Clothing in 16th Century Tudor England

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When we think of the Tudor wardrobe we often look at it fondly wishing we could wear those beautiful dresses, when in all reality if worn today we’d look fantastic but we’d probably be annoyed with the amount of time it took to not only get dressed but also undressed when we consider themultiple layers. Not only that, the items we are about to describe were not made with comfort in mind.

Gowns

In the 16th century there was an unprecedented revolution in dress – first the introduction of sleeves, which would now be made of a different material and color than the gown itself. This would open up many options for sleeve changes with the same dress, offering a way to change your look without changing the dress. The sleeves themselves were varied in style. Some were full and puffy while others may have padded and quilted or slashed with a tighter fit. There was also the option of a more square-necked dress that was more of a short-waisted style which made the stomacher look more formal.

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Stomacher with Short-Waisted

Those who had the available budget could have their dresses made from cloth of gold or silver taffeta embroidered in gold. If you were able to go a step further you could have a damask of crimson or yellow embellished with gold – added to some fur trimming to finish the look.

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Shoes

The plainest type of shoe available was made of wood but covered in velvet or leather. They were stitched and fastened with buckles andbroad-headed, ornamental screw or nail. There were also pantoffles and chopines. A pantoffle was like a slipper while a chopine was built with a high platform to protect the wearers feet and dress from the mud, animal entrails and fecal matter that was common in city streets at the time.

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“None of the fashions of the day could truthfully be called comfortable. Comfort obviously was banished from consideration, and each innovation during the sixteenth century shows its demands more and more disregarded.”

Headdresses

When we look at the wives of Henry VIII we see some of the most beautiful dresses of the early to mid-16th century. “Anne Boleyn is credited with wearing a cap of blue velvet trimmed with golden bells, and a vest of velvet starred with silver, and over it a surcoat of watered silk lined with miniver (plain white fur), with large pendent sleeves; blue velvet brodequins were on her feet (high boot reaching the calf or knee), with a diamond star on each instep, and above her long curls was placed an aureole of plaited gold.”

In the 16th century the length of a woman’s gown marked her rank. If you were a countess, baroness or a lady of a lower rank you would be ranked by the length of your train. The amount of embroidery on the dress and petticoat also denoted the status of the woman.

The variety of head pieces were many – there was the gable hood, the french hood and it’s said that Anne Boleyn introduced lappets made of velvet.

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This obviously isn’t everything when it comes to Tudor clothing in the 16th century, so stay tuned for a part 2 and possibly part 3! Oh, and by the way, this article was COMPLETELY out of my comfort zone – if I totally embarrassed myself with this piece please correct my mistakes. No, seriously, let me know – just try to be nice about it. 😉

Source/Reference:

COSTUME: FANCIFUL, HISTORICAL AND THEATRICAL,COMPILED BY Mrs. ARIA

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17 thoughts on “Clothing in 16th Century Tudor England

  1. As someone who portrays a working-class woman in the SCA, I can state unequivocally that the clothing was MUCH more comfortable than you think. Corsets were not worn until the very end of the decade, and then only by the very rich. Most clothing was wool, with underclothing of linen, and if stiffened at all, it was with a few strips of boning or (most likely) layers of heavy linen. Hair was braided and wrapped around the head, and then covered with a linen coif which protected the other hat, provided an anchor for it, or could even be worn alone.

  2. Women would have their hair long they would either place a bun or a twist of braids at the back of their head to support the headpiece of the hood and their hair would be either braided or left loose which was less common and it would be inside of the typically black fabric sleeve of the hood. Only the front portion of the hair would be visible with any of the hood styles of the era. A married woman would not have loose flowing hair as you see on TV and movies only a young girl or a young woman on her marriage day would have their hair down as it is a symbol of virginity and purity.

  3. I recently read a theory that chopines of relatively plain design and lower height used by the moderately wealthy and merchant classes were a replication of the fashions of the nobility and served as means of keeping garments clean however the ridiculously tall and elaborate chopines of nobility with their extravagant decorations were a symbol of wealth. Ladies would wear gowns that would still reach the floor stating “look at how rich I am I can wear yards of extra fabric,” textiles of high quality were very expensive in that time. Chopines were more common in the Italian and Spanish courts, in other areas cowmouth shoes similar to a modern Mary Jane but sporting a wide toe would be worn.

  4. I would love to see a part on the layers of undergarments before you even thought about the outer garments!

  5. It would be interesting if you could show us some of the clothes worn by the poorer levels in society too. I know the upper classes were very jealous of their staus as far as materials and styles went, hence the sumptuary laws which forbad those lower down the social scale from wearing certain fabrics and fashions, not that anyone paid much notice if they could afford it.

  6. I try to read every article that you have presented and l love and appreciate all the information that you have given to me on my Facebook regarding the tutor era. The information is so fascinating. Especially ” on this date..” material. Makes that individual or incident appear more realistic in my minds eye. Makes me crave more of your input. Your work is definitely appreciated and I look forward to your additional articles on that era.

  7. I would appreciate more information on the undergarments or the bodies protective undergarments involved to support the gowns and protect the dress from the bodies perspiration since daily bathing was not supported or practical. What materials were they made from, such as cottons, linens, silks. Did socks play any role in feet wear, and if so were they knitted from wool, cotton or finer materials. I am very interested in the textile used during that era.
    What type of menstrual protective padding were available during that time and what did they look like.

  8. This was SO informative!! Loved it! Looking forward to the next two installments ! I LOVE reading about this time period and anything to do with Henry’s court:) Reading about the clothes they wore was so interesting!

  9. Great article. I would like to know more about headwear. What were they made of? How was the hair tucked into it? Did some women keep their hair short?

  10. Thanks for sharing this. I hope you do the other two very soon. In college I took fashion and design. My final paper was “Fashion Through the Ages.” I really enjoy looking back. Great article!

  11. Thank you. I’ve been interested in 1600 century England, the Tudor dynasty and especially Queen Elizabeth I
    for a long time. Little in the US on clothing. Most books have illustrations not actual paintings.
    Suggestion, when describing a piece explain what is is and show a picture next to it.
    So much to learn. Love this article!

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