The period between 500- 1500 CE was considered as Middle Ages in European history. It’s the time after the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance period.
The Middle Ages or the medieval period was divided into the early Middle Ages, Central Middle Ages, and Late Middle Ages. It was a dynamic period across Europe with great changes across centuries.
The feudal system and strong religious beliefs and customs of medieval Europe influenced all the cultural norms and practices of the period. The hierarchical structure, with kings, nobles, knights, and peasants, shaped societal interactions, literature, art and even clothing choices.
With all due respect to the medieval period and its significant contributions to the advancement of society today, I do not want to be anywhere near those times. Other than the fact that there are no toilets, If you read some archaic beliefs of the period you would agree with me too.
This is the wildest – Some people of the period believed that Virgin Mary became pregnant through her ears. (with a literal interpretation of the phrase “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) ) So women were asked to cover their ears with headdresses that covered the ears fully and mesh net veils to make it doubly sure. (This is hearsay and not corroborated anywhere)
Church law in the Middle Ages insisted that women be covered from head to toe. It was to protect women’s modesty and to distinguish between men and women.
When women wanted to look tall, they had to wear very awkwardly super pointy hats, not heels (Maybe after a few centuries, someone would point to heels as awkward, watch out). Don’t mind that you have to bend every time you pass a door.
If you have a large mole or a birthmark in your body, you better hide it with clothes. Otherwise, there was a high probability that you may be branded as a witch and prosecuted.( and even burnt)
In Italy, it was compulsory for noble women to wear 4 layers of clothing. This combined with heavy fabric made walking very difficult for noble ladies.
Pointed shoes which confined your foot into a very uncomfortable shape were very fashionable.
During certain periods of the medieval era, it was considered fashionable for women to have a rounded belly, resembling pregnancy. I think I like this one!. Having a rounded belly, full hips, and a soft, curvaceous figure meant you were a fashion icon of the period. Niceee..
Do you want to know more? Read on.
Early Middle Ages
The early Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages is a period of European history from the 5th to the 11th centuries.
Men’s clothing in the early Middle Ages
During this time, men wore tunic, trousers, leggings and a cloak. They dressed the same regardless of their social class.
The tunic was worn over a shirt and drawers which were worn as underclothes. The shirt was hip length.
The tunic made of wool or linen, was knee length or ankle length. It was one continuous piece with short or long sleeves. The wealthy sometimes wore tunics made of silk or with silk trimmings.
A belt or a girdle was worn over the tunic at the waist. The trousers were loose and ankle-length. Trousers were held at the waist by a belt.
Leggings were worn for additional protection. It was made of woven fabric or leather and was worn in pairs. The wealthy wore custom-made leggings. The poor or lower class made leggings out of ripped clothes from old clothes or blankets.
The fur-lined cloaks were worn in such a way that fur was facing inside touching the tunic and leather side or the hide faced outside. However woolen cloaks were also found.
The cloaks were square or rectangular in shape and were fastened by a clasp or brooch.
Towards the end of the early Middle Ages, social hierarchy was evident from the clothes they wore. The wealthy upper class wore tunics with embellishments that adorned the collar, waist, or border whereas the poor working-class wore plain tunics. Also, the upper class tended to wear longer tunics than the lower class.
During this time jacket or a waistcoat made of fur or linen also appeared among the upper class. The trousers became mid-thigh length and stockings made of leather met them there. On top of the stockings, rounds of cloth, linen, or leather in close rolls or Criss crossing each other was worn from the ankles to the knees.
Women’s clothing in the early medieval period
The women wore a long garment which was fashioned like the Peplos of the Ancient Greeks. It was worn over a sleeved undergarment. It was belted or girdled and personal items were hung from it. The Peplos-like garment was decorated with embroidery, metal appliqué, and woven bands.
Towards the later period, women wore layered tunics. These tunics were decorated with silk and wool embroidery and woven bands.
During the last century of the dark ages, women wore ankle-length tailored gowns. The gowns had distinctive borders sometimes in contrasting colors. The sleeves were straight with a slight flare at the end. They were often decorated. With the arrival of gowns, belts and girdles went out of fashion. Women also wore a sleeveless outer garment with or without a hood.
