The Power of Sobriety
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This thesis examines the power of the sober costume, or black, minimally ornamented dress, in portraits of Elizabethan female subjects. Current scholarship on the portraiture of Elizabethan women pays more attention to extravagant costumes. The history of material culture has emphasized the importance of ornament and color in the costumes of Elizabethan era elites; these qualities denoted status. Nevertheless, women of different and distinct classes were often depicted in sober garments, signifying the pervasiveness of the costume. This fact is evident in the portraits of three different women from three different classes: Bess of Hardwick from the courtly nobility, Joyce Frankland from the urban elite, and the royal Queen Elizabeth I. This thesis introduces the sober costume for Elizabethan women and argues that while its connotation is complex and multifaceted, sober costume transcended social boundaries to represent power and autonomy.