Clothing in the Middle Ages

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Medieval clothing

The clothing in the Middle Ages in Europe reflected the place of the dressed person within the medieval class order . The differences between the stands were mostly only in the material used and the associated decorations. The materials available for making textiles for the lower classes were linen , hemp , nettle (these three especially for use in underwear) and sheep's wool (these especially for outerwear). The higher class could also fall back on expensive imported fabrics made of silk and generally used better textile qualities and refined cloths .

Clothes colors

The choice of color was a differentiating criterion between the stands. In general, it can be said that complex, i.e. expensive colors to produce, were reserved for the higher ranks. In order to maintain this distinctive status, but also to limit the cost of clothing, so-called dress codes have been drawn up over and over again .


In addition to the use of natural-colored fabrics, which were mostly only used in the lower class, the fabrics were also dyed, as shown by illustrations in books, traditional dyeing recipes and archaeological findings. This was mostly done with dyes obtained from plants. For example, yellow dyes were obtained from birch , tansy and dyer's woof . The most important plant for red was madder , but goosefoot , maple roots , blackthorn and certain lichens are also suitable for this. Blue dyes were produced with the help of the dye plant woad , but indigo was also increasingly imported. Color extracts of animal origin were also used. An expensive red was obtained from the Kermeslaus , which is native to several genera in Europe. The purple dye obtained from the purple snail was so valuable that it was reserved exclusively for the nobility.

Textile manufacturing

The simple unaltered textiles for the low status were often produced in our own homework. Often cloths counted directly to the levies levied by dependents on their masters, the lower nobility and the clergy .

In addition to the different fiber preparation techniques, depending on the fiber material, the hand spindle was used to spin the fibers until the 13th century . Then the first simple spinning wheels appeared. In the High Middle Ages, cloth production already assumed great proportions. In the 13th century, people moved from the vertical weight loom to the horizontal step loom . Every work step on the way to the finished cloth was taken over by specialized craftsmen. In the high Middle Ages real manufacturing centers for cloth production emerged, particularly Sicily , northern Italy, southern France, but also Flanders and Brabant . In the late Middle Ages, the importance of southern German cloth production increased.

Clothing fashion in the various sub-periods

In general, the observation of clothing at this time reveals system-related errors. In terms of depictions (painting & sculpture), the aristocratic area clearly predominates, depictions of the lower classes are rarer. The image quality was still very poor up to the end of the 14th century, until then there was no realistic image style. Garments that have survived this time are often only very special coronation, clerical or saint's robes, which have survived in treasure chambers and as relics. The selection of this clothing can justifiably be regarded as not representative. Archaeological textile finds, on the other hand, are relatively rare and often only preserved in very fragments.

Romanesque clothing

Romanesque clothing from around 800 to around 1200 was still very much influenced by Byzantine fashion, which originally emerged from the Roman costume. However, these influences weakened over time and in the 11th century could only be recognized in the clothing of the clergy. In the Romanesque era, elaborately woven braids were often used as decorations .

Man's clothing in the Romanesque

The man wore an undershirt and a kind of underpants (called: Brouche ) made of linen. A long-sleeved smock was worn over it. The woolen smock reached below the knees and was belted. A rectangular woolen coat was placed around the shoulders and held on the right side by a clasp. Felt hats were worn as headgear . The feet and legs were still wrapped with bandages until the 11th century, after which long stocking legs became popular, which are now known as leg warmers . The shoes were made of leather and were sewn reversibly. Shorter haircuts predominate in hairstyle at this time. As jewelry, the man wore coat clasps and bracelets as well as belts and buckles, mostly made of non-ferrous metal (bronze). Upper classes also used silver and gold.

Woman's clothing in the Romanesque

In the Romanesque period, women's clothing was not very body-hugging until the 11th century. She wore a linen, foot-length undergarment with long sleeves. An ankle-length outer garment with wide, short or pointed sleeves was also put on over it. From the 11th century onwards, the upper garment became much more body-hugging, presumably tied above the waist. The undergarment was widened more by wedges and lengthened to the floor. In the 12th century, the variety of forms in outer garments continued to increase: In addition to long, wide outer garments, the laterally laced bliaut was still worn. But there are also images of thigh-length "tube dresses". The sleeves are wide in the aristocracy, and close-fitting in the lower classes. In addition, a coat can be worn that is closed over the chest. Married women wore their hair covered. In the 11th century, a kind of veil dominated as headgear, and in the 12th century a long strip of fabric, which was wrapped around the head and sometimes also around the neck in different variations. At the turn of the 13th century, the giving (or volumes) appeared, a three to six centimeter wide linen bandage that covered the cheek and chin. Small flat hoods, the Schapel or veil were placed on them. Noble women mostly wore ornate headbands. The shoes of women were not very different from those of men. People still liked to bleach their hair, as was customary in ancient Rome. It was worn straight or braided, then later curled and loosened. Jewelry was still widely worn by the nobility in the 11th century. In addition to brooches , chains, earrings and finger rings were also worn. In the 12th century jewelry decreased significantly, i.e. H. only fibulas / bridges and occasionally finger rings are worn. In aristocratic and church circles, gloves are increasingly being used for this.

Gothic clothing

In the Gothic period , clothing became increasingly elaborate. However, this statement must be viewed critically due to the system, because detailed, realistic images of clothing only existed from the High Gothic and Late Gothic periods. The fashions of the early, high and late Gothic differ very significantly from one another. It is therefore difficult to make short, generalized statements about the entire Gothic. At the beginning of the early Gothic period in the 13th century, male fashion came close to female fashion. Both sexes wear long outerwear in the form of a so-called cotte. In the beginning, it appears to be dominated by a less body-hugging fashion that essentially shows towering, slender bodies - a common feature with Gothic architecture. Towards the end of the 13th century and in the 14th century, the variety of shapes increased significantly and there was again some extreme emphasis on the body and obsession with detail, such as button fashion or the extremely long tips on the so-called Gugel . The following clothing descriptions relate more to the high and late Gothic.

