The class handout is available here: Tudor Clothing

An overview of the clothing worn by members of the various classes in Tudor England, including a discussion of sources for more information.


Tudor Clothing


The goal of this handout is to provide an overview of clothing worn by individuals of various classes during the 16th century. It will discuss sources for learning about clothing and give illustrations and descriptions.


Let’s start by defining what is meant by “Tudor”. The Tudor dynasty lasted from 1485 to 1603. In 1485, Henry Tudor defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and was crowned King Henry VII. He married Elizabeth of York, which nominally ended the decades-long civil war known at the time as “The Cousins’ War” and known modernly as “The War of the Roses”. His first son, Arthur, predeceased him, so it was his younger son Henry, who succeeded him in 1502. Henry VIII married six times, hoping to have male heirs to ensure that his dynasty was secure. His son Edward VI became king at Henry’s death, in 1547, but died at the age of 16. After a brief attempt to avoid crowning a Catholic, Henry’s oldest daughter, Mary I came to the throne. Her tumultuous reign ended with her death in 1558, and she was followed by her half-sister Elizabeth I. Elizabeth’s long reign lasted 45 years until her death in 1603. Since she had no children, she was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, who was a Stuart, thus ending the Tudor dynasty.


 HenrySeven  ElizabethOfYork small  ArthurTudor  HenryVIIIYoung

Portrait of Henry VII of England (1457-1509), Anonymous, c. 1505, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Portrait of Elizabeth of York (1465-1503), Unknown Artist, c. 1500, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Arthur, Prince of Wales, Anglo-Flemish school, c. 1500, Hever Castle, Kent.

King Henry VIII, unknown Netherlandish, c 1520 artist, National Portrait Gallery, London.

 EdwardVI MaryI  ElizabethI  JamesI

King Edward VI, Unknown artist, after Guillim Scrots, c. 1546, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Queen Mary I, Hans Eworth, 1554, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Queen Elizabeth I, by Unknown English artist, circa 1560, National Portrait Gallery, London.

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, by John De Critz the Elder, c. 1606, National Portrait Gallery, London.


Since Elizabeth’s reign was so long and eventful, it is often referred to as the Elizabethan age, and the term Tudor commonly refers to her father’s and siblings’ reigns. Although the clothes of the common man would likely not have changed too much throughout the 16th century, the fashion at court would have changed significantly. The Henrican Tudor style (that is, during Henry VIII’s reign) is recognizable for its broad shoulders and long skirting in the men’s clothing, and the square neck and large turn-back sleeves on the gowns of the women. This class will focus on clothing from the first half of the century, where it is appropriate to differentiate. However, many sources are from the second half of the century.

 HenryVIIIFull small  KatherineParr

Portrait of Henry VIII, Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1537-1547, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, circa 1545, National Portrait Gallery, London.


Classes of Tudor Folk


“We in England, divide our people commonly into four sorts, as gentlemen, citizens or burgesses, yeomen, and artificers or labourers.”[i] This was the description of the classes of society given by a contemporary historian in 1577. ‘Gentlemen’ included lords, nobles, knights, etc. ‘Citizens or burgesses’ were merchants and officials in the cities while ‘Yeomen’ were free men who owned land in mostly rural areas. And finally, ‘artificers and labourers’ were those that worked for others – either as craftsmen or as workers on others’ land.  


For the purposes of this class, we will refer to the classes of ‘nobles/gentry’, ‘merchants/yeomen’ and ‘laborers/craftsmen’. Gentry may have an income of £500 per year, while yeomen may bring in just £2-£6 per year in rents on their lands.

The Clothing


Fabrics/Colors – The fabrics of a laborer’s clothing would have been serviceable and simple. Linen would have been used for shirts, and possibly linen canvas may have been found in doublets. Smocks, headwear, partlets and aprons could have been made of linen, though wool was an option for partlets and aprons as well. Wool would have been the fabric of choice for most men’s doublets, hose and gowns, as well as kirtle and gowns for women.

The colors in their wardrobe would not have been the drab beiges and browns that are often associated with a modern view of peasants. Undyed sheep’s wool did provide white, black, russet and gray colored fabrics. But dyes such as woad and madder provided blue and red, respectively.


Laborers/craftsmen – men


A man working as a laborer on someone else’s land or as a tradesman might only have one set of clothes. Additional shirts would allow one to be worn while the other was washed and bleached.


The probate inventory taken at the death of Edward Bosse, a barber, in 1592 listed: 1 doublet, 1 pair of hose, 1 pair of stockings, 3 shirts, 1 pair of shoes[ii]. The value of his entire wardrobe was 13 shillings.


