Women’s Renaissance costume in the times of Henry VIII

Renaissance clothing for women under the reign of Henry VIII has as a main characteristic the evolution of the hood. Its fabric was enriched, and the border next to the face was turned back. The hood was lined with fine stuff and turning it over showed this. The front was stiffened and shaped at an angle. It was sewn with jewels, and, as the angle forms a gap between the forehead and the point of the hood, a pad was added to fill in the vacant space.

The head-dress was diamond-shaped, and very elaborated. The portrait of Catherine of Aragon exhibits a variant of this type of head-dress. Wide sleeves, and a gown with a train, would complete the dress. The portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger shows how the diamond-shaped head-dress had been modified, and rendered more elegant and portable.

Renaissance Clothing for Women - Princess Elizabeth
Princess Elizabeth
Typical Renaissance costume

A fine example of the Renaissance costume for women is to be seen in the portrait of Catherine Parr by Master John. The queen wears a simple but elegant head-dress of richly ornamented goldsmith's work. Her long and slender waist is encircled by a chain of cameos hanging nearly to her feet, and having a tassel at its end. Such girdles were in fashion until the beginning of the next century. Her sleeves are characteristic for the period: very tight at the shoulder, and having a wide border of fur, displaying a large under-sleeve richly decorated, slashed and puffed to the wrist, where it is bounded by a ruffle. These sleeves, so typical for the female English costume of the period, are shown also in the Elizabeth portrait as a Princess (1546), by William Scrots. The open gown, and the richly-wrought petticoat, are embroidered in cloth of gold.

Ladies worn pendants hung upon jeweled chains. The chain made two loops round the neck: once close to the neck, the second loop loose and passed under the lawn shift. Large brooches decorated the bodices. They were made of fine gold, many wrought in Italy. The shift, delicately embroidered with black silk, had often a band of jewelry upon it. The shift was square cut, following the shape of the bodice.

The bodice of the gown was square cut and much stiffened to a box-like shape. The sleeves were narrow at the shoulders, and after fitting the arm for about six inches down from the shoulders, they widened gradually. Just below the elbow, they became square and showing the false under-sleeve.

The under-sleeve was generally made of fine, rich-patterned silk or brocade, the same stuff which formed the under-gown. The under-sleeve was generally held together by buttoned tags. It was either puffed with other coloured silk, slashed to show the shift, or it was plain.

Women's Renaissance Costume - Catherine Parr
Fine Renaissance Clothing
Catherine Parr

The sleeve of the gown was made very square and full at the elbow, and over this some ladies wore a false sleeve of gold net. Besides this, the sleeve was turned back to form a deep square cuff which was often made of black or coloured velvet, or of fur.

Renaissance clothing for women included the overcoats and cloaks which were voluminous, in order to allow the great sleeves to be stuffed in.

During this period, the wide sleeve of the gown will become separate. The upper part of the dress, once cut low and square, or a vest of a different material, was made with a false top of other stuff.

The cap was placed further back on the head. In the end, the diamond shape of the head dress disappeared, and the contour became circular. The velvet hanging-piece remained at the back of the head, but was smaller, in one piece, and was never pinned up. It was a pattern which latter evolved in that of the famous cap of Mary Stuart.

Lacing was carried to extremes, so that the body was pinched into the hard roll-like appearance always identified with this time. Many women preferred to lace loose, and show, beneath the lacing, the colour of the underdress. There were many varieties of girdle and belt, from plain silk sashes with tasseled ends to rich jeweled chain girdles ending in heavy ornaments.

Women’s Renaissance clothing included jackets, similar to those of men. The sleeves were very richly adorned, and were in general separate articles of clothing, attached to the shoulders of the vest, for both sexes.

Men’s Renaissance clothing in the times of Henry VIII.

Men’s and women's clothing during the reigns of Edward and Mary.

Elizabethan costume.

Renaissance clothing page.