Dress (Tudor and Stuart)

Woman in a replica Tudor dress made of mucky green wool, she must be a poor person

In the sixteenth century there were laws governing what cloths and colours you could and couldn’t wear according to your rank. These were called the Sumptuary Regulations. For instance, only royalty could wear cloth of gold and purple velvet; only nobility could wear silk. The regulations were started in the medieval period. How could the Sumptuary Regulations be useful for society? Circle the answers:


1. They forced most people to wear wool and support English industry.

2. It made it easier to tell the ranks apart and therefore how you should behave to other people.

3. It allowed the higher ranks to be assured that they would be the only ones wearing the richest clothes.


All of these answers are right. The laws themselves said that they were put in place to stop people from buying foreign fabrics and to keep the harmony of Tudor society where everyone knew their place. The higher ranking people were also pleased to be able to wear rich fabrics and show their superiority. The regulations, however, were less and less important in the Tudor period and were finally repealed in 1604. The new trend in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was to wear what you could afford instead of what was fitting to your rank. It still meant that the rich wore silk and velvet in bright reds and black (two expensive dyes) and the poor wore brown or green wool.


Sixteenth century coif or headscarf covered in black and gold embroidery in Buckinghamshire County MuseumNot much Tudor or Stuart clothing survives to the present day. Can you think of any reasons why that might be? When a piece of clothing survives, it could be something unusual and will almost certainly be something a rich person would have worn. Some items of Tudor and Stuart clothing are kept by Buckinghamshire County Museum. Look at their website to search for some pieces of sixteenth or seventeenth century clothes. 


Shoes survive better than other items of clothing. This is partly because they are sometimes placed under floorboards or behind panelling in a room as a charm to ward off the devil. Other items of clothing don’t survive so well because they were reused as new garments. Cloth was very expensive and could not be wasted. If an item of clothing were thrown out it would rot. Leather shoes sometimes survive if they are thrown out because they survive very well in waterlogged conditions. They are sometimes found in wells or in pits near rivers and streams.

Man's seventeenth century leather shoe found behind the panelling in The Chantry, AylesburyWoman's pair of seventeenth century silk shoes in Buckinghamshire County Museum


Other items of dress survive better, like jewellery, buttons and buckles. Why is this?


Look at the Portable Antiquities Scheme website to find Tudor and Stuart artefacts found in Buckinghamshire. Tomb of Sir William Dormer and his wife, showing effigies of them on topDo a search on the Buckinghamshire Photographs website to find any sixteenth or seventeenth tombs or brasses showing the fashionable costume of the time. Note the names of five people to whom the tombs or brasses were dedicated here:


A lot of the people are known as Sir, Lady or Lord. This suggests that mainly rich people had tombs like these made for them.


If all that survives from the Tudor and Stuart periods is either rich people’s clothing, a few pairs of shoes and some rusted bits of metal decoration, how can we find out more about it? What are the other forms of evidence we can look at apart from archaeological artefacts?


Close-up of tomb of Sir William Dormer and his wifePictures and written records are very useful. Poor people’s clothes are the least likely to survive, be painted or be written about and so much more research has to be done. Do some more research on the Internet and in books to find pictures and written descriptions of clothes.


From all the research you have done, fill in this table to describe what a poor and a rich Tudor or Stuart person would wear. Some of them have been filled in for you.








Type of cloth

Colour of cloth


Type of cloth

Colour of cloth




















Using what you have written in the table, draw a picture of a rich and a poor Tudor or Stuart person.


Go back to find out more about the Rich and poor.