Shirt – A linen shirt was the first layer worn by men of all stations. The shirt would come down to about the knees, and be tucked into the breeches. There are a few images of laborers doing particularly hot, physical work where they are in a shirt without a doublet, or the shirt is untucked. But generally, the shirt will be mostly hidden under the outer layers. The shirt of a working man will be coarser linen, called lockram, or a mixed fabric called linsey-woolsey, without ornamentation.

daCosta WorkingMenInShirtsleeves 

Da Costa Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515, Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Doublet – A doublet or vest was then worn over the shirt. It could be a long-sleeved item, closing in front, with no collar, or it could be sleeveless – almost like a vest. Sometimes the hose were pointed (tied) to the doublet through eyelets around the waist.

Wedding Dance In Open Air Pieter Bruegel Younger detail1 

Wedding Dance in the Open Air, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1600 based on 1558 engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

MunichHours July detail1 

Labors of the Months, Simon Bening, first half of 16th century, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

Breeches/Hose – Most images of laborers show a single lower garment, called hose. These are similar to leggings and may or may not have included feet. They would have had a flap to close the front, likely closing with buttons. A few images show multiple layers on the lower legs, indicating hose that were separate from stockings (as in our probate inventory above).

GolfBook August detail 

Book of Hours (Golf Book), Simon Bening, 1540, British Library, London.

Wedding dance Peter Bruegel Elder detail3 

The Wedding Dance, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1566, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit.

daCosta February highDetail manHoeing 

Da Costa Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515, Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Gown – At times, either for warm or for more formal occasions, a laborer or craftsmen may don a gown – a pleated garment with skirting hanging to the knee or below – if he was fortunate enough to own one.

Wedding Dance In Open Air Pieter Bruegel Younger detail2 

Wedding Dance in the Open Air, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1600 based on 1558 engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

FieldOfClothOfGold detail6 

The Field of Cloth of Gold, artist of the British School, c. 1545, The Royal Collection.

Hose and Shoes – Separate socks (variously referred to as hose and stockings) are not always visible in the images, though a few do show knee-high stockings. For others, the hose may have included feet or there may have been stocking worn under the hose. Shoes are generally low, utilitarian leather shoes. A few images show laborers in knee-high boots, such as the image for the Shirt, above.


Artifacts from the wreck of the Mary Rose, sunk in 1545, Mary Rose Museum, London.


Hat – While there is an occasional bare-headed laborer, the vast majority of men in these images are wearing headwear of some kind. These include wide-brimmed straw hats, felted hats and an occasional flat cap.

daCosta July highDetail StrawhatDa Costa Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515, Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Peasant Wedding Pieter Bruegel Elder detail2

Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

 Wedding Dance In Open Air Pieter Bruegel Younger detail3

Wedding Dance in the Open Air, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1600 based on 1558 engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Belt and accessories – Many men will have a belt, from which they can hang a knife for eating, or a pouch for holding other items.

Peasant Wedding Pieter Bruegel Elder detail 

Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

Wedding dance Peter Bruegel Elder detail1 

The Wedding Dance, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1566, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit.

Apron – Depending on the work being performed, the Tudor laborer may have worn an apron. Long white aprons are worn by bakers, while short natural-colored aprons were worn for some fieldwork.

Peasant Wedding Pieter Bruegel Elder detail1 

Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

HennessyHeures March detail 

Heures de Notre Dame – Dites de Hennessy, Simon Benning, c. 1530-1540, Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels.


Laborers/craftsmen – women

The probate inventory for Joan Green of Banbury, widow, 1597 was simple: Her apparel, 6 shillings. 

Smock– A woman’s shirt is generally referred to as a smock. It will be fairly straight-fitted, rather than voluminous, and will reach below the knee. Both high-necked smocks and low-necked smocks were worn.

Festival at Bermondsey detail1

Fete at Bermondsey, Joris Hoefnagel, c. 1569, Hatfield House.

FieldOfClothOfGold detail1a 

The Field of Cloth of Gold, artist of the British School, c. 1545, The Royal Collection.

Partlet or kerchief – Many women filled in the neckline with a partlet or kerchief. This could be as simple as a folded piece of cloth tucked into the neckline, or could be a partlet – a small vest-like garment. Black and white were the most common colors.

TheCook PieterAertsen detail 

The Cook, Pieter Aertsen, 1569, Musei di Strada Nova, Genova.

FieldOfClothOfGold detail7 

The Field of Cloth of Gold, artist of the British School, c. 1545, The Royal Collection.

