Wikipedia summarizes the general Western European fashion of the years between 1500-1550 as following:

“Fashion in the period 1500–1550 in Western Europe is marked by voluminous clothing worn in an abundance of layers (one reaction to the cooling temperatures of the Little Ice Age, especially in Northern Europe and the British Isles). Contrasting fabrics, slashes, embroidery, applied trims, and other forms of surface ornamentation became prominent. The tall, narrow lines of the late Medieval period were replaced with a wide silhouette, conical for women with breadth at the hips and broadly square for men with width at the shoulders. Sleeves were a center of attention, and were puffed, slashed, cuffed, and turned back to reveal contrasting linings.”

On women’s fashion Wikipedia writes:

“Women’s fashions of the earlier 16th century consisted of a long gown, usually with sleeves, worn over a kirtle or undergown, with a linen chemise or smock worn next to the skin. The high-waisted gown of the late medieval period evolved in several directions in different parts of Europe. In the German states and Bohemia, gowns remained short-waisted, tight-laced but without corsets. The open-fronted gown laced over the kirtle or a stomacher or plackard. Sleeves were puffed and slashed, or elaborately cuffed.

In France, England, and Flanders, the high waistline gradually descended to the natural waist in front (following Spanish fashion) and then to a V-shaped point. Cuffs grew larger and were elaborately trimmed. Hoop skirts or farthingales had appeared in Spain at the very end of the 15th century, and spread to England and France over the next few decades. Corsets (called a pair of bodies) also appeared during this period.

A variety of hats, caps, hoods, hair nets, and other headresses were worn, with strong regional variations. Shoes were flat, with broad square toes.”

The Money Changer and His Wife

Fig. 1 - Marinus van Reymerswaele (Dutch, 1490–1546). The Money Changer and His Wife, 1539. Oil on panel; 83 x 97 cm (32.7 x 38.2 in). Madrid: Prado Museum, P02567. Legacy of María de los Ángeles Medina y Garvey, Duchess of Tarifa, 1934. Source: Museo del Prado

The Melton Constable Portrait (formerly called "Lady Jane Grey", perhaps actually Katherine Parr)

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. The Melton Constable Portrait (formerly called "Lady Jane Grey", perhaps actually Katherine Parr), 1540s. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni de Medici

Fig. 3 - Agnolo di Cosimo. Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni de Medici, 1544-45. Oil on panel - tempura on wood; 115 x 96 cm. Florence: The Uffizi Gallery. Source: Pinterest

Bildnis der Erzherzogin Katharina von Österreich

Fig. 4 - Tiziano Vecellio. Bildnis der Erzherzogin Katharina von Österreich, 1548-49. Oil on canvas; 176 x 112 cm. Source: Pinterest


On men’s fashion Wikipedia writes:

“Early in this period, men’s silhouette was long and narrow, but gradually it grew wider until by the later reign of Henry the VIII the silhouette was almost square, with shoulder emphasis achieved through wide revers and collars and large sleeves.

Throughout this period, fashionable men’s clothing consisted of:

  • linen shirt or chemise, originally low-necked but with a higher neckline by mid-century. The neckline was gathered into a narrow band or adjusted by means of a drawstring; the tiny ruffle formed by pulling up the drawstring became wider over time, and then evolved into the ruff of the next period.
  • doublet with matching sleeves, often slashed or cut to allow the fabric of the shirt beneath to show through.
  • jerkin, usually cut low to the waist in front to reveal the doublet beneath, with full skirts to the knee.
  • Hose, now usually ending above the knee, with a prominent codpiece (both sometimes hidden under the skirts of the jerkin).
  • Separate nether-hose or stockings held up with garters.
  • A front-opening overgown, often fur-lined for warmth and slashed, with sleeves. The overgown was ankle length early in the period, but knee-length overgowns were fashionable in the 1530s and 1540s. Scholars, judges, doctors, and other professionals retained the ankle length gown throughout the period.

From the 1530s, a narrower silhouette became popular under Spanish influence. Collars were higher and tighter. Shoulders lost their padding and developed a slight slope. Doublet sleeves became fuller rather than tight. Jerkins closed to the neck; their skirts were shorter and slightly flared rather than full, and they displayed more of the hose. Overall the fashion was more rigid and restrained.

Lower class men wore a one-piece garment called a cotte in English, tight to the waist with knee-length skirts and long sleeves over their hose.

Bright colors (reds, yellows, purples, pinks, and greens) were popular.”

Count Sciarra Martinengo Cesaresco

Fig. 1 - Moretto Da Brescia. Count Sciarra Martinengo Cesaresco, 1518. Oil on canvas; 94 x 114 cm. London: National Gallery. Source: Art Painting Artist

Portrait of Charles V

Fig. 2 - Titian. Portrait of Charles V, 1548. Oil on canvas; 203.5 cm × 122 cm (80.1 in × 48 in). Munich: Alte Pinakothek. Source: Wikipedia

Sir Thomas Gresham

Fig. 3 - Artist unknown (Flemish). Sir Thomas Gresham, 1544. Oil on canvas. Private Collection. (The Mercers' Company. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of a Man in a Fur-Trimmed Coat

Fig. 4 - Italian (Lombard) Painter (ca. 1540). Portrait of a Man in a Fur-Trimmed Coat, 1540. Oil on canvas; 97.5 x 74.9 cm (38 3/8 x 29 1/2 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 91.26.2. Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1890. Source: The Met


On children’s fashion Wikipedia writes:

As shown in the images below, children’s clothing was mostly smaller versions of adult clothing, complete with low necklines and cumbersome underthings. Children of the nobility must have had limited freedom of movement to play and romp because of the restrictive clothing they wore. Toddler boys wore gowns until they were breeched.

King Edward VI

Fig. 1 - Artist unknown (Flemish). King Edward VI, ca. 1547. Oil on panel; (61 1/4 in x 32 in). London: National Portrait Gallery, NPG 5511. Source: National Portrait Gallery

Portrait of Bia de' Medici

Fig. 2 - Bronzino. Portrait of Bia de' Medici, 1536-1542. Oil on panel; 58 cm x 46.5 cm (22.8 in x 18.3 in). Florence: Uffizi Gallery, Inv. 770. Source: Wikipedia

Giovanni de' Medici as a Child

Fig. 3 - Bronzino. Giovanni de' Medici as a Child, 1545. Florence: Uffizi Gallery. Source: Wikipedia


Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1540-1549
  • France
  • England
  • Spain
    • House of Trastamara (1479-1555)
      • Queen Joanna (1516-1555) in Aragon/Castile
    • House of Habsburg (1516-1700)

Habsburg Map 1547. Source: Wikimedia

  • 1540 – The codpiece reaches its peak in terms of size and decoration. Designed to cover the gap between the two legs of men’s hose, it is padded and shaped to emphasize rather than disguise the genital area.
  • 1543 – Copernicus asserted the rotation of the planets around the sun.
  • 1547 – The Louvre Palace begun.
  • 1547-59 – Henry II persecuted Protestants

Primary/Period Sources

Resources for Fashion History Research

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Digitized Primary/Period Sources

Secondary Sources

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