The Early Tudor white band unimportant mystery or the key to Tudor gown construction?

As I have been working my way through the Tudor era I have been doing further research on the puzzling white band that appears in many early Tudor portraits. The result is this rather long post. I have put forward an assortment of possibilities with arguments for and against each .The white band is a narrow strip of fabric that goes around the shoulders of ladies in an assortment of English portraits from the early and mid Tudor era.

annehorenboutThe band can be seen here going around the shoulders and down the bodice front .There seems no reason for this band in this portrait or most others .


the sole exception is this Holbein sketch were it appears to be holding up the skirts

YoungEnglishWomanHolbein white bandI do not however think that the white band in this case is necessarily holding up the skirts its seems to terminate a little above the garter but if it is indeed holding up the skirts I think it unlikely to be representative of its use in the portraits of upper class women All Tudor ladies seem to have usually let their gowns trail  as theres several comments about trained gowns and also about the middle class womens gowns trailing in mud .Where gowns were lifted they seem to have been back pined

three_ladies back lacing

I know there are several theory’s ,perhaps it is part of the undergown /chemise showing through much as the chemises in Italian portraits  do .

Italian-1520 white band

We have a portrait of Katherine of Aragon  wearing a gown in what appears to be a similar style so it is possible

kath sleeves

.It does explain its  appearance and disappearance  which can  be accounted for by a change in lacing in the gowns.

Early Tudor gowns front  usualy fastened  such as the one Elizabeth of york is shown wearing in  her famous portrait .


and in the Whitehall mural obviously front fasten and have no band

whitehall mural detail

A further portrait also  shows  Catherine of  Aragon wearing a gown that  appears to  fasten at the front,Though in Catherine’s case there is a panel pined across the front.On these gowns trim and neckline decoration is attached to the gown (This is the reason I usually attach trims to gowns which I design and sell as I feel there is some evidence to suggest that at least some less expensive trim was attached to the overgowns in the early Tudor age)


I  do think it possible Tudor gowns went through a side lacing phase as Holbein’s famous sketch shows a gown that appears to neither front nor back laced and the lady has the mysterious white band

holbein front and back gown.Later Tudor gowns either back lace or front lace with a panel pined across over the lacing and the white band accordingly disappears .


I think this unlikely however as both the Holbein sketch of a young woman walking and other sketches show the band with front fastening gowns.

It more likely that the Band in its early stages  is linked to sleeves style and attachment.Tudor gowns change shape in the early decades of the 16thc and it’s During this time the white band appears and perhaps may have covered  not just the side lacing of the  new style gowns  but also have covered the attachment lacing for the sleeves  or to cover pins and protect the gown from any pins etc used to attach the gowns sleeves.This function would hold good even for back lacing gowns as tie on sleeves would still need covering


Though I have to do further research I am also not convinced that all Tudor gowns acquired integral sleeves  either during the White band era or later as I have so far found it impossible to create the later  very wide necked and tight sleeves style with integral sleeves without the sleeves constantly falling off the shoulders.Its also very difficult to get any full sleeved chemise through these tight sleeves.I think its very possible some if not all Tudor gown sleeves were separate to the gowns

maria be medicei seperate sleeves

overgown undergown sep sleeves

Though I confess if this is the case I cant figure out how the sleeves attached as theres clearly no lacing holes in the Jane seymour portrait .The sleeves could only have attached to a layer under jewelled neckline billiment layer and so be hidden by the billiments as above and in later portraits such as the master John Portrait of Mary Tudor

princess mary tudor neckline

Perhaps  instead the tight top part of the sleeve was closed laced sleeve that devloped from tie /pin on sleeves


If you added underlacing to the sleeves above you would have a gown very like the Princess Mary Tudor gown

Or perhaps the  tight sleevs formed part of another gown with a sleevelss gown or bodice  of the same fabric above 1545 bodice  Christoph Amberger (1505-1562) A Woman

If the overgown was sleevelss or had tie on sleeves i also explains  how the undersleeves in so many paintings  such as the Jane Seymour portrait were attached and matched the visible part of the petticoat.Perhaps the expensive fabric  lower under sleeves evolved from separate lace on sleeves and did in fact form part of the undergown ensemble