Kirtle – A working woman’s kirtle (basically a dress) was her primary garment. It could be sleeveless, short sleeved or long sleeved, reaching anywhere from above the ankles to the ground. Most kirtles appear to be front-lacing.


MunichHours July detail2 

Labors of the Months, Simon Bening, first half of 16th century, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

GolfBook December detail 

Book of Hours (Golf Book), Simon Bening, 1540, British Library, London.

Sleeves – Sleeves were often a separate item, pinned or tied onto the kirtle when appropriate. They could be full-length sleeves, worn with a sleeveless kirtle, or just overlap a short sleeve.


MarketScene PieterAertsen detail 

Market Scene, Pieter Aertsen, c. 1560, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

daCosta MilkingWoman 

Da Costa Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515, Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Gowns – As with the men, a woman of this class might have a good overgown which she would wear for special occasions or for warmth. This would likely close up the front and possibly be lined in a contrasting fabric.

EnglishVillager LucasDeHeere 

English Village, Lucas de Heere, 16th century, University Library of Ghent.

Wedding dance Peter Bruegel Elder detail2 

The Wedding Dance, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1566, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit.

Apron – Aprons were ubiquitous among the women of the laborer/craftsmen class. They were often white, but colored aprons are also quite common. Generally, they were a plain rectangle, attached to a waist band with the corners loose, though an occasional fancier pleated apron can be found.

ChildrensGames PieterBruegelElder detail1 

Children’s Games, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1560, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. 

HennessyHeures August detail 

Heures de Notre Dame – Dites de Hennessy, Simon Benning, c. 1530-1540, Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels.

Hose and shoes – Wool stockings and flat leather shoes would have been the footwear of choice for these women.

Wedding Dance In Open Air Pieter Bruegel Younger detail5 

Wedding Dance in the Open Air, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, c. 1600 based on 1558 engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Headwear – Women at this time wore hats all the time, unless they were young and unmarried, or at their wedding. This headwear could take the shape of a linen headrail, a linen coif or other shaped headdress. Felted wool and straw hats were also common.

GolfBook January detail GolfBook January detail1

Book of Hours (Golf Book), Simon Bening, 1540, British Library, London.

daCosta WorkingWoman 

Da Costa Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515, Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Belts and accessories – A small pouch hanging from a belt would provide space to hold a few coins or other small items.

Barn dance Pieter Bruegel Elder detail2 

Barn Dance, Peter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1567, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Peasant Wedding Pieter Bruegel Elder detail3 

Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.



Fabrics/colors – The sumptuary law of 1533 stated that one must have income of £100 per year to wear taffeta, satin, damask, velvet or non-native fur, so many of this group could wear these more expensive fabrics. More expensive dyes would be available to them, including a truer black, which was worn extensively.

Merchants/yeomen – men

Merchants and yeomen would have more garments, and they would be of finer fabrics with some ornamentation. The probate inventory of Henry Holl, a yeoman, in 1590 included: 3 bands, 1 shirt, 3 pair of hand ruffs, 2 pair of shoes, a coat, a cloak, a pair of hose and nether stocks, a doublet and a leather jerkin. The total value of his inventory was 1 pound, 4 shillings, 10 pence

The inventory of Maunder, a merchant in Exeter, in 1563 included the following items of his clothing: A gown of brown blewe laced with black lace and faced with budge, another gown of brown blewe faced with budge, a gown of brown blewe faced with taffeta, another gown of brown blewe faced with connys, a cassock of taffeta guarded with velvet, a worsted doublet with sleeves of satin, a chamlet coat without sleeves, a worsted jacket, a cloak of brown blewe, a cloth coat, a worsted doublet, a pair of hose. The total value of his inventory was 5 pounds, 13 shillings, 10 pence.

Shirt – The merchant class will have multiple shirts made of higher quality linen such as Holland cloth. There may be embroidery at the cuffs and collars. 

YoungBusinessman Holbein 

Portrait of a Young Businessman, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1541, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

GeorgGisze HansHolbein 

Georg Gisze, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532, Staatiche Museen, Berlin.

Doublet – The term doublet seems to apply to the front-fastening garment with little to no skirting. There would generally be lacing holes for the trunkhose to attach to. The doublet would have long sleeves.

FlemishFamily MaertenVanCleve detail1 

Flemish household, Maerten van Cleve, c. 1550, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

PortraitOfAYoungMan unknown 

Portrait of a Young Man, Unknown Master, Flemish, c. 1530-1540, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

Jerkin – The term jerkin generally referred to the layer above the doublet. This could have long skirting, with or without sleeves. Or, particularly later in this period, it could be a slashed leather garment without sleeves.

