Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Tudor Dress

Henry VIII
I am no expert on costume, but thought I 'd finish off the Tudor period by showing some examples of what the Tudors (and Elizabethans) wore. It isn't easy to find surviving examples from the period, so I have looked at portraits and costumes used in TV shows and films, which, if not historically accurate in their plot lines, do at least make great effort in getting the period details right. The only problem with using portraits is that the tend to be of wealthy people, so what they are wearing doesn't really reflect what ordinary people would wear.

However, thanks to painters like Bhrueghel, we get some idea of what might have been worn by those not able to afford fine clothes. There were also Sumptuary Laws, designed to control what people wore at different levels of society, including what colours and materials could be used. In reality, these were more likely to have been used to increase trade in certain commodities, particularly those produced in England; wool for example, but would have been hard to enforce in reality, and few people would have had the means to spend money on fine fabrics and furs anyway.

Thomas More
There were several high fashion fads amongst the wealthy in the Tudor period, just like there are still today! The codpiece, designed to highlight the Tudor gentleman's groin (did you notice Henry's in the portrait at the top of this post?) and the ruff, a huge stiff lace collar, worn both by men and women, popular in Elizabethan England.

The Wealthy...

Jane Seymour

Princess Elizabeth (later EI)

This is a copy of a dress designed for Queen Mary
And the Poor...


A cottager
The Elizabethans...

Queen Elizabeth I, the Rainbow Portrait at Hatfeild House, she is holding a rainbow in her right hand.
A younger Queen Elizabeth painted by Steven van der Meulen

Christopher Marlowe
More of the Blackadder cast, the costumes were great!

From the film Orlando with Tilda Swinton, and Quentin Crisp
And in miniature!!

A beautiful doll in Tudor dress from

Both pictures are dolls from
A Tudor country gentleman from Jill Bennet (
A wonderful Tudor cook from Jill Bennet (as above)


  1. Thank you for the photos. A wonderful fashion lesson in history.

    1. Hello Drora, I love the rich colours and fabrics used in the dresses, and the men were such peacocks too! Glad you've enjoyed this post.


  2. Hi Andy,

    I love the period fashion!!!! I have always had a fascination for it. I don't know if it is because of my interest in art and all those years of looking at Artists and their paintings but I seem to be able to gage very quickly the period of a film, painting or book by what they are wearing.

    As soon as I saw Blackadder I laughed!! I just love Queeny. The costumes are great and I loved Orlando, and what about Elizabeth (the movie) half the enjoyment of these period films is looking at the costumes. I find todays fashion such a disappointment, (far more practical though) I wonder if 100 years ago they could have imagined a young woman walking down the street in less that they wore as underwear?

    The dolls are lovely, especially the top one in the red. What a beautiful dress.

    Fi xx

    1. I love these dresses too! They must have been so heavy to wear though, like wearing curtains! LOL!

      I had to put Blackadder in, I loved that show; Queenie was my favourite! along with Nursey! Orlando is a spectacular film, I have seen it several times and love Quentin Crisp too, who is fab as Elizabeth; just the part for him!

      I thought the doll with the red dress looked very similar to the red dress pictured below Princess Elizabeth, which is stunning!

  3. Great costumes Andy. I wonder what the commoners really wore? It seems throughout history, only the lifestyles of the rich and famous are the ones that get documented. I had the opportunity to visit a costume museum in Bath England many years ago. I was fascinated with complexity of some of the clothing that people have worn over the years, including the Tudor period.

    1. Thanks Troy, I think whatever the poor wore, it would most likely have been made of wool, as this was produced in huge quantities in England, but was starting to die off towards the end of Henry's reign. It probably wasn't far off what is shown in the pictures above though I imagine.

      The costume museum in Bath was in the Assembly Rooms when I went there recently, is that the same one you saw? It is well worth a visit, I recommend anyone with an interest in history and costume to go!

  4. Hi Andy! I LOVE this post! I am a History of Fashion geek... if there is such a thing! I used to make costume dolls.... researched everything I could find.... it's part of what I love about Art in general.... following the styles people wore through the ages! (I'm like Fi in that I gauge the period of things by the costumes!)
    I always loved the sumptuousness of the fabrics in the Tudor and Elizabethan eras.... Velvets and Brocades... bejeweled and embroidered! Heavy, Stiff, impossible to move in those costumes! But SO Impressive!
    I Love the mini- versions you have found! Those doll-makers do Excellent work! Someday I hope to make some Dollhouse scale costume dolls.....
    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Hello Daydreamer!

      I hope to se your dolls one day, I bet it will be great fun designing them! All those rich, heavy fabrics must have been so hard to move in yes, I think the men had to wear a lot of heavy cloth too, not to mention the suits of armour!!

      I don't think comfort was so important as making a statement, a bit like the world of Couture today! ;)

  5. Un vestuario realmente hermoso el de la época Tudor, con esas telas tan suntuosas y esos bordados!! Un abrazo enorme!!

    A really beautiful costumes of the Tudor era, such as sumptuous fabrics and such embroidery! A big hug!

  6. Pedrete Gracias, me pregunto si puedo te han inspirado para hacer una muñeca Tudor cuantos a ti mismo?