There is also a printable document version of this class.  You can find it here:  Tudor Lady Class Handout

Note that it is very large for downloading.



The era during the reigns of Henry VII (1485-1509), Henry VIII (1509-1547), Edward VI (1547-1553) and Mary I (1553-1558) is often referred to as the Tudor Era. Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I was a Tudor as well, but her reign lasted so long and had such a profound influence on the culture and clothing of the country, that it is generally referred to separately as the Elizabethan Era. 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. Early in the period, you can see how the soft lines of the cothardie and Burgundian gowns have transitioned into a square neckline, along with gable headdresses or an early French hood. The images to the right show Elizabeth Woodville along with her daughter, Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s wife.


Elizabeth Woodville (1437–92), Queen Consort of Edward IV of England, artist unknown, c. 1471, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.


Portrait of Elizabeth of York (1465-1503), The Yorkist Queen, artist unknown, c. 1500, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Once the transition was made to a square neckline, it was quite pervasive. You see primarily the low, square neckline throughout the Tudor and Elizabethan periods in England, although higher doublet necklines become fashionable later on. You can see quite clearly see that there are multiple layers worn in these outfits. In the image of Margaret of Austria, you can see the embroidered edge of the kirtle extending well beyond the edges of the square-necked overgown. And the skirt of Anne of Brittany’s overgown parts to reveal a decorative kirtle underneath.


Margaret of Austria, Master of Moulins, 1490-91, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Poetic Epistle of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII. Illuminated by Bourdichon, Early 16th century.

The silhouette of the Tudor gown varied from fairly soft and flowing to a rather accentuated shape. The stiffened underskirt called the Spanish farthingale (verdugado) had been worn in Spain since around 1480. Catherine of Aragon is credited with bringing it to England when she arrived in 1501, although she abandoned it in favor of the softer shaped gowns worn in England at that time. In the drawing of Thomas More’s family, you can see the soft lines of the skirt, falling to the floor with only the slightest shaping. The stiffened farthingale was adopted close to mid-century, when they begin to appear in wardrobe accounts of princess Elizabeth and others. This portrait of Princess Elizabeth shows the more exaggerated shape of the gown when worn with a hooped underskirt.


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.

There is no evidence that there were separated boned bodies (corsets) at this point. These do not appear in wardrobe accounts until well into Elizabeth’s reign. However, it seems clear that the upper bodies of the under kirtles or of the gowns themselves had some stiffening, since the women’s shapes are very smooth and supported. The portrait of Lady Mary Guildford, who is curvy by period standards, is clearly supported by her bodice so that her breasts are mounded just slightly, though no true cleavage is visible.

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, as in Lady Mary Guildford’s pintucked silk sleeves, to oversized and elaborate, as in Mary I’s large white satin sleeves with puffs, trim and aiglets. In both cases, the underside of the sleeve is not closed, but is rather caught up at intervals with fabric puffing through in between. While Lady Mary Guildford’s could conceivably be the wide sleeves of her smock pulled through, it seems unlikely that Mary would have smock sleeves that wide. If they were wide enough to fill the lower sleeve, they wouldn’t fit well under the slim upper sleeve. So, the puffs are likely faked with inserted pieces of fabric.


Lady Mary Guildford, by Hans Holbein Younger, 1527. The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri.


Portrait of Mary I, by Master John, 1544, National Portrait Gallery, London.


The smock was the first layer of the 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. The neck and wrist edges of the smock could be left plain, as with Lady Mary Guildford above, or decorated as shown in the portrait of Jane Seymour, right. There are also some examples of high-necked smocks being worn with square necked gowns, as in the portrait of the Unknown Child, right.


Jane Seymour, by the studio of Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1536, Mauritshuis, The Hague.


An Unknown Child by an Artist of the Flemish School, c.1525-40. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


The next layer in the Tudor lady’s ensemble would be a petticoat. The word “petticoat” has been used many different ways over the centuries, including both men and women’s garments, but one of the primary garments described as a petticoat is an underskirt, with or without an attached bodice. The Tudor lady might wear one or more petticoats to provide warmth and shape to her outfit. It is believed that some petticoats were padded with wadding or even quilted to stiffen them slightly to hold out the skirts. As has been mentioned earlier, farthingales, stiffened with reed bents or, later, whalebone, were worn in Spain throughout this time period and in England towards the end. Stiffening skirts slightly with rope instead of reeds was also done, as shown in the woodcut below.

