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Medieval Women's Costumes and Dresses

Kashmira Lad
Clothing styles for medieval women went through a lot of changes during the middle ages. Here's a look at some of the fashions of those days and the underlying stories behind them.
The Middle Ages have witnessed many events, tragedies, and various changes in society. These inspiring stories have always seen fashion as a subject of controversy; which holds true even till date. The medieval times began around the 400's and lasted until around the 1500's. During these troubled times, people neither had the time nor the inclination to invent or experiment with clothing. The styling of the clothes was based heavily upon the status of the person.

Medieval Clothing for Women

Fashion in the Early Middle Ages:

As mentioned earlier, medieval times saw a differentiation between people belonging to different professions and social status. The more affluent women wore luxurious 'kirtles' over a shirt. Kirtles were actually tunics that went all the way to the ankles and became shorter over the years.
The queens and other women of royal descent wore very elaborate gowns. The long woolen gown would vary upon the wealth of the wearer.

These medieval gowns were actually tubes of fabric fastened together at the shoulders. Brooches were very popular due to this reason, as they were used to fasten the gown at the shoulder. One often found a sash running across the waist. These were used to dangle various objects.
Medieval costumes also included garments called surcoats. Introduced during the time of Lois IX the king of France, these covered the gowns and were often sleeveless. Women also wore lots of shawls or cloaks made from wool. 'Wimples' covered the head and neck. A fur/cloth cap or a straw hat then covered the wimple.
Medieval women's clothing also consisted of woven tights or socks on the legs as they rarely wore pants. By the late 7th century Frankish fashion was seen having a strong influence on women's clothing.
The gown became ankle length and the girdle became less prominent. The sleeves became wider at the elbows and had contrasting bands of colors adorning the edges. Wool was also seen woven along with embroidery. As days passed, the gowns got a more tailored and structured look. Girdles almost became redundant and contrasting color cuffs became highly popular.

Fashion in the High Middle Ages:

It was the late medieval times that saw the women wear fitted clothes, which finally replaced the flowing garments. Tunics that could be adapted to resemble a dress also became a favorite with the women.
The designs were also created to be very comfortable. The 10th Century witnessed some elegant women's garments wherein at times, the dresses were figure hugging and accentuated the body of a woman.
The cotehardie was actually a part of the dress worn by French women and men. These dresses made really high to completely cover the neck. The women often wore cloaks or tunics with it.
Cloaks also took a new look. From the traditional forms of geometric shapes, they could now be embellished with gold or silver embroidery or even be available with fur edgings.
The Crusades gave rise to the use of the purse. This was suspended to a belt by a cord of silk/cotton or a metal chain.
The medieval woman's dress was also combined with linen caps and had lappets going over the shoulders. The 12th century also saw the robes being fastened around the waist. Women wore a broad band, which was tied under the chin. This helped to frame the face.
The peasants could not really afford to delve deeply into fashion and clothing. Their resources being limited, the women had to stitch their own clothes made of coarse wool or even trade their clothes for goods.
The peasant women generally wore a long dress and very rarely witnessed a change in style. A day at the farm would hardly leave any time for making better clothes. Most of the clothing was handed down through the family.

Fashion in the Late Middle Ages:

During the reign of Charles VI, women wore long 'trains' to their dresses. These required them to employ maids to carry the train. Later, there was actually an effort being made to shorten the trains and also the sleeves. This was also the period where one saw the ladies uncover their necks to sport necklaces.
Women ceased to wear trains as the medieval clothes gradually evolved. Shorter clothing gained impetus. It was under Louis the XII that one saw a headdress being designed for Queen Anne. The true headdress used to be shaped to go round the back of the head and come forward at the sides. It could also have a string of large beads on the top.
When Charles VIII went on an expedition to France, medieval clothes saw a final transition in with the introduction of Italian fashion, which actually displayed a more elegant form of dressing.