Women’s Tudor Clothing

Tudor clothing was dominated by the Sumptuary Laws or ‘Statutes of Apparel’ which were a form of laws used to distinguish and preserve rank. They dictated what could be worn by whom including specific colours only worn by certain ranks. During the reign of Henry VIII, purple could only be worn by the king and his family.

Clothing changed greatly during the Tudor period with the rise of foreign trade much more variety became available. Silk was expensive and only available to the wealthy, who also wore fur (bear, badger, beaver, rabbit and polecat), satin and velvet. The middle classes dressed in quality linen and wool, while the poor had to contend themselves with the roughest wool and linen.

The wealthier you were, the more colours that were available to you as dyes were expensive. The wealthy could dye their clothes in many colours including black, white, indigo, green, bright red, bright yellow, purple and gold, while the poor used mainly browns and orange. Embellishments were used including coloured ribbons, brocade and jewels.

Clothes could be elaborately decorated with gold thread, ribbons, brocade and buttons, and chains worn around the waist. Jewellery was also very popular. The clothing itself was held together with pins or laces.

The style changed and in the later Tudor period, more dyes and embellishments were available.

Early Tudor Period

Smock or Chemise: A one-piece full-length undergarment made of linen or wool.

Outer Petticoat (Kirtle): A full ankle length one-piece sleeveless garment made from silk, linen or wool.

Gown: Full ankle length garment worn over the kirtle.

Foresleeves: These were separate to the gown and could be in the shape of bell sleeves or puff sleeves, held to the gown by pins.

Tunic (Apron): A shorter one-piece item worn over the dress. These were only worn by the poor over their kirtle.

Partlet: A sleeveless garment worn over the neck and shoulders. They were made in a variety of colours, but black was the most popular. They were made of linen, wool, silk and chiffon and were often embellished with gold ribbon, thread or brocade.

Hose (Tights): Most were made of wool, but the very wealthy had them made of silk.

A variety of head pieces were available.

English Gable: This was a pointed hood with side panels (lappets) that were often highly decorated, and a veil at the back. The hood was designed to completely cover the hair. Over time they became much more elaborate with a box shaped back and two tube shaped hanging veils, which could be pinned up in many different ways.

French Hood: This was a rounded shape decorated hood worn over a coif (close fitting cap), with a black veil attached to the back. It was worn further back on the head exposing the front of the hair.

A plain hood or coif with no embellishments was worn by the poor.

Later Tudor period

During the later Tudor or Elizabethan period as it is known, the dress changed quite dramatically with the bodice becoming longer and less emphasis being placed on a head dress. Instead of wearing a head dress, women would dress their hair in many elaborate styles and place jewels in their hair.

Corsets: These became popular in the Elizabethan period and could be stiffened by using bone. They would give the Tudor woman a triangular looking upper body shape.

Farthingale: A hooped frame made of wicker, wire or whalebone, woven into a linen skirt and worn under the gown.

Initially the farthingale was a dome or bell-shaped skirt and women wore a padded roll around the waist with it to make more of a drum shape, but later the farthingale was made drum shaped without the need for the roll.

Ruff: These were a collar made of linen cambric and later lace, and were worn around the neck. They were stiffened with starch to support them and larger ones named cartwheel ruffs needed a wire frame known as a supportasse to support them.

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