MoreFamily RowlandLockey detail1

 Thomas More and his family, Rowland Lockey after Hans Holbein the Younger, 1592, Nostell Priory, Yorkshire.

Poseters DirckBarendsz detail 

Banquet of Eighteen Guardsmen, Dirck Barendsz, 1566, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Gown –The gown of the merchant was quite impressive, with full sleeves and a turnback collar edged in fur or silk.


JohnIsham GerlachFlicke 

John Isham, Warden of the Mercers Company, Gerlach Flicke, Lamport Hall, Northampton.

PortraitOfAMan JanszMostaert 

Portrait of a Man, circle of Jan Jansz, Mostaert, 1535, Rikjsmuseum, Amsterdam.

Trunkhose – Trunkhose were a short, pant-like garment that only came to about mid-thigh. There were often strips of fabric (panes) over a softer inner lining. Stuffing was sometimes used to pad out the shape, and a cod-piece was generally quite prominent.

EntertainersAtABrothel BrunswickMonogrammist detail   EntertainersAtABrothel BrunswickMonogrammist detail1

Entertainers in a Brothel, Brunswick Monogramist, c. 1555, The National Gallery, London.

Hose and shoes – Hose could be cut on the bias from linen or wool fabric, or could be knitted wool.

WilliamFitzwilliam HansHolbein detail1 

William Fitzwilliam, Hans Holbein, c. 1540, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Hat – Headwear for the merchant class ranged from flat caps to shaped wool felt hats, with many other options in between.

 ManInRedCap HansHolbein

Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1535, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

ThomasAndJohnGodsalve HansHolbein 

Thomas and John Godsalve, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1528, Gemaldegalerie Alte Master, Dresden.

Belt and accessories – Depending on his wealth and responsibilities, a merchant might wear a belt with sword hanger. Many men in the merchant/yeoman class might wear rings and have about them the instruments of their trade.


RichardClough unknown 

Richard Clough, unknown Netherlandish artist, 1560, private collection.

RobertTrappes unknownArtist 

Portrait of Alderman Robert Trappes, follower of Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1554, private collection.


Merchants/yeomen – women

The inventory of Maunder, mentioned above, also included the following items of his wife’s clothing: A gown of brown blewe lined with chamlet with a guard of black velvet, a gown in grain guarded with velvet, a gown in violet in grain with a guard of velvet, a gown of brown blewe with a guard of black velvet, another gown of brown blewe with a guard of black velvet, one other old gown of black without velvet, one cassock of brown blewe with a fringe of silk, another cassock of brown blewe laced with three laces, a round kirtle of worsted with a guard of black velvet, another kirtle of worsted without velvet with damask bodies, a trained kirtle of worsted with chamlet bodies, a petticoat of scarlet. This inventory was worth 6 pounds, 13 shillings, 4 pence.

Smock – The smock of a merchant’s wife would likely have some blackwork around the neckline and cuffs.

Jane Small HansHolbein 

Mrs. Jane Small, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1536, V&A Museum, London.

Partlet– The partlet to fill in around the neckline would be finer fabric, perhaps velvet or fine wool.

19YearOldWoman followerOfMaartenVanHeermskerck 

Portrait of a Nineteen-Year-Old Woman, follower of Maerten van Heemskerk, 1548, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Petticoat – Ladies of this station would wear more layers than the laborer, including layers of petticoats for warmth. These might be upper-bodied (with some sort of bodice) or not (like a skirt). You can see the layers in the image to the right – red petticoat, grey kirtle, blue overgown.


Figure of a Woman in Contemporary Dress, Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Kirtle – The kirtle layer comes next for the wife of a merchant. It may close in front, or possibly the side or back. Some images seem to show an uninterrupted front, which may just be a placket. One earlier Italian image shows a side-laced kirtled, but it is unclear whether this can be extrapolated to this time in England.

EnglishMerchant LucasDeHeere 

England merchant wife, Lucas de Heere, 16th century, University Library of Ghent,

EleazarAndMathan Michelangelo SistineChapel detail 

Eleazar and Mathan, Michaelangelo, c. 1510, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Gown – The overgown might be a low-necked gown with placard covering the center front lacing, as will be seen for the noblewomen, but it would be more practical with narrower turnback sleeves. Alternatively, a high-necked fitted English gown might be worn, particularly late in our period of interest.


Joan Tuckfield, wife of John Tuckfield, Mayor of Exeter, British school, c, 1560, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

YoungWomen JoachimBeucklaer 

Young Woman, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1562, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.

Hose and shoes – These women’s hose would likely be wool, either made from woven cloth, or occasionally knitted. Shoes would be practical – flat closed leather.

