When Elizabeth I (1535-1603) became queen, people didn’t expect much. “Get yourself married as soon as possible,” she was told, “and lean on your husband for support.” Elizabeth had other ideas. For 45 years she ruled in glorious solitude, steering England with a sure hand and a steely will. She was, quite simply, the greatest monarch in English history.

Elizabeth I costumeOf course everyone knows how Elizabeth dressed; the problem from the costuming standpoint is just figuring out how to pull off that look without breaking the bank. Our goal was to put together as inexpensive a costume as possible: no pricey reenactment garb here. So we started by ordering a Queen Elizabeth costume from the party store (in both regular and plus sizes). We frankly expected it to be awful, but we were pleasantly surprised. With the addition of some jewelry and the removal of some unfortunate plastic bits, we ended up with an acceptable outfit.

Here are the pieces we used:

1. Queen Elizabeth costume dress, or the almost identical plus-size version. We removed the tacky looking little plastic beads in the front that are supposed to be pearls; we also didn’t use the included headpieces.
2. Wig with pearls. Unless you have a big halo of frizzy red hair, you’ll need a wig to really look like Elizabeth. This one already has pearls attached.
3. Spool of 10 mm pearl beads. These are nice fat pearls; use ropes of them looped around your brooches (next). This particular spool is 22 yards, which is way more than you need, but you can usually get these in the local craft store. At Christmas time you can also find pearl bead strands like this sold as tree garlands.
4. Renaissance-style brooches. We used vintage brooches, but we’re linking to an Etsy search page so you can see examples of what to look for: geometrical shapes and no faceted stones (or very few). Basically you want pearls and polished cabochons.
5. Two pairs of pearl drop earrings. One for your ears, the other to hang from your center bodice brooches.
6. Pearl choker with black center stone. You can actually make your own, as we did, by wearing a close-fitting pearl necklace or choker and fastening a brooch to the center.

Underpinnings: If you want your gown to pouf out at the hips in proper Elizabethan style, you will need a bum roll. The costume comes with a hoop skirt underneath, but the problem is that the hoop is only at the very bottom. You need width at the hips too. Actually, what you really need is a farthingale, but we’re trying to keep the cost down! A bum roll is a good compromise.

And as ever, we recommend a firm undergarment to help give you the rigid torso needed for a period look. Even a longline bra is better than nothing.