The middle ages were a time of kings, queens, peasants, and serfs. We are fascinated by it to this day with festivals to remember the times and groups that study and relive the era. Joining such a group, like the SCA which is the largest one, can seem like fun. One of the most common areas people think of is the British Isles. And then of course if you want to belong to a group that relives this wonderful past, what medieval clothing would be worn in everyday life on the British Isles? The answers may surprise you.
In the early medieval ages there was not much difference between what the nobles and peasants wore due to road conditions and thieves. Instead nobles used jewels to show their status. During the eleventh century this changed as the roads got better and nobles could control thieves better. Even later in medieval times there were laws passed so that only certain fabrics and styles could be worn by the nobles.
For women the dress was called a kirtle or gown from about the eleventh century to early fourteenth. The undergarments during this time were varied however. They were not seen at all until the beginning of the thirteenth century when noble women let the bottom show. The sleeves on went from tight to full and then back tight. The early fourteenth century brought about a drastic change with the dress being changed to a surcoat that covered the kirtle, which was the undergarment and now visible. The mid to late-fourteenth century had women wearing both a smock and kirtle under their cote-hardie or surcoat. Unmarried women would often only wear the undergarments. The late fourteenth century changed the smock to a chemise and cote-hardie was common. However at the end of this time women were wearing houpplandes and the high neck that previously existed was open or belted just underneath the breasts. The fifteenth century brought about women only wearing the houpplandes. However a color was worn early on and after 1415 this was changed to a lace closed collar. Long sleeves went away during the 1420’s and an empire waist became fashionable.
Men’s style was a bit different in that the pants did not change much between the beginning of the eleventh century and the end of the fifteenth. At the beginning of the eleventh they were a drawstring style with colored hose pulled up back over the pant legs. At the end of this century the pants became tighter. Once this change came about the only thing that was different was how the hose were attached. Crossbands were worn from mid-twelfth century to the beginning of the thirteenth. Here men began to wear hose with soles. In the mid-fourteenth century the pants attached at the gypon and that was the last change for a while, long hose included.
For men’s top clothing tunics were wore constantly. The late eleventh brought tunics so long they trailed the ground. In the late twelfth century the tunic began to be cut in a bat-wing pattern and a slit down the front was added. This design gave way to an over-tunic being worn. In the early fourteenth century the clothing became more form fitting and men left the sleeves unbuttoned and hanging free from the elbow. The early to mid-fourteenth century is when we see the most change in the clothing here. The tunic became known as the gypon and supertunic as the cote-hardie. The sleeves were long enough to cover the knuckles and eventually buttons were replaced with tippet streamers that attached to the upper arm. The late fourteenth century had the gypon become padded in the front. The collar on the cote-hardie was high and rolled down. Later in this time period the houppelande became popular to wear. The end of the century brought about only collar changes again with the gypon’s being higher but showing, the cote-hardie longer, and the houppelande’s collar low cut with slits on the sides and front but unseen.
It’s interesting how some fashions changed slightly while others were very drastic. Some clothing didn’t even change except in name. So dressing can be easy and mixed if need be since the fashions were so similar.