Back in the 16th Century, your clothing gave the world important visual clues about your status in society. Styles of clothing, colors, and and quality of fabrics were “assigned” to various ranks in society. Clothing was less about individuality and more about where you fit into Tudor society. Sumptuary laws tried to impose restrictions on the various details of clothing that were allowable based on your station in society – from the fabrics that you could wear to the yardage that could be used for certain garments. For the most part, very few people were ever prosecuted for violating these laws.
If you were a typical individual during the 1500’s, you would aspire to wear the most expensive clothes that you could afford. The cost of clothes would take up a much higher percentage of your annual salary than clothes do today. A typical suit of clothes was equal to about a year’s salary for many people. A day’s wage for a typical laborer would probably buy only 1 yard of the cheapest canvas cloth while 6 months worth of labor would barely buy 1 yard of the best fabric available.
A study of people’s wills from the 1500’s showed that clothing was an important sign of wealth that could be passed on to heirs. At the top of Tudor society, an inventory taken in 1600 of Queen Elizabeth I’s clothing listed more than 1900 items. A more typical inventory of middle class ladies would probably show about 4 good outfits, several petticoats, at least 2 flocks, 3-4 pairs of shoes, 10-15 linen under garments (chemises, headwear, etc.), 4-5 smocks, and various velvet accessories.
Categories: Fashion History