Medieval clothing is one of the turning points in fashion history. It’s a time when court dress exploded across Europe, and wool, linen, and especially silk industries boomed. Silk was prized so dramatically, that first, it could only be used at highly regarded religious ceremonies. Interest in fashion blossomed across Europe, and the silk road brought interesting jewels, silks, fiber, and ideas from the East. The textile business was flourishing so much, that it became possible for people from a range of classes, and walks of life, to buy higher quality clothing. It’s a part of history when men and women’s styles of dress distinctly parted from each other, and each sex embraced different desirable proportions.
The Textile Evolution of this Time:
The horizontal loom: The invention of the horizontal loom gave weavers the opportunity to create huge pieces of artwork out of silk. The looms could produce pieces of silk up to 6 1/2 feet, by 98 feet.
Dyes of the Time:
Cloth of Scarlet: Extracted by the Mediterranean insect, the kermes,
Purple: the ancient shellfish dye,
Perse, Blue/Green): Distilled from a plant distantly related to the wallflower - can be found in many places,
Brown and black: Came from the outward shells of walnuts,
Whitened: Fabrics were whitened by soaking them in buttermilk and being left in the sun to dry.
Women were expected to have small waists, narrow shoulders, and a fair complexion. Small hands were significantly valued as well, and were considered an expression of a woman’s feminine nature. Women wore fitted dresses, which usually tied up in the back. Sleeves were anywhere from 5 inches wide, some being so long that they touched the floor. At the beginning of the 400 year era, women would wear a robe which would wrap across their body. As time progressed the dresses became long, and flowing, with various layers. The skirts themselves didn’t protrude too dramatically from the body, but would gradually grow in size up through the renaissance, and continued up until the neoclassical phase.
A little later in the Medieval ages (around 1100-1200) the surcoat came into fashion. The Surcoat, originally made for women, found its way into male fashion as well. The armholes were made very big, so you could peacock the robe-like garment you had underneath. If you came from a wealthy family even your girdle would be made from precious materials, and covered in precious jewels.
One of the most exciting aspects of this period was the trends in headwear. Hats had so much to do with public standing and class. There were hundreds of styles, so it’s hard to do justice to the almost endless plethora of fashion statements you can see in visual representations of the time. Men wore hats too, generally a little less prodigious then their female counterparts. Velvet was popular, as well as colored wool, and furs such as otter, and beaver. Your hat would establish which class you came from, and this is why the medieval times are so famous for their headwear today. There is hardly any visual representation of people from those days, which doesn’t include a hat on top of their head, be they male or female.
During the crusades, purses came into fashion, and they’d attach to your belt with a ribbon or metal cord. Gold, silver, pearls and precious jewels were very much in fashion as the Medieval period hit its luxurious peak around 1200-1300. Court dress was wild with a variety of exotic furs, usually lining coats. Ermine, otter, beaver, fox, rabbit, ferret, and squirrel were particular favorites of the extremely wealthy. This was a phase in history, just before the globalized world as we know it. With the renaissance came knowledge on a completely different level than ever seen before. It was the last of the dark ages, and the beginning of what we can contemplate as a modern age.
This gives the idea of what a surcoat was like, layered over the women’s wrap dress, and then eventually over whatever men wore.
It was a time in history, when men were the fashionistas of Europe. Significantly less attention was given to women’s clothing, and men used their clothing as a way to peacock around their daily lives, trying to attract approval. Men would wear stockings and breeches. The breeches have been made famous through history, as they had a round ballooning design. The stockings were generally made out of the same material as the breeches. Large belts were in fashion, and if you could afford it, they’d be bling-ed up, and intensified through size and design. Most detailed representations of clothing from the time, are of men. This is thought to be because of the social circumstance of the hierarchy at this time. Men’s proportions drew special attention to making the shoulders large and bold, their legs thin and long, and finally, their genitals dramatized to an almost ridiculous degree.
Here, we can view a variety of looks from Medieval times ... Tights were the most popular trend for men from this era. They would generally wear stockings, shoes, an undershirt, and a constricting vest like over-shirt. The vest can be seen in the painting above, modeled by the man who has apparently chopped off some poor knobs head. You can see from the man in red clothing, that he is of noble birth, obviously having a skilled tailor. The fur on his collar is most likely beaver fur. Pads were added to the shoulders in most cases, in order to make the shoulders stand stronger and wider looking.
Shoes were still very simple, it was popular for the toes to point.
Slowly, as the fourteenth century came along, the timeline blurs to exactly when the Medieval ages subsided, and the Renaissance began. I suppose it was when Italian fashions seeped across Europe and Italy’s artistic dominance over Europe began.