Tudor Costumes

There were many different types of clothes worn in the Tudor period and clothes in Tudor times are known for their extravagance, people wore expensive clothes, made from silks and velvet, although it was only the rich who could afford the luxury. Elizabeth I was said to have owned a thousand dresses, but the average woman would have been luck to own two.

The basic garment worn by all men, women and children was the smock or chemise, a long T-shaped linen garment worn next to the skin. Women wore this with at least one petticoat, plus corsets if they were well-off, while men wore ‘braies’, similar to our boxer shorts. Stockings, known as ‘hose’ were¬† worn by all but the very poor. These were made of woollen material and were generally quite baggy. By the end of the Tudor period royalty were wearing better fitted knitted hose made of silk or fine wool.

Although fashions changed considerably throughout the Tudor years, ordinary people’s clothing remained more or less the same. They were forbidden by law to wear gold, jewels or rich fabrics, even if they could afford them. Women wore a thick woollen ‘kirtl’, a square-necked ankle-length dress with a fitted, laced bodice and full skirts. Sleeves were tied or pinned onto the bodice, showing the smock underneath and probably an apron over the top to keep the dress as clean as possible.

The men wore long hose, loose breeches, shirt and a thick belted ‘jerkin’ similar to a long waistcoat. A merchant or farmer might wear a leather doublet (a thick, quilted upper garment), over breeches. Daggers and purses were hung on leather thongs from the belt. Hats and caps would also have been worn, probably to keep warm and to avoid washing the hair. Thick cloaks would also have been worn in the winter.

Better-off women wore a long, open, wide-sleeved gown over the kirtl. Girdles made from cord or chain and worn around the waist carried personal possessions, as clothes had no pockets. Women kept their heads covered at all times, often with a tight-fitting linen ‘coif’, which could be worn under a bonnet or veil.

Nightclothes were worn only by the wealthy – ordinary people slept in their smocks, although everyone would have worn nightcaps to help keep them warm in bed.

Royalty and nobles wore much more elaborate clothes decorated with fur, embroidery and precious stones, although the basic garments were very similar to those worn by ordinary people. Fabrics were dyed deep colours, red, gold and black were very popular. A lot of jewellery was worn as a sign of the wealth of the wearer, gloves would have been cut at the knuckles to show rings underneath. Fashionable headwear for women included the French hood and the gable headdress, versions of the coif and the veil remained popular.

During Tudor times the fashions were set by Royalty, and during the early years clothes were simple in design, although the fabrics were rich. During the reign of Henry VIII, clothing, particularly for men, became far more elaborate with men’s clothing layered and padded to emulate the King’s physique, while each of his six queens brought new styles of women’s clothes to Court.

The most extreme fashions are found in the Elizabethan period, with ruffs for men and women being popular, and becoming increasingly more elaborate after the introduction of starch in 1564. Women’s skirts became wider and were held in shape with a hoop of wood at the waist – called a farthingale. Skirts eventually became so wide that the wearer¬† would have to walk through doors sideways. This contrasted strongly with the narrow and tapering bodice to emphasise a small waist. Men’s fashions were just as restricting as ‘trunk-hose’ which replaced breeches became so enormous that sitting down was all but impossible. Fashionable clothes were not designed with comfort in mind and the clothes of ordinary people were far more practical.

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Young visitors to Whitehall enjoy dressing up in period clothes provided.