I have become a fan of the clothing of the Tudor Era. At last year’s A&S faire, I entered a skin-out lady’s ensemble that I wore myself. But the first Tudor outfit that I made was for my daughter, Elizabeth. She first wore it at Val Day in 2011 when she was 11 years old, and I have made modifications over the years so that she can still wear it today. This is the project that I am going to describe for you.

The style of this garment would have been appropriate for a young English woman of good family in the time frame of 1530-1550. She might have been the daughter in a knight’s family or that of lower nobility. She wears some jewels, which would not have been accessible to lower classes. The blackwork on her smock would have been done by women who had time for such niceties, rather than those concentrating on the day-to-day necessities of keeping a family fed and clothed. A daughter in a family like this may, if she is lucky, have been sent to act as a maid of honor for the queen. The original fabrics would have been wool, silk and linen, possibly supplied by the king and queen as payment for her service to them.



I consider my main source to be the portraits that I examine at length, looking at the details in each to make decision about how I plan to design my clothing. So, these primary sources are vastly important. There are also experts, such as Janet Arnold, Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila, who have written about their examinations of extant garments and their considerable experience in making historical recreations. As far as making this outfit - there were no Tudor patterns available for children at the time, so I made use of a number of resources to help me determine the general shape of the pattern pieces. However, I mostly used draping and toiles (and trial and error) to create the garments. The books that I used included Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila’s The Tudor Tailor – Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress as well as Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women, c. 1540-1660. The authors of The Tudor Tailor have recently released a book about children’s clothing called The Tudor Child. This was not available when I made the kirtle and gown, though I did use it for the remake of the French Hood and petticoat. I also referenced Margo Anderson’s Historic Costume Patterns, Tudor Lady’s Wardrobe, although the patterns themselves were not usable for me due to size. The clothing is constructed using a sewing machine, with finishing work done by hand. Some modern materials were substituted due to both availability as well as practicality for a child’s outfit.
The era of the Tudor family, from Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI through Mary I (the years 1485-1558), is often referred to as the Tudor Era. Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I was a Tudor as well, but her reign is generally referred to separately as the Elizabethan Era since she had a long and glorious reign in her own right. The clothing of the Tudor era is quite recognizable, with its square necklines, tight upper sleeves with folded back lower sleeves, and headwear such as the French hood and gable hood. The silhouette of the Tudor gown varied from fairly soft and flowing to a rather accentuated shape. 


Study for the Family Portrait of Sir Thomas More,
by Hans Holbein the Younger. 
c.1527, Kunstmuseum, Basel, Germany.



Elizabeth I as a Princess, attributed to William Scrots, c.1546, 
The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.

The smock was the first layer of a young Tudor lady’s ensemble. It would have been made of linen, and would have been the only layer to be washed frequently. The most common shape of the Tudor smock was with a low, square neckline that just showed to the inside of the kirtle and overgown. The sleeves were somewhat full, with a ruffle at the wrist that showed beyond the undersleeves of the kirtle. There are also some examples of high-necked smocks being worn with square necked gowns, as in the Portrait of a Young Woman, below. For Elizabeth, I chose to make a high-necked smock. I felt it was more modest, since she was only 10 years old when I created this for her. I had found a cotton fabric that was already embroidered with a passable blackwork motif, so I used that for her smock. For a smock for myself, that would likely be worn for many years, I might have considered doing blackwork by hand. But for a child’s garment that would be outgrown, I felt the shortcut was reasonable. I arranged the stripes vertically, as in the portrait below, but only in the areas that were visible, as in existing smocks from the time. I used a solid cotton fabric of similar weight for the lower body section. Her smock is somewhat shorter than the extant garments since she is not used to having long smocks around her legs. 


A Portrait of a Young Woman by a Netherlandish artist, c.1535. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


16th Century Smocks, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.



Smock Front


Smock Back


The next layer in the young Tudor lady’s ensemble would be a petticoat - an underskirt, with or without an attached bodice. Some petticoats were padded with wadding, quilted, or sewn with channels of rope to stiffen them slightly to hold out the skirts. Farthingales, stiffened with reed bents or whalebone were worn in Spain throughout this time period and in England towards the end. Princess Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts around 1550 include the first English reference to the hooped underskirt. When I first made the outfit for Elizabeth, I made a stiff farthingale. I used a cotton twill fabric and covered metal wire for the stiffened hoops. I made this farthingale extra long, and folded up the extra (without hoops) to allow for lengthening later. The early photos of my daughter in the outfit show her with the stiffened underskirt. Later, I found that I like the softened silhouette better, which is also easier to wear. I then removed the metal hoops and added rope instead, letting down the extra length at the same time. This had the added advantage of the skirts draping longer, since they were not held out at an angle. I recently remade it in a more period-appropriate linen fabric, and have included extra length so that it can continue to be worn with future outfits as she grows. 


