At the Tudor court, as with many other royal courts, fashion was an important element of how courtiers distinguished themselves. There are strict court politics when it came to sartorial choices, yet some were able to make a splash in how they dressed.
Two of the most important figures in the Tudor era to use fashion as a tool were Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth I! During the early part of the reign of Henry VIII women favored the English style gable hood. It was Anne Boleyn’s influence (based on her time in the French court) that brought the French hood into prominence. These hoods were worn on the head (obviously), and the gable hood was shaped with points, whereas the French hood was rounded. We can see gable hoods in paintings of Elizabeth of York (mother of Henry VIII) and Katherine of Aragon. Nearly every, near contemporary, portrait of Anne Boleyn features her in the French hood. I say near contemporary because Henry VIII tried to have all portraits of her painted during their lifetimes eradicated (after she was executed). Some of the earliest paintings left of Anne Boleyn (including the one in Elizabeth’s ring) were painted during Elizabeth I’s reign.
The transition of prominence from gable hoods to French hoods showed a transition of power in court. As Anne gained the favor of the king, and brought with her the exotic fashions of the French court, other women sought to emulate her. This was in large part a way to not only stay relevant, but also to make themselves look in a way that the king favored. Fashion is still a way to show individuality and personality. Yet, in the Tudor court it also acted as a power play for prominent figures! Older courtiers, and supporters of Katherine of Aragon, looked down upon the French fashions as being too provocative. In this way fashion can also act as a way of showing political support for a particular faction. The power of fashion was also seen when Anne Boleyn chose to wear purple at court (before she was queen) and caused a stir. Purple was a royal color, and was only supposed to be worn by members of the royal family, making this a rebellious action!
During Elizabeth I’s reign she employed fashion to keep up the image of youth and beauty (or at least perceived beauty) as she aged. Elizabeth had the pressure of her entire world on her shoulders. As she aged and her body became weak she knew she grew in paranoia. The image of strength included playing up the Virgin Queen moniker, and that meant appearing as a maiden as long as possible. However, earlier in her reign when she was a young and attractive woman she used fashion as a status symbol! One of the most remembered fashion trends of the Elizabethan era was something worn by both men and women. That is the ruff, a piece worn about the neck, usually at court (and formal events). The ruff draws attention to the face as it is a large accoutrement on the neck! Many of the portraits of Elizabeth I feature this iconic accessory.
The power of fashion in the Tudor court should not be underestimated. I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on Tudor women’s fashion. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is of Katherine of Aragon in Gable hood and Anne Boleyn in French hood. I found the image on rmg.co.uk.
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
- The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
- The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
- English Costume in the Age of Elizabeth drawn and described by Iris Brooke