FlemishFamily MaertenVanCleve detail2 

Flemish household, Maerten van Cleve, c. 1550, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

Headwear – The headwear of the middle class woman included numerous types of folded and/or wired coifs, felted wool hats,

AliceBarnham detail 

Alice Barnham and her sons, English school, 1557, The Berger Collection, Denver.

Nonsuch Palace Joris Hoefnagel detail2 

Nonsuch Palace, Joris Hoefnagel, 1582.

Apron – The wife of a yeoman or merchant would likely wear an apron while doing her everyday tasks, and would sometimes wear a fancier one when dressed in a finer gown.

LondonGentlewomenAndACountrywoman LucasDeHeere 

Four citizens’ wives, Lucas de Heere, c. 1574, from manuscript.

Accessories – The middle class woman would likely wear some jewelry – rings, a necklace, perhaps a girdle. She might have a pouch at her waist, or a set of keys.

MerchantCouple detail 

Merchant Couple, Dirck Jacobsz, 1541, Amsterdam Historical Museum, Amsterdam.

NaggingWifeAndSpinningMan JacquesGheyn detail 

Nagging wife and spinning man, Jacques Gheyn, c. 1595, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.



Fabrics/colors – The sumptuary laws that defined who was allowed to wear what fabrics and colors stated that only knights, lords and above (or income of £200 per year) may wear red or blue velvet, black fur of genet or lynx, velvet gowns, velvet coats, leopard furs, embroidered clothes or cloth pricked with gold, silver or silk. However, the most popular color for men, to the point that it is difficult to find portraits of the individual wearing anything else, is black. The fabrics available to a gentlewoman or noble lady included silks such as satin, damask, velvet and taffeta. Wool fabrics of scarlet and broadcloth were common, and linens were of high quality lawn and cambric. Furs were used extensively as linings of sleeves and outer garments. Colors included crimson, from an expensive dye called kermes made from insects.

Nobles/Gentry – men

As expected, the wardrobe of gentry and nobles was more extensive, finer, more varied and more decorated.

Inventory of Sir Henry Woodrington of Barwick-upon-Tweed (knight and governor), 1593: Satin cloak guarded with velvet and gold lace, a sleeved cloak of black velvet with lace and long buttons, a short velvet cloak with lace and long buttons, on black velvet jerkin, one mandilion of grosgrain, a mandilion of long cloth and a pair of hose with grosgrain, gold buttons, doublet and hose of black satin with velvet and gold twist, doublet of black satin with hose the panes velvet with gold lace, a Spanish leather jerkin, one pair of French hose of black satin with gold lace, one black satin doublet and hose with velvet panes, one pair of venetians of black velvet with tawny and gold lace, one black velvet cap and two pair of cipres garters, shoes and silk stockings, worsted stockings, one pair of pistol strings and two night capes, two beaver hats and one taffeta hat, one tawny satin doublet, one night gown of tufted taffeta. 45 pounds, 16 shillings, 4 pence.

Shirt – The linen for these shirts is even more fine – a lawn or cambric. This finer fabric will allow there to be more yardage gathered into the collar of the lower-necked style without being bulky, which will produce a rich look. The higher neck style will likely have embroidery or a small ruffle at the cuffs and collars.

JohnBouchier unknownArtist 

John Bouchier, Unknown Netherlandish artist, c. 1520-1530, National Portrait Gallery, London.

ThomasLestrange HansHolbein 

Thomas Lestrange, Hans Holbein, 1536, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.


Doublet – Like the merchant, the upper class gentleman’s doublet could be flat-fronted for wearing under a jerkin, or fastening up the front to be worn alone or under a gown. The fabrics were likely to be richer.

HenryGuildford HansHolbein 

Henry Guildford, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527, The Royal Collection, London.

JohnAstley UnknownArtist. detail 

John Astley, unknown Flemish artist, 1555, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Jerkin – Over his doublet, a man might choose to wear a jerkin. In Henry’s time, this would be a garment with long skirting, which might have a straight front edge or be U-shaped to show the decorated doublet beneath. Later in this time period, a jerkin was a sleeveless garment worn over the doublet, often in leather with slashing.

 Henry VIII HansHolbein small

Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1537, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

EdwardCourtenay EnglishSchool 

Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon, English School, c. 1555, private collection.


Gown – A man’s gown might be worn over a doublet and/or jerkin. Men’s gowns were often lined in fur, visible on the turn-back collar. The large sleeves were often slashed to allow the lower arm to come through, although un-slashed sleeves were often seen.

