As in almost any other period in history, clothing in the Middle Ages was worn out of necessity, comfort, and exhibition. The bright colors and rich decorations created striking medieval clothing, at least among the rich, although there was a surprising similarity in the clothing of the different social classes and genders. If you were rich, you would probably have a variety of clothes in the latest styles and colors. If you were a poor peasant, you could only have one robe.
Although it was possible to obtain silks and other luxurious materials from abroad, they were very expensive. Therefore, most of the clothes were made of wool. This meant that clothes in medieval times itchy, were difficult to wash and dry, and were very hot in summer. Clothing is much more than just a physical covering to protect the body from the elements; it can reveal a lot about a person.
An evening dress, a white doctor's coat or cowboy boots today can be clues to social status, profession or geographical origin. In the Middle Ages, clothing was essential to identify one's place in the world. Medieval people were very good at reading the meaning of fashion, which is reflected in the painted pages of illuminated manuscripts. In Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius, female personifications of philosophy and the seven liberal arts are represented in a variety of styles from the late Middle Ages.
The themes of this exhibition range from the extravagant cost of clothing worn by the elite to the styles and fabrics allowed by custom and law, to the inventiveness that adorns historical representations of fashion. 13th century clothing stood out for its simplicity. There was little or no decorations, and the garments weren't tied. Usually, a sleeveless overcoat was worn over the tunic.
This was derived at the end of the 12th century from the tabardo, a garment worn by crusader knights over their armor to prevent the sun from reflecting on the metal and making them visible to the enemy. The coat, worn by both men and women, used to have openings (called rivets) on each hip to be able to reach the waist belt that was underneath, with the bag attached, without fear of thieves. Men wore them over tights or tight pants, women over long dresses. The tunics were made of hemp or thick wool or linen.
A tunic can be worn over a light linen shirt. Linen can be woven thickly, bought, used, or provided by an employer. Lightweight linen shirts would be used for fieldwork in the warm months. Among the peasants, the women of the family generally sheared the wool of the sheep and the women of the family spun it to make the yarn of the cloth.
Cotton doesn't grow well in colder climates, so its use in medieval garments was less common in Northern Europe than wool or linen. The big difference was in the materials used in the construction of clothing: luxurious fabrics such as velvet, damask and silk. Printed dresses made of brocade or damask, silk or velvet with flowers, oriental designs, artichokes and pomegranates greatly enhanced women's dresses, creating the beautiful costumes associated with medieval times. Other biblical figures disguised themselves as whimsical interpretations of the fashions being used in the Middle East and beyond.
The spinning wheel replaced the spinning wheel (a manual spindle), and the horizontal loom with pedals and shuttle simplified the production of textiles and clothing. For more information on medieval clothing and other conflicting facts from ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen's The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization. During the Middle Ages, clothing followed traditional designs based on a person's status, profession, and region. The Crusades and the Adventures of Marco Polo introduced new cultural influences, fabrics and technological advances in medieval European garments.
King Edward III passed these sumptuary laws to regulate the dress of the various classes of the English people, promote English dress, and preserve class distinctions through disguise, clothing, and dress. These sumptuary laws distinguished social categories and made it easy for members of each class to be distinguished by their clothing. The type of clothing that became popular among royalty and nobility also depended on the availability of fabrics and dyes. Throughout medieval times, but especially in the late Middle Ages, laws were passed to regulate what members of different social classes could and could not wear.
Part 1 — Medieval Fashion Part 2 — Tudor and Stuart Fashion Part 3 — Georgian Fashion Part 4 — Victorian Fashion up to the 1960s. Silk was the most luxurious fabric available to medieval Europeans, and it was so expensive that only the upper classes and the churchmen could afford it. .
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