By Cathy T
The after-Christmas clean-up has set in and with it came a whole host of jobs I really had no intention of doing just yet. One of them was setting my wardrobe to rights and it had me thinking that a blog on medieval clothing might be a good way to kick start the year. After all, nothing like cleaning out the old and bringing in the new (especially clothes – ask any woman!)
Since we’ve been raised in an era where any dress length on a woman is permissible, eg. ranging from a maxi to mini and every stage in between, it might surprise the younger generation to learn that hems only began to rise in the early 1900’s and even then, only slightly. They went from the ground to around the ankle then mid-calf to knee-length around the 1930’s and mini’s didn’t come in until the late 60’s. Since AD that’s nearly 2,000 years of women always wearing long dresses!
At the turn of the century 1,000 AD clothing styles altered only slightly from their predecessors, the long Saxon/Norman robes with wide, decorative borders around the neckline favoured for men and long gowns with either side openings or laced at the back for women, similarly decorated. Cloaks were added for extra warmth and by the late 1200’s, early 1300’s the men’s hood appeared with a liripipe (a long tail) and the styles began to show a little more flair. Fancy shaping (called dagging) appeared around the short caped hood and on sleeves.
The women had flowing gowns, sometimes more specifically referred to as kirtles or bliauts, and perhaps worn with a surcoat (surcotte) – an over-gown with the sides cut away from the shoulder to the hem. The sleeves of the dress were either very wide, almost reaching the floor, (maybe dagged) or tight against the arm, snug-fitting, with a row of buttons on the outside.
Almost everyone wore headwear, be it either a hood, hat or veil and by the 1400’s the women’s headdresses became larger, longer and pointier!
About this time fashion dictated a plucked hairline but then the Renaissance gave birth to more new trends, padded rolls, and eventually higher bust lines, the Tudor era of England preferring large, frilled collars.
The Tudor Era
Codpiece – see below
By the late 1700’s (the era of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette) fashion was not only about the clothes but ones ‘manner’ – how you spoke and acted in the company of ‘polite’ society (vulgarity at an all time high!) It was a complete style or way of life as seen by the outrageous makeup, high-piled wigs not to mention the vibrant colours and the satins and lace. I am, of course, referring to the era prior to the French Revolution which gave birth to ‘foppery’ or fops, where mimicking the manner of fools became all the rage.
After the French revolution, sobriety was re-installed into nations gone mad by overindulgences and it saw the emergence of ‘Dandyism.’ Hence, the terms used of ‘fops and dandies.’ For awhile they actually became rival groups of fashion! (See the movie ‘Beau Brummell,’ who introduced the modern-day ‘trousers’ to male attire, forever ridding society of the three-quarter satin pants trimmed with lace and ribbons.)
But I digress. The era with which we are most concerned is the middle to late 1300’s in the time of England’s King Edward III.
So, when our illustrious heroes and heroines jumped out of bed in the morning, what apparel did they don?
Our alpha males attire did not include a set of ‘crotched trousers’ but rather a pair of braies (linen underpants) over which a pair of woollen/silk leggings were pulled. These ‘legs’ were called chausses or hose, (later to be joined at the crotch and covered with a codpiece – see illustration above.) They were attached to the braies by sets of strings.
Sometimes these chausses could be gamboised – meaning quilted, for extra strength and durability.
The stockings were kept in place by the use of a garter.
Add a shirt … and a coathardie
or a doublet or tunic … and maybe a hood
And you have a basic outfit for a 14thC male. Of course there were options, a long robe instead of the shorter doublet or a padded or ‘court’ doublet or jupon as used with armour.
For the women, there seems to be no hard and fast evidence that they wore ‘knickers’ or a female equivalence to the braies during the 14th century. Such evidence is not present in illustrations and illuminations of the time so we must assume that in mid 1300’s the first garment donned in the morning by women was their chemise. There is evidence, however, that breast-binding was used as described in ‘The Romance of the Rose’ poem (discussed in a previous blog) whereupon it states –
And if her breasts are too full, let her take a kerchief or scarf and wrap it round her ribs to bind her bosom, and then fasten it with a stitch or knot; she will then be able to disport herself.
Similarly, it was probably used to support the breasts during breast-feeding and weaning (if you didn’t have a wetnurse for the task).
From ‘The Gilded Crown’ –
‘Gillet is not with me. I was on my way to meet him when we stopped in this village.’ The girl’s gaze had fallen again to Cécile’s breasts and feeling uncomfortable with the scrutiny, Cécile squeezed out the linen binding and wound it around herself.
‘Here, let me assist you.’ Adèle took up the wadding, her hand gently cupping Cécile’s breast to properly secure the end of the wrap. ‘You must miss him too. Even in summer, a bed is cold at night when one is alone.’
So, for our ladies of Lions and Lilies their ensemble would begin with a chemise, a long linen undergarment. (Best picture I could find comes from the ‘Medieval Fight Club’ website)
And over the chemise, they wore a gown and maybe a surcoat.
The last picture shows the headwear of veil and wimple (the cloth surrounding the chin)
From ‘The Lily and the Lion –
He collected me on the morning of our departure, waiting patiently as I buckled on my purse. He had not returned empty-handed. A small but exquisite assortment of clothing had been delivered to my room the previous evening.
‘Your gown fits, then?’ he questioned, eyeing my choice of the green bliaut and corded hip belt. He frowned at my hair. I had ignored the wimple and chosen to wear only the fillet and veil. Beneath it, my hair was braided for the journey, a single tress but as a mark of personal defiance I had woven it only halfway, leaving the lower section to flow freely. Not a maiden, not a wife.
