been delving into the History of Royal Fashion and I have to say that history +
royalty makes for a romantic duo! I hope you enjoy it.
with the Tudors, probably the most well-known monarchs in English history, over
the next few issues I shall be exploring how British royalty have influenced
fashion over the last 500 years.
shall come right up to date with Queen Elizabeth II and the elegant Duchess of
all there were five Tudor monarchs but the best known were Henry VIII and his
daughter Elizabeth I. They were considered to be the original 'power dressers'
using fashion and color to impress and control how their subjects
an indulged second son, was attractive and charismatic with little training for
Kingship. He inherited the crown and enough money to create a splendid court
and finance his forays in largely unsuccessful wars.
was extravagant and extremely vain favoring cloth of gold and highly decorated
velvet and brocades. Wearing gold and purple was limited to the Royal Family,
and no-one was allowed to outshine the King!
in his reign Henry introduced the Sumptuary Law which dictated which styles and
colors people could wear, depending on their level of society. Poor people dressed plainly. Men wore wool trousers
and a simple tunic to just above the knee while women wore a long woollen
dress, usually covered by an apron, with a cloth bonnet on their head. It
meant that social status was immediately obvious by the way they dressed and
punishment for non compliance could be severe.
grew between Henry and the King of France as to who had the best dressed court.
Men wore increasingly ornate multi-layered outfits in luxurious fabrics; wide
shoulders with puffed sleeves and richly embroidered ruffled shirts.
clothing of the time was typically doublet and hose (jacket, breeches and long
socks) and the rich dressed to show off what they could afford.
padded doublet (above) has little cuts in it called slashes which allowed the
small puffs of his white linen undershirt to be pulled through and make an
interesting design. It also has real jewels sewn in such as sapphires and
huge wide shoulders are padded with whale bone and cotton stuffing and the fur
is mink allowing Henry to look very strong, powerful and wealthy. As
Henry aged and grew fatter, a large frame became fashionable as courtiers began
to wear padded doublets to emulate the size of the King.
The 6 wives of Henry VIII
Henry VIII had
6 wives and, desperate to father a son, he plotted mercilessly to move onto the
next! Each of his Queens brought their own distinct style.
Women needed lots of help to dress as there were
few fastenings, only hooks and eyes and ties. Rich fabrics were highly valued
and it's known that Henry handed down furs, jewels and expensive accessories
from wife to wife!
Catherine of Aragon, before marriage to the young Henry, was originally betrothed to the elder son who died.
She introduced Spanish style with heavily decorated and elaborate gowns and the hooped farthingale (see image below) for an entirely new silhouette. A devout Catholic, she wore a heavy gable hood to cover her hair and a heavily jewelled cross around her neck.
Catherine passed the Sumptuary law for women too although fine fabric was beyond the pocket of most in any case.
Although Catherine lost many babies, her only living child was Mary (Mary I) but, in pursuit of a son, Henry divorced her against a Church ruling after 23 years.
The new silhouette with the farthingale petticoat hoop
Boleyn was pursued by Henry and showered with expensive gifts for
some years before she capitulated and eventually became pregnant. Henry broke
with the Church of Rome to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. She was extremely
fashion conscious after time at the French court and her style was more
graceful. She wore the smaller French hood rather like a padded headband
studded with pearls, similar to ones worn by the Duchess of Cambridge in recent
years, and a letter B around her neck; both appear very up to date.
also produced a daughter who became Elizabeth I and, in spite of the black
satin nightgowns he bought her, Henry tired of her temper, her misdemeanors and
her inability to bear a son. She was charged with treason and
Anne Boleyn an early 'influencer' and our own Catherine Duchess of Cambridge wearing a similar padded headband
Jane Seymour was more virtuous refusing to be
Henry's mistress. Once married she re-introduced English fashion banning the
French style. Her marriage was short-lived but she produced the longed-for
heir, the future King Edward VI, before dying of the results of childbirth.
Anne of Cleves was chosen by Henry from
a portrait as part of a political alliance, although, once she arrived in
England, he was far from pleased. Anne certainly wore a heavy German style
which was unflattering and disliked at the English court. The marriage appears
to have been unconsummated after 6 months and the marriage was annulled,
Catherine Howard was only 17, a lady in
waiting to Queen Anne, with an ambitious family who encouraged Henry's interest
in the vivacious but flighty girl. They married just 19 days after his
annulment and Henry indulged Catherine with clothes and expensive jewels which
she flaunted to everyone's displeasure. Several previous and current
indiscretions were discovered and, in little more than a year, she was charged
with treason for adultery and beheaded.
Katherine Parr was the last of
Henry's wives and, at 31, had been married twice before. She was a well
educated lady, fond of music and fine clothes, jewelry and numerous pairs of
shoes! Her favorite colors for clothes were crimson and cloth of gold and she
ordered matching outfits for the royal children and herself. She is remembered
for bringing together Henry's 3 children as a family and remained married to Henry as his health deteriorated ultimately outliving
Both Edward and Mary had short reigns and, although
she had been previously been declared illegitimate, Elizabeth I came to the
throne in 1558. Elizabeth was as image-conscious as her father and had a great
influence on fashion although by the time she came to the throne there was less
money available and she was forced to be more restrained. However, she
still spent substantially on opulent fabrics and was often 'thick with jewels'
- it was important that she dressed more magnificently than anyone else.
She had clothes in all colors but her favorites
were black and white, which she wore much of the time, symbolizing viriginity
and purity. Her maids were dressed to complement the Queen, not to outshine
Getting dressed was a lengthy affair; Elizabeth would
typically wear a chemise, a stiffened corset, a petticoat, a farthingale,
stockings and a gown. Sleeves, often beautifully decorated, were added
separately and could be used to accessorize different gowns. Later on a neck
ruff and wrist ruffs were also added.
To venture out of doors she would wear rich velvet
cloaks and gloves and would always shield her fair skin from the sun.
It is said that Elizabeth was fond of a 'pretty
leg' and her male courtiers were in constant rivalry trying to attract the Queen's
attention with their fashionable outfits.
Her grooming and makeup
Makeup was not a trend in either Henry's time or
Elizabeth's early years but, following an attack of smallpox in 1562 she began
to wear a heavy makeup to cover up the scars on her face. She painted her face
with white lead and vinegar, applied rouge to her lips and painted her cheeks
with red henna and egg white.
Lead, also used in face cream, was very bad for the
health as it slowly poisoned the body. Of course any trends were followed by
Dental care was virtually unknown and Elizabeth had
several teeth removed as she aged. To prevent hollow cheeks rags would be
stuffed into the mouth!
Elizabeth wore a wig from a young age and it became
Tudor hygiene was not quite as primitive as we
might think and royalty would certainly have had bathrooms in some of the
palaces, even though they might not have used them regularly.
Everyone wore an undergarment called a smock or a
shirt and, to keep body and clothes as clean as possible, they changed them
What has been preserved?
Because of the intrinsic value of quality fabric
and clothing items they would have been fitted with new sleeves, bodices or
collars to update them and so get as much use as possible.
Gowns and accessories were then handed down,
reused, gifted, recycled etc. After nearly 500 years, only a small fraction
have survived and so our knowledge of Tudor costume is limited.
It's thought that some original fabrics,
however, may still survive today as cushions in stately homes.
Although I've gone for the main points of interest
in this feature, if you find this interesting there is a excellent free course
online at www.futurelearn.com
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