BrianTuke HansHolbeinTheYounger 

Brian Tuke, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1530, National Gallery of Art, London.

Thomas Wentworth John Bettes the Elder small 

Thomas Wentworth, Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, c. 1547, National Portrait Gallery, London.


Trunkhose – The trunkhose of the elite class were generally more decorated – with embroidery or applied trim on the panes – and making use of better fabrics.

EdwardVI WilliamScrots2 

Edward VI, attributed to William Scrots, c. 1550, Royal Collection, London.

ManInRed NetherlandishSchool 

Man in Red, German/Netherlandish School, c. 1530-1550, Royal Collection, London.

Hose and shoes – Hose took a number of styles – linen hose cut on the bias, knitted wool hose and, around 1540, knitted silk hose from Europe. Shoes that the elite wore for court would have had uppers of goatskin or textiles, with a wide profile (especially during the latter half of Henry’s reign). Other footwear included boots and slippers.

FamilyOfHenryVIII detail 

Family of Henry VIII, British School, c. 1545, Hampton Court Palace, London.

FieldOfClothOfGold detail

The Field of Cloth of Gold, artist of the British School, c. 1545, The Royal Collection.

Hat – There were a number of styles of hat popular at court. Henry’s trademark decorated flat cap was worn by few others, but scholarly hats and traditional flat caps were common.

HenryVIII HansHolbein 

Henry VIII, After Hans Holbein, c. 1540, Royal Collection, London.

RichardSouthwell HansHolbein 

Richard Southwell, Hans Holbein, 1536, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Belt and accessories – The nobleman often wore a belt with sword hanger. Around the neck, he might wear a pendant on a ribbon, or a chain of office.

Festival at Bermondsey detail2 

Fete at Bermondsey, Joris Hoefnagel, c. 1569, Hatfield House.

 ThomasHoward HansHolbein

Thomas Howard, Hans Holbein, c. 1539, Royal Collection, London.

Nobles/Gentry – women

Inventory of Isabel Rood, widow, 1582: A broadcloth gown lined with taffeta, another cloth gown lined with sarcenet, two doublets of chamlet and a cassock without sleeves of silk grosgrain, and a worsted cassock with sleeves, one other worsted gown and a broadcloth gown lined with wolvering, two riding broadcloth cloaks, three pair of hose, three gowns, two stammel petticoats, one kirtle of grosgrain, a forekirtle of chamlet, one broadcloth kirtle, two saveguards, one cloak and a worsted kirtle, two silk thromed hats, three velvet night caps, a four-cornered cap, three felt hats and one taffeta hat, three smocks, 12 patclothes, three pair of hand ruffs, three courchers, five cross cloths, a worsted apron, two linen aprons and a straken apron. The value of this wardrobe was 173 pounds 9 shillings 7 pence


Smock – A lady’s smock to go under a low-necked gown will have a similar square neckline. It may also be high-necked, either with a collar or without. In either case, the edges, cuffs and collars are likely to be blackworked.

AliceMore HansHolbein 

Alice More, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530, Weiss Gallery, London.

Lady Dacre Hans Eworth resize 

Mary Neville, Lady Dacre, Hans Eworth,

c. 1555, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Partlet – A partlet might also be worn by a lady of this elite class. It might be nearly transparent, and tucked into the bodice, or solid and worn over the bodice of the gown. The inside of the partlet was often embroidered with blackwork.

AnneStafford AmbrosiusBenson 

Anne Stafford, Ambrosius Benson, c. 1535, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis.

KatherineParr EnglishSchool

Katherine Parr, English School after a lost portrait by Hans Eworth, Royal Museums, Greenwich.

Petticoat – The farthingale was worn in Spain, and Catherine of Aragon likely brought it to England with her, but it is not seen in England until around 1545, when one is listed in the wardrobe accounts of Princess Elizabeth[i]. Generally the line of the skirt is much softer, likely with several petticoats under it for warm.

 MoreFamilySketch HansHolbein detail

Study for the family portrait of Thomas More, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1527, Kunstmuseum, Basel.

ElizabethPrincess WilliamScrots 

Elizabeth I as princess, attrib. William Scrots, 1546, Royal Collection, London.

Kirtle – The pair of bodies (i.e. corset) was not recorded until well into Elizabeth’s reign. Therefore, the supportive garment was likely the kirtle. It probably had multiple layers of canvas or buckram to provide support. A side or back lacing kirtle is conjectured, since the line of jewels adorning the kirtle edge is unbroken. The front of the skirt was often a decorative fabric, which could also be a separate forepart which is fastened to the kirtle.