Its also possible the upper sleeve was not a full sleeve but was merely a piece of fabric pined around the shoulders like a more complex version of the shawl partlets If you contrast the dress below with the image showing a shawl partlet it is a possibility.

tudor  sperate gowns CleveJoosPortraitAngietevavndenRijne

partlet fur hood

If this si so theres three gown sleeves showing in portraits.
The tight sleevelss or very short sleeved over gown ,
A longer full sleeve from an under gown
and a further sleeve from another undergown .
As with the skirts of any undergown only the visible part of these sleeves needed to be made of expensive fabrics ,while slashing in the lower parts would allow the chemise to show through. Some images  of earlier gowns suggest the undergown had eleborate and intergral sleeves covered by shorter overgown sleeves

under sleevs over sleevslucas-van-leyden-the-game-of-chess

However to return to the mystery of the Band .I feel it has implications that go beyond the gowns construction and influence headress construction .The band seems fairly sturdy linen perhaps even stiffened linen as it seems very similar to the linen that sticks out from the bottom of gable hoods .As mentioned earlier I dont belive it can have usualy been a chemise as it  also seems to appear in front lacing gowns were a chemise could not have been visible at the sides.(This can be seen in the second image at the top of this post where the woman has no a front fastening gown but still has the white band)The  preliminary  sketch for the portrait  also shows this (the sketch below is a later copy  but  to identical to the original except in the use of colour.(where I have been unable to find suitable online images of originals I have used these later coloured copies but only having compared them to originals)


The white bands always lie above any Chemise or lie under a partlet layer in both sketches and portraits such as this of Lady Moore.In this portrait there’s also a suggestion that the gable hood linen layer is a layer onto which is pined the fold of the lappets of gable hoods(This will be shown to be important later in the post)

More by follower of Hans Holbein (private collection) bottom

The Alice Moore portrait also shows the band seems to curve around the arm hole and stops at waist level quite abruptly

white band-Catherine_aragonIn the Catherine of argon portrait it also curves under the arms slightly and in other sketches

dauncey hoblein white band

I personally feel the most likely and flexible answer is the white band was used not just to cover lacing fixtures but also to hold billiments or other expensive trims and ,the jewels and beadwork could be tacked to the white band then a few limted pins could hold it in place and also that uit acted as a protective layer between the expensive fabrics  of the bodice in order to attach the  multitude of chains popular at this time ,it seems to serve that function in the Alice More portrait and the one below

white band mary guildford

The white bands  further use was perhaps to protect the bodice from Partlet fastenings or pins as some partlets seem to have been cape like and occasionally shawls were used.(I realise the portrait below doesnt show a white band ,however I could not find the portrait I wanted to use and did in any case merely want to show the cape /shawl like partlet as I doubt this style could have stayed in place without pins

partlet fur hood

If the white band served this function it explains why also used during the side lacing phase then its continuation could be accounted for by covering ties or lacing on the sleeves on later gowns but not on others which may have been in the back lacing or the earlier front fastening style though its possible what we assume to be a full overgown may not be but rather a  later tighter laced closed version of the early tudor late medieval gowns


If you lace the blue gown above closed enough for the skirts part to meet than add a panel to cover the lacing you have the typical Tudor gown

meltonconstableparr raised vlevletThus combining the Front lacing and over panel design with the earlier short sleeved gown

Why is the white band often absent if it covered sleeve  lacing holes on  early Tudor gowns ?

