Tudor Costumes

Tudor Character Costume Ideas

When it comes to the Tudor period, costumes of the era were heavily influenced by European fashion and in particular Britain’s nearest neighbours; France, Spain and also Italy.

Up until Elizabeth I’s reign the main style of dress for males was the doublet (a short or long padded top, with or without sleeves, which buttoned up the front) and hose (tights).  Men also wore jerkins (tunics) and cloaks, which could be either kneelength or floorlength. Both ruffs and breeches became particularly fashionable during Elizabeth I’s reign, with longer style breeches making their mark during later years.

Male Garments
Other garments that were worn at this time included:-

  • Gowns or cloaks were worn over a jerkin (a tunic which sometimes had a skirt attached). They were usually made out of a heavy woollen material lined with fur and would normally be floor-length or to the knee.
  • Shirts were worn next to the body and consisted of a low neckline showing the shoulders and were frequently embroidered.  Sleeves were full and loose & finished with a small band or frill.
  • Shoes & Boots were flat.  Boots of soft coloured leather were worn for riding.       Peasants sometimes wore ‘Rush’ shoes – made of plaited reeds and straw which covered the entire foot. Loose ends of ‘rush’ formed a rough fringe around the ankle.
  • Tights/Hose/Stockings were simple & tight fitting. Gradually the upper part started to be adorned with embroidery and slashing. It eventually developed into the trunkhose, which became a predominant feature of the 16th Century.

Female Costume

    • Dresses during Tudor times had close fitting bodices and a waistline that sloped to a deep V shape. Necklines were square, U or V-shaped with collars.  The high necked collar came in around the time of Mary Tudor. Sleeves were originally plain full sleeves tight at the wrist.  These developed into the bellshape, with the lower edge turned back several inches forming immense cuffs. 
    •  A gown  was an overgarment worn on formal occasions over the bodice and skirt.  It had a high neck with small ruff.  Full trailing skirts which were laced at front or back.
    • During the start of the Tudor period gabled headdresses concealed the hair completely. The  tube-like ‘French hood’ was also used, but by the time of Elizabeth I’s reign, decorative headdresses, caps or hats were worn as the hair and wigs rose in prominence.
  • Hats were worn by males and females. The beret style hat with brims and feathers was popular during Henry VIII’s reign, but as hair grew shorter, so the crown of the hat grew taller and stiffer, often pleated with elaborate decoration.
  • Belts and  girdles (to hang keys, pouches, purses, daggers & other miscellaneous items) were also worn by both sexes.

Beards, Hair and Wigs
Beards - In Henry VIII’s time beards were worn more fuller than in Elizabeth I’s reign, where the introduction of the neck ruffle was designed to set-off the shape of the  beards and many men had their beards dyed in unusual colours.   

Female hair when not hidden by wigs or headdresses, was frizzed or curled and dressed to either side of the head, retaining the high forehead. Males wore their hair short with optional fringes. By Elizabeth’s reign these had developed into the short neat cut seen in portraits of the period. The Elizabethan period in particular saw a widespread use of wigs in bright colours, imitating the Queen.

Tudor Character Costume Ideas

Chancellor – (Sir Thomas More, Sir Thomas Cranmer) Long fur gown, trimmed with fur. Matching beret-style hat with jewel decoration. Badge of office on heavy chain. It is also well documented that Cardinal Thomas Wolsey habitually donned himself in scarlet.

Court JesterJerkin in two or more colours, worn over multi-colour hose/tights. Traditional three-point hood, often with bells. Colours usually red & yellow, or red & green.

Edmund Blackadder – A fictitious creation, portrayed by Rowan Atkinson in the 1980s second series of Blackadder. A black slashed Tudor outfit, which would be similar to Sir Francis Drake or Sir Walter Raleigh was worn. Other characters from Blackadder II the Elizabethan series included:-Lord Melchett, Nursie, Lord Flashheart & Sir Percy.

Elizabeth I (Reigned 1533-1603) – Ornate dress with farthingale underskirt (to give it that circular appearance), plus elaborate stand-up collar and reddish short-curl wig.

ExecutionerAlso a popular Halloween character. Black jerkin, trousers, hood or mask, and black gloves. A sword or axe completes the look.

Sir Francis DrakeShirt, waistcoat, doublet, trunk hose over tights. Beret-style hat & feather. Cape. Bodkin beard.

Henry VII  (Reigned 1485-1509) – Hose, shirt, doublet or vest, and short, flared robe. Beret-style soft hat with slashed brim featuring jewels. Early’ Tudor cap, in fur or velvet with turned up brim. Tudor rose insignia may also be a decorative feature.

Henry VIII (Reigned 1509-1547) – This is one of the most popular choices for males when depicting the Tudor period, even though it does involve the wearing of tights. The basic costume consists of a tunic, cloak with fur trim, tights and hat. Black, green, red & brown are the most popular colours.

Henry VIII had six wives. He and all his wives were characterised in portraits by artist Hans Holbein. There are various Tudor dress styles available, with each wife adopting a slightly different style.

  • Catherine of Aragon (divorced 1533) – Mother of Mary Tudor. Costume shows continental influence with tight bodice and bell sleeves. Headdress is either gable or templer.
  • Anne Boleyn (1504-1536) (beheaded)  – Mother of Elizabeth I.
  • Jane Seymour (1509-1537) (died) – Gave Henry VIII his only son, Edward V.  She died 12 days after childbirth.
  • Anne of Cleves (1515-1557) (divorced) – Also known as the Mare of Flanders.
  • Catherine Howard (1523-1542)(beheaded)
  • Catherine Parr (1512-1548)Sixth wife of Henry VIII.  After Henry VIII’s death, she married Lord Thomas Seymour, but died in childbirth the following year.

Lady Jane Grey (Reigned 1553 for just over a week) – Tudor gown.

Mary Tudor (1516-58) (Reigned 1553-1558) - Gown based on a corselet bodice with a large bell sleeve tight at the wrist.

MusketeerMore commonly associated with the reign of the Stuarts. This can be a popular costume choice if you want to get away from the doublet and hose look. It also works well for groups of 3 or 4.

Sir Walter Raleigh Shirt, waistcoat, doublet, trunk hose over tights. Beret-style hat & feather. Cloak. Pisa/Stilletto beard.

William Shakespeare – Prolific playwright William Shakespeare is acquainted with Elizabethan England, but he actually was still writing at the time of James I ascension to the throne in 1603. His costume would consist of doublet, stiff lace collar, padded short breeches, silk stockings, shoes with rosettes. Beard.

Yeoman of the Guard - The traditional scarlet and gold uniform of the Yeoman of the Guard devised by Henry VII has been embellished over the centuries. (The ruff originated in the Elizabethan era, with the be-ribboned bonnet in James II’s reign).

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