Learn More About Medieval Clothing

As in just about any other period of history, clothing in the Middle Ages was worn for necessity, comfort, and display. Bright colours and rich decorations made for a striking medieval wardrobe, although there was a surprising similarity in clothes for different social classes. More expensive items of clothing were generally distinguished not by their design but by their use of superior materials and the cut. Governments sometimes intervened in who should wear what and how much certain items were taxed while some members of the clergy, in particular, were frequently berated for looking rather too flashy and being indistinguishable from knights. Trends came and went, as today, with laces sometimes in vogue, pointed shoes became the done thing, and tunics were made ever shorter towards the end of the period when showing a little more leg was considered the height of fashion (and that was just the men).

Materials & Colours

Clothes were generally the same for all classes but with the important difference of extra decoration, more and finer materials used, and an improved cut. Additions of metal, jewels, and fur, or intricate embroidery also distinguished the wardrobe. Outer clothes were not so different either except that those for men were shorter and the sleeves roomier. As all clothes were tailor-made, a good fit was guaranteed.

Clothing was usually made from wool, although silk and brocade items might be saved for special occasions. Outer clothing made from goat or even camel hair kept the rich warm in winter. Fur was an obvious way to improve insulation and provide decorative trimmings, the most common were rabbit, lambskin, beaver, fox, otter, squirrel, ermine, and sable (the latter three became a standard background design in medieval heraldry such was their common use). More decoration was achieved by adding tassels, fringes, feathers, and embroidered designs, while more expensive additions included precious metal stitching and buttons, pearls, and cabochons of glass or semi-precious stones. The taste for colours was the brighter the better, with crimson, blue, yellow, green and purple being the most popular choices in all types of clothes.

Underclothes

The tunic might go down to the knee or even the ankles in the case of more formal wear for the nobility. The longer versions were usually split up to the waist at the front and back. Most tunics were made in one colour, although they might have a different coloured lining. Decorative embroidery was most often added at the neck, cuffs and hem, less often on the upper arms or all over the garment. A 14th century CE fashion was the jupon or pourpoint, a tight tunic or jacket with padding. The jupon was fastened by buttons or laces all down the front and there were sometimes buttons running from the elbow to the wrist; sleeves sometimes reached down to the knuckles on these garments.

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