I would suggest the reasons its  puzzling compleat  absence  on some early portraits such as the famous National portrait gallery Anne Bolyn  one  below is also easily accounted for


These are later copies that removed what seems odd and unnecessary  items  or details ,perhaps also they were based on sketches that didn’t clearly show a band.The portrait above also simplifies the French hood and shows billiments attached to it  .The 1530s seems also to be a transitional phase in the White band ,non white band phase ,perhaps as it’s the time front and ,back lacing gowns begin to be more popular

Developement of the band

The white band if it  had an extra purpose  as place to pin billiments ahs other implication.I do not belive that billiments where integral to under gowns  once ,back and side lacing phases developed . it’s at this time it becomes popular to match billiments on hoods to those on gowns and occasionally even necklaces and girdles,the Billiments may have been attached to undergowns but this seems unlikes as it would make it harder to wear the billiments with different gowns .The  more elaborate  jeweled billiments  I belive were always pined onto linen and this includes those on Gable hoods  ,this seems to be the case in the existing portraits  such as those above  and can be seen more clearly on sketches

Holbein_gable_hood_eng construction layers

Or sketches of less aristocratic ladies where there is no distraction from Jewels.The one below also shows a brooch holding the lappets in place at the side further suggesting that Gable hoods were not complete whole but a headdress built up of mix and match layers over a base of stiff linen

English_Lady_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger hood and broochThis would explain their development as an early portrait shows a line linen gable hood prototype headdress

220px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGAnd also one with pined on veil over a white linen base


Though I have not had a chance to explore this using actual fabrics as yet it seems to me a likely explanation ,It’s also possible French hoods were layers of fabrics and trims rather than merely one complete headress.Early portraits of front fastening gowns with applied decoration show hoods in several parts often with matching applied decoration as below or with expensive fabric layers as ind in the Young Catherine portrait or the ones below


isablela of hapsberg frenc hoodThis of Isabelle of Hapsburg is very similar to Catherine’s hood and perhaps it was in fact Catherine of Aragon not Mary Tudor or Anne Boleyn who brought the hood over initially before discarding it like the spanish farthingale for more English fashions such as the gable hood

Later hood styles  appear to carry forward these layers or have layers mounted over bases

NPG 1119; Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger

frenc hoodsWhile some sketches such as the one above suggest a vague link between the french hood and english intermediate hood

HolbeinAnneCresacre1527 white band

Later hoods seem a mix of white linen or silk with added billiments  and with separate probably wired back billiments holding in place a veil as seen in this portrait of mary

PORTRAIT OF MARY TUDOR artist not known but in the style of Flicke, Painted onto wood, found at Anglesey Abbey

The English intermediate hood while worn over a coif  seems the only headdress which is actually composed in one piece ,all be it with applied layers of fabric .The shortened version of the intermediate hood appears to have been used for mounting  billments to create a version of the french hood.I realise these are sometimes seen as coifs but several portraits such as the one below show the layer to be quite rigid

french hood

The frequent appearance of white in french hoods ,or red supports the separate  billiments theory as they appear when hoods begin to appear with applied decoration that matches the bodices gold studs or embroidery but continue until late in the hoods history by which stage the trend to match bodice and hood billiments requires s=more complex and expensive billiments which would be too expensive to confine to one headdress or dress

Later also when the hood begins to gain height and acquire a steeper angle  when the billiment is relativity simple such as gold work  or  pearls they  appear to have become separate wired items used to hold the back veil in place

FrancoiseBrezeHead french hood

It’s still  likely the lower billiment is mounted on a linen coif as there is evidence for this

parr-smIf you remove the bonnet in this portrait and add a french hood panel the pearls will sit in the same place as front billiments  on french hoods and a couple of early portraits support this idea such as the one below where there seems to be a layer of peals or beads above the pleated underlayer

Jean Perréal (French artist, c 1451-c 1531) Anne de Bretagne

This pleated underlayer is a continuous feature  of french hoods and perhaps became pined back to become a coif for the hair to hold it up .

The snood in this image must I think have had the hair dressed under it and possibly covered by a linen snood to protect the expensive fabrics from the hair.Hair was unlikely to be as clean as today as lacking our modern complex shampoos there was nothing  to prevent grease and oils building up and some ladies do seem to have used oils to dress their hair perhaps perfumed .The image below also seems to show  the bottom pearls |(or faux pearl glass beads )mounted on a coif .While the back white panel of peals seems to be mounted on linen or silk and the neckline Jewels mounted on white fabric.

tudor-french-hood snood

I think this shows jewels were ordinarily sewn onto linen and not gowns ,headresses etc and confirms the use of the white band and white neckline trims for Jewels.I think the simple band that initaly covered sleeve lacings and prevented damage to delicate and expensive fabrics such as cloth of gold velvet but also began to be used to pin billiments onto .

