One learns by doing the thing: for although you think you know it, you can have no certainty until you try. -- Sophocles
the guidelines for clothing to be used at battles, parades, and other
which are open to the public. You are not required to have
clothing simply to be a member, and there are non-public events such as
feasts and workshops at which period clothing is encouraged but not
For public events, however, there is growing concern being given to maintaining a reasonably historical appearance. In most cases, the Basic Clothing Standards will be more than acceptable to all concerned, and using them as your guide is probably the easiest and least expensive way to keep your level of authenticity high.
These Standards cover common medieval clothing in a very general way, but the effect they give is a very typical medieval appearance. It is also a very flexible appearance, suitable to a number of different cultures across a time span of over 500 years. It is often possible to change from one nationality or time frame to another just by changing hats!
and patterns for all garments and accessories are as accurate as
while still applying to the widest possible span of time and
Less common variations and exceptions to the rule have been omitted, as
have some features which are still debatable or poorly
These guidelines, therefore, are not unwavering fact, but they are a
place to start for anyone dressing for the Middle Ages.
TUNIC -- Knee-length or longer, except for some shorter Norse styles; flared with triangular gores at the sides and/or front and back. Sleeves are long and fit closely along the forearms. Generally, a wool tunic is worn over a linen undertunic. The belt can be leather or fabric, either with a plain D-shaped buckle, or with a long fork in one end that ties through two slits in the other (see Accessories).
LEGWEAR -- Usually close-fitting--can be hosen, just thigh-length fabric tubes, or trousers; either can have full feet, or have stirrups, or be footless. Some Vikings and Slavs wore straight-legged trousers that ended at the ankle, much like modern trousers. Any type of trousers may have a drawstring waist or belt loops. Hosen are worn over Braies, short linen pants gathered and tied below the knee. A pair of strings sewn ot the waist of the braies tie to loops or holes at the top of the hosen to support them. Knee- or cross-garters may be worn, or (particularly for Saxons) legwraps called winingas or "windings" (wool bands like WWI puttees).
SHOES -- Commonly leather and ankle-height (or a couple inches above), with a flat sole. Can be "slip-ons", buttoned or laced at the side, or drawstringed. Most had pointed toes, but Norse fashions included round toes.
GOWN or DRESS -- Generally a linen underdress, ankle-length or longer, with long, snug sleeves, and gores to give flare and fullness. Remember that decent ladies exposed only the face and hands--no slit hems, plunging necklines, or gaping bodices, please! Women's hosen need only be knee-length.
Saxons: Unfitted overgown may be shorter, with untapered three-quarter-length sleeves.
Normans and French: Full-length overgown either unfitted or snug in the torso, sleeves either long and snug or flared (later 11th to 12th centuries).
Norse: Apron dresses (see Viking Clothing) worn over gowns which might have been pleated.
HEADCOVERINGS -- Women should cover their heads!! Most common is the veil--a white linen oval about 22"x36" draped over the head and held with a narrow band.
If you are
just getting started and don't have time to finish your clothing before
the event, here are shortcuts which may help. At most events, the
organizers will have no problem with these expediencies, though they
recommend that you borrow something that you lack. Eventually
want to replace these stop-gap items, not only for the satisfaction and
fun of looking good, but also because "the real thing" works better!
Unfortunately, a tunic or gown can't really be "faked", so borrowing is your best option if you can't make or buy one in time. Try to contact the organizer or another participant ahead of time to be sure that spare clothing will be available. Trousers that are too loose can often be greatly improved simply by tying them with cross-garters, or wrapping them with long bands of leather or wool called "winingas" or windings. For shoes, there are several types of moccassins which will work, including inexpensive "Inca boots". Knee-high "Apache" boots are generally not acceptable, but they can be cut down to about ankle very easily, and the leftover leather laces used for cross-garters!
There! A borrowed tunic, some leather thongs for cross-garters, and a pair of cheap moccassins, and you're off to your first event. What could be simpler? Have fun!
LINEN and WOOL were by far the most common medieval fabrics, so that's what to look for when getting ready to make your own clothing. They are far more comfortable than cotton or modern synthetics, and much safer around candles and campfires as well. Use solid colors--checks or patterns may have existed but were very rare in most areas. Don't bother to pick a color scheme, and be aware that black is rather over-used these days. Unfortunately, most modern trims should be avoided, but cuffs, hems, and necklines can be decorated with bands of contrasting color of fabric. Embroidery should be well-researched, and appropriated to time and place (e.g., don't put Celtic designs on a Viking tunic).
Pre-wash your fabric! Ignore the "dry clean only" label--modern wools need a good thrashing in the machine (permanent press or gentle cycle) to give them the proper felted texture, then hang to dry. Linen needs its cut ends secured against ravelling with a zig-zag stitch or a quick hem, then wash is on a normal cycle and hang or machine dry. Pre-washing shrinks the fabric at least 3 or 4 inches per yard (length and width!), so always buy extra. Iron well with steam just before cutting.
If you really want to impress your friends and the public, take the time to hand sew visible stitching such as cuffs or hems with the old needle and thread, using a plain running stitch, backstitch, or whip stitch. It's easy, educational, and can be fun! Don't leave raw or ragged edges because of the misconception that "medieval = crude". Anyone too poor to buy a new tunic would certainly take care of the old one!
KEEP IT SIMPLE!
Avoid the urge to embellish your appearance with inauthentic things like vests, wide kidney belts, long flowing capes, daggers, armguards, square tied-on leggings, and boots (especially "apache" boots!). Many people unwittingly spoil their look by adding inappropriate items to what could otherwise be good clothing. Cluttering pieces of mail and leather are simply fantasy, while fur--which was used in several ways in the Middle Ages--is frequently mis-used nowadays. So keep it simple! A tunic, hosen, and shoes may seen unexciting, but it is very easy and very medieval.
If you wish to wear something not included in the Standards, you may need to find evidence of its existence. (If someone in charge of an event disagrees with you, he does not have to prove you wrong--it is up to you to prove yourself right.) Use medieval illustrations and descriptions (these are "primary sources") whenever possible; some recent (last 15-20 years) secondary sources are pretty good, too, but most things written in the 19th and early 20th centuries are worthless for clothing research.
As you are
getting your garb together, whether sewing or buying, TAKE YOUR TIME,
put some effort to get everything right the first time. Ask
for help with researching or sewing--there are plenty of experienced
who will be happy to lend a hand or a book. If someone does tell
you that something of yours is wrong or inappropriate, don't assume
an ignorant jerk (even if he acts like one!). Find a convenient
to talk to that person about your disagreement--this is supposed to be
educational as well as fun, after all.
Guidelines for the Battle of Hastings
held in England can be found here:
Saxon Costume Pictures page by Peter James
Some Clothing of the Middle Ages, Compiled by
"Your First Garb" by Kass McGann
Medieval seams, http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~mforest/Medieval/articles/garments/sewing/seams/seams.html
Cloth Widths in the Middle Ages, by Becky Day, http://www.geocities.com/ladymairghread/clothwidth.htm
These Standards were written, and are periodically updated, by Matthew Amt (Aelfic Guthredsson). Illustrations are by Matthew Amt or Jane Walker unless otherwise noted. The author can be contacted at 301-362-3574, email matthew_amt AT yahoo DOT com.
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