Clothing was often an expression of status and wealth. Additionally, it provided insight into gender roles and social hierarchies.
Lower class peasants often adorned their clothing in vibrant hues made possible through dyes made from plants, roots, lichen, tree bark and crushed insects and molluscs.
Men’s medieval fashion remained relatively consistent over the century; women’s attire underwent more dramatic change.
Cloaks and Great Coats
Since the 1200s, when trade was flourishing, rich people had access to an array of fabrics from Asia, fine linens and wools, velvet along with scarlet, fustian and taffeta velvet were popular choices among wealthy households; fur also became available for linings and trims in these households using fox, squirrel and ermine as trimmings and linings for upper classes households.
Men continued to wear cloaks which were typically fur-lined and worn a few inches above their shoulders; draped around their neck in mantle fashion or fastened on with brooch pins; sometimes decorated with orphrey (a decorative trim used on collar edges); for formal occasions a full, hooded medieval cloak could be fastened at either waist or left shoulder depending on its purpose.
Rich and noble families continued to distinguish themselves from common people by donning colourful hooded cloaks and capelets with bright hues; commoners had to continue wearing low quality russet cloth clothes. A new type of cloak called the palisse was introduced which was short yet coat-like, hanging below knee length, fastened on one shoulder and fastened right up top.
This cloak featured a hood made of velvet or silk trimmed with gold, silver or fur trim and often decorated with mottoes or jewelled bands. Worn over a mantle it was often decorated with mottoes or jeweled bands to signify its significance – worn only when present before superiors and then put away at first sign of rain or cold weather. Because these expensive garments were hard-earned by gentlemen only one could possibly own both; their servants would usually take care of cleaning it by immersing it into tubs of soapy water before scrubbed it off with wooden paddles to leave pristine quality fabric.
By the late Middle Ages, looms had grown larger and fabrics had become more vibrant. Thanks to trade between Europe and eastern countries, silk and muslin fabrics had entered Europe from these sources, providing women with new dress forms such as wide sleeves reaching up to the elbow, lower and longer necklines and fuller dresses that draped gracefully across them all.
Early Medieval women typically wore garments reminiscent of Greek peplos that was pinned at their shoulders, over which was worn a tunic of woven wool fastened with a brooch (fibula or cinture on continental Europe and penannular in England) fastened with pins or fastened with clasps (on continental Europe fibula/cinture and penannular). A fitted bliaut was often decorated with bands or metal applique trimmed by braiding bands or metal applique, over which might be worn a cap/mantle for outdoor wear cloak.
As time passed, women’s garments became more often decorated with intricate embroidered designs and fur trims, helping distinguish among classes as well as mark events or status changes. Nobility and church officials could afford such finery while the poor typically used cotton or wool that was handwoven and dyed locally in villages and towns.
This gown embodies the new styles emerging during the late Middle Ages. Crafted of heavy material patterned with gold, its trumpet-shaped sleeves feature wide ends. Also adorned with an ornamented belt trimmed with fur; and fastened at its back for ease of movement while showing off its beautiful brocaded fabric, it showcases modernity beautifully.
Hats were an integral component of medieval dress for both men and women alike, particularly since church rules encouraged modesty and full coverage clothing. Two commonly seen forms were coifs (light caps held close to the head with strings under the chin) and wimples (full face covering except eyes), although simpler wool felt options also existed.
Hats were often an integral part of showing one’s status and wealth. Nobles would often decorate their hats with various types of furs such as squirrel, rabbit, fox, sheepskin fleece or cat fur to showcase their wealth and these pieces were often decorated with jewels or embroidery as an additional mark of distinction.
The Escoffion was a large wool or silk hat typically shaped like horns or crosses and worn by women of high rank as an indicator of social status and their wealth. Crafted by artisans over many hours of laborious creation, its wear was frequently seen at church services as an emblematic sign that symbolized status and power.
This page displays illustrations from Dion Clayton Calthrop’s book English Costume Illustrated and Described 1327-1485, published between 1327-1485. Additionally, other pages in this website cover specific eras of medieval fashion.
Burgundian landsknechts would often wear brightly-colored attire into battle, such as this red and black velvet front-opening gown lined with ermine. Here, she wears an embroidered hat featuring a small portion that covers her brow as well as an ermine neck cloth filling in low front of gown, neck cloth filling in low front of gown, separate black partlet.
In medieval Europe, shoes were an emblematic sign of status and wealth. Wearing them indicated one’s ability to afford leisure, luxury and freedom from physical labor. For the elites, the most telling aspect was often its tip size; longer pointed toes signaled more status and wealth displayed; this trend peaked during the 14th and 15th centuries when shoe makers took this practice even further than practicality could allow.
During this period, shoes became increasingly pointed in their toe and featured ornate decorations like embroideries or gold-embellished leather. Shoes would often contain stuffing like moss, horsehair or wool to keep the footing secure against becoming loose and floppy. People would wear pattens – wooden platforms designed to sit beneath one’s feet – in order to elevate them from medieval streets filled with dirt and wastewater.
As with other fashion fads, medieval people began associating certain shoes with alternative or deviant sexual practices. Orderic Vitalis — an English Benedictine monk highly esteemed by historians — wrote in the 12th century that those wearing poulaines encouraged “sodomitic filth”.
At first glance, medieval-inspired shoes might seem impractical and health risky; a study conducted by University of Cambridge archaeologists discovered that people wearing exaggeratedly pointed toe shoes were far more likely to develop bunions than people who opted for more pragmatic footwear. Yet despite these hazards, medieval style continued in modern society through designs like Tudor Boot and Winklepicker boots, with our 14th Century Half Boot offering comfortable fold up or down wearability – ideal when worn with kilts, long dresses or tunics for complete looks!
Gloves were an integral part of medieval wardrobe, used both to hold weapons or protect from birds’ sharp talons, providing protection and serving various purposes. Men and women both wore gloves for various reasons and used them for a range of functions.
Gloves first made their first appearance in written records dating back to ancient Greece, and their use remains prevalent today. Additionally, they can be found in many Middle Age manuscripts and art pieces.
Medieval period glove construction was far from uniform. Styles ranged widely and included cloth or fur combined with leather materials; later leather became more prevalent as an option than its predecessors; these gloves often featured decorative accents like embroidery or lace and even colors to match clothing worn by their owner.
Some gloves featured long cuffs which covered the arm in order to provide protection from weapons and objects such as ropes or chains; these were known as gauntlet gloves and were often seen on knights. Other shorter gloves resembled those worn by falconers to shield their fingers from their birds’ sharp talons.
Londoners may have recently discovered a 15th-century pair of mitten-style gloves from this period that show evidence of its strong maritime and mercantile culture, reflecting London’s role as a hub for trade with both Hanseatic cities as well as domestic river trade via smaller vessels and barges. This pair shows heavy wear with repair patches consistent with this mentality of reuse and repair of items used within its trade networks.