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Costumes Of The Midle Ages - 10th-14th Centuries

( Originally Published 1926 )



"Again what meaning lies in Color! From the soberest drab to the high-flaming scarlet spiritual idiosyncrasies unfold themselves in choice of Color; if the Cut betokens Intellect and Talent, so does the Color betoken Temper and Heart.""Savor Resartus."

A complete change in thought, action, and even costume was brought about in the early period of the Middle Ages. The Church was all-powerful, and the same spirit which in-spired the building of the Gothic cathedrals and the Crusades had its influence on the design of costumes. With the return of the men from the Holy Land, Oriental customs and materials were introduced into Europe, and commerce with the East led to much intercourse between the peoples of the Orient and the peoples of Europe. Materials became more beautiful in design and pattern, the art of pattern-weaving having been introduced by the Crusaders. Rich velvets, brocades, and cloth interwoven with gold, made for very elaborate costumes, and embroidered heraldic design added to the picturesque effect.

More individuality was shown, and caprice on the part of the women developed various eccentricities. Each province in France had its own style, and although they followed one general idea or principle, they added their own details. Homes became more comfortable on account of the luxuries brought back from the East, and even the lower classes felt the change. A new class of artisans and working women was developing.

Many of the industries that had formerly been carried on exclusively in the home were now being carried on by this class. They were making large sums of money, and they vied with the nobility in the matter of dress and better housing. They were "drapers or weavers, dress cutters and makers—ribbon-makers," jewellers, goldsmiths, furriers, and hair-dressers.

Genevieve, a feather-seller, decorated a chapel with the fortune she made.

Embroidery was in much demand, and many women in Paris made a good living at that trade. They were especially noted for their embroidered purses and elegantly worked borders. The writers of the day and the sumptuary laws give an idea of the dress and manners of that time, and show that the prevailing tendency was for great extravagance.

Women's Dress.—Dress was artistic; the lines did not distort the figure but followed its outline. The "bliaud," a gown worn by the women, had a waist that was snug-fitting and was laced at the back. The skirt fastened on at the hip-line, was long and full, and often had a pointed train called "a queue de serpent." The outer skirt was sometimes draped up in front over an elaborate petticoat; two embroidered or jewelled girdles at the waist and the hip held the fulness in place, the one at the hip terminating in ends which fell to the hem of the skirt. Sleeves were tight and reached to the wrist, and the neck, which was cut round or pointed, was ornamented with embroidery or jewels.

The outer garment worn with this costume was called a "pelisse"; it clasped in front and hung loosely to the knees. The oversleeves were flowing from the elbow, finishing in a long point; this style changed later to one which opened at the elbow and allowed the arm to come through and then fell to the bottom of the skirt. These finally became so exaggerated in length that they had to be tied in a knot to keep them from dragging on the ground. The "garde-corps," a long dress used for travelling, was open for a short distance from the hem in front, 'and had long, wide sleeves; these were not always used as sleeves, but sometimes hung at the side as a sort of decoration.

Long staffs or canes of apple-wood were carried and were often used as weapons of defense or offense. Challamel tells of one Constance, the second wife of King Robert, knocking out the eye of her father confessor with one of them. The bunch of keys, the aumoniere, or bag, and the hand-kerchief hung at the waist. The latter was generally made of some valuable material. The bag was used to carry coin, jewelry, and, when travelling, medicine and a writing-tablet, and was beautifully embroidered by the owner herself, or by a friend.

Head-dress.—Long plaits or braids remained in 'fashion until 1170. These were incased in a silk bag which came about half-way up from the bottom of the braid and had tassels on the end, or they were entwined with ribbons or twists of thin material and jewels. The veil, still a distinguishing feature, covered the neck and shoulders and was often embroidered. A band of jewels or wreath of roses held it in place. Queens and princesses bound their veils,, which fell to the feet, with a crown of gold. The length denoted the rank of the wearer, the plebeians' reaching to the waist only.

