Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Judith Arnopp, Author of How to Dress Like a Tudor

9 November 2023

Special Guest Post by Judith Arnopp, Author of How to Dress Like a Tudor

New From Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Have you ever hankered to dress like a Tudor lord or lady, or perhaps you prefer the status of goodwife, or costermonger, or even a bawd? For beginner historical reenactors, the path to authenticity can be bewildering and sometimes intimidating. Judith Arnopp uses her own experience, both as a historian and a medieval/Tudor lady,
to make your own journey a little easier.

Tudor Clothing – the fact and the fiction.

I’ve been writing Tudor fiction for an awful long time now – twelve years, I think, but it seems longer. Some of my characters are fictional but mainly I concentrate on well-known figures. I have covered most of the royal Tudors in one way or another, from Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York, Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr, Mary Tudor and now Henry VIII himself. 

I have also written about the lower classes, a prostitute in The Winchester Goose and a group of nuns in Sisters of Arden. I find myself at home in the Tudor world and after so many years of research, have come to know the historical figures quite well.
Since my books are character driven, I don’t cram the narrative with rich descriptions of interior spaces, or the utensils they use. My main objective is to fix the perspective firmly in the protagonist’s head, but I hope I offer just enough of the background setting to enable the reader to know where they are – if I say the king picks up a cup, I must trust that my reader isn’t imagining a coffee mug.
Most of my readers are exclusively historical fiction fans, enjoying it both in print and on screen, and authors can thank the film industry for providing a good visual of how Tudor England may have looked. This means it is no longer quite so necessary to describe that world in such depth and focus on character and plot. But when it comes to clothing, it is important to know how things worked.
I confess to having made errors in my early books. I have women in early Tudor England wearing corsets when in fact they weren’t introduced until the next century. Tudor women relied on tight lacing and stiffened fabric for shaping. I once wrote about French hoods pulled off suddenly to release flowing locks (lol) when historically speaking, women wore their hair tightly bound beneath a coif, with the French hood fastened securely on the top.
Even the hair style they wore was not simple. Hair did not just tumble down. A ribbon was braided into the hair and the plaits wrapped around the head and sewn into position with the ends of the ribbon. There were no pins but nevertheless, it is a tight and very secure style. The ridge formed by the braids was designed to help position the hood correctly on the back of the head. Taking the hair down again is uncomfortable, the long ribbon often snarling and snagging the hair. When mine is taken out I usually look as if I’ve been dragged through a hedge – not very alluring at all.

It wasn’t until I began reenacting and wearing Tudor clothes that I became fully conversant with all the different garments and the inconveniences presented by them. Whether to use a chamber pot or for…erm, other purposes, it is not a case of merely lifting a skirt. There are up to nine yards of stiffened fabric in each layer and despite the fact there were no knickers, it is highly unlikely that an unplanned coupling with a lover would be either easy, or romantic.

There are several layers comprising of top gown, partlet, kirtle, and shift before you even begin to discover the body beneath and each layer is heavy, jewel encrusted and difficult to fasten and unfasten. I guess that’s why so many fictional ravishers in years gone by resorted to using a knife to cut the ties.

It takes about forty minutes to get dressed, and even then, you need assistance from someone who knows what they are doing. Tudor queens and high-status ladies had maids to lace them into their gowns, which fastened at the back. Lower class women tended to favour side or front lacing to enable them to dress and undress themselves. Although some representations in art do show lower class women in back laced gowns, they would have required help dressing, perhaps from a daughter or sister.
There is a system for getting dressed. Once you are in your shift and bum roll, it is best to put your shoes on, otherwise unless you have help, it is not easy to find your feet beneath so much yardage. Of course, a Tudor lady would have a servant to assist with her shoes, but re-enactors very often don’t. Then the kirtle goes on next. 

It is a heavy garment with back or side lacing, and this is followed by the back-laced top gown. A separate placard is pinned to the front, with the hood, and big fancy sleeves attached last. Oh, and then if you are rich, a ton of jewels. It doesn’t take so long to disrobe but it is still much more than a few minutes’ work, providing plenty of time for one’s ardour to cool.

I discovered the impracticalities of Tudor fashion through wearing the clothes (although admittedly nobody ever tried to ravish me) but when I researched How to Dress like a Tudor for Pen and Sword Books, I discovered more fascinating information that opened my eyes to a subject I thought I already knew pretty well.
The sumptuary laws that laid down who could wear what are interesting, revealing who could wear purple, who could wear velvet and cloth of gold, and more importantly, who couldn’t. The accounts of those in the textile trade, the weavers, dyers, tanners, and tailors taught me things I had never even thought of. 

I now know the different fabrics and where they were sourced, the correct Tudor terms for materials that we no longer use today. My research taught me that textiles and fashion were far more important to a historical setting, even a fictional one, than I had previously realised.

In the book, I examine the clothing, the fabrics, and embellishments of every stratum of society and every category within. Kings, queens, nobleman, gentleman, working men, women, children, peasants, monks, bishops, and fools – to name but a few. I hope the book will be useful not only for re-enactors or those involved in historical research but for fiction authors writing in the period too.

Judith Arnopp

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About the Author

Judith Arnopp writes historical fiction set during the late medieval and Tudor period. Her usual focus is on the women who lived close to the monarch, women like Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York and Mary Tudor but has also written a trilogy from the perspective of Henry VIII himself. Her books are on Kindle, Audible and Paperback. She also writes non-fiction, her work featuring in many anthologies and online magazines.  Judith is a founder member of a reenactment group The Fyne Company of Cambria, and began making Tudor costumes for herself, her husband, John, and other members of the group. It was this that inspired How to Dress like a Tudor and she hopes to write more non-fiction Tudor history in the future. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

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