Spanish woman in a rope-stiffened farthingale, 1545


Elizabeth I as a Princess, attributed to William Scrots, c.1546, 
The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle..



Petticoat Front


Petticoat Back


The kirtle was the next layer, and likely the one that provided the most support to the outfit. Separate boned bodies (corsets) are not mentioned until Elizabeth I’s reign, so it is likely that any shaping of the body would have been achieved by stiffening the upper bodies of the kirtle. In the portrait of Catherine of Aragon, below left, we see a black clothing layer between the white of the smock and the burgundy of the gown. This appears to be a center closing kirtle. The detail of Catherine Parr’s gown, below right, also clearly shows the multiple layered garments. There is a reddish garment on top of the smock, which is richly jeweled along its neckline. The jeweled kirtle neckline does not appear to have any breaks in it, so the closure must be elsewhere that the center front for this example. Possible locations are the center back, or along the sides, under the arms. When I first made this outfit for Elizabeth, it didn’t have a separate kirtle. In order to make it easy for her to manage, I simply attached the decorative forepart directly to the edges of the gown skirt using hook and loop fasteners. As she got older and I felt she was more interested in period correctness, I created a kirtle for her and incorporated the forepart into it. The kirtle is made from mustard-colored linen, with a few small bones to keep the front flat. The side edges are laced, which provides some adjustability as she grows (though my children seem to mostly grow up, not out, so adjustments in the chest area are minimal). 


Catherine of Aragon, by Michel Sittow, c. 1503, 
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.



Detail from Catherine Parr, by Master John, c. 1545, 
National Portrait Gallery, London.


Kirtle Front


Kirtle Back


The Tudor gown was a square-necked dress with attached sleeves and skirts, worn over the kirtle. The members of Thomas More’s family, below left, show how the edges of the gown come close to meeting, and then are laced together. Adjusting the tightness of the lacing, and leaving off the placard, would allow the gown to be worn during pregnancy. The portrait of Jane Seymour, below, clearly shows the heads of brass pins along the edge of the placard, holding it in place. The sleeves of the overgowns are turned back to display decorative sleeves, presumably attached to the under kirtle. These under sleeves range from fairly slim and simple to oversized and elaborate. My daughter’s gown is made of a cotton blend jacquard, which was reasonably priced (important for an child’s outfit) and easy to clean. It laces at the center front, so that the skirts open to reveal the forepart of the kirtle beneath. The placard is not closed with straight pins, as my own Tudor outfit is, since I would be worried these would shift and poke her. Instead, it is sewn in place on one side and attaches with hooks and eyes on the other. Originally, it attached with hook and loop fastener to make it more secure and easy to get into. Since there was originally no kirtle to attach the sleeves to, they are laced into the inside of the gown sleeves. The hem was originally quite deep, and has been let down over time, with ribbon sewn over the wear line. 


The Family of Thomas More, painted by Rowland Lockey, 1593, 
copy of lost original by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1527.


Jane Seymour, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1536, 
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.



Gown Front


Gown Back


One of the most enduring styles of headdress throughout this period is the French hood. It appears from the beginning of the 16th century through its end. The front and rear edges were generally decorated with pearls and jewels, called the lower and upper billiments. The front edge of the French hood is very often accented by a pleated gold ribbon. When worn, the hair is not completely covered, but is rather visible in front, generally with a center part. The rear of the hood is often covered by a black velvet veil, although occasionally other fabrics were used, as is shown in the portrait of a young girl, below right. For my daughter, I originally made a French hood with leftover fabric that matched her gown. The black veil seemed too severe for a young girl (admittedly, this is a modern sensibility), so I instead used the gold fabric that was used on the turnbacks of the gown sleeves. I created the shape by trial and error, and then built the hood with layers of needlework canvas, wire, felt and fashion fabric. I recently had to remake the hood, since her head had grown, and the original size looked absurdly small on her. I decided that I wanted to use a bag on the back, since every veil I had seen in portraits was black. I used a two-piece design found in The Tudor Child, though I ended up having to use sizes closer to those in The Tudor Tailor. The front and back edges are accented with pearls. 


