By Tim Lambert
For rich Tudors fashion was important. Their clothes were very elaborate. For the poor clothes had to be hardwearing and practical. All classes wore wool. However it varied in quality. The rich wore fine quality wool. The poor wore coarse wool.
The Tudors used linen to make shirts and underwear. However only the rich could afford cotton and silk clothes. Rich Tudors also embroidered their clothes with silk, gold or silver thread. Rich Tudor women wore silk stockings.
In the 16th century men wore short trouser-like garments called breeches. They also wore tight fitting jackets called doublets. Another jacket called a jerkin was worn over the doublet. Over the jerkin rich men wore a gown, or later in the 16th century a cloak or cape.
However instead of a doublet many workingmen wore a loose tunic. It was easier to work in. Some workingmen wore a leather jerkin called a buff-jerkin. Men also wore stockings or woollen socks, which were called hose.
Under their dresses Tudor women wore a garment like a nightie called a shift or chemise. It was made of linen or wool. A linen or wool dress went over it. A woman's dress was made of two parts, a bodice or corset like garment and a skirt. Sleeves were held on with laces and could be detached. Workingwomen wore a linen apron.
In the late 16th century many women wore a frame made of whale bone or wood under their dress called a farthingale. If they could not afford a farthingale women wore a padded roll around their waist called a bum roll.
In the 16th century women did not wear knickers. However Tudor men sometimes wore linen shorts as underwear.
All Tudors wore hats. Poor women often wore a linen cap called a coif. After 1572 by law all men except nobles had to wear a woollen cap on Sundays.
In the 16th century buttons were usually for decoration. Clothes were often held together with laces or pins. Furs in Tudor times included cat, rabbit, beaver, bear, badger and polecat.
The Tudors used mostly vegetable dyes such as madder for red, woad for blue or walnut for brown. However you have to use a chemical called a mordant to 'fix' the dye. The mordant changed the colour of the dye e.g. a plant called weld was used with alum for yellow but if used with iron or tin it produced shades of green.
The most expensive dyes were bright red, purple and indigo. Poor people often wore brown, yellow or blue. Incidentally in the 16th century scarlet was not a colour it was the name of a fine, expensive wool.
Women who could afford it would hang a container of sweet smelling spices on their belt. This was called a pomander and it disguised the horrid smells in the streets! However it is a myth that in Tudor times people were very dirty and smelly. Most people tired to keep themselves clean (see Historical Myths) but it was difficult to keep free of vermin. On the wreck of the Mary Rose many lice combs were found. A bone ear scoop and a bone manicure set were also found.
A History of Clothes
A History of Women's Clothes