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.


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

I decided to make a Tudor Lady’s outfit because I love the look of this style. Previously, I have worn primarily Elizabethan, but I am finding the Tudor styles very easy to wear. The weight all hangs from the shoulders, rather than the waist, and the boned kirtle is more comfortable to wear than an Elizabethan corset. This outfit was put together using two different sources for patterns. I drafted some garments from the fabulous book The Tudor Tailor – Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress by Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila. I also used Margo Anderson’s great patterns in The Tudor Lady’s Wardrobe from her Historic Costume Patterns RustTudorFront


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 shown in the portrait of Mary Guildford, or decorated.

My smock is made of linen, with a square neck and ruffled sleeves. It is not embroidered at this point, though I may add that embellishment at some point. Note that this smock is slightly short for a woman’s smock. I find that my legs get caught up in the long smocks, so I wear mine a little bit shorter.


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

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The next layer in the Tudor lady’s ensemble would be a petticoat - an underskirt, with or without an attached bodice. It is believed that some petticoats were padded or quilted to stiffen them slightly to hold out the skirts. Farthingales, stiffened with reed bents or whalebone, were not worn in England until the middle of the 16th century, based on wardrobe accounts. Stiffening skirts slightly with rope instead of reeds was also done, as shown in the woodcut.

My petticoat is red linen, with ropes sewn into channels at even intervals to provide some shaping. I find that a corded petticoat is very easy to wear, and helps keep my outer dresses from collapsing around my legs. This petticoat has an upper body that allows it to hang from the shoulders rather than the waist.


Spanish woman in a rope-stiffened farthingale, 1545.

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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. The detail of Catherine Parr’s gown clearly shows the red-orange kirtle edge, 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 than the center front.

My kirtle is brown linen, with the visible sections in a beautiful brocade fabric. It is lightly boned in the front and along the side edges, where it laces with spiral lacing. The top edge is decorated with pearls and jewels, and the decorative undersleeves tie onto the short kirtle sleeves.


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

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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. The smooth front appears to be achieved by the use of a placard over a center front opening. The portrait of Jane Seymour clearly shows the heads of brass pins along the edge of the placard, holding it in place.

My gown is made from a lovely terracotta velvet fabric, with brown fur in the turnbacks on the sleeves. This gown does not have a train, due to being constrained by the amount of fabric I had available. The sleeves also use one of the narrower styles seen in some portraits and effigies, again due to fabric constraints. It laces up the front, so the skirt opens to display the decorative front of the kirtle. A placard is pinned in place over the lacing.


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

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Headwear and Jewelry

One of the most enduring styles of headdress throughout this period is the French hood. This style is a crescent shape that 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. When worn, the hair is not completely covered, but is visible in front, generally with a center part. The rear of the hood is almost invariably covered by a black velvet veil.

Jewels were an important part of the Tudor lady’s ensemble. 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 chose a burgundy velvet for my French hoods, since they are often shown in a contrasting fabric to the gown. It has a pleated gold ribbon along the front edge, and billiments of pearls and jewels along the front and back edges. The black velvet veil hangs front the back. My jewelry, in addition to the kirtle decorations and hood billiments, consists of necklaces, bodice jewelry pinned to the placard, jeweled settings on the undersleeves and a girdle (beaded belt).


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

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I am extremely pleased with the way my Tudor Lady’s ensemble has turned out. I feel like I have just stepped out of a portrait when I am wearing it.
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