Thank you for another very interesting question.
Sometimes a Codpiece Is Just a Codpiece: The Meanings of Medieval
Clothes By Rachel Hartman
Materials and Manufacturing
"As might be expected, wool was by far the most common raw material
for medieval clothing. The quality of wool varied widely, depending on
the breed of sheep and where it was raised -- British wool was, even
then, considered superior due to the cool, wet climate and longer
grazing season. Long, fine, white fibers were preferable to short,
coarse, dark ones, since they resulted in a finer, stronger thread
that could be dyed more brilliantly."
"Although the exact dates are unknown, the Middle Ages saw the
invention of the spinning wheel, the European horizontal loom (other
horizontal looms already being in use elsewhere in the world), and the
fulling mill, which beat, shrank, and softened wool cloth
Wool fabric varied widely in price, depending on the quality of wool
used, the hue and darkness of the color, and the process by which it
had been woven. The cheapest cloth would have been coarse, scratchy,
undyed dark wool, possibly blended with linen or hemp. More expensive
fabric would be lighter and finer, could involve a patterned weave
instead of a straight basket weave, and would have been softened by
fulling. The most expensive woolen fabric would have been nearly as
fine as silk. Woad dyed wool various shades of blue or, in combination
with other plants, green. The most expensive and prestigious color was
red from the kermes insect, and this dye, when combined with a regimen
of fulling and clipping, produced the highly luxurious Scarlet cloth
(from which "scarlet," the color, derives). Black, which was so
popular amongst nobility in the late Middle Ages, was produced not by
simply weaving black wool, but by a complicated dying process that
made it very expensive, which in turn contributed to its popularity.
We generally associate silks with China, where silk technologies
originated. By the time of the Roman Empire, however, silk production
had spread all the way to Persia, and it was carried still further in
the early Medieval period by Muslims, crossing the north of Africa and
into southern Europe. By the thirteenth century, Spain, Italy, and
Sicily were producing silks of high enough quality to rival
Byzantium's eastern imports. More silk on the market meant it was no
longer used exclusively for liturgical purposes. Rich people could
actually afford to wear it themselves, and the not-so-rich could
sometimes afford a little brocade or ribbon to trim their woolen
It is difficult to gauge how much linen and hemp were used since
vegetable fibers decay so rapidly in Europe's wet climate. It is
probably safe to assume, however, that because they were so easy to
grow and process, even at the cottage level, they were widely used.
Linen does not take dye very well, so most linens were left white.
They were worn as head coverings and veils, underclothes, aprons,
infant clothes, and work clothes for hot weather."
"For the wealthy, it would have been most common to employ the
services of a tailor and have clothing custom-made. The customer would
be responsible for providing the tailor with the fabric, but the
tailor would provide the thread. If one wanted fur trim or embroidery,
a furrier or embroiderer (each from a different guild) could also be
employed. Royal households would have had all these craftsmen on
staff, sometimes one per each adult in the household. This is not to
say that the art of sewing was lost in wealthy households -- women,
and not just servants, would certainly have been engaged in embroidery
and lace making, if nothing else, but it is likely that some did
repairs and alterations themselves as well.
Surprisingly enough, there was also some ready-made clothing
available. Mercers' shops, the medieval answer to the general store,
sold a variety of items. Most seem to have been accessories, like
gloves, caps, and socks, but some carried simple shifts and hose as
well. Tailors would also sometimes have clothing for sale that had
been made but not paid for. While this was not exactly
department-store convenience, it was still an interesting and unusual
development for medieval Europe, where such products usually passed
directly from producer to consumer.'"
"The most remarkable developments in women's fashion during the Middle
Ages occurred not in their clothing but in their headgear."
"Headgear, however, is where Medieval women's clothing had its true
Head coverings were not optional, first of all. Only young girls were
permitted to go around with their heads uncovered. Hair was emblematic
of feminine seductiveness -- Eve, Jezebel, Mary Magdalene, and other
biblical temptresses commonly appear with their hair down. In
addition, a quirk of Medieval theology encouraged women to keep their
ears hidden. Some theologians believed Mary had conceived through her
ear, thereby retaining her virginity, but creating an odd and,
frankly, creepy sexualization of the feminine ear. Pulling off
anyone's hat was considered a crime, but forcibly removing a woman's
headdress, in particular, was tantamount to accusing her of being a
In late antiquity and the early Medieval period, women's headdresses
consisted mostly of a "couvre-chef," a large square of cloth
(generally linen) draped over the head and held in place by a strip of
fabric or a circlet. Hair was worn Frankish style: two long plaits
entwined with ribbons or leather strips, and sporting pointy metal
tips at the ends. That much sexy hair couldn't be left out where
everyone could see it for long -- the braids were soon being wrapped
around the ears or the back of the head, carefully tucked under where
no one could see it. The coverchief turned into the wimple, which
covered the head, hair, ears, neck, and sometimes even the cheeks and
forehead. A variety of hats and turbans could be worn over a wimple.
