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27 Jul

Clothing and Fashion in the Middle Ages

Picture of Visigothic belt buckle from the 6th century

Visigothic belt buckle

The invasion of barbaric peoples in the Early Middle Ages resulted in the change of fashion and style of clothing. Little is known about clothing of the invading peoples before they reached Europe. Men commonly wore short tunics with belts and visible trousers, hose or leggings and a cloak – animal leather or fur in winter.

A picture of Ostrogothic earring


Women’s clothing in the Early Middle Ages was greatly influenced by the Byzantine style but it was eventually replaced by the Roman style. Women’s clothes were ornamented with colorful borders or tablet-woven bands and fibulas (brooches), while both men and women could wear a superb jewelry. The main clothing materials were cotton and linen.

Charlemagne's coronation, 9th century


Byzantine influence on Western European clothing and fashion started to decline at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th century. The historical sources record that Charlemagne (768-814) dressed in Frankish style which was a mixture of Roman, Byzantine and Germanic styles: sleeved tunic, leggings which were held in place by long laces (cross-gartering), tighter-fitting hose and a cloak. Women wore a simple sleeved tunic dress with a vertical slit and decorated borders and hems. Underneath were often worn hose. Sometimes was also worn an under-tunic, and cloak or mantle during the winter. Eventually women began to wear a loose shoulder cape, mantle or kerchief to cover their hair. The predominant clothing materials were wool and linen.

Sculpture of a woman wearing a bliaut, Angers Cathedral, 12th century

People began to dress according to their class and social status by the 12th century. Both men and women worn bliaut, a long outer tunic with full skirts from the hip and with sleeves that fitted closely from the shoulder to the elbow and then flared into a trumpet shape dropping nearly to floor-length. New in men’s clothing was also sleeveless surcoat worn as a protective covering for the armor, while wealthier classes worn shoes with pointed toes which represented a status symbol and were popular until the 15th century.

Gemini, Hunterian Psalter, about 1170

“Gemini” (the twins) from the Hunterian Psalter
wearing shoes with pointed toes

Philip II of France with pageboy hairstyle
Philip II of France with pageboy hairstyle

The 13th century saw change of clothing style only in wealthier classes, while male and female fashion was very similar. Men wore a tunic, cotte with a surcoat or the cyclas, a rectangular surcoat cut in one peace with a hole for the head. Cyclas were either sleeveless with its sides sewn together making a long sleeveless tunic or with sleeves and hood resembling a cap-sleeved surcoat known as ganache or gardcorps. Men wore their hair in a “pageboy ” style, a straight hair to below the ear and slightly turned under.

Sketch of a woman wearing barbette and coif, sleeveless surcoat, gown and mantle

A woman wearing
barbette and coif,
sleeveless surcoat
and a mantle

Women also wore hose and leather shoes, while their long dresses were loosely-fitted and had a narrow belt and tight sleeves. Over the dress was worn the cyclas or sleeveless surcoat. Women also continued to cover their hair. The 13th century headdress was notable for the barbette, a chin band to which were attached various types of hats. The “woman’s coif” that resembled a pillbox hat was the most popular headdress from the 12th to the 13th century. Both barbette and coif were reduced to narrow strips of cloth by the end of the 13th century, while the hair was often confined into crespine or crespinette, a thick hairnet or snood. Women’s headdresses in the 12th and the 13th centuries also featured wimple and veil which were mostly worn by older women.

Manuscript illumination depicting Edward III of England and his son Edward, the Black Prince

Edward III of England and
Edward, the Black Prince

Medieval clothing in the 14th century already saw the emergence of recognizable fashion in clothing, while the use of buttons and lacing enabled easier dressing and undressing as well as more comfortable fitting of clothes. Men’s clothes in the 14th century became tighter and shorter. Tunic or shirt previously worn with belt was replaced by short shirt and skirt with tight hose or chausses made of wool and often featuring leather soles. Over the shirt was worn a doublet, a close-fitting buttoned jacket of hip length and a gown or kirtle over doublet.

A woman wearing houppelande


Women wore a loose or fitted gown (known as a cotte or kirtle) of ankle or floor-length with full skirts and trains for special occasions. Over the kirtle was worn cotehardie (fitted garment with hanging sleeves), tippet (fitted garment with long and narrow hanging sleeves) or tabard (sleeveless overgown). Outdoors women wore cloaks, mantles or houppelande which was an outer garment with a long, full body and flaring sleeves worn by both men and women. Married women continued to cover their hair confined into crespine on the sides of the head that was sometimes dressed in horns, while uncovered hair was acceptable only in the Italian cities.

A detail from Sandro Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi, about 1475

European fashion in the 15th century was notable by a series of extremes and extravagances, while the wealthier classes began to wore more complex clothes. Men continued to wear a shirt, doublet, hose and various overgowns. Very tight-fitted, belted or tailored doublets with full or puffy sleeves became very fashionable in the middle of the 15th century. Hose were also very tight and sewn together into a single garment, while a pouch or flap covered the front opening. Over the doublet were worn different types of gowns: houppelande, tabard, short or long cloaks or mantles. Gowns worn at the end of the 15th century were of different lengths, unbelted and featured a wide turned back revers and a collar. Hats of various styles often worn around the neck as a cowl were very popular in men of all classes in the 15th century. Very fashionable was also the chaperon which covered the head and neck and could be twisted in various shapes. Bowl haircut with shaved hair at the back of the neck was the most popular men’s hairstyle in the middle of the 15th century, while shoulder-length hair became fashionable at the end of the 15th century.

A portrait of Isabella of Portugal

Isabella of Portugal
with hair dressed in
horns and topped by
a veil, wearing a
gown with low V-neck

Female costume in the 15th century consisted of a long gown which usually featured sleeves and a low V-neck which often revealed the front of the kirtle that was worn beneath, while long-waisted style was replaced by high-waisted style with fullness over the belly. Over the long gowns was worn cotehardie or houppelande. However, style of clothing as well as hairstyles and headdresses greatly varied from country to country. The crespine which was fashionable on the sides of the head at the end of the 14th century was worn on the back of the head. The hair was pulled back from the forehead, while some women shaved their eyebrows and forehead. Women also continued to cover their hair with various headdresses: chaperons, coifs or caps, veils and wimples. Hair was sometimes topped by a padded roll arranged in a heart-shape or a veil supported by wire frames. The hennin in the shape of a cone and topped by a veil was fashionable in Burgundy.

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