Man's clothes in Gothic

Beak shoes

The man wore an undergarment and overdress with no feet. The skirt came down to the knees and was sometimes slit at the hem. The Suckenie (a sleeveless overskirt) was worn over the long-sleeved petticoat . There were also linen underpants and tight-fitting thigh-length stockings, mhd. The pants . Because of possible confusion with the modern term pants, the term leg warmers has become common today . Later, the petticoat developed into a short, tight skirt with a stand-up collar and a richly folded back, also known as a piebald. This was cut open at the front and closed again with buttons or ribbons. Sometimes the shirt peeped out from underneath, which was made of the finest linen and put in lots of small folds. Over it one wore a wide, cloak-like cloak, the Houppelande , Heuke or a short cloak that barely reached to the bottom.

As head coverage you put a cowl hood on, a collar-like hood with long Zipfel. As shoes, reversible shoes were worn, which, like other clothing, were sewn inside out and then turned inside out so that the seam lies on the inside. The beaked shoes , also called poulines, were a special form , with very long tips and emerging in the 14th and 15th centuries. But leg warmers with sewn soles were also worn. The hair was worn loose and curly hanging on the shoulder. Later it was only half-length and short over the face. But a variety of headgear was also common. A simple linen hood was very common . The face was either clean-shaven or covered with a full beard that was slowly coming back into fashion.

Man's jewelry consisted of a Fürspan on the overcoat and splendid belts with bags, the Dusings .

Woman's clothing in Gothic

A noble lady of the High Middle Ages wears a body-hugging surcot

The women, like the men, wore a foot-length and long-sleeved petticoat, the cotte , which was mostly sewn from linen or silk. A loose, long, later sleeveless overdress, the surcot , with a train was pulled over it.

The Burgundian fashion was körpereng, with far sluggish skirt and a tight-fitting bodice , which was front tied over the shirt. A belt was worn under the deep neckline. As headgear, the married women still wore the giver or the rise , a folded headscarf. Especially in Burgundy was Hennin spread, a cone-shaped dome that was three feet high and often was provided with veils. Young women often wore hoop flowers or ribbon wreaths. The women also used reversible shoes as shoes.

Regional peculiarities


Just as the respective times had their fashionable peculiarities, there were also regional peculiarities. From the 15th century it was common in the city, under shoes or stripping to wear. These had a wooden sole and a strap made of leather, into which one slipped with his sneaked shoes. They served to protect the actual shoes from moisture and dirt, but above all they protected the soft soles of the reversibly sewn shoes from wear and tear on the increasingly widespread street pavement.

Around 1300 Hanover was probably the first German city to impose a dress and jewelry code for its citizens in keeping with their status.


During the Viking Age , people in southern Scandinavian countries wore light-colored trousers, while dark trousers (mostly black) were reserved for the nobles . Otherwise the clothing between the nobility and the people remained almost the same, only in the amount of jewelry and the quality of the sword one could still recognize a class difference. In this case, the boundaries between the rich Scandinavian merchants were fluid. During this time and region, slaves were prohibited from wearing shoes and long hair, both of which were a symbol of freedom.


Contrary to many claims, the Scots only began to wear tartans as a sign of clan membership in the modern era, in the 19th century . The “ Great Belted Plaid ” is also an invention of the late Renaissance, as is the kilt of the modern age. The first documented plaids from the 16th century are monochrome. In Scotland, in the Middle Ages, the same clothing was worn as on the mainland; H. Until the early Gothic period, Germanic long trousers and tunics, and then cotte and leg warmers.

See also


  • Elke Brüggen: Clothing and fashion in the courtly epic of the 12th and 13th centuries Heidelberg , Heidelberg 1989, ISBN 3-533-04060-7 (carton) or ISBN 3-533-04061-5 (left)
  • Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard: Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-c.1450: Finds from Medieval Excavations in London (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London) , The Boydell Press 2004, ISBN 0-85115-840-4
  • Geoff Egan, Frances Pritchard, Susan Mitford: Dress Accessories, c.1150-c.1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London) , The Boydell Press 2004, ISBN 0-85115-839-0
  • Kirsten O. Frieling: See and be seen. Clothing at royal courts on the threshold from the Middle Ages to the modern age (approx. 1450 - 1530) . (= Medieval research; 41). Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2013 ( digitized version )
  • Katrin Kania: Clothing in the Middle Ages. Materials-construction-sewing technology. A manual , Cologne, Weimar and Vienna 2010, ISBN 978-3-412-20482-2
  • Jan Keupp : The choice of clothing. Fashion, power and a sense of possibility in politics and society in the Middle Ages . (= Medieval research; 33). Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2010, ISBN 3-7995-4285-X ( digitized version )
  • Jan Keupp: Mode in the Middle Ages , Darmstadt 2011, ISBN 3-89678-804-3
  • Harry Kühnel (ed.): Picture dictionary of clothing and armor. From the ancient Orient to the outgoing Middle Ages , Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-520-45301-0
  • Else Östergard: Woven into the earth , Aarhus Universitetsforlag 2004, ISBN 87-7288-935-7
  • Margaret Scott: Clothing and Fashion in the Middle Ages . Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-8062-2199-2

Web links