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Guest column: Female Tudor fashion could get quite odd at times

An exhibition of iconic film and TV costumes is opening at Gainsborough Old Hall this month
An exhibition of iconic film and TV costumes is opening at Gainsborough Old Hall this month

Iconic costumes worn by Hollywood stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench and Daniel Craig will feature in a spectacular new exhibition at the Old Hall opening on March 30 (see page 24).

Inspired by this exhibition, I thought this time I would share with you some oddities of female Tudor fashion.

In the beginning of the Tudor period, 1485, for women the only underwear, the layer that touched the skin and was easily laundered, was a linen smock.

There were no knickers, at least not for Englishwomen.

Following the smock came the kirtle, a full length dress which was sleeved and laced together.

In an ideal world, this first dress was then covered by a gown.The outermost garment was generally of better cloth but more important was the fact you had a gown at all.

Gowns usually had lower collars or shorter sleeves to show the kirtle below.

A modest wardrobe might have consisted of two gowns and three kirtles which would allow for a number of combinations.

But if a woman also owned a couple of pairs of extra sleeves, these could be pinned on for a change.

For even more variety, a forepart could be used.

This was just a triangle of cloth that could be tied or pinned at the waist reaching down to the hemline, giving the impression that a different kirtle lay below the outer layer.

Once the entire outfit had been chosen it would then need fastening together.

For the most part, this was done with pins for which women required pin money.

In the 1580s and 90s, pins could be bought for as little as two pence per thousand.

As well as being manufactured here they were also imported in vast quantities.

On board the Benjamin of Lee, when she docked in May 1567, were 374 dozen thousand (about4.5 million) pins and this was not unusual.