Women’s Clothing in the Middle Ages

The middle ages spanned a long period and the styles of clothing changed over time. Clothing was made from linen and wool, however with the rise of trading the wealthy were able to buy silk, taffeta, velvet and fur. The wealthy also liked to embellish their clothing with embroidered hems and borders, and bright rich dyes and fur collars.

In the later middle ages clothing became tighter and fitted; it was much more about showing off a ladies figure.

The poor made their own clothes and used rough linen and poor quality wool. They very often had only one outfit to wear, so clothes were very rarely washed. The wealthy were able to have their clothes specially made using better quality linen and wool.

Undergarment: A full ankle length long sleeved garment made of linen.

Dress (Kirtle): A full ankle length one-piece sleeveless dress made of wool or sheepskin and belted at the waist.

Tunic (Apron): A shorter one-piece item worn over the dress.

Cloak: A full ankle length item draped over the shoulders and fastened with a brooch or pin at the shoulder. For peasants this was made of wool, but the more wealthy used velvet or trimmed their cloaks in fur.

A coat or outer garment (Surcoat) was worn. This had an open bodice and a full-length skirt that trailed to the floor.

Stockings: Made of wool to cover the legs.

Head covering (wimple) was worn. This was a garment that went over the head, around the face and covered the neck and chin.

As the middle ages progressed, tighter fitting clothing with lower necklines were worn. Lacing was added across the bodice, pulled tight to enhance a ladies figure. A wide belt (girdle) was worn at the waist to give the appearance of a longer waist. Dresses had long trailing sleeves that were tied at the elbow giving a bell shape; although later still the sleeves became shorter.

Head wear became much more elaborate.

A cone shaped hat (Hennin) was worn. Initially only by nobles but this became more widespread over time. These were pointed hats, being generally 30 – 45 cm high, though they could also be considerably higher. A veil was attached to the hat; it started at the point of the hat and then flowed down over the shoulders and sometimes down to the floor.

Leather shoes were worn that became pointed or cone shaped during the later middle ages.

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