The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion

A new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace gives a fascinating insight into Tudor and Stuart style, via portraits painted of royals and courtiers of the time.

Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Fashion might seem loud and flamboyant these days, but the outfits worn at court in Tudor and Stuart times would have given towering platform sole, micro mini-dress or high-waisted hot-pant a run for its money.

Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

High society in Britain during the 16th and 17th centuries was as fashion-conscious and elitist when it came to style, as it is today.

Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Fashion was, as it is now, about more than just clothes. Attire worn by the inner circle at court was expected to reflect the splendor of the monarch. It had to be showy and elaborate, because it was a marker of status, closeness to royalty and wealth. However, there were laws put in place by both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I that dictated what could and could not be worn by whom, so that people’s social standing could be easily identified by their clothes: red fabrics and gold thread were examples of materials that would only royalty would be allowed to wear.

Both new clothes and portraits were commissioned to mark important occasions and it is a selection of these, from the Royal Collection, that will be shown this May. The exhibition includes a William Scrots portrait of Elizabeth I as a princess in a scarlet dress with huge bell-shaped sleeves, and a Juan Pantoja da la Cruz painting of Margaret of Austria wearing a dress with a ruff and an intricately embroidered skirt and bodice. Heavy or impractical clothes that rendered the wearer practically immobile were preferred: it sent a clear message that theirs was a life of leisure, not labour.

Quirky dressing was also popular, demonstrated by what many will surely consider the exhibition’s highlight – a yellow and gold taffeta purse in the shape of a frog from the 17th century. For historians and fashion-followers alike, this show is a rare treat.

In Fine Style runs 10 May – 6 October at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Tudor ruffs, Edwardian bustles or flapper dresses of the 1920s: which is your favorite period in the history of British fashion? Tweet us @BritainMagazine