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Tudor Wardbrobes


Medieval sumptuary laws, which prescribe what different social groups should wear, are still in force. For example, an Act of 1463 says that velvet and satin can only be worn by men above the rank of knight and their wives. Although the last sumptuary law is passed in 1597, such legislation is rarely enforced.

The Tudor century sees a great expansion in fashion, with dress becoming more elaborate and expensive. Gone are the sober gowns of men and the loose flowing dresses of women; in come padded doublets for men and farthingales for women. Jewels, ruffs, lace and embroidery are increasingly common. Such conspicuous consumption emphasises the distance between the rich and poor.

Sir Walter Ralegh has been known to pay £30 for a hat-band. For the same money, you could buy winter uniforms for seven officers, plus two pairs of shoes each.

Rich women try to colour their skin lily-white by using make-up made from white lead mixed with vinegar.

Everyone tries to cover their heads, with shawls or hats, and not wearing a hat marks you out. In fact, the punishment for women convicted of adultery involves standing up in church and repenting in public, with a bare head and dressed in a white sheet.

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