In the sixteenth century, the fashion silhouette changed from a vertical line that added height to a horizontal line that added breadth. The men of the Tudor era can look distinctly top heavy with their wide shoulders and stiff bulky sleeves in doublets that end a few inches above the knees. Good legs were necessary to bring off this look. It would look quite odd on a man with spindle shanks! Male sexual display was brought forward from the Medieval period in the form of the cod piece on display between the skirts of the doublet. Women too looked broad on top as their wide sleeves were topped by wide, square necklines. Skirts too were wider and stiffer than they had been previously.
Fashion found its main expression at court. It also filtered down to the more well-to-do. Workers’ and peasants’ followed the general silhouette but the garments were worn more for covering than as a fashion statement. It was also in the lower classes that aging was more of an issue, especially among the poorer members.
Men in the sixteenth-century tended to age more gracefully than women. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Their status, however, depended on their ability to work. Once they were no longer productive, they lost whatever status and respect they had. Poor women tended to look their age or even older by the time that they reached 50. Lack of life sustaining nutrition and repeated pregnancies took their toll on women’s bodies leaching calcium from bones and teeth. Such women were the inspiration for the toothless old crones in literature. Things weren’t much better for poor women who didn’t marry. Local governments did not allow them to set up their own households. They were required to live with others and unable to set up their own businesses. In some towns, unmarried poor women were required to go into service. It is not recorded if society dictated how they dressed, but it seems to have had tight reign on how they were able to live their lives.
During this time the sumptuary laws were still in effect. Status still restricted fashion rather than age. Age might have had some effect on fashion in England. The increasing width of men’s clothing was probably inspired by Henry VIII’s increasing bulk as he aged.
Botelho, Lynn and Thane, Pat, Women and Ageing in British Society since 1500. Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, Essex, 2001.
Laver, James. A Concise History of Costume. Thames and Hudson, London, 1977.