The wimple drifted in and out of popularity, until only nuns and
widows were still wearing them. A vestige remained in the form of the
barbette, a linen strap under the chin, but by and large women's
throats were out in the open during the later Middle Ages.
That's when the really strange hats started appearing. It has been
hypothesized that women's hats during the gothic period were intended
to emulate architecture, and that makes sense in the case of the
steeple-like hennin. Some headdresses, however, resembled horns more
than churches. Fine linen veils became popular, supported in various
winged shapes by wires. Ears eventually became visible again, but
women began plucking their hairlines to give themselves what Chaucer
called a "high forheed," tucking any hint of hair away under their
"By the 14th centuries there are noticeable change even between
decades--although still nothing like modern fashion shifts."
"Women still covered their hair, most commonly with netted frets."
"By the 1360s fashion was becoming increasingly excessive, in part a
sign of economic affluence. Hoods (the liripipe) were becoming longer
and notably pointed, some worn by nobels and affluent merchants might
nearly touch the ground."
"Later the medieval hood evolved into the 14th cent. turbanlike
chaperon with hanging ends, called liripipes; the liripipes originated
with the tassels on strings that had been added to the hoods of
cloaks. The simple close-fitting coifs, gorgets, wimples, and veils of
early medieval women gave way (in the 14th cent.) to netlike
headdresses of jeweled gold wire known as cauls and crespins and later
to conical hennins and large decorative butterfly and horn-shaped
headdresses with starched veils."
No headgear - just a nice maiden's dress - Medieval Maiden's Dress & Bodice
"Preferred by rich and poor throughout the 13-15th centuries, this
attractive dress and bodice made a proper impression at church and
social gatherings. The square cut neck, the bloused sleeves, and the
flair of the dress at the hem marked the decorous lady with
"Fortunately, the early 14th century was an age of relatively simple
clothing, unlike later periods. There was no fancy tailoring,
outrageous headdresses or shoes, or sharp distinctions in clothing
styles between different social classes."
"Distinctions between social classes and occupations were made by such
aspects as the length of the tunic and surcoat, the richness of the
fabrics used, the amount and expensiveness of trim, and such details
as headgear, jewelry, and so on.
Lower-class clothing would be made of wool or linen, not infrequently
homespun or at least of a visibly cheaper, rougher weave than
wealthier people could afford."
"Middle-class clothing also would be of wool or linen for the most
part, although of a considerably better quality than that worn by
their social inferiors. Those with sufficient funds and social
aspirations might even have a best garment or two made from silk or
velvet, although they probably would find themselves regarded with
disapproval by upper-class persons, who would see such fine clothes as
a sign of uppityness. Upper-class clothing, of course, would be made
of very fine wool or linen--or, in some regions, cotton, which was
grown only in Mediterranean lands, and thereby rather rare--or silk,
velvet, brocade, and the like.
Most fabrics were either of a solid color or woven in a simple
pattern, such as stripes. Fancy patterns, such as occur in brocaded
fabrics, required much more labor and skill to weave, and were only
for the wealthy. On the other hand, practically everybody decorated
their clothing to some extent."
"Embroidery was also a popular trim, which could be applied by any
social class, although only the wealthy could afford to have it done
in silver or gold thread. Simple borders of a contrasting color of
fabric or ribbon on cuffs, necklines, and hems were another form of
(Click on 1st photo left side of page)
"The church frowned on the extreme finery, painted faces, and low-cut
dresses of the women. But as society progressed and became more
stable, and the threat of loosing possessions to arson, theft, fire,
or exile lessened, luxury continued to increase. Men's fashions
actually took off first before the 14th century, as women's clothes
remained more or less sane and practical, but by the early 14th
century, in both sexes, frugality changed to sumptuousness, as gold,
silver, pearls, silks and furs replaced the simple fabrics and leather
of the last half of the 13th century. It became so bad that sumptuary
laws were passed, which turned out to be dismally ineffective."
"Portraits became fashionable, and even religious art took on a much
more worldly, humanistic look. Pictures of the Madonna depicted her
richly dressed like a queen, expressing the idea of divine royal
maternity instead of the humble mother in the dirty manger."
A bit about our veils, barbettes and wimples
"In the Middle Ages, the well-dressed (and well-behaved) lady did not
run about town with her head completely uncovered like a maid. Even if
she decided to forego any sort of elaborate headdress, she would be
adorned with the simple veil. Throughout the period veils came in both
oval and rectangular configurations, which could be worn in a wide
variety of ways ? both alone or with wimples, barbettes, or any number
of different headdresses and hats."