Petticoats could be of any color, and some were highly decorated while others were solid or merely guarded with a stripe of another color. Red petticoats (crimson, scarlet, red) seem to appear more often in the wardrobe accounts than any other color. The fabrics vary widely, from silk, satin and changeable taffeta to flannel and plain cloth. The young Englishwoman, below, holds up her skirts to reveal a red petticoat under her gray kirtle and pale blue gown.


Spanish woman in a rope-stiffened farthingale, 1545.


A Young Englishwoman, by Hans Holbein, c 1530, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.


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’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 edge of this kirtle is where the primary decoration is applied. The detail of Catherine Parr’s gown, below right, also clearly shows the multiple layered garments. The white smock is visible closest to the skin. There is a red garment on top of it, which is richly jeweled along its neckline. The outer gown can be seen to stop short of this decorative edging, since tufts of its fur lining are also visible. 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.


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.


The Tudor gown was a square-necked dress with attached sleeves and skirts, worn over the kirtle. It makes the most sense for a gown of this type to open at the center front, since the skirts are split down the front. However, in most portraits, there is no visible center opening. The two portraits below give a clue as to how this could be accomplished. The smooth front appears to be achieved by the use of a placard over a center front opening; that is, a flat piece that is laid over the top of the closed gown, and pinned in place. The members of Thomas More’s family, below left, show how the gown is most likely fastened below the placard. 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 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.

Another possibility for closing a garment of this shape would have been for there to be a center back opening. However, the illustration by Hans Holbein shows us the back of this lady’s gown. It illustrates that the back comes to a V, with several seams visible, possibly for shaping or for strength. However, there does not appear to be any closure here. This lends credibility to the argument that the two-layer front was the preferred method for closing this type of gown.

The sleeves are generally quite tight on the upper arm, and then grow to large proportions in the turned back lower sleeve. However, in some cases the sleeve was more modest. The effigy of Lady Margaret Wadham, below right, shows a smaller turnback cuff. The tops of the sleeves are sometimes attached to a small strap of the bodice, and in other cases seem to be attached without a bodice strap.


Two Views of a Lady wearing an English Hood, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1530.


Lady Margaret Wadham c1520, Effigy Monument. St Mary the Virgin Church, Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, England.


Some images show the use of partlets worn outside or inside the gown. These two images, below, show partlets of the same color of the gown. Catherine Howard had a partlet that appears to be a different fabric from her gown, as shown by the difference in sheen. Mary’s appears to be the same fabric as the gown. The white satin underside of Catherine Howard’s partlet has been left plain, whereas Mary’s is richly embroidered.


Portrait of Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein c.1539, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio.


Mary I by Antonio Mor c. 1554, The Earl Compton Collection.


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. Although many modern interpretations of this style of headwear tend towards a shape that lies at a steep angle compared to the top of the head, it is clear from the existing images that the hood in fact laid close to the head with only a slight rise to the back. 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 almost invariably covered by a black velvet veil. This can often be seen to slightly overlap the back edge of the hood, with the billiment attached over it.


Portrait of The Lady Parker, a sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1540.


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

These two portraits show some of the variations to the color and style of the French hood. The young girl on the left has a caul attached to the back of the French hood. The fabric matches that of her sleeves. French hoods are most often shown in white, black and red. These are often the colors of the clothing that is being worn, so it is not always clear whether the intent is to match a portion of the outfit or not. The portrait of Catherine Howard shows a rare example of the main section of the hood matching the gown exactly. It is the same color, with the same applied decorative elements.


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


Catherine Howard, a miniature attributed to Holbein c. 1540-1, Royal Collection, Windsor, England.

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.


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.



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. 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,
Greenberg, Hope. Tudor Dress: A portfolio of images,
Kren, Emil and Daniel Marx. Web Gallery of Art,
Malcolm-Davies, Jane. Tudor Effigies: Costume Research Image Library
Wikimedia Commons,

Tudor Clothing Research Sites
Anderson, Margo. History Costume Patterns,
Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded.
Small, Kimiko. A Gentlewoman’s Tudor Research,
The Tudor Costume Page,

General Tudor Research Sites
Castelli, Jorge H. The Tudor Place,
Eakins, Lara E. Tudor History,
Hanson, Marilee. Tudor England,