Anne Boleyn, 16th-century copy of a lost original of c. 1533-1536, 
National Portrait Gallery, London.


Young Girl with Astronomic Instrument, by Jan Gossaert (called Mabuse), 
c. 1520, National Gallery, London.



Original Hood


New Hood


Jewelry and accessories
Jewels were an important part of the Tudor lady’s ensemble. The amount of jewels illustrated quite clearly the station of the owner. While a middle class woman might have garments that had a similar shape to the nobility, they would be made from lesser materials and would be less adorned with jewels and pearls. Pearls, jewels and gold settings were used to decorate the edges of the headwear (billiments), the ears and neck, the fingers, the neckline and front of the gown, the sleeves, and the waist, often with the girdle hanging down the front of the skirts. I wanted to make my daughter’s life a little easier when it came to the jewelry, so she is not adorned as fully as many of these portraits. There are jeweled billiments on her French hood, and she wears a necklace. I did not add jewelry to the edge of the kirtle, as this would have made it a bit more fussy to keep the decorated edge exactly lined up with the gown edge to ensure the jewels were showing correctly. For the girdle, I actually sewed the jewels and pearls directly to the bottom edge of the gown bodice. They don’t shift around and she doesn’t have to check to make sure that it’s positioned correctly. There is a hanging portion of the girdle that can be detached if it is getting in her way. 


Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley, miniature painting by Hans Holbein 
the Younger.c. 1540, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Catherine Parr, by Master John, c. 1545, 
National Portrait Gallery, London.



Jewelry Front


Jewelry and Hood Back


Generally, I have been very happy with this outfit. She doesn’t wear it very often, since she is more likely to choose her fencing gear at an event with youth fencing or her linen camp garb at a summer camping event. However, she has worn it at a number of indoor dressy events over the course of more than two years. For a court outfit like this, I think that this has had a fairly long life. Leaving room for size adjustments by using laced upper garments and deep hems has allowed this outfit to grow with her. Designing it to include fewer layers and simple fasteners when she was younger, and then modifying it to be more correct in layering and fastening as she has gotten older has worked well. It is close to the end of its useful life for her, since she turned 13 and beginning to change shape and height much more quickly now. But the fabrics have lasted perfectly well and it could now certainly be passed onto another girl to wear for several more years. 


Val Day 2011



Quest for No Man's Lane 2012


At home 2011


At home 2013 


Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, C.1560-1620. Drama Publishers, 1985.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women, c. 1540-1660. MacMillan, 2008.
Hayward, Maria. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Maney Publishing, 2007.
Huggett, Jane, Malcolm-Davies, Jane and Ninya Mikhaila. The Tudor Child – Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625, Fat Goose Press, 2013.
Johnson, Caroline. The King’s Servants – Men’s dress at the accession of Henry VIII, Fat Goose Press, 2009.
Johnson, Caroline. The Queen’s Servants – Gentlewomen’s dress at the accession of Henry VIII, Fat Goose Press, 2011.
Malcolm-Davies, Jane and Ninya Mikhaila. The Tudor Tailor – Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 2006.

Internet Image Sites
Buehler, Edward. Tudor and Elizabethan Portraits, www.elizabethan-portraits.com
Greenberg, Hope. Tudor Dress: A portfolio of images, www.uvm.edu/~hag/sca/tudor
Kren, Emil and Daniel Marx. Web Gallery of Art, www.wga.hu
Malcolm-Davies, Jane. Tudor Effigies: Costume Research Image Library www.tudoreffigies.co.uk
Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org

Tudor Clothing Research Sites
Anderson, Margo. Historic Costume Patterns, www.margospatterns.com
Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded. www.elizabethancostume.net/qewu.html
Small, Kimiko. A Gentlewoman’s Tudor Research, www.kimiko1.com
The Tudor Costume Page, freespace.virgin.net/f.lea

General Tudor Research Sites
Castelli, Jorge H. The Tudor Place, www.tudorplace.com.ar
Eakins, Lara E. Tudor History, www.tudorhistory.org
Hanson, Marilee. Tudor England, www.englishhistory.net/tudor.html