Where to begin? My research as taken me to amazing websites and recourses! The Tudor era is packed with exciting information about their garments. I have learned in my recent research that there are differences in clothing within this same era. For starters, there are the “Henry” fashions, which refers to king Henry VIII, and the Elizabethan fashions. It really makes sense, too, once you see the two styles side by side. A lot of similarities, and yet, quite different. In this post I am going to illustrate what women wore between 1485-1603. (This is when the Tudor family was on the throne of England.) In my next post I will cover what women wore during the Elizabethan era. In comparison there are some movies I will use to show modern interpretation; what is correct about them and was isn’t.
Henry the VIII reined from 1509 to his death in 1547. The basic women’s style during this timeframe had a very specific shape; triangular bodice with a square neck line and a bell skirt. Detail and intricacy were very much a part of fashion. In fact, one’s status was derived by what one wore. For example, rich women could were silks, however, this would be impractical for peasant women. Rich ladies’ bodices laced in the back because they could afford servants to lace it for them. Peasant’s laced in front so to do it themselves. Upper classes had larger quantities of clothes allowing them to change into clean ones often. Lower classes had only a few; wearing the same clothing (inside and out) for weeks before being able to change or wash. Details like these mattered back then. For example in today’s society, someone who can afford a Lexis or Prada is considered to have money. Things don’t change much.
We thought women take long getting ready now a-days? Just try putting on all these layers!
Here’s what an upper class lady would wear:
Layer number one: The smock was nightgown like in looks and often doubled as one. Being closest to the body it kept the outwear clean of body oils and was the easiest and most practical piece to wash. In earlier posts I’ve referred to this piece as a chemise, which is the French word. My research has shown me that the Italian word for basically the same thing is, camicia. All these, smock (English), chemise and camicia served the same purpose, however, each country and each fashion style had its differences. (Technically speaking.)
Number two: An out fit wasn’t complete without stockings; typically they are called hosiery. Over that went the petticoats. This is a French word as well meaning, “little coat”.
Number three: Over those first two layers went the kirtle. I found a beautiful website that has great explanations and illustrations for this piece. Check out http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/resources/tudor-life/tudor-clothes/. The writer there states that the kirtle is attached to a bodice that showed slightly at the neckline under the over gown’s bodice. On the skirt half there could be an attached decorative panel, or embellishment, sewn on directly. This would be called a forepart. There was no holding back on how much to put on the forepart. They would go all out! Gold in the embroidery, maybe even jewels! Imagine the weight. Not only from all those skirts, but all the extra frills. The purpose of garnishing the kirtle was so that it would show through the over gown. Another good website is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1500–1550_in_fashion. Great pictures and explanations.
Dress to impress! At last, the outer gown, layer number four, was the item to really splurge on. And these people knew how to splurge! Weaving in gold and precious stones to the fabrics. Wow! The best of the best, finest of the finest fabric made the outer clothing layers. Especially for the elite. The outer bodice and skirt were separate pieces fallowing the same shape and style that of the under garments. Meaning, the neck lines were all square, the bodices were fitted, and the over skit was still in a bell shape. Only the skirt opened in the front to allow the forepart to show through. Attached at the waist was a chain girdle which hung down mid way, and could have a purse, or tassels at the end.
Sleeves were layered too! Trumpet sleeves were early in the era and it transformed into round full sleeve by the later half. A full sleeve inside the trumpet could match the forepart, and in may pictures you’ll see that the inner sleeve has the same slashes as mentioned in my earlier post about men’s fashion.
To cap it off everyone, no matter what their status, wore a coif– a woman’s close-fitting cap. Today, nuns still wear them. The richer ladies would wear a hood over the coif called a gable hood, and the poor ones would wear just a coif.
The gable hood was a headdress named for it’s shape of a house gable. The French hood was rounded and the English hood was pointed. It was decorated on the sides, and at the back was a veil.
Wa-lah! There is a summery of what women would have worn in the early 1500’s. In the photos below I will point out some comparisons of modern costumes.