MoreFamily RowlandLockey detail 

Thomas More and his family, Rowland Lockey after Hans Holbein the Younger, 1592, Nostell Priory, Yorkshire.

MaryI AntonisMor2

Mary I, Queen of England, Antonis Mor, c. 1555, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

Gown – The overgowns of the elite were sumptuous, in rich fabrics with much ornamentation. The bodice style was generally a low, square neckline – probably front closing with a placard pinned over. Sometimes a matching partlet gave the illusion of a high doublet-style neckline. The trumpet-shaped sleeve, narrow at the top and expanding into a wide turnback that exposed a separate undersleeve, was popular, although voluminous single sleeve was seen.

TwoViewsOfAWomanWearingAnEnglishHood HansHolbein 

Two views of a Woman wearing an English Hood, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1535, British Museum, London.

 JaneSeymour HansHolbein

Jane Seymour, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1537, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

 MargaretWyatt HolbeinStudio small

Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1540, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hose and shoes – Knitted silk hose were not available until mid-century. Before that, they were made from woven woolen cloth or knitted wool. Shoes would have been flat, sometimes with a squared toe.

TwoViewsOfAWomanWearingAnEnglishHood HansHolbein detail

Two views of a Woman wearing an English Hood, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1535, British Museum, London.

Headwear – There were two main styles worn by ladies of this station. The English gable hood was the traditionally English headdress that was popular earlier in Henry VIII’s reign. The French hood was particularly popular during and after Anne Boleyn’s reign.

MargaretMore HansHolbein 

Margaret More, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1535, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 PortraitOfAWoman HansHolbein

Portrait of a Lady, Probably a Member of the Cromwell family, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1535, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo.

Accessories – Gentlewomen and nobles took every opportunity to display their wealth. They draped themselves in furs, added gold aiglets and jewels to their clothing. Jewels and pearls were worn as billiments on a French hood, at the neck, on the bodice and on the fingers. There was also often a girdle at the waist.

MargaretButts HansHolbein 

Margaret Bacon, Lady Butts, Hans Holbein, c. 1543, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

LadyAudley Hans Holbein the Younger 

Elizabeth, Lady Audley, Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1538, The Royal Collection, London.



Sources – how do we know this?

There are a variety of source materials that can be used to research the clothing of a particular era. Many of these were used for this presentation, and even more can be consulted in your own search to develop a period-appropriate closet. Reseachers such a Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies recommend a three-pronged approach. The first is imagery – portraits and paintings. The second is extant items – clothing and accessories from the period that still exist and can be examined. The third is documentation – wills, wardrobe accounts, and other contemporary descriptions of clothing.  


There are numerous images that still exist from the Tudor period. These include formal portraits, less formal paintings, landscapes, engravings, manuscripts and other books and pamplets. One consideration here is that while there are numerous formal portraits of English nobles, there are few paintings and manuscripts that are English in origin. So, we must extrapolate from the information that we have. I do believe it is reasonable to assume that the upper classes were likely to have the most “trendy” clothing – styles that were quite specific to time and region. The lower classes were likely to wear simple clothing that did not change as much over time and in different areas.


The first obvious source is period portraiture. There are many extant paintings of nobles and gentry, either alone or in family groups. These are quite good sources for the clothing of the upper class, especially if the artist was particularly accomplished at recording the details of the clothing. Some considerations here are the interpretation of color (as paint pigments often degrade with time) and the use of allegory (where a painting was used to tell a story rather than being a literal interpretation of a scene). However, if you are looking to portray an individual in merchant class or below, the chances of them having paid and sat for a formal portrait are minimal.

 EdwardVI WilliamScrots

Other paintings and drawings

There are a number of paintings of wide scenes that include people of many sorts. These can be a great source of inspiration for overall look, colors, accessories and so forth. One example is the Fete at Bermondsey[i], dated 1569. This painting shows a wide range of people of varying social ranks, dressed for a party. Another is The Embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover[ii], which is dated around 1545. This illustrates the Mary Rose and other ships preparing to set sail to France for the Field of Cloth of Gold meeting with Frances I. Another illustration of the Field of Cloth of Gold [iii] itself provides a wide view of that event. Both of these two paintings seem to illustrate primarily gentry and above, though a few interesting characters appear.

Festival at Bermondsey Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder detail

Another artist whose work illustrates the clothing of a variety of classes include Joris Hoefnagel, who visited England in 1568-1569. His paintings, and books of colored plates based on his work, often indicate later dates, but they are generally based on drawings made during his visit.[iv]

Nonsuch Palace Joris Hoefnagel detail

There are also a number of artists from Europe who were known for painting groups of people in daily life. Peter Bruegel the Elder has a number of genre paintings of scenes such as peasants dancing or at a wedding. His younger son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, made copies of his father’s work, in addition to some works of his own, including some that appear to be copies of lost original artwork. The setting of these paintings is Netherlandish, but the overall style and color, or details that are not visible in English paintings, may be useful for comparison.



