Monday, August 25, 2014

A Tudor Lady's Wardrobe (early 16th century)

To begin my venture into historical sewing, I decided to start on the early part of my timeline and work my way forward. The earliest I am interested in constructing starts during the reign of Henry VIII, who reigned 1509 until his death in 1547. 
Henry VIII, c. 1531
Fashion at this time in England seems to be heavily influenced by both Spanish and French styles, particularly in the embroidery and embellishments, as well as the overall shape of the gowns. This is probably the most recognizable style at the time, as modeled by Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII:
Margaret Tudor, c. 1520- 1538
Here, Margaret is wearing a gown in the French style, complete with her headpiece which is called a French hood. How do we know it's French and not English? Actually, at this time it's fairly difficult to tell where styles originated, but the dress open in front to show the underdress seems to be prevalent in French (and many other countries) portraits of the time. This style is generally accepted to be French, and I would love to dig deeper and see if I can track down the true origins! 

Analysis goes a long way when re-creating a gown. Of course, the best place to start is undergarments. Without properly created underclothes, a gown would look a little strange or costume-y, and not authentic at all. Underwear matters a lot more than you think! Underneath it all, a Tudor lady would wear a chemise (or smock), which is basically a long shirt. They would have been made of fine linen, and could be embroidered or left plain. Margaret's would have had a square neckline to fit the style of her gown. This example is Italian, not English, but I love the embroidery on the sleeves and lace edgings so just had to share it with you. 

16th century Italian smock, with embroidery

Next out would be a petticoat. (What? No corset or stays? Probably not with this gown! Stays came into fashion more during the Elizabethan period, so 1600s on.) Petticoats would usually be made of silk or taffeta, and be lined, and would either be a skirt tied at the waist or have arm loops for a little more holding-up power. In either case, the front would have been open to the chemise, to cut down on bulk on the top half of the body. 
A reproduction of the arm loops I'm talking about!
picture from
Next would be the kirtle, or underdress. This is where the support would have come from- the front was generally boned with cane to create the smooth front as in the portrait. The front fabric would be the expensive fabric that would show through the front, in Margaret's case that fantastic gold. The back would have been less decorated- possibly a plain linen, as it wouldn't have been seen anyway. Across the top, Margaret has some simple gold decoration. This varies from person to person, and could be nothing in front to heavily jeweled, depending on rank and wealth. This would also have been a sleeveless dress, and could have a train or be left fairly simple. They could lace up the back, sides, or front, though more often it was back or sides, so as to leave the front smooth.  
A nice reproduction of the structure, picture from one of my all time favorite blogs,

Next out would be the gown! It would have gone on more or less like a robe, large wide sleeves (not the gold ones in the portrait, I'll get to that part) and the bodice would lace up the front. There would be an extra part in front, sewn on one side that would hook in on the other so the front would be perfectly smooth, as seen on Margaret's gown. This outer gown would be the one with the train. Undersleeves (the gold part!) would be separate and tie on the inside of the larger poof sleeves.

Anything else on the gown was up to the wearer! Jewelry, the waist decoration (Margaret is wearing a long tassel down the front, I've seen this a lot in portraits though I haven't figured out a particular purpose for them yet), as well as the headpiece. Margaret is wearing a French hood, my personal favorite, but there were many different choices. A French hood was the most daring as it showed more of the wearer's hair than other styles did at the time. I also love that she's holding a monkey- what fun!

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