Central Middle Ages
This is counted as roughly from the 11th century to the 13th century.
Men’s clothing in the central Middle Ages
The men’s clothing did not change much at the beginning of the central Middle Ages. They continued to wear tunics, trousers, and cloaks.
By the 12th century, considerable changes were apparent in men’s clothing. There were two types of tunics. One type was short in length. The other Tunics became form-fitting with a long skirt with a slit in the Center that went thigh high. The sleeves were close-fitting and bell-shaped at the wrists. They were worn with or without a girdle. The girdle was also used to hang swords. The necklines of the tunic were either diagonal or horizontal from the neck to the shoulder.
There was also another type of tunic called a super tunic. It had loose and pendulous cuffs which were elbow length and sometimes were lined with fur. The super tunic was always worn with a girdle. The commoners wore tunics which was shorter in length with tubular sleeves which were rolled up.
By the thirteenth century, different kinds of super tunics existed, all of them voluminous and worn with or without a belt. Some of the tunics had attached hoods.
The early form of pockets called fitchets also appeared during this era.
The cloaks, mantles, and stockings remained unchanged. The nobility continued to wear crisscrossed leg bandages above the level of knees.
Women’s clothing during the central middle ages
The women’s dresses consisted of an under tunic called chemise or smock and an over tunic called kirtle. The chemise or smock was a knee-length loose-fitting garment made of linen. The poor wore chemise made of rough cloth. The chemise was usually sewn at home.
The kirtle was also called cotte or cotehardie. It was shaped like a dress and was worn over the chemise. Early kirtles were loose garments without a seam at the waist. The sleeves were tight but wide at the wrists. A belt or a girdle was often worn with a kirtle. The Kirtles and belts were decorated with gold or silk tassels and knobs.
Over the kirtle, women wore a surcoat. The surcoat was an outer garment that was ankle-length, loose, and with or without sleeves.
The wealthy class had their clothes made of silk or fine linen. The poorly used wool or coarser linen for their clothes.
Late Middle Ages
This period is supposed to span 13th to 15th century
Men’s clothing during the late middle ages
During the late Middle Ages, men’s clothing became more form-fitting. For the higher classes, doublet, a form of jacket replaced tunics. It was close-fitting and reached knee length.
Gipon was a type of doublet which was worn over a shirt. It was mid-thigh length and was worn with a belt.
Another outer garment of this era was called cotehardie. It was a tight-fitting knee-length garment buttoned or laced down to the waist level at the front. Down the waist, it flared into a skirt with the middle part open. The sleeves of the cotehardie were complex and decorated. A belt was worn with cotehardie.
The poor continued to wear tunics or super tunics.
Women’s clothing during the late middle ages
During the late Middle Ages, women continued to wear a chemise, kirtle, or dress and surcoats.
The kirtles became more form-fitting with a fitted bodice that had lower necklines and a skirt gathered or pleated into the waist seam. The skirts became popular and they were sometimes over three meters in diameter at the bottom. The bodice was laced up the front, back, or at the sides.
The kirtle or dress was worn with a decorated belt or girdle.
In the late Middle Ages, a particular type of surcoat came into fashion. It was floor-length and sleeveless with exaggerated armholes. The armholes were open from shoulder to hip revealing the gown or kirtle worn underneath. Imported luxurious garments were widely used in female clothing. But they were very expensive. Not many women could afford a large number of clothes.
The wimple was a type of veil worn by women during the late medieval period, in Europe. It covered head, neck, ears and chin, leaving just the face exposed.
During the medieval era, fashion choices were used to distinguish and reinforce social hierarchies. There were sumptuary laws that prohibited certain classes from using clothing worn by other classes. These laws aimed to maintain social order by visibly indicating a person’s social status and preventing people from dressing above their station. Thus rich and poor were kept separate.
If you are looking for pictorial representation of simple medieval costumes, here is one – as simple as you get for people of various occupations and social strata.