I will add images of my own experiments with applied trims once I complete more Tudor gowns and also post separate explorations of both Gable hood and french hoods again when I experiment with the construction myself

I am indebted to the blog below for several images of French headdresses


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Early Tudor white band unimportant mystery or the key to Tudor gown construction?

  1. Juliette says:

    Thank you so much for this!! Just one question which you may have already answered, but: so how were detachable sleeves pinned on without a great lump or something likewise?? And if I were to go about pinning on detachable sleeves, how would I do it??
    THANK YOU!!!

    • Hello
      I am sorry for the late relpy we moved house and had no internet for a while and then I was unwell for a while.I usually add loops to the undersleeves and pin them on with safety pins usually to my chemise then pull the dress on over them so the sleeves ends are caught tighly ,though in sumer I sometimes pin them to the dress so they are easier to get off ,the oversleeves I pin again with safetypins inside the sleeve itself and to the dress sleeves but then I add a brooch or ooch as there often brooches to be seen in the paintings ,I hope that helps,,

      • Juliette says:

        Thank you. I have recently tried to make detachable sleeves attach to a dress. I did this by, and please don’t judge me on my atrocious ideas, sewing eyelets onto one sleeve and one side of the dress. I know that this is impossible to undo, so is there a possibility of maybe sewing a white band over the holes on the dress or maybe a piece of fabric od the same colour??

        This is one of the most helpful websites I have ever found regarding my research!! Thank you!!

      • Hi
        Sorry I have not replied earlier I have been unwell ,I am not judging you ,I have made a fair few mistakes myself ! amd still have the occasional blip ,,I wonder if you could possibly sew a jeweled trim or pearl string in a band both the dress and the sleeve holes? like the detailing on my venetian gown photo or the cuffs or if its designed to have a chemise show under it then you could add puffs of chemise style fabric that look like a chemise showing under the gown but full enough to cover the holes maybe but that would mean permantly attaching the sleeves and gown ,,if you have photos I might be able to offer a few more ideas ,I am not online regulary at the moment but I try to check every couple of days

  2. Alexia says:

    Hi there – I know this is quite outdated, but I came across your post recently, and I wanted to know the source for the illustration of late tutor lacing. I would like to know the original book it came from as well as the date of the painting.

    • Hello
      The black and white sketch showing a front and back view is by Hans Holbein Its not an important persons portrait so theres no firm date but approx 1540,if its a different sketch or painting please let me know and I will get back to you with the details

  3. Shari B says:

    Tudor sleeves were seperate and added at the end of dressing

    • I think it varies theres a a few different styles of sleeve ,Catherine of Aragon is wearing a slashed sleeve that possibly tied on in one of her earler portraits ,then theres the puffed sleeve over gowns like the one in the Katherine Parr portrait ,then the classic tight bodice square necked overgown with the wide lower sleeves .I think personally the classic style with tight upper sleeves and full lower ones probably came in two parts with the expensive fabric lower sleeves tacked or pinned on so they could be used on other gowns or mix and matched to go with petticoats or to dress up a gown for a special occasion In general though sleeves must have been attached ,the weight of the full sleeves on those gowns would pull off anything that was tied or pinned on and theres no place for fastening at shoulder level

  4. Arlinda Mowbray says:

    The ladies in that time period wore white gowns under the main dress the sleeves were attached to the bodice with ties the sleeves were tied under the arms the back or front of the dress was also laced up as for the head gear white or lacey caps to hold the hair up they were not allow to show their long hair as for the gown I made one it takes thirty hours straight to make one

