in demure knots. Dress for all became somber. Gone were silks and velvets, replaced by wool and linen. It was dangerous to be a Cavalier for their head; Charles I, had lost his head on the execution block.
Life was a serious business when run by Puritans. Gone were simple Sunday enjoyments like games, sports and dance replaced with hours of sermons. Among the sober set there does not appear to have been much discrimination against the aged except for poor old women. This was the heyday of witch trials in England and what was a witch but an old despised woman, vulnerable to her neighbour’s accusations?
Eyewitness to History http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/mayflower.htm
Laver, James. A Concise History of Costume. Thames and Hudson, London, 1977
Lofts, Norah. Domestic Life in England. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1976
Thane, Pat. A History of Old Age. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 2005
Trevelyan, G.M. English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries Chaucer to Queen Victoria. Penguin Books, 1980