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Medieval Clothing Patterns

Shashank Nakate
The huge Medieval Period, during which significant change took place in clothing patterns, is subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Medieval Period.
In the history of England, the time between the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance is described as the Medieval period. In European history, Medieval period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century.
Antiquity,Medieval period and Modern period are the 3 traditional divisions of Western history. The clothing pattern or fashion significantly changed with time. Costumes of a particular time period are always influenced by the changes taking place in the society at that time.
Economic prosperity played a vital role in defining the patterns of clothing in the Medieval times. This fact holds great importance from the point of view of the world of fashion, since the time that preceded the Medieval period was characterized by a stagnant socio-economic condition.
By the end of the Medieval period, the economy and culture of Europe was fast changing, and it accepted new traditions and customs. Thus, the Medieval period is considered to be a time frame in the history that witnessed transition and change on a large scale.

Different Medieval Clothing Patterns

The Late Middle Ages or Late Medieval Period comprises the 14th and 15th centuries (1301-1500). The clothing patterns of this period can be classified into many different categories. Classification can however, be done properly by placing the clothing patterns in two broad categories: the 14th and 15th century medieval clothes.
The Medieval clothing for women and men are classified and explained in separate paragraphs in the following sections. First, let us take a look at the Late Medieval Period clothing patterns.

Medieval Costumes

Medieval Knight

Medieval Wedding and Outdoor Dresses

Renaissance Dresses

Late Medieval Dress

Royal Dress

Thirteenth Century Fashion:

During the period between 1200 & 1300 AD, the clothing patterns across the continent of Europe were simple, since changes took place at a slow pace. Male and female clothing looked almost similar. Most of the costume types used were three to four centuries older.
Thirteenth century however witnessed development in the field of wool working and dyeing. Wool was commonly used in making garments. When blue color was introduced, it was promptly adopted by the Kings of France as their heraldic color.
Color, expensive fabric, and luxurious furs played an important role in the clothes used by the rich. People of various ranks were allowed to wear colors and styles according to the sumptuary laws, and this led to the division of social classes.
Men's Clothing: Men used to wear a tunic and surcoat over a linen shirt. The 'cyclas', a type of surcoat in its basic form was a rectangular piece of cloth with a hole in its center for the head. After adding sleeves to the cyclas, it became a 'ganache'. Men used to wear shoes, hose, and a headdress.
Women's Clothing: Women used to wear a long (floor-length) and loose gown with tight sleeves. The cyclas (or the sleeveless surcoat worn by men) was worn over the gown. Women from rich families used to wear costumes with embroidery; the mantle was one such costume used by these ladies from wealthy families.
Coif and barbettes (chin bands) were white, while the crespine (a net that covered the hair) could be colored or gold. The wimple (a garment worn around the neck and chin, which also covers the head) and veil which were used during this period are still seen on nuns today.

Fourteenth Century Fashion:

A lot of experimentation was done in the clothing patterns during this century. In the words of James Laver, a costume historian, the middle of the 14th century witnessed the beginning of recognizable 'fashion'. Earlier, the clothes had straight seams, and most of them were in the form of draped garments.
The art of tailoring developed during this period. The clothes designed in this period had a snugger fitting, and were decorated with buttons and lacing. They were mainly made from wool.
Silk was the finest fabric of all. Fur was used for the inner lining of the clothes for warmth. Woodblock printing of cloth was very common. Although the trade in textiles grew significantly during this century, clothes were quite expensive.
Clothes worn by the rich were embroidered with silk and gold threads. Pearls were also used for decoration. Expensive clothing involved use of gray and white squirrel furs.
Men's Clothing: By the end of the century, it was fashionable for men to omit the long loose over-garment. The men's clothing included garments (shirts) made of linen. Their tailored tops fell a little below the waist. The chausses or hose were used to cover legs, and were made of wool.
Men wore a tunic, gown, or kirtle over the doublet (gipon or hip-length buttoned jacket) or shirt. Cotehardie, pourpoint, jaqueta or jubón, all were worn over the shirt and the hose. Tunics of wealthy people were embroidered around the hem and sleeves, and were belted at the waist.
They did not have pockets. So men had to carry purses. Men also used to wear a hood or cloak over the tunic, and used to fasten it with a brooch. However, the lower classes were unaware of the fashion. Peasants wore basic, economical, and non-decorated garments.
Women's Clothing: The women of this time period used to wear fitted or loose gowns known as kirtle or cotte - these gowns were characterized by a floor-length or ankle length.
During this century, the length of female hem-lines reduced gradually. Earlier, the formal costumes worn by women had long 'trains.' Their headdresses were made out of linen, and were held in place with headbands.

Fifteenth Century Fashion:

Fifteenth century was a period of prosperity, and it was marked by the extravagances and extremes. The clothes used during this period incorporated complex patterns, and reflected the prosperity of urban middle class and the skills of workers.
Different types of silk were imported from the east. Expensive dresses were made from patterned or brocaded silks. Italian silk was in demand. Silk velvets were extremely expensive, and only the richest of the rich could afford it.
They were often brocaded with large patterns, often floral. Hemp was also cultivated for cloth production. Doublets and houppelandes were main clothing patterns or costumes of the fifteenth century.
Slashing (making small cuts on the outer fabric of the garment so that the inner garment or lining is revealed) emerged during this period. It is in this time period that even the common people became aware of the fashion set by the elite class, and started wearing more complex clothes.
Wool, which was available in various forms (rough, undyed as well as very fine, soft), was the most common fabric. Wealthy people used fur as a lining layer. Instead of squirrel fur, dark brown sable, lynx, or marten fur was preferred. Ermine was meant for the royal families. Like cotton, hemp, and linen, leather was also a commonly used material.
Men's Clothing: The doublet, shirt, and hose were the basic costumes of men during this time period. The shirt used to be covered with an overgown. The headgear was a common component used by men along with almost all the dresses.
A range of different types of hats having long crowns and short brims, low crowns and wider brims, and many other varieties were used by men during this period. The brimless scarlet cap was also in fashion in those days.
Women's Clothing: Long gowns were the main costumes used by women in the fifteenth century. These gowns had sleeves, and were used along with an undergown or a kirtle. Sleeves became long, hanging, embroidered, or fringed.
The V-neck clothes were in vogue as they replaced those with a shallow scooped neckline. Bold pomegranate- or artichoke-patterned silks, and richly colored velvets and woolens are characteristic of the 15th century clothing.

Renaissance Clothing Patterns

Clothing patterns that evolved during the Renaissance period were marked by prosperity and extravagance. Various monarchs influenced Renaissance fashion. However, the Tudor monarchs of England (for example, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) had the greatest impact on Western European fashion.
Different European countries adopted different styles of costumes. A conservative approach towards accepting changes was taken by countries like Italy, France, and Britain.
The influence of medieval costume patterns however, remained for a long time in these countries. Germany made great improvements in this field. Use of contrasting fabrics, slashes, large puffs in the costumes - at the head, thighs, shoulders, and small puffs over the chest, arms, back, and legs were some of the prominent features of the Renaissance period.
As transportation and communication improved, and as the printing press was invented, costume ideas and new materials were available everywhere in Europe.
Fashion and costumes have changed a lot over the course of time. The changes would continue to take place in the future too. The medieval clothing patterns represent the transition and changes in the society. The Medieval clothes and other patterns developed in this period stand testimony to the beginning of change in the field of fashion.