Clothing for Women of Royalty in the Middle Ages

Written by laurie anderson
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Clothing for Women of Royalty in the Middle Ages
Women of royalty wore purple to represent their high status in society. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Throughout the Middle Ages, between approximately 1000 and 1500, clothing style represented status in society. The peasants could easily be distinguished from the wealthy based on the colour and style of what they were wearing. This was particularly true for women of royalty, who dressed elaborately so as to denote their place in the kingdom.

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Royal women in the Middle Ages wore long, trailing gowns that were covered by robes known as surcoats. These gowns and robes often contained intricate embroidery around the neckline and long, flowing sleeves, with tight lacing down the front of the gown. Many women of royalty also wore long cloaks lined with ermine. Since wealthy royals were usually the only members of society who could afford tailors, their clothes were well fitting and tight. Corsets worn underneath the gowns became especially popular among royal women in the late Middle Ages.

Dyes and Fabrics

A woman of royalty could easily be distinguished by the material and colour of her clothing. Colourful dyes were scarce and expensive, which made brightly coloured clothing a symbol of great wealth and royalty. The colour purple was reserved exclusively for royals. Vibrant reds, greens and blues were also typically seen on the gowns of royal women. The gowns were made of imported silk, velvet and taffeta, and would sometimes contain lace trimming. Any clothing trimmed with fur, especially ermine, was considered to be a staple of royalty or nobility.

Headwear and Accessories

During the early Middle Ages, royal women often wore taffeta veils that flowed down over their hair. Married women were expected to keep their hair covered, and royalty was no exception. Queens and princesses naturally wore gold jewel-studded crowns and tiaras attached to their veils. Some royal women would wear large cone-shaped hats with a veil protruding from the top, although this trend gradually gave way to a wire circle covered in brightly coloured or embroidered cloth, with a veil underneath. Wearing belts and necklaces embossed with gold or precious stones was also considered a sign of wealth and royalty among women.

Footwear and Legwear

Royal women were expected to wear silk or taffeta hose underneath their dress, but whether any women in the Middle Ages wore undergarments remains something of a mystery. Royal women's shoes were handmade from leather, and some of their footwear resembles the flats that women often wear today. These shoes were sometimes decorated with pearls or other precious stones. When royal women ventured outdoors, they would wear wooden coverings over their shoes to keep from soiling them in mud.

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