The Influence of Tudor Fashion during the Stuart Period

In Tudor and Stuart Britain, fashionable clothing was highly valued by both men and women and not just by monarchs; the people who comprised the court also took an interest as well.[1] As is the case with today’s generation, outfits, shoes, and accessories were worn to express a specific message to the public and represent some kind of social status. During these periods, the more elaborate and, arguably, over-the-top designs wealthy people wore, the more respect they earned. However, according to David Kuchta, the interest in men’s fashion decreased over time, creating a “masculine renunciation.”[2] Instead of the traditional flashy clothing and jewelry, men’s dress leaned more towards modesty.[3] Kuchta argues that the lack of interest in clothing was due to a number of factors: “… [The] changing political, economic and social orders from 1550 to 1850.”[4] In 1666, King Charles II attributed to this newfound modesty because of different coats and vests he wore that resulted in the popularization of the three-piece suit. While men’s styles certainly varied over the years, the appreciation for male fashions was still highly present throughout the period and was not entirely based on modernity. Similarities in men’s clothing between the Tudor and Stuart periods can be found through many paintings and portraits of this time; this source of documentation allows us to compare and contrast the style from different time periods.

Figure 1
Figure 1: King Charles II with Mr. William Temple, from Mr. J Parker,

When Charles II began wearing the three-piece suit, he definitely could not have imagined how popular and relevant the everyday staple would be today. Although there are variations in the three-piece suit’s appearance since the seventeenth century, the reason for which it is worn is essentially the same to this day. Kuchta reveals how the most important factor of the suit is its relation to the notion of masculinity.[5] According to Kuchta, men’s fashion at least has changed a considerable amount after Charles II; there was a new set image of what the masculine gentleman looked like mainly due to the new style that was formed.[6] During the Stuart period, Kuchta presumes that Charles II’s three-piece suit, as shown in Figure 1, essentially signaled a modern in men’s style.[7] Men then began to wear fewer pieces of clothing and accessories that were distinct in color and detail because most of the ornate displays could have been associated with femininity. With a desire to appear more masculine, men would attempt to dress with more neutral colors such as black, brown or blue.

Figure 2
igure 2: King Charles II, from John Michael Wright, Royal Collection Trust

In regards to fashion, however, the sense of modernity that Kuchta emphasizes about the Stuart period is not necessarily portrayed in all of the portraits from the late seventeenth century. For example, the portrait of Charles II in Figure 2 shows an abundance of the colors with many intricate details. This painting represents the “enduring image of monarchy restored,” with the king wearing parliamentary robes, shoes adorned with jewel buckles and a wig.[8] Having  a powerful meaning behind it, the painting was obviously done to be viewed and honored by everyone. There is no doubt that the king’s entire outfit emphasizes the high level of influence, grandeur, and wealth one would expect from a monarch. When taking a closer look at the portrait, one can see the immense amount of details, including colorful jewels, a lace collar, and embroidery on the king’s coronation suit. The elements of his suit seem to hold some similarities with the traditional clothing from the Tudor period; the clothing of the Tudor era was made of rich fabrics and bright colors.[9] Another major emphasis in Tudor fashion was the quantity of the pieces as well as the quality of the pieces.[10] During the Tudor period, the more garments and accessories someone had on, the more respect one earned from others.[11] This presents an apparent contrast with the notion of “less is more” that the Stuart period was believed to uphold.

Figure 3
Figure 3: King Henry VIII, from Joos van Cleve, Royal Collection Trust

Throughout the Tudor period, small alterations would be made to elevate the grandeur of a look. For example, as shown in Figure 3, elliptical puffs would be created by pulling the cloth from the slashes that were made.[12] The portrait of King Henry VIII was done in the sixteenth century and yet, even a century later, King Charles II’s portrait, as shown in Figure 4, displays the similar puff structures on the arms. Although the puffs on Charles II appear to be looser, the similar pattern between the two portraits suggests that the Tudor sense of style was still incorporated well into the Stuart period.

Figure 4
Figure 4: King Charles II, from Thomas Hawker, National Portrait Gallery

Since 1666, Charles II greatly impacted the fashion of Britain with the development that is commonly known as the three-piece suit. Today, the three-piece suit still holds the same meaning as the one from the seventeenth century. The suit can still be seen as representing the “modern gentleman” to some degree, or as having a higher level of elegance than other pieces of clothing. The end of the seventeenth century could have witnessed the transformation of men’s fashion as reflected in the dress of the English king, but it certainly did not completely eliminate the colorful styles of the previous era. While Charles II may have fostered a new movement in fashion, he could not ignore his predecessors’ contributions to the existing trends that still existed during his reign.

-Sonya Koh


[1] Anna Reynolds, “Introduction,” in In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion (Royal Collection Trust, 2013), 7.

[2] David Kuchta, “Conspicuous Constructions,” in The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity: England, 1550-1850 (University of California Press), 4.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 2.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 2.

[8] “Charles II (1630-1685),” Royal Collection Trust.

[9] Doreen Yarwood, “Tudor Dress 1485-1603,” in Outline of English Costume (Batsford, 1977), 10.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] Anna Reynolds, “Dress and Its Meanings,” in In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion (Royal Collection Trust, 2013), 14.

[12] Ibid., 85.

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