Clothing in 16th Century Tudor England


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 the multiple layers. Not only that, the items we are about to describe were not made with comfort in mind.


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.

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.



The plainest type of shoe available was made of wood but covered in velvet or leather. They were stitched and fastened with buckles and broad-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.



“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.”


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.


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. 😉





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