What Did People Wear in Medieval Times?

Written by joshua curtiss
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Medieval times, also known as the Middle Ages, is generally considered to begin at the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. and stretch until the beginning of the 16th century. What people wore during that time period differed depending upon climate and social status. In many regions, laws prohibited lower classes from wearing certain colours and styles. Most garments were made from wool. Some garments for the wealthy used silk.

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Early Middle Ages

Little record remains regarding the fashion of the Middle Ages before 1100 A.D. Graves from the early medieval period allowed oxidation, and clothing disintegrated. Art from the time depicted almost exclusively religious themes, yielding little knowledge of common fashion. What evidence does remain suggests that men and women wore tunics, long rectangular pieces of wool with a circle cut in the middle for the head, falling down to the ankles. Two tunics might be worn in colder climates, one on top of the other. The following items were worn in the high and late Middle Ages.

Men

Over the course of medieval times, tunics shortened for men until they were the length of shirts. By that time, breeches covered most of the legs with hose worn underneath. The breeches grew increasingly short until they reached only halfway down to the knees. Hose worn on the legs was tight. This was possible because tailoring grew during the period as a professional trade, taking clothes-making out of the house and out of the women's domain; most tailors were men. Overgarments worn by men include cotes and cotehardies, two sorts of capes mostly worn by wealthier men; and ganaches, a heavy poncho-like item used for warmth and worn by men of all classes.

Women

Women's tunics transformed over the period into more and more elaborate dresses. The bliaut clung tightly to the torso, opened up grandly between the elbow and wrist, and included a thick skirt of heavy folds to the ankles. The houppelande was a similar dress with a tight bodice, expansive sleeves and usually worn with a belt. Both of these garments were worn by women of all classes. Women also wore wimples on their head to shield from the cold or for style. Wimples are a head-and-neck covering resembling a scarf with a hood.

Knights

Medieval knights began wearing surcotes over their armour to protect them from the sun during the Crusades. The smock-like garments later developed into the more stylish tabards, a sleeveless waist-length wool shirt. Over the medieval period, tabards adopted decorative trim and coats of arms. Later, they also wore pourpoints, a tight-fitting wool stretching just below the waist and styled for show after victory in competition.

Jewellery

Jewellery was only worn by the wealthier classes. Gems were rough because techniques were not yet invented to fashion stones. In the final years of medieval times, laws forbid certain people from wearing jewellery. Knights were forbidden to wear jewellery in most locales. The most popular jewellery item was the ring brooch.

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