Tudor clothing layers

A very quick post to explain the layers and terms used in Tudor clothing for anyone wanting a quick guide on how to wear a costume they may have bought  or hired for an event.This is not an academic guide ,its designed to show how to put on the necessary layers and what can be used for those layers .

Apologies in advance for the bizarre spacing in the post I am not sure how but I messed up the margins mid post)

Layer one ,a chemise

This is a thin full length undergarment ,much like a modern nightdress.This layer protects you from getting chaffed skin from the corsets or gowns and helps absorb sweat .To be accurate it should be linen or possibly silk but usually the modern ones are made with the much cheaper cotton .It’s best to have one with full sleeves as they will show under the gown.

If you are only attending a single event and dont  want to spend money on a purpose bought chemise you can wear a nightdress ,a wide necked short sleeved one or one with shoestring straps ,it needs to be calf length .

restoration chemises

If you would like to make your own ,there are instructions on both very quick chea and easy ones and the one above in this post


Next is an optional layer a corset or stays

Very few Tudor ladies would have worn these unless they were at court but gowns do look better with them,Corsets are worn over your chemise as in the photo below ,this may seem odd but the chemise protects you from the corset and the corset from you as sweat can cause damage to fabric and boning.( The photo below shows a Lord of the rings  shield maiden corset rather than a Tudor one  but I dont have any underwear shots from my Tudor talks )

sheildmaiden chemsies

The next layer is also optiontional but makes the gown look better ,its a structural  under petticoat which is a skirt that’s ,either a hoop  if you want a late Tudor look or stiffened petticoat or a petticoat in a fabric such as taffeta .If you are wearing a hoop however you may need to buy a much longer gown to cover it.If your really not worried about authenticity  and you have a gown made from fairly light fabric such as taffeta you can also wear  tulle or bridal net petticoats which can be bought for £10 0r under on sites such as ebay ,this wont work with velvet or other heavy fabrics and wotn move the same way as a hooped skirt but is much easier to travel in .Its also possible to buy hooped petticoats on ebay etc for under £10 its best to buy a three hooped petticoat and move to hoops to make the  skirts  the A line shape below   .Below is a plain cotton under petticoat though this has a frill at the bottom and Tudor ones would be plain.The corset shown is Victorian but the layers  for both Victorian and Tudor costumes are identical ,Chemise,Corset structural layer .


You next put on a visible petticoat or the smart petticoat ,this is seen in open skirted gowns  and glimpsed in closed skirted ones when you lift up your skirt to walk.

This one  is waist length ,Sometimes the visible “petticoat ” may be another gown being worn under the outer one .

golden pett

Sometimes this is the same fabric  or has a panel of the same fabric as the dress as below

black pocket

sometimes its a different colour to contrast

purple tudor gown

Also part of the outer layers are the  gowns long over sleeves which I make as a separate items  which I tack or pin on as  not only are they then easier to remove if you become too hot  but because I believe thats how the Tudors often wore them so they could wear different ones with different gowns .Some costumers would disagree and believe the sleeves were always part of the gown.


but they can also be fur


To go under the full long sleeves are undersleeves which pin on  with brooches or safety pins and the cuff of the chemise sticks out of them .I usualy pin them onto my chemise unless they are very heavily jewelled or made from heavy fabrics when I pin them to the gown sleeves.  These  sleeves ,sometimes  matched the visible petticoat panel


sometimes they matched the dress itself

golden gown and sleeves

sometimes they were very jeweled

duck egg sleeves

It is possible on my Etsy site to buy faux chemise sleeves to go under these over sleeves in case you dont want to wear  or buy a long-sleeved chemise but I have no proof Tudors did this.Some costumers sew panels of linen or silk into the under sleeves to create the impression of very wide sleeves ,I prefer to use inner sleeves as they are easier to wash. If you wear separate inner sleeves and pin one fur over sleeves its actually much easier to travel to events as you can put them on when you arrive and dont have to worry about catching them in things or put up with being too hot .

