England Tudor. The peasants’ dresses during the reign of Henry VIII.

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Henry VIII. Peasant clothing from 1500 to 1550.

Henry VIII. Peasant clothing from 1500 to 1550.

Should a present day dress designer in Paris entertain a revolutionary idea concerning a gowns he could have the garment completed within a week. Pictures would be shown in newspapers – in America as well as in other countries. Soon there would be copies of the dress in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and other great cities. Before long there would be inexpensive reproductions sold in “chain stores” all over the country.

In the early sixteenth century, things did not move so quickly. There were no newspapers or fast ships to carry news, either of politics or fashions, as quickly as is done today. So, a style began in one country and spread very slowly from nation to nation, each country changing and modifying the fashion to some extent. Another fact or which slowed down the acceptance of new fashion was that of expense. The nobles had more or less expensive wardrobes, but the middle and lower classes had few changes of dress. Clothes were handed down not only from elder sister to younger but from generation to generation.

This was particularly true of the peasant or farmer types. They made their garments themselves. They grew the wool, carded, spun, and wove it in their own homes. The materials were rough and crude, but strong and lasting; therefore, a suit of clothes might be worn by one man for many years, and then given to his son, who might in turn pass the garment on to his son. Fashions changed slowly and tended to be mixed. That is, a nobleman might be wearing an up-to-the-minute model of the dress known as Henry VIII, a middle class merchant going about dressed in the fashion of the late 15th Century, while the peasant farmer might be wearing the early 15th or late 14th century clothes.

Due to the type of work done by the peasants, their clothes were simplified versions of the elaborate styles worn. For example the peasant woman shown here has covered her head as modestly as did the noble ladies, but far more simply, with a plain white scarf arrangement. Her long grey sleeveless overdress is tucked into her waistband so that she can work more easily. The colors chosen are typical of those generally worn by the lower classes.

The man is dressed simply – more for a useful than a decorative life. His rough cape, felt hat, and coif (worn for warmth) are unchanged in style from the Middle Ages. The tan homespun sleeved garment is not much different than the tunic shown in Plate 23. The sleeveless green over-tunic probably would be called a jerkin. Whatever its name, its simple construction (perhaps of soft felt) can easily be seen. He has heavy woolen over-hose over his regular hose and rough serviceable shoes made of green felt. The large heavy pouch was a common accessory for the lower classes and the one shown here might well be a relic of an earlier era.

Source: Museum Extension Project.

illustration, goat

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