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Social Class and Clothing

During the Tudor period in England, which lasted from 1485 to 1603 and saw the reigns of three kings and two queens, clothes provided their wearers with a changeable skin that could be used to mark a range of different identities. In fact, that is one aspect of clothing that remains very much the same today. Though our modern clothes look very different from the clothes of centuries past, they still help to distinguish us from one another and help tell who’s who.

Back then, clothes reflected important information about their wearers, such as their occupations, nationalities, and religions. Badges, plumes, and other symbols worn on a knight’s armor indicated which side he fought for, and monks and nuns used different colors and styles of robes to indicate which religions they belonged to. However, for the vast majority of people, choosing what to wear for the day was not so much a choice at all, for most people who were not rich nobles or wealthy merchants had only a handful of clothes that they could afford, or in some cases that they were even allowed to wear. A poor farming family may only own the clothes on their backs and an extra set of clothes each. Younger siblings may only have gotten something new to wear when their older brothers and sisters grew too big for their current outfit. Unlike today, when almost everybody has lots of different outfits and clothes can be bought very cheaply, clothing back then was expensive and something to be cared for and treasured. New clothes were a luxury few could afford.

Let’s look at the different types of clothing that would have been worn by people of different levels of society in England during the Tudor period. As you will see, some groups of people were trendsetters, who could wear whatever they wanted, while others had little say in the matter. First, let’s look and see what those at the bottom of the social ladder, hard-working farmers, would have worn.

Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell





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