Medieval Clothing Designs
Manuscript painting offers the clearest picture of medieval clothes. In addition, tomb and cess-pit finds give evidence of garments worn by the dead.
Men continued to wear tunics (tight outer garments) and capes. A new fashion, the jupon (a tight jacket with padding), emerged in the 14th century CE.
During the 14th century tunics became more tailored and modish. The upper part of the garment fitted close to the body at centre back and the sides, but remained loose below the hips; it was often heavily embroidered. A heavy belt decorated with brooches encircled the hips and sleeves were long and elbow-length. In the case of heralds, this outer tunic was often embroidered with the coat of arms of their lordship.
Sleeves were often cuffed or decorated with contrasting bands around the neck and hem. The lower half of the garment was covered with a pair of tight-fitting linen trousers. Leg coverings such as cotehardie, cloaks and mantles were also worn. Contrary to the drab colours often depicted in movies, medieval clothing was amazingly colourful. The linen shift under a tunic was dyed in every shade imaginable, from pastel to rich full colour. This contrasted with a heraldic mantle that was often coloured to match the shirt underneath.
A wide range of styles arose in the medieval period for both men and women, influenced by many factors. The clothing of nobles, for example, was designed to project a sense of power and wealth. They favored silk and velvet, often in rich, vibrant colors such as purple and red, to signify luxury and status.
For women, the bliaut was cut tightly until the waist where it began to fall in pleats that formed a voluminous skirt. It was worn over a plain under-gown, and may have been decorated with fringes, metal threats, or embroidery. A girdle or surcoat might also be worn, as well as a cape or hood.
In addition to elaborately embroidered clothing, pewter badges that were cast into molds of saints and other figures became popular. These were then sewn to clothes and hats. Many different types of jewelry were also sported in the medieval period including necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
A medieval gown was the outer garment worn by women, replacing tunics and pyjamas in a fashion that was a mixture of Byzantine, Norman, and Antique styles. Gowns were more fitted and reflected both gender and societal roles through clothing.
Portraits of medieval ladies show rich velvet or brocade gowns with long, flaring sleeves trimmed lavishly with fur. Shearling or ermine lining kept them warm in winter and provided decorative contrast to the rich colors of the outer fabric.
The earliest styles were quite simple, mirroring men’s clothing, but the embroidered collars and elaborately twisted wimples that became popular among married women reflected a greater emphasis on modesty and decorum. Later, gowns were even more fitted and layered to show off an upper class lifestyle. Even men were not immune to the whims of fashion as they were also wearing hooded capes and elaborate hats such as the hennin. A horned chaperon was another stylish headdress that emphasized social status and served as a weapon in combat.
Coats of Arms
A man’s coat of arms reveals his ancestry and status in society. The Bayeux Tapestry, for example, shows the coats of arms of the men who fought in the 11th century AD Norman invasion of England. The achievement (also called a “blazon”) includes the shield, the mantling that covers the helmet and protects it from sunlight (often shown ripped and slashed, as befits any warrior) and the wreath that secures both the mantling and the crest to the helmet.
By the 14th century, heraldry had developed so that a man’s coat of arms could contain his entire family’s coats of arms, with his own being displayed on the left side (the right, or sinister, side when looking at a lion, for instance) and his wife’s on the right. This was especially useful in medieval tournaments where it was important to distinguish a knight from his rivals. Parti-colouring of garments, with one colour down the middle and another on either side, also became popular at this time.