What clothes did people wear in the Tudor period?

As part of our 'History Extra explains' series, leading historians answer the burning questions you were too afraid to ask...

Catherine of Aragon favoured a gable hood. © Classic Image / Alamy

What clothes did people wear in the Tudor period? Did it differ between rich and poor?

Tudor clothing continued to evolve as fashions and trends changed. Tudor gowns were designed to give women a triangular shape, while men’s clothes gave them an almost square shape. At court, women’s gowns usually consisted of a smock, petticoat, kirtle, and a partlet. Men, meanwhile, wore a shirt, jerkin, doublet, overgown, and a hose. Men also usually wore caps, adorned with various jewels and feathers.

Women’s sleeves were separate, and fashions varied from French style ‘bell sleeves’ to hanging or puffed sleeves. Types of sleeves and hoods also changed depending on personal preference: the gable hood, favoured by Catherine of Aragon (pictured), was considered to be a more conservative style, while the crescent cap, which originated at the French court, became fashionable sometime in the 1520s.

What you wore depended entirely on your rank and station in life. During the Tudor period, sumptuary laws existed in order to preserve rank, and ensure that no one dressed above their station. These rather complicated and flexible laws dictated what colours, fabrics and furs could be worn.

For example, velvet or crimson or blue could not be worn by anyone below the rank of a Knight of the Garter – except for certain lords, judges and those of the King’s Council. Only royalty, including the monarch’s immediate family, could wear purple, silk or gold. Earls and any ranks above could wear sable fur, but other furs could be worn by lower ranks.

There were also certain clauses that prohibited the wearing of foreign wools and furs, which protected local businesses and trade.

Lauren Mackay is the author of Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the Life and Writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys (Amberley Publishing).

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