Tudor Fashion: Pretty, But Best Not to Think About the Stench


A new exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery in London is titled In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion. It features portraits painted in the 16th and 17th century — Tudors and Stuarts, but also Italians, Spaniards and Germans.

As Brian Sewell writes for the London Evening Standard, while the clothing is mind-bogglingly over the top and ornate — thick, sumptuous fabrics; fur-lined robes; lace collars; elaborate embroidery — it’s important to remember that hygiene was different then, and these people probably smelled really, really bad:

It was surely ever thus that clothes, if they did not make the man (or woman, or child), at the very least clearly told us of his status and, in the court circles of the Tudors and earlier Stuarts, were not only ruinously costly, but time-consuming to don and doff, stiff, heavy, hot, never comfortable, never really clean and probably never free of accumulated body odours and the perfumes to mask them. Patterned with decorative stitching, heavy with embroidery, jewels and trumpery, overgarments lay layer upon layer over corsets, shifts, bodices and other undergarments, some exaggerating the body’s natural shape, others camouflaging it. For decades women must have found it all but impossible to sit, and men and boys, with voluminous breeches to enhance the buttocks — in the early 17th century padded with “much bumbastings and quiltings … to seem fuller thighed than we are” — made men look ridiculous, and Lord knows how, without underpants (they tucked their shirt tails between their legs) they kept at bay the fungal growths inevitable in the crotch in such unremittingly humid circumstances. It is no wonder that when Charles II was restored in 1660 the court became less formal and it was possible to be seen in the loose comfort of deliberate undress.

Gross. Think they’ll tackle crotch rot in that new CW show about Mary, Queen of Scots?

It’s fun to see which different body parts got exaggerated. There were billowing sleeves, poufy thighs over narrow legs, and crazywide hips. Gaga would die. And the children! Check out what a young boy wore while playing with a toy cannon. Comfy.

Anyway, if you love this stuff, don’t fret: It’s all coming back into fashion right now. Didn’t you see the Fall 2013 McQueen fashion show?

[London Evening Standard, In Fine Style/Royal Collection Trust]

Lede images from left to right: Mary II by Willem Wissing; Eleonore of Austria by Joos van Cleve; Portrait of a Lady in Green by Agnolo Bronzino.

Center image: Detail from a portrait of Anne of Denmark.

Bottom images: Portrait of a man in red; The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia by Pourbus the Younger; Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia by Mytens.

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