"For more formal wear, we offer both a barbette and a wimple to be
worn with the veil. The barbette?s origin has been attributed to
Eleanor of Aquitaine in the mid-12th century, and was a simple band of
cloth used to secure a veil or hat, worn vertically around the head
and fastened closed with a pin. The wimple also developed in the 12th
century as a way to conceal feminine charms, and was adopted by both
modest and fashionable women. Although less ubiquitous by the 14th
century than in earlier centuries, the wimple remained a common piece
of female attire throughout the period, and was a natural way to
attach the veil."
Although clothes were primarily made of wool throughout the medieval
period, the development of trade and improvements in textile
manufacture came to provide an ever greater choice of raw materials
and novel products. Silk cloth was available at first through imports
from the East. Then, in the thirteenth century, Spain and Italy began
to manufacture and export their own silk though silk weaving did not
spread north of the Alps and the Pyrenees until the end of the
fifteenth century. Textiles made of vegetable fibers (cotton, hemp,
linen) were generally used for undergarments, headgear, and informal
clothes. Furs might be ostentatious at court but were quite practical
when worn by peasants to keep warm in winter. Shoes, belts, elegant
accessories but also common working clothes were made of leather,
which was strong and protective. Metals were employed chiefly in
Clothes were manufactured objects. Their production might take place
entirely at home, as was the case with the peasantry, but among gentry
and urban folks cloth making was confined to underwear even though
spinning and weaving constituted a major domestic and female activity.
Those tailors, seamstresses, and furriers who worked for kings and
princes were important personages who took orders only from their
exalted clientele. Local artisans, drapers, dressmakers, cobblers,
hosiers, hatmakers, embroiderers, and haberdashers, on the other hand,
had enough variety in their shops for townsfolk to satisfy their
sartorial requirements. It seems that at all levels of the social
scale, clothes were made to measure, except for shoes, headgear,
gloves, belts, small items of personal adornment, and certain clerical
vestments, which were available as ready-made items. Some such were
even mass-produced and peddled extensively in the countryside.
Significant advances in clothing manufacture gradually moved
production from the domestic sphere toward the emporia of specialists
and tradesmen. Throughout the middle ages, however, gift-giving played
an important role in the circulation of garments."
"Female fashion also remained sensitive to external control; dominance
over the appearance of women was so rigid that drastic modifications
of the silhouette would have met with staunch opposition.
It was with headgear that female clothing literally reached heights of
creativity, as spherical, cylindrical, or conical (the hennin) forms
projected themselves vertically into voluminous headdresses. It is
ironic that, despite its simplicity as compared to the extravagance
displayed by men, it was the finery of women that was violently
denounced by the mendicants as harboring "the horns of the devil"."
In reference to your last query:
"do you know if such costume hobbyists are typically sticklers for
authenticity, and where they get their information?"
Perhaps these links will help:
The SCA FAQ
"The SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a group
dedicated to researching and recreating the Middle Ages in the
present. Many groups meet weekly, and at these meetings we dance,
talk, study, learn, revel, and make plans."
"The avowed purpose of the SCA is the study and recreation of the
European Middle Ages, its crafts, sciences, arts, traditions,
literature, etc. The SCA "period" is defined to be Western
civilization before 1600 AD, concentrating on the Western European
High Middle Ages. Under the aegis of the SCA we study dance,
calligraphy, martial arts, cooking, metalwork, stained glass,
costuming, literature... well, if they did it, somebody in the SCA
does it (Except die of the Plague!).
As you can probably guess, the thing that separates the SCA from a
Humanities 101 class is the active participation in the learning
process. To learn costuming, you design and build costumes."
"Costuming can be very interesting. Generally folkloric in nature
however since Rennies aren?t quite the sticklers for authenticity say
people in the SCA are, costuming can be a bit more creative."
"You can?t just show up and dance and ask for money. You can often
dance for free at Ren Fairs during the open dance section of the show,
or in the context of an SCA demo that must be pre-arranged. The point
is don?t just show up in costume and expect to be able to perform,
there is an already established hierarchy which must be respected."
Glossary of some medieval clothing terms Compiled by I. Marc Carlson.
At the bottom of each term you'll see the same link:
(Please click on the >> arrows going to the right until you come to 14th Century)
The following words refer to head coverings - see description and information.
Amice, Aumusse, Amusse
Houve, Hoove, Huve
various combinations of keywords used:
medieval peasant girl women's headgear hat cap headcover headdress
haircover south france 14th century middle ages costumes SCA