In this post I try to explain what the different types of female garment are, how and when they were worn and give some examples of each type of garment. I have more detailed posts on the fashion of each centrey here on the blog.
I try to be careful about adding sources and dates to all the pictures. The names of the garments shift and depend on the country. I try to writte the different veriations that I find, the English names, quite often the latin ones and the french ones are there as well and the Danish names in parenthesis. I am still learning so I might misname thing – this is a work in progress and I update it as I learn more about the period.
What did woman wear?
Women would wear a shift, a dress called a cote or a kirtle over that they would often wear something else either a surcote or a robe of some sort. Grown women would almost always wear some kind of head cover (read more) either a viel, coif or hood of some sort.
Below I have tracked the changing fashion and focus in on particlar peices of clothing with lots of pictures. I update this as I find more infomation.
There were huge differences between the different layers of society, and you used your clothing to show your rank, status and position in society. Some clothes were tied to particular positions and trades. The richer and higher up in the social order you were, the less practical were your garments.
Unlike in much of the rest of Europe, Denmark didn’t really have laws about what people could and could not wear – at least not during the middle ages.
Women would wear chemise or shift (særk), which could have long sleeves, short sleeves or shoulder strops. The length could vary. More often than not the chemise was made from uncolored and unbleached linen.
Women also wore stockings/hose (korthoser) – normally the short version that ends under the knew and is kept up with a garter – either made from leather or woven tape. Read more
Cote, cotta, tunic or kirtle
Women wore long cote/cotta/tunic/kirtle (kjortel), the length depended on their station and wealth. The cote would be worn over the shift and often under an outer layer often a surcote.
Around the mid 1300’s the cote became a fitted garment along with the more fitted outer garments.
From mid-1300’s the cote would buttoned or laced either in front or in the sides.
The cote might only have short sleeves and be worn with the chemise showing or loose sleeves pinned over the chemise.
Over their cote aristocratic would often wear another layer. The nobel ladies’ surcotes (surkot) could be richly decorated and made from costly fabrics. Some of the designs are also quite advanced. The dress would be to the floor, perhaps with part of the dress raised to show off the tunic underneath. Dresses could also have long trains that would require an assistant to help you move around in them. The surcote would often function as outerwear as well.
Bliaut from 1100’s
Excessively long sleeves – fitted to a degree above the elbow, and opening wider below – and sometimes simply elongated cuffs. The lowest part of the sleeve is often square.Tight fit on the torso – sometimes laced along the sides. Neck openings – can be round, keyhole, or V shaped, often decorated with embroidery, woven braids of applied silk bands in contrasting colour. Sometimes the long sleeves are knotted for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. 1
Cyclas or tabard from 1200’s
For a long time noble women would wear surcotes with large armholes showing off the tunic underneath that would be of a different fabric. In the 1200’s woman would wear cyclas almost like the one the men would wear. A Cyclas began as a rectangular piece of cloth with a hole in it for the head. Over time the sides were sewn together to make a long, sleeveless tunic.
Robes from late 1300’s
In the late 1300’s women would wear a robe (kåbe) belted just under the breasts. The robe would have a lot of fabric, folds and huge sleeves.
Over time the cyclas developed into the Surcot(e) ouverte and were popular from the mid 1300’s until the 1500’s as a symbol of rank among the noble women. The surcote ouverte was a woman’s sleeveless outer garment, with armholes that deepened towards the hips in the middle of the 1300’s. Retained as a symbol of rank for aristocratic women into 1500’s.
Houppelande or pellanda c. 1360-1430
Over time the bliaut develope into the houppelande/pallanda, which is introduced in the 1360’s. It is a sleeved, front-closing robe worn by both sexes. It is always full-length on women; sometimes short on men. In the north they are called pallanda.
Characterized c.1400 and later by huge sleeves often falling to the floor.
Over time the cyclas developed into the Pellote and Surcote ouverte and were popular from the mid 1300’s until the 1500’s as a symbol of rank among the noble women. The pellote was a woman’s sleeveless outer garment, with very large armholes trimmed with fur.
Open sleeved surcotes 1430- 1500
The open sleeved surcote is fitted around the body and has a loose skirt. The sleeves are fitted till the elbow where the sleeve is cut open and hangs from the arm showing off the cote underneath. It has many of the same characteristics of the bliaut of earlier periods. The ends of the long sleeves are, like on the hoods, called liripipe.
Burgundian gown 1430-1500
Around 1430 the houppelande fell out of fashion again and robes were in again. The sleeves was narrower again – it would seem they became very fitted and large manchets were added to the sleeve. The neckline is v-shaped, often furtrimmed and shows up the cote underneath and normally a small bit of the chemise as well. The ladies would wear their dresses long enough to have trains. Unless they had someone to handle the train they would wear it over an arm if outside.
In the 1500-1550 women would wear a long gown, usually with sleeves worn over a kirtle/cote over a chemise/smock. The high-waisted gown of the late medieval period evolved in several directions in different parts of Europe:
- Germany and bohemia: The gowns was still short waisted and tight-laced but not corseted. The front of the gown was open-fronted laced over a kirtle or had an insert of a stomacher or plackard. The sleeved were puffed and slashed or had elaborate cuffs.
- France, England and Flanders: The high waistline gradually moved toward natural waist in the front and toward a V-shaped point. Large trimmed cuffs came in fashion.
- Denmark: I wonder if we followed the German or France fashion?
A lot of different kinds of cloaks, capes and mantles were used as well as surcotes and robes. For more partical outerwear you would wear a short cape with or without a hood.
Chape – short hooded cape
The chape is a short hooded cap that later developed into the liripipe. It is covering the head and shoulders with a hole was cut in the fabric to frame the face.
A mantle was a loose outer garment or cloak cut in the round, open down the front and fastened either on the shoulder or in front; used by both men and women. It was often worn in a ceremoniel or representative capacity.
The gardecorp came into fashion in the 1200’s. The garment is wide in the body and has long sleeves. The sleeve are cute open near the armpits so that the arm can pass though when the warm of the sleeves are not needed. The length wary from knee to full length. They often have a hood that is worn up or down. The fashion lasted until some time in the 1300’s. Though variants turn up later. They evolve into the split-sleeve houppelandes of the 1400’s2
Commoners would also wear a shift and cotta/tunic. The style would be simpler and more practical than what the nobles and rich merchant wore. The tunic would often not hit the floor for everyday wear – it is simply not practical. It would often hit go to the ankles or mid shin. The sleeves wouldn’t have the huge openings or be as long as were fashionable for part of the period (try cooking over fire with those). Over their tunics they would often wear an apron. Read more
More about medieval fashion
- mctekstilblog.blogspot.dk, in Danish
- Wiki: Medieval clothing, in Danish
- dragt.dk: They have a pdf magazine published a number of time a year all about the history of garments. In Danish
- Hvad hed tøjet? Dragtbetegnelser omkring 1380-1410 Af Camilla Luise Dahl – Middelaldercentre (no longer on the official website) In Danish
- muckley.us: A great overview of pictures of medieval underwear
- Images and analysis of Maciejowski Bible
- Spanish site on foodwear among other things
- romandelarose.org names of garment parts
- Wiki on 1200-1300 European fashion
- vulgarcrowd: How to put together a 1500’s outfit
- “Medieval Dress and Fashion” by Margaret Scott, 2007 by British Library