A ruffled collar of gathered lace, the betsy, also spelled betsey and betsie, of the early 1800s was an updated variation on the starched linen ruff that had been popular during the sixteenth century. When the ruff reappeared in early nineteenth century England, it was smaller and simpler, a strip of lace gathered and tied around the neck with a drawstring. Its unmistakable resemblance to the tall ruff worn by Queen Elizabeth (1533–1603) gave the betsy its name, after Beth or Bets, nicknames for Elizabeth. However, while the ruff of the 1500s had been made of linen or lace and held in stiff pleats with starch, the later version was made of lacy fabric like tulle, a sheer silk or cotton, and was simply pulled into soft gathers.
The nineteenth century opened with a preference for simple styles in women's clothing. Inspired by the fascination with Greek styles that had followed the French Revolution (1789–99), several different styles of simple tunic dresses became popular throughout Europe. These dresses were high-necked, high-waisted and loose, with uncomplicated flowing lines. The gathered betsy was a popular accessory to the plain turn-of-the-century gown. Soft and feminine, the betsy decorated the high neckline and gave the wearer the look of one of the heroines of the romantic novels which were becoming popular at the time.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World . Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Yarwood, Doreen. Fashion in the Western World: 1500–1900. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1992.
[ See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Ruffs ]