The essential guide to dressing as a Tudor monarch

With all this time at home, we have probably been doing more things around the house, including tidying up our wardrobes. Any exciting discoveries? There’s a fabulous 18-century mantua dress in the V&A Museum that was discovered by a lady inside a box labelled ‘dressing up clothes’, while she was clearing the attic.

The period I love the most is the Tudor period when outfits worn by monarchs were really luxurious and extravagant. If you’d like to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Tudor court then here’s our essential guide to dressing as a Tudor monarch.

1.      Change your clothes three to five times a day

It’s not just for show, you know.  It’s also the only way, along with rubbing yourself with scented cleaning cloths, to avoid BO.

Painting of Queen Elizabeth

Painting of Queen Elizabeth in luxurious fabrics

2.      Dress extravagantly

Your claim to the throne is not that strong, so you have to create a very powerful royal image. Do this by wearing the best and most luxurious fabrics such as purple cloth of gold, cloth of silver, furs, velvet and satin. After all, you can. Sumptuary laws forbid the use of the most expensive fabrics to those who are not members of the elite.

Close up of a royal Tudor gown

A Royal Tudor gown with jewels sewn into it

3.      Cover yourself in jewels from head to toe

And if that’s not enough – have them engraved with your initials. The Tudors love to leave their mark everywhere. Make sure you know the symbolic meaning of the various stones, too.

Painting of Henry VIII

Henry VIII and his codpiece

4.      Wear a prominent codpiece

If you are a man, wear a prominent codpiece to show off your virility. Henry VIII always does that. When it re-opens you can check out his suit of armour at the Tower of London and you will see what I mean.

5.      Starch away! Ruffs are all the rage

You really are spoilt for choice, from figure-of-eight ruffs, to multi-layered lace cartwheels or lacy wings that frame the head, you just cannot go wrong.

6.      Big is trendy

Bigger hair, bigger ruffs, bigger sleeves, bigger skirts. And if you are a skinny man, sorry, but you’d better wear padded doublets, because Henry VIII’s stocky silhouette is very in fashion, especially since he fell off his horse and has been unable to exercise much.

painting of a Tudor boy

It’s important to show off your calves, gentlemen

7.      Show off your calves, gentlemen

The king is very proud of his athletic calves, so make sure that you wear your hose well. Queen Elizabeth loves a nice leg in a man, too.

8.      Wear the ‘high shoe’

Stand out from the mass by wearing the ‘high shoe’. The square toe is a must.

9.      Dress smartly at your execution

Follow the example of Queen Anne Boleyn and dress smartly even at your own execution. A mantle of ermine and a grey damask gown with a red petticoat will do.

10.   Give your clothes away

Tired of old clothes? You can give them away and they will be made into cushion covers, among other things. You’ll probably see them in stately homes around the country, they are the threadbare ones…

If you want to find out more about Tudor dress then take a look through the online collection of the V&A and you’ll find images of fantastic costumes, jewellery and accessories. On the National Portrait Gallery website, you can find portraits of great Tudor men and women, and the National Gallery has some magnificent works by Henry VIII’s court painter Hans Holbein the Younger.

Cristina Apostoli is a Blue Badge Guide working in London.

Book this guide button