Thursday, 4 May 2017

Age and Fashion in History part 4

Fashion in Medieval times was restricted, not by age, but by status. Changes in fashion usually came from the top down, the top in those days being royalty. The changing fashions were then adopted by the aristocracy and from there filtered down through the rest of society, or at least as far as they could be copied. Sumptuary Laws regulated the clothing that could be worn by people based on their status. The further down the social scale the less sumptuous the furs, cloth and embellishments which could be used. Of course, these regulations were often flouted especially by those who wished to ape their betters. 

In the early part of the era, clothes were fairly basic hanging from the shoulders like tunics. The material of the garments depended on the status of the wearer. Once the fitted sleeve was invented around about 1330, clothing could follow the shape of the body. This allowed for the changing styles which we associate with fashion today. 

Women’s fashion went through many phases during the period. These changes were restricted by requirements that women never bare their legs or arms. This still left plenty of scope providing the garments were long sleeved with long skirts. Society also dictated what happened above the shoulders with hair usually off the face and married women wearing headdresses, unlike unmarried women who were prohibited from wearing similar headgear. 

At this time, the fashion to watch was men’s fashion, specifically men’s court fashion where the changes happened quickly. The aristocrats didn’t have to till fields, build structures or man a merchant’s counter. Their clothing didn’t have to be practical. The excesses of fashion happened at court. There men wore long robes or short doublets with hose. Sometimes the same man had both types of clothing in his wardrobe. The doublet was a tunic that ended somewhere above the knees. As tastes changed, the doublet became shorter and shorter until the church was scandalized that the shape of men’s nether cheeks could be seen through their hose. But worse was to come. The doublet rose until it was a scant few inches below the belt. Very little of a man’s lower anatomy was left to the imagination when he wore that outfit! Extremes of men’s fashion also extended to shoes which, for some time, had pointed toes. These toes grew longer and longer until a style called the Crackowe or poulaine was adopted. The toes in this style were 20 inches long and had to be tied to the wearers garter to allow movement. 

Like today, fashion was interesting to watch especially in the extremes but the average person had work to do. Their fashion followed current styles in a more conservative manner. Fashion restrictions were due to status rather than age except in the instance of headdresses which were the sole purview of married women.


Laver, James. A Concise History of Costume. Thames and Hudson, London, 1977

Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. Vintage Books, London, 2009

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