The Lower Sleeves: Exploring the Evidence

The Lower Sleeves: Discussion and Evidence

This look, a pleated sleeve in shiny silk or another fabric, is ubiquitous in Tudor iconography from the 1520s to the mid 1530s or so. The sleeves are simple, expect for the pleating, fairly narrow, and tied or hooked in several places at the bottom. There is nothing fancy at the wrist, but a ruffled cuff often shows. The smock, or a filler of linen, is pulled out through the holes between the hooks at the bottom of the sleeves.

I don't think, at least in the Holbein portrait (or any really) that the smock is actually pulled through the bottoms of the sleeves. I don't believe this because the upper sleeve of the gown is so tight a full sleeved smock would be uncomfortable and probably show through as wrinkles on the surface of the gown. There are no such wrinkles. Mary Wooton's portrait gives another clue (as do several other portraits). The smock neckline, visible just above the kirtle and gown necklines and decorated with a simple whitework design, shows that the smock material is very sheer. The stem of the rosemary sprig in her bodice lacing is seen through the smock. The linen pulled through the bottom of the sleeves, and making up the cuffs, is not sheer.

Sleeve pleats. Are they full? It's hard to tell from the portrait. In some places they don't look like they are full pleats, but more like 1/2 pleats (see elbow area for example). That would reduce a bit of bulk, not that it seems a problem, in this, the conceptual stage.

Close-up of the sleeves from Mary Wotton's portrait.


Malcolm-Davies, Jane, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila
2008 ''And her black satin gown must be new-bodied’: The Twenty-First-Century Body in Pursuit of the Holbein Look' Costume 42:21-29

Mikhaila, Ninya and Jane Malcolm-Davies
2006 The Tudor Tailor BT Batsford London

Sketches and Portraits

If you click on them, you'll be taken to a much larger version, in most cases.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Image from the British Museum Collection