Shoes.—The sandals and shoes still had sharp points and the shoes laced at the side of the foot instead of on the in-step. The custom of throwing a shoe after the bride and groom for luck originated about this time; the groom turned at the church door after the ceremony and threw a shoe to the maids of honor who stood in a line; the one who caught the shoe was supposed to be the first married.'

Thirteenth Century.—The mode known as "parti-color" was an entirely new element at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Half of the bodices were made of one color and the other side of a contrast. These colors were reversed in the skirt and the tights or trunks of the men. Striped materials and plain colors were often arranged in this manner, and extremely good effects in proportion and color value and artistic effect were obtained.

Women's Dress.—The distinguishing feature of women's dress in the thirteenth century was the close-fitting jacket or waist, which ultimately became the stomacher. This jacket was entirely of fur, or of a heavy material trimmed with bands of ermine. It was of a simple form and opened at the sides to the hips, allowing the sleeves of an under-bodice to come through. The hem was straight or rounded at the front points, the neck low and either round or slightly pointed. In the later centuries it became a complete jacket heavily embroidered with gems. The front, which formerly was a part of the under-dress, be-came a part of the jacket, and the curved band of decoration at the hips developed from the girdle which showed at the sides. Skirts were long and full and often parti-colored. Over this costume was worn the long mantle, generally fur lined and trimmed with bands of embroidery incrusted with gold and precious stones. A jewelled clasp or "afiche" held it in place at the chest.

Head-dresses.—The style of hair-dressing had undergone a complete change; the hair was wound about the head and confined at the back in a net; it was parted in front, coming down close to the face. The "clacque oreille," a low-crowned hat, was held in place by a band of lawn under the chin. Later this band developed into the chin-cloth or wimple, a style which lasted until the fourteenth century. This was a rather complicated arrangement; a piece of linen was fastened around the head under the chin and pinned securely at the top; a second band was bound around the forehead and a veil draped over it all.

Men's Dress.—Until the twelfth century men wore tunics which were open in the neck to form a point and were slit at the sides to the hips; some were very full and the extra width was gathered to either side. If the skirt alone had fulness it reached to the knee, and was often tucked into a belt and showed a rich underskirt. A girdle similar to that of the women held the tunic in place. The dagger and pouch were carried in this. The sleeves were either short or long and cuffless, with a bell-shaped one hanging over.

Tights made of wool or silk had taken the place of loose trousers by the fourteenth century; they were made of strips of different colored materials sewn together to form parti-color; knitted stockings and tights were not known until later. Much originality was shown in the way the color was arranged. One leg might be made up of stripes of black and red, black and yellow, or a variation of one color, while the other leg was of a plain contrasting color "or a zigzag on the thigh or calf or both." In one of the plays of the seventeenth century a character says: "Indeed, there's reason there should be some difference in my legs, for one cost me twenty pounds more than the other." 1

Capes with hoods and a chasuble-like garment similar to that worn in the tenth century were still used. By the twelfth century the loose tunic had been discarded and a tight-fitting waist or jacket, called "justacorps," had taken its place. The closely cut body was buttoned to the throat or had a high collar. A white linen shirt closed with gold buttons or studs of gold showed at the neck. The gay-colored tights came up over the justacorps and were' often laced to it at a high waistline. Garters were still worn, but were for ornament only. They were of gold with crossed ends finished with tassels. The spurs were attached to the boots with red straps, and the backs of the gloves were jewelled.

Head-dress for Men.—Two important features in these centuries were the fashion in men's hair-dressing and the type of hats. The hair was long and cut square at the back, but it evidently was considered a mark of effeminacy, or too luxurious, as William, Archbishop of Rouen, in 1096 issued an edict that men wearing long hair should be excluded from church during life, and that after death prayers should not be offered for their souls.