tudor inner sleeves

The other layers are optional ,one goes under the dress and is a modesty panel or fill in, partlet  or under partlet in cotton.Its fairly easy to make one by cutting a rectangle of fabric then cutting a wide v shape out of it .

partlet backpartlet ,book

In the photo below you can see the partlet under the gown ,you can also see the plain back of the damask petticoat.Its occasionally possible to see much more elaborate partlets such as this gold one ,this seems to be tacked to the gown at the neckline but may have been tied under it


There is also a partlet that goes over clothes its more or less the same but fastens at the front

velvelt partlet

Sometimes is a different colour but sometimes it matches the dress


The other items are a headdress and or a coif the coif goes under a headdress but if you dont need to be authentic its not essential


sometimes coifs could be jeweled or be velvetcoif 1



also you can wear a French hood

french hood 1

Theres are several styles this is a later more complicated one

reddresseated tudor gown

Or a gable hood in different styles

gable hood front

purple tudor gown

Or an Intermediate hood,this photo below also shows a black over partlet

green tudor gown front

Sometimes these were fur to keep you warm

fur hood front

white fur hood

partlet fur hood

The only other  items were jewels and sometimes a cloak or mantle but these were  not often worn

elizabeth coro dressweb

In Elizabethan times some people wore a top and skirt separately

40s and elizabethan 032

They also wores ruffs

back ruff

Big and small



gold damask elizabeth outfit

it was sometimes  fashionable to carry Prayer books or bibles either in your hand or at your waist on a girdle

partlet ,book

and also fashionable were little faux animals or furs with their heads


To buy or order a Tudor gown you can contact my Etsy shop,however I am also planning some blog posts on how to make your own costumes easily and cheaply .
For handcrafted and unique designs my Etsy shop is here

About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in 15thc, 16thc/17thc, costume research, history, Tudors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Tudor clothing layers

  1. Milky Peach Tea says:

    Thank you this was super informative and helpful. The dresses in your photos are beautiful. Love them!

  2. I think it is a bit confusing for people who may not know much about Tudor costume to see a picture of a Victorian corset and underskirt on your page! It is more common to wear a boned kirtle in place of stays, but there are references and pictures to the correct kind of item on the Tudor Tailor website. There is also a video on Youtube, by Black Knight Historical, that shows you the authentic layers and items, with full description. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhAcJSYg-c4&list=PLEWlchdZkxab9ycyZPWFcUVWLyPxx1Drr&index=3

    • Hello
      I have added a line to say the corset is Victorian but the post does state very clearly that the petticoat etc. are Victorian not Tudor.
      The post isnt designed for costumers or experts or costume students or re enactors its designed to be easy to follow guide on easy to put together layers for people making their own “cheats” Tudor outfit for themselves or for their children and /or as guidance for those who have bought or hired Tudor fancy dress costumes and have no under layers and must therefore make do with what they have or can buy cheaply ,,and correctly made Tudor under layers are not cheap.
      Elsewhere I have blog posts on Tudor costume which reference extant items and written sources etc and I would be inclined to disagree about the boned kirtle as theres little or no written evidence for boning and portrait evidence often shows either uniformly stiff bodices such as that of Elizabeth of York or gentle curves at breast level neither of which would be likely with boned bodices.
      However this post is designed to be simple and practical not academic.Its likely to be the case that that those going to a one off event wont own or want to buy “boned Kirtles,corded petticoats or Tudor stays but will own or can cheaply buy a Victorian style corset and petticoat or long skirt and those are just as good functionally as essentially the layers worn by Tudor court ladies and most victorian women are the same its not impossible to wear Victorian style petticoats to fill out Tudor gowns if authenticity isn’t important,,, and its usually isnt for anyone attending a party or banquet etc .While a Victorian style over bust corset will not give the correct shape an under bust corset such as the one shown is a good compromise for anyone who is going to be wearing a hoop it stops the hoop digging into the waist and makes it hang better and the shape is in effect merely the Dorothea stays minus the bust panels .Basically its about making the outfit work for ease and comfort costumed parties and events are about having fun and feeling good .

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