‘Oui,’ I replied. ‘Remarkably well, but considering that at a certain inn you took far more liberty to observe my size than any poor tailor would ever dare, I am hardly surprised.’ With satisfaction I noted his heightened colour. His lips squashed into a thin line of disapproval as he snatched up my pannier.
Court wear meant a higher quality material such as velvet, damask, and musterdevillers, accompanied by a variety of headpieces.
From ‘The Order of the Lily’ –
The newly-appointed maid, Minette, watched in breathless wonder as her mistress flung open the lids on the coffers with a cry of joy. The items were held up, one by one, then quickly discarded in favour of the next. Before long Cécile’s bed was overflowing with costly fabrics and embroideries, stockings, garters, belts and veils of pearl shot with silver and gold. Gowns of soft velvets, blue, burgundy and black, lustrous silks, murrey-coloured damask, dark green musterdevillers, the woollen cloth from Normandy, cream brocades, and dark samite spilled over. Another chest brimmed with surcottes, some edged with deep chestnut squirrel pelt or cony fur, and near the bottom were sets of gloves, light cream cheveril and black calfskin leather, lined in soft miniver. Yet a third coffer revealed several chemises in delicate lawn and brightly coloured and beaded slippers, and a black travelling cloak, fully lined and edged in sable. This was a wardrobe worthy of royalty. To be allowed such abundance and extravagance showed not only the wealth the Albrets enjoyed but the power of their position in society.
Note the material wound around the upper arm and hanging. These decorations were called tippets and could be worn by both men and women.
And on the topic of shoes and boots, I’ll include in a couple of pictures here but this topic (as with headdresses) deserves more in-depth attention. The second image is to illustrate the use of pattens (a wooden clog to protect the soft-soled shoes/stockings), in bad weather. (I often use this image to demonstrate our characters of Armand, Mouse and Gabriel too. It’s so fitting!)
From ‘The Order of the Lily’ –
Cécile glanced out of the casement again. The sky was gloomy, heavy with impending rain and no friendlier than when she had looked ten minutes earlier. She grabbed her pattens and sped downstairs.
She found Gillet leaning against the mantel in the hall, scowling as he pared beneath his fingernails with his blade. His bruises had faded and, unlike hers, his skin glowed with health. His hair fell in glossy waves and when he lifted a log to put it on the fire, the muscles beneath his fresh batiste shirt rippled with renewed strength and vitality. He had taken to wearing his gamboised chausses again, the quilted padding more suited to his vigorous labour around the estate. In short, thought Cécile, his time in Chilham had served him well.
And now and then, some imagination!
From ‘The Order of the Lily’ –
Violetta nodded with conspiracy to her sister and departed, only to reappear moments later buried beneath a mass of deep crimson-burgundy velvet, so dark in the folds, it shone almost black. Cécile caught her breath. It was the most beautiful gown she had ever seen.
An hour later, the maids had bathed Cécile and liberally splashed her with rose-water. Her hair was cleverly woven, a single tress twined and pinned on each side with gilly-flowers, the remainder hanging loose to her waist in shining waves. She stood in an under-gown of golden silk as Minette and Veronique carefully lifted the velvet over her head and settled it into place.
‘Rumour has it,’ chatted Veronique, ‘that Joan of Kent herself has crafted this latest daring court fashion.’ She pulled the deeply scooped neckline to sit properly. It was edged in a band of sumptuous gold embroidery and dipped sensually between Cécile’s breasts. The hem and generous sleeves, the points of which almost touched the ground, were similarly adorned with gold thread.
Dame Rosetta fastened a gem-studded platelet belt around Cécile’s hips but frowned at the young woman’s necklace. ‘I wish I had something more suitable to give you, my dear.’
Cécile’s hand flew to her silver medal of Saint Gilles. ‘No! I … like … this … thank you, Dame Rosetta.’
From ‘The Gilded Crown’ –
The page boy stood at the entrance and frowned at the unescorted woman. He was waiting to take her name to the Master of Ceremony. Another couple jostled past to engage the lad and Cécile took a moment to calm herself. With trembling hands she brushed away imaginary specks from the midnight-blue velvet of her low-cut gown. Her throat was adorned by a string of pearls upon which one brilliant sapphire hovered tantalisingly above her breasts, her cleavage delicately enhanced by the daring scoop of the gold embroidered neckline. The fine cut of cloth clung to her bodice and hips, accentuating her svelte figure, before flaring into an abundant skirt. Such bold attire was entirely due to her own mother, Joan, Fair maid of Kent, whose latest whim set the standards throughout the English courts. And here, in Bordeaux, this new court was eager to please as it prepared itself for the imminent arrival of the heir-apparent. Cécile brushed nervously at her head, her shorter hair cleverly entwined into false pieces that were plaited on either side in ‘rams-horns’ and contained within gold cauls. The fillet was adorned with tiny sapphires and pearls across the brow, the headdress complete with a frothy veil joined under her chin. She was a picture of beauty but she had needed no reflection in polished silver to know. Gabriel’s eyes and low whistle had spoken volumes.
There is so much more that could be said about 14thC clothing. My only intention today was to supply a basic understanding to the fashion flavours that exist in the background of Lions and Lilies. I think I’ll leave headdresses, hats, accessories and armour for another day!
Meanwhile, if you’re a male, be thankful you don’t have to deal with ‘chausses’ and tying strings to points each day, and for women, I think they cared enough about their image to ask the age old question – ‘does my bum look big in this?’
By Catherine T Wilson