The loose hoods of the former century had developed into close ones which tied under the chin and fitted tight around the face, after the manner of the chin-cloth of the women. They varied. much in shape and gradually developed into a long point which reached to the ground or was bound about the forehead. This was called the "laripipe" and was one of the typical features of that time. This hood was attached to a short cape or cloak, and both hood and cloak showed a serrated edge.

Hats of straw with round crowns and turned-down brims were also worn, and in the eleventh century these were covered with colored materials and had a spike or button on the top. Quite a few variations of the pointed cap may be found; one with a turned-up brim and a loose crown seems to have been popular. This crown began to lengthen and fall over at the side in the eleventh century. Another type had a close-fitting helmet shape, with a point falling at the side of the crown. In the thirteenth century we find a higher-crowned hat, with a wide brim which turned up in the back and terminated in a long peak in the front and was ornamented with a feather.

Gothic architecture seems to have had quite an influence on dress. Many of the typical decorations of the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries are in the form of points, developing in exaggeration as the Gothic becomes more flamboyant.

For nearly four centuries the fashion of long, pointed shoes, called poulaines, held sway, the points increasing in length to such an extent that they had to be fastened to the knee with chains of gold, or silver ribbons attached to a metal or jewelled garter. The length of these points was regulated by law. Those of princes might be two feet long, but those of the lower classes were to be only six inches. The poulaines were made of soft leather, silk, or cloth of gold, and had soles of thick leather, cork, or sometimes wood. They were often ornamented with jewels. When the tomb of Henry IV of Sicily was opened he was found wearing a pair of shoes of cloth of gold embroidered with pearls, with the cork soles also covered with cloth of gold. The shoes and hose or tights were of different colors; we often find a case where the right shoe is one color, black, for instance, with a blue stocking, while the left is white with a black stocking.

Jewelry.—Jewelry was confined principally to the plaques or afiches used to fasten the mantles; nets for the hair, large long earrings, chains of gems, and girdles. The designs were of gold network incrusted with pearls and other precious stones. Fillets of gold were used to hold the veil in place. Men and women wore approximately the same kind of jewelry, that of the men probably being made a trifle heavier.

Sumptuary Laws.—The ruling powers and the Church made many efforts to do away with the extravagance of the time; sumptuary laws were passed and sermons preached, with but little avail. Sumptuary laws, however, give a fairly good idea of the dress of the period. They seem to have been made principally to regulate the dress of the middle class, or bourgeois. Philippe le Bel prohibited the wearing of minever, gray fur, or ermine, and all bourgeois owning such furs must get them out of their possession within a year from the next Easter. "Dukes, counts, and barons with six thousand Iivres a year or more may have four pairs of gowns a year and no more, and their wives may have as many." The cost of a gown owned by the wife of a baron, "howsoever great," was limited to twenty-five sous a yard; those of the wife of a knight-banneret or lord of the manor, to eighteen sous; and the gowns of bourgeoise to sixteen sous, nine deniers.'

England was not behind France in passing these laws limiting the amount spent for furs and other apparel. In 1363 there was an act passed by Parliament prohibiting "furs of ermine or lettice, and embellishments of pearls, excepting for head-dress, to any but the Royal family, and nobles possessing upward of one thousand pounds per annum." "Cloths of gold and silver, and habits embroidered with jewels and lined with pure minever and other expensive furs, were permitted only to knights and ladies whose income exceeded four hundred marks yearly."

These laws also prohibited expenditure by persons of lower incomes and lower estates, and the penalties imposed were the forfeiting of the garments or ornaments in the possession of the guilty person. It is possible that they were intended to keep the people from being extravagant, but it is more than likely that they had as an object the distinction of classes, most of the prohibitions being aimed in that direction. There seems to have been very little distinction in dress, if the remark of the queen of Philippe le Bel is true. At the time of her triumphal entry into Bruges in 1301 she is reported as saying: "I thought I was the queen, but I see there are hundreds."



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