The Writer’s Guide to 1500-1550 Men’s Fashion

As I mentioned in my article on early 16th century women’s clothing, fashion of the first half of the period was dominated by male trend-setters including Henry VIII, Francis I and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Almost everyone can picture the famous portrait of Henry VIII wearing a slashed and embroidered doublet and a fur-lined overgown. Today we will be diving into this fashions in greater depth.

Once the world goes back to normal, I highly recommend visiting your local Renaissance faire and asking the participants about their clothing. Most have done an incredible amount of research and many make their garb themselves.

The famous portrait of Henry VIII wearing an ornate doublet and jerkin topped by a fur-trimmed overgown. Hans Holbien the Younger, 1537. Photo source.


A linen shirt with full sleeves was the base layer worn by all social classes, the quality of the fabric determined by what the wearer could afford. The full body of the shirt was often gathered into the neck with upper classes having ruffles or box pleats at neck and wrist. Occasionally, the shirts would be embroidered. The main job of the shirt was act as a barrier between the body with its sweat, oils, and dirt and the outer clothing.

The braies worn in earlier periods disappeared. Instead, men would tuck the ends of their shirts around their crotch. Underwear (briefs, drawers, smallclothes, etc.) would not reappear until the 19th century.


Over the shirt was worn a doublet and over that was worn a jerkin, which was cut low to show off the doublet. Hose was worn on the legs and could be two separate pieces usually held up with garters or joined at the crotch. Over the hose was sometimes worn breeches, fitted pants that ended just below the knee. An overgown could be worn on top of the jerkin for extra warmth. Originally ankle-length, this garment gradually shorted to knee-length. Shoes were normally low and flat although boots were worn for riding and hunting.

Starting in the 1530’s, the fashionable silhouette began to narrow under the Spanish influence, doing away with the shoulder padding and adopting higher tighter collars, jerkins that buttoned to the neck with shorter skirts, and fuller doublet sleeves. [1]

Lower-class men were still wearing the cotehardie or cotte of the previous century. If they could afford to follow the fashions, they would wear a doublet made of cheaper fabric with fewer embellishments. They would also have a bagger simpler version of breeches and hose or long pants known as trews.

In bad weather, a cloak would be worn over everything.

A painting of haymakers from 1510. The men are wearing sleeveless jerkins over shirts and hose. Photo source.
German shoes from 1505. Photo source.
Boots from the same 1505 painting. Photo source.


The codpiece is a historical fashion oddity and one that leads to stares if seen in portraits or at the local Renaissance faire. Starting off as a convenient crotch flap, it evolved into a padded phallic fashion statement. Basically, think of it as the men’s equivalent of the padded bra.

National Dress

There were variations in men’s fashions from country to country that mirrored those in women’s clothing. The Spanish style was somber and mostly black. The German style was colorful, flamboyant, and usually had a lot of slashing, a trend that was inspired by the mended clothing of soldiers after the 1477 Swiss victory over the Duke of Burgundy. [2]

A painting showing the extremes of German fashion. Photo source.

Headwear and Hair

Hair was usually kept short and men were either clean-shaven or had trimmed facial hair.

Several styles of hats were popular through the first half of the century including the German barett and its variations. Later the flat hat or cap came into style.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Kybalová, et al.: Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion
 [2] Wilcox, R. Turner (1958). The Mode in Costume. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 77.'s_fashion 

3 Comments on “The Writer’s Guide to 1500-1550 Men’s Fashion”

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