Tudor dresses were lavish, often with exquisite embroidery and draped in jewels. The fabrics used for the clothing of the Tudor court was rich and luxurious and included silks, satins, velvet and the finest linens available. The dresses were put on in several layers, and while today we would view this amount of clothing excessive, each layer of clothing was necessary to achieve the desired look.
On average a Tudor lady would put on four layers of clothing, these include a smock, petticoats, her kirtle and then the gown. There were other layers which could be added though, depending upon the fashion of the time she could also add a forepart, partlet or farthingale. Of course no dress would be complete without matching head wear.
The smock would be made from fine linen, and was one piece of Tudor clothing common to everyone, rich or poor. Often the smock had embroidered cuffs or would be finished with lace. The petticoat could either be just the skirt or have a bodice attached. Most petticoats were red in colour as red was believed to be a healthy, life giving colour. The kirtle is the layer that defined the lady's shape. It was worn over the petticoat (and farthingale) it constituted a stiffened bodice, but unlike a modern corset did not cinch the lady in at the waist.
The Tudor Gown
The gown is the only layer of the clothing that is shown in its entirety, as all other layers remain hidden underneath. A lady's gown was designed to make an impact upon those that saw it. The more wealth the person had the more sumptuous the fabrics and the more expensive the decoration. It was not uncommon for strings of pearls to be attached to the bodice, or sewn into the design.
The most common form of head wear during the reign of Henry VIII was the French Hood or the Gable Hood which was the English version. No matter what social status a woman was head wear was always worn, while the wealthy would have theirs adorned with fine jewels and highly decorated the head wear of the common woman would be a simple linen item.
The manufacture of a complete gown would include a wide range of people from silk merchants and weavers to tailors, seamstresses, milliners and embroiderers. The goldsmith would also be involved in the process, adding delicate jewels such as brooches to the bodice of the dress.
Tudor Style Fashion
Tudor style is very distinctive. The fashion of the time was designed to make men appear broad and angular, with the clothing making the body take on a square appearance. This no doubt was intended to make them look strong and powerful. For the Tudor ladies the clothing was designed to give them a softer, more conical shape, emphasising their softness and gentility. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the fashions changed and the deep square neck which had been the most popular look of gown altered and became higher. Lace additions were added which later became the famous Elizabethan ruff.