There are some lovely manuscripts with drawings of people going out their daily life. While these may be simplified versions of clothing, since the purpose is storytelling rather than documentation, the artist still can be expected to have drawn from what he saw around him. One example is a Book of Hours by a well-known Belgian artist named Simon Bening. It is called the DeCosta Hours[v], named for its second owner. Dated around 1515, this manuscript is slightly early for our desired mid-century target, but not by much. 

 daCosta workingMen

Books and pamphlets

Other sources of images include sheets of printed drawings called the Cries of London[vi] - that is, street sellers and other humble people. In England, the first of these broadsheets was seen around 1590, so they are fairly late for our target time frame. However, they can be useful for a broad view of lower class clothing.

 CriesOfLondon detail


Extant Items



A few items of clothing from this time period survive. Janet Arnold provides details on a boy’s shirt from around 1535-1550 in Patterns of Fashion 4[vii], along with many shirts, smock and ruffs from later decades. In her original book, the earliest extant item is from around 1560, so there was nothing in the Henrican Tudor style. Stuart Peachey[viii] describes a few surviving garments such as the durable, unembellished “John Abbott” shirt of somewhat indeterminate age. He also describes some interesting garments that have been found concealed in walls and floorboards, such as the Reigate doublet. Although it is dated to the 1620s or so, so its specific style is later than the scope of this class, information such as fabric type, lining materials and construction methods may be useful.

 VandA boys shirt

Mary Rose

One treasure trove of information on Tudor work garments, shoes, hose, accessories and everyday items is the wreck of the Mary Rose. This warship in Henry VIII’s fleet was lost in 1545, and was recovered in 1982. The excavation has provided a vast number of items that are detailed in a two-volume set of books[ix]. Although the individuals on board were specifically sailors, their clothing would not have been drastically different from that of men at home in England.





Wills, probate, inventory

Large households kept detailed inventories of their belongings on a regular basis.

For individuals lower down on the social scale, they did not inventory their belongings regularly. However, they often made wills specifying who should receive what. Also, their worldly goods were often recorded in a probate inventory.

Wardrobe Accounts

Major households such as the royal household kept detailed accounts of what was purchased, from whom, and who the item was for. Some of these, such as the accounts of Henry VIII and his wives, have been analyzed in detail.[x]

Tailor’s Manuals

Tailors of the time created reference manuals for their workshops, and some of these still survive. They don’t provide all of the information required to make a garment, but the shapes are laid out as they would in a cutting diagram, and there are notes on creating the garment. Although none of them are as early as the time frame for this discussion, they still can provide some insight into the garments. [xi] [xii]

Alcega36 pattern


The lawmakers periodically found it necessary to pass laws that would dictate who was allowed to wear what types of fabrics, furs and fibers, and in what colors. These Sumptuary Laws give a good idea of who was wearing what, and also hints at rules that were being broken – otherwise the laws wouldn’t have been necessary.

[i] Fete at Bermondsey, Joris Hoefnagel, c. 1569, Hatfield House.

[ii] The Embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover, unknown artist, c. 1545.

[iii] The Field of Cloth of Gold, British School, c. 1545.

[iv] Joris Hofnagel and the problem with dates…, Sarah Lorraine,

[v] Da Costa Hours, Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515.

[vi] Images of the Outcast – The Urban Poor in the Cries of London by Sean Shesgreen

[vii] Patterns of Fashion 4 – The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c.1540-1660, by Janet Arnold,

[viii] Clothes of the Common People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England: Volume 33 Surviving Garments, Stuart Peachey.

[ix] Before the Mast – Life and Death Aboard the Mary Rose, edited by Julie Gardiner with Michael J. Allen.

[x] Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Maria Hayward, Maney Publishing.

[xi] Drei Schnittbucher – Three Austrian Master Tailor Books of the 16th Century, Katherine Barich and Marion McNealy; Nadel and Faden Press, 2015

[xii] Libro de Geometria, Pratica Y Traca, Juan De Alcega, reprinted as Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589, Quite Specific Media, 1999. 


[i] Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Maria Hayward, Maney Publishing, pg. 162.

[i] Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Maria Hayward, Maney Publishing, pg. 162.

[i] The Description of England 1577 (from Holinshed’s Chronicles), by William Harrison.

[ii] Probate Inventories,