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Clothing Of The Thirteenth Century

( Originally Published 1928 )


THE most sumptuous materials were being manufactured : silks, velvets, gold and silver tissue. Their use quickly spread among the wealthy on the Continent.

The gowns of the women were elaborate, with long trains and sleeves that swept the ground. Wide-spreading, silk-lined mantles of velvet or brocade were covered with gold embroidery. Diaphanous veils floated over the hair, or cauls (small caps of gold and pearls) fitted on the crown of the head.


Silk and damask were being manufactured.

Dresses were as rich as those worn by the Italians and cut on flowing lines. The chin band was used in conjunction with silken veils or wimples laid over the head.

The Gorget.—A new fashion was universally adopted by women. The hair, parted in the middle and allowed to show on top, was wound over each ear into a knob. By means of fancy pins a piece of broad linen was attached to one of these, then laid around the neck and pinned to the other, enswathing the throat as with a bandage. Over one ear a rose was coyly cocked.

By the end of the century, the Frenchwoman wore her gown over a snugly laced, long-sleeved inner one, the neck of which was cut very high in choker effect.

Frenchmen wore double tunics, the under one trailing on the ground ; capacious mantles ; and, if the rank permitted, crowns placed on bobbed hair.

The Knight Templars.—The crusaders now carried much shorter shields though still triangular in form; the coat of mail, shortened to knee length, was worn under a surcoat; the helmet took on an entire new change in shape, becoming cylindrical with a round flat top and a perforated plate, screwed on or hinged, covering the face. This last section was called the avant taille. Most of the surcoats were closed from the armpits to the hips, the rest of their length hanging open to insure freedom to the legs. The cross was emblazoned on the chest and back.

Silk was manufactured at Bruges.



Tunics reached to the knee. A surcoat had large arm-holes, cut in a long V-point front and back on the neck line. All edges were finished with fur. Leather belts had long tongues. The hair was worn in a full bob.


The wimple and forehead band were superseded by loose hair on which was placed the Spanish turban, the chin band passing over the top.

Long cloaks were secured by a cord with knotted ends running through an ornament placed each side of the front. The very full dress was made with long, wrinkled sleeves. The kirtle gown appeared at the end of the century.

THE ENGLISH: JOHN, 1199-1216


A helmet like the cylindrical one of the French was adopted. Leather armor was covered with iron rings fastened on in overlapping rows like the Roman lorica. Surcoats were placed over armor but with as yet no coats of arms emblazoned on them. Shields were triangular. The glaive, a scythelike weapon, was carried by common soldiers. The acketon, a quilted jacket of Asiatic origin, was worn under armor, buckram, a cloth stiffened with gum, being used to strengthen it.

The fashionable surcoat was placed over the extremely long tunic with the tongue of the belt hanging to below the knees in front.

The capa was a large hooded mantle of wool ; its capuchon (hood) drawn over the hatted head when traveling. A wide cloak called the balandrana served as an outer wrap.

Rather tall crowned hats had brims turned up at the back and running forward to a point, a long quilled feather standing at the side. We are familiar with them in plays dealing with Robin Hood, who, with Little John, was a celebrated outlaw of the time. Felt, made from fibers of fur mixed with wool, was used for hats during the Middle Ages. Peasants always had hats and caps of felt.

The men were clean shaven, their hair curled and some-times bound by a fillet on the brow.

Materials.—Fur was used as trimming by all classes; ermine, vair (minniver) and gris (marten) for the wealthy, sheep and lambskin for the poor. Lettice, a fur resembling ermine, appeared in this century.

Embroidered clothes were in fashion, a design consisting of overlapping circles being prime favorite; this also appeared in gold on shoes.

Of the new materials, burnet was a brown cloth; bysine, a fine material used in mantles (disputed whether of cotton or flax) ; ray, a striped cloth from Flanders; damask, a rich stuff originally from Damascus, manufactured in Sicily in the twelfth century and shortly afterward imported by England (a coarse variety called "dornix" was used for table linen).

The poorer classes had burel, a coarse brown cloth; birrhus, a coarse thick woolen cloth (an ancient hooded garment made of red wool was called a "birrhus") ; bas-sell, sheepskin tanned. and prepared as leather, and brocella, another rough cloth. Strutt mentions the sarciatus, a garment of woolen cloth of inferior quality worn by the poor.

Startups were high "shooes" worn by rustics, called also bagging-shoes and peros (evidently a style existing since the Roman invasion). An old poem describes peasants' shoes or buskins as laced up in front, with soles full of wooden pegs.

HENRY Ill, 1216-1272

Materials.—The returning crusaders brought back many oriental fabrics.

Baudekin, called also ciclatoun, checklatoun, siglatoun and tissue, a sumptuous silk interwoven with gold thread, was believed to have originated in Babylon or Persia. It was of all colors and presented an embroidered appearance. Later it was called "brocat." Sarcinet was a thin silk.

Samite, a rich silk interwoven with gold, was brought to England during the reign of Richard, Coeur de Lion; when very lustrous it was called satin. Tinsel or tinsen were varieties of it. During the Middle Ages satin was usually colored red. Gazzatum was gauze. Gowns and mantles of silk were imported from Italy. Fur was lavishly used as lining, also for cloaks, borders and hats. A poem of the time alludes to "damask, velvet, purple pall, ermine and diaper." (This last is a much disputed term, some holding that it means embroidery on a rich ground such as cloth of gold; others, an all-over diamond design. Certainly the _expression "diapered" so often encountered in old inventories and the like, would point to a recurrent pattern as the correct meaning.)

With all these magnificent materials placed at the disposal of the rich, no wonder men and women, perhaps with an eager desire to be clothed in all of them at once, went weighted down with yards and yards of material suspended from their shoulders. The age was therefore known as that of draperies.

The first armorial emblazoning on a surcoat is recorded in 1266; the heraldic age, however, was not well established until a hundred years later.

Footgear.—The points extended two inches beyond the toes and were whimsical as to direction, sometimes running straight in advance of the big toe, occasionally thrusting forward from the middle toe, but most frequently curling outward with a wriggly, serpentine suggestion. The boots were richly ornamented with gold stripes, also bands of leather, cloth and rich materials. A V-shaped opening each side of ankle shoes facilitated dressing by dispensing with fastening.

EDWARD I, 1272-1307


The hair was worn long and bushy.


The Kirtle.—A garment closely fitting the figure was often laced, with long tight sleeves buttoned from elbow to wrist. Over it was a loose gown of another color, trained, with hanging sleeves often of considerable length, lined to match the kirtle ; the latter was allowed to show in front by placing a girdle low on the hips and pulling the overgown up through it. This gown was in universal use for a long while and is invaluable in its effectiveness for stage wear. The gorget accompanied it. (See the French, thirteenth century, page 100, for description.)

The Spanish Turban.—The chin band and wimple (dyed saffron) remained in fashion for older women, with an endless variety of caps, one being the Spanish turban. In this the forehead band became wide and stiff, with one end of the gorget drawn up under it and allowed to fall over the ear.

William Wallace, who lived in Scotland during this period, should be costumed in late thirteenth-century fashion.

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