Fashion in the Middle Ages

Changes in fashion in the Middle Ages, the time period that includes the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, helped make clothing production an industry. It was during this time period that people became more particular about the cuts and design of the clothes they wore. Of course, there was a clear fashion class distinction even then, as the wealthy could choose their fashion styles and the poor was forced to rely on charity. Household servants were given hand-me-downs, and generally, ranks were determined by clothing color. 

Common fabrics used for Middle Age clothing included wool, silk, furs and leathers. Undergarments were usually made of linen, hemp and cotton, which was quilted and used for padding.

Almost anyone can picture a man's outfit from the Middle Ages; think Henry VIII. They sported short tunics, which lengthened and tightened as fashion changed. These tunics sometimes opened at the sides.

Men wore trunk hoses and footed breeches, which were similar in many respects to the tights people wear today. The 1993 Mel Brooks movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights poked fun at this style, complete with a song about this particular clothing item.

Men wore cloaks, robes, surcoats-sleeved vest-like coats worn over tunics-mail coats and doublets, which came later as buttons were introduced. Men also sported helmets, bonnets and hoods.

Fashion for women in the Middle Ages was conservative and modest. Ladies dressed in chemises, ankle-length tunics, tabards and loose belted gowns. Like the men, women also wore hose.

Women sported veils, kerchiefs and wimples, depending on their place in society. As was the case with men, the headdress seen on people reflected their social class.

So much for play clothes-children in the Middle Ages wore simplified version of adult clothing.

Societal Issues
A person's fashion depended on which class they belonged to. The clothing of the wealthy class changed with the latest fashion trends, which meant lower classes were always at least one or two trends behind.

Upper Class
The aristocrats donned floor-length cloaks and robes, which were embellished or patterned. These styles were finer than the common clothing. Some families in this class even got their clothing custom-made.

Lower Class
The working class wore short, simple tunics that were appropriate for working needs.

Among the commonly seen articles of clothing were:

  • Cassocks: Long, close-fitting robes
  • Dalmatics: Long, wide-sleeved tunics
  • Chasubles: An outermost garment that resembled a poncho
  • Copes: Long, clasped cloaks
  • Stoles: Silk shawls
  • Maniples: Small pieces of fabric worn on the left arm

Member of the clergy also relied on loose tunics and robes with cord belts. Benedictines wore black, while the Cistercians sported undyed wool or white.

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