    • Hi ,
      Yes that is an option I mention and its clearly the case in some gowns which I also mention and having also made and worn both the gowns and under layers , I agree that a loose fitting chemise was often designed to be shown ,I also know that pinned on sleeves will work on some gowns. But if was some costumers maintain the fur or other fabric in the wide sleeves was integral to the sleeves of wide sleeved gowns its very unlikely that pins or ties would support that kind of weight without tearing the gown.But neither will laced on tight fitting sleeves support the weight However tight fitting gowns laced seem to have laced across the front and pulled across we see pins in some portraits .Its also impossible to pin or lace on the seperate ornate undersleeves tp a loose fitting chemise they need a substantial fabric. As these undersleeves match gowm foreparts it seems likely a tight fitting under gown with a ornate front and possibly a neckline trimmed with a richer fabric as some gowns show this layer .The .The Catherine of Aragon portrait of her as a young girl shows layers clearly.
      A chemise sticking through such a gown wouldnt show down the sides .In the Holbein sketch the white band clearly does this. They did wear a chemise but if they also wore an under gown which most costumers believe and portraits support that theory . That would have covered the chemise at the shoulders ,even if they didnt the white band goes in a straight smooth line with no interruptions on a fitted sleeve dress which would be impossible with a dress that had pinned on tight sleeves.Futhermore we have extant chemises and none have any suggestion they could be worn that way.I am also aware the neckline is a chemise if you see any of my other posts you will see that I mention this ,and how to make amd wear them.I am fully aware the cuffs are also not integral as I also mention in other posts. Though I think there is a case to be made for these being pinned on as dresses change style later in the century evolving towards ruffs because jewelled ones wouldnt wash.That fits with tue development of ruffs.Futher more I also agree about coifs under headreses but its clear that in some cases the pieces of white showing cant be a fitted coif ,for example in the portraits showing the band going up the back of folded lappits in gable hoods the Margret Beaufort portrait supports a coif type layer folded back ,I personally cant make a gable hood with a folded back coif stay in place amd reliably cover the front of the head which might be what the satin pieces are for with the coif pinned to it,realistically it will require a pinned on layer over the coif wrapped into the hood folds I think thats a possibility in which case the white band might also be pinned in a similar way.French hoods sometimes have a white layer after the billiment so this cant be a tight fitting coif .I feel the billiments on hoods wwre removable as they often match gowns and the white showing around some billiments suggests pinning.However theres also a case to be made for a fully constructed headress with a panel of frills from a fake coif pinned on either to the hood or a coif,likewise the gowns billiments.I made the pearl trimmed coif in the Catherine parr portrait of her in a red gown ,it works ok ,but wont wash so I think that must, have been an over coif A portrait of catherine Parr shows fur between the gown and billiments consistent with a pinned on neckline as this is exactly what happens when you wear a fur lined bodice,as I have.I am not convinced the tight fitting gowns could have tight fitting pinned on at the neckline sleeves theres no ,mention of this in wardrobe accounts and tombs dont show it.In addition what is clearly an undergown neckline of some coloured fabric shows around some gown necklines between the band and sleeves. We know undergowns were worn over chemises and under the main gowns so in that case it would be tricky to make a chemise pull over this and as I say extant chemises couldnt do this .Its not a traditionally English style we see the tight fitting typical Tudor court gown evolve in portraits from the Elizabeth of York one onwards its usually a one piece gown .Other styles were worn but not with the very tight sleeves and bodices .I did deliberately recreate several gowns amd underlayers to see what would work if they were worn amd if that was consistent with will and wardrobe accounts and with gravestones. I think partlets were of two kinds one which pinned under the main dress which was fine fabric sometimes jeweled as we see this is many portraits .But partlets thay pinned over the dress would be tricky to attach while still showing a tight strait line of chemise all the way around ,they dont stay in place.

  5. Sewist says:

    The band puzzled me a lot too, but I stumbled on this portrait and it really intrigued me, thought I’d share.

    (Margaret Giggs by Hans Holbein)

    This has a clear picture of the white band showing the end of it, and at least three pins. In the caption are links to the color paintings associated with this reference sketch. It really does look like just a band or sash that is just pinned on top of the gown.

    My guess is that it is an accessory, completely unnecessary to the gown construction and also unrelated to the chemise. Possibly something with significance for Catholic women or women in pregnancy. Or maybe a type of favor or a surface to carry perfumes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s