Historical Clothing

  • More Clothing and Accessories from 1150 - 1250 AD.
  • By L. J. M. L.


    In the beginning we had the T tunic. Then we had the surcotte, the bliaut and the kirtle (tight long sleeved gown). Now we have several sleeve variations, yet another new tunic / gown, jewellery, fans, belt buckles, accessories, and so on. My research into various forms of medieval art has led me to find new and interesting things that we can add to the styles of clothing and accessories that we already have. The enthusiasm from most members of Companie when I present this new information as I find it has inspired me to continue to look for more things. I don’t know everything about our time period, but the kind words from various members have inspired me to try to find out everything that I can about it: I don’t know everything-not yet anyways!!


    This is the subject that seems to be most hotly debated. So far, there seems to be no evidence to prove that anything except a ‘D’ buckle or a single buckle existed in our time period. I have found several photographs of primary sources on the internet to contradict this. Because of the extreme caution that information on the net should be dealt with, I went in search of books in libraries with photographs of extant findings to prove what I’d seen on the net. Lo and behold-there was a wonderful little book that dealt with an excavation in England from the early through to late middle ages, that had photographs and details of medieval buckles other than single buckles. These by and large are the double buckles, or ‘H’ buckles.

    The double buckle consists of two loops, one on either side of the central bar, and a pin. There is also an added form to the normal, which is a figure 8 type of buckle, the two halves of which are usually set each slightly about the axis of the central bar. This figure 8 buckle was extremely rare until the 14th century, so it would be fair to say that there is some ambiguity about this piece. However, the ‘H’ style buckle exists in abundance. The buckles here date between 1250-1380 AD. They consist of the following: · Bronze rectangular buckle with decoration. Maximum width-1.7 inches. Found in Thames Street excavation. Also a buckle like this was found at Rye. · A square bronze buckle with moulded bars. Maximum length-1.9 inches. From London excavation. · Bronze buckle with roughly incised ornament. Maximum width-2.9 inches · Small bronze buckle with no ornament. Maximum length-2.5 inches. · Bronze circular double buckle, Roman 2nd century AD. Very ornate. From the examples cited here, one can see that there were quite a few variations on the simple ‘H’ shaped belt buckle. These examples are illustrated in the Appendix.

    There has never been any dispute about the existence of hand held fans for ladies or for the sick within Companie, however, I decided to catalogue the type of fan that was popular during our time period. Fans were in use in the most ancient of cultures, both ceremonially and as a fashion accessory. There are many Egyptian reliefs that depict the Pharaoh with fans, or being fanned by his attendants. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, the remains of two fans that were shaped like lotus flowers were found. The handles were made of bone or wood, and the plumes were of ostrich feathers. Surviving ancient fans show that the handles were made of wood, sometimes covered with gold leaf, painted and inlaid with enamel, bone, or tortoise shell. Bitumen was used to secure the feathers of the ostrich into the handles.

    Roman ladies had fans and even the Romano-British are known to have used circular fans. A sculptured town in Carlisle museum indicates this quite clearly, showing a lady, circa 250AD holding a large round fan with radiating ribs. “An illuminated manuscript of the 12th century in Berne, Switzerland, shows Louis VII of France on his sick bed being fanned by an attendant. The fan depicted could be of Eastern origin.” The more widespread use and transition of the fan from the Middle East to Europe may have occurred during the 12th century during the Crusades.

    A 4th century sarcophagus at York, England, has been identified as Roman in period, and a pair of ivory fan handles were found within. It can be seen then, that both the circular fan, feather fan and even the grass fan, so popular in Egypt and the Middle East were all known and used in our time period.

    The crespine has been under debate, simply because it is a pretty fiddly object to make. The Museum of London archaeology series has published a book on textiles and clothing from 1150-1450, which demonstrates how a crespine would have been woven, by examining extant examples from 13th century archaeological sites. Hairnets were made in London from imported silk thread. Four examples of silk hairnets have been found at excavations in the city, one from a 13th century deposit, two from early 14th century deposits, and a small fragment from the late 14th century. A close examination of the structure of the hairnets shows the method by which they were produced, please see the appendix for the detailed diagram. A series of loops was made from a lightly plied double thread. Rows of knotted mesh were then created with the aid of a narrow netting needle which were usually of copper alloy. In order to ensure an even size of mesh, a small measuring stick, perhaps a short metal rod was probably used as is the practise today in netmaking by hand. The 13th century hairnet was made of much finer thread than the later ones.

    At a site in Dublin, Ireland, dated to during the Byzantine empire, another hairnet was found and dated to the 11th century. This puts the previously thought date of the crespine much earlier than the mid 13th century. Again it was made of silk thread, and was of a fine, open, loose weave. There are small knots tied at each corner of the lozenges formed by the weave. “The origin of silk hairpieces (several have been found in Dublin) is problematic, since silk was imported into Dublin as yarn. It could have been made in Dublin. It is however, not woven with the characteristic twist of north European weaves, and it seems more likely to have come from the Near or Far East.”

    Tablet woven bands for braid, trim, pouch strings, belts and so on have been dated as far back as the Bronze Age. Another form of woven bands are the finger woven bands, again several of which were found at the excavations of a 12th and 13th century site in London. These bands were at their simplest, of 5 double strands of yarn or silk thread, woven with the fingers. At their most complex, they had over 20 double strands and branched out into two or more tails at their ends, which suggests that more than 3 people could be working on a finger woven braid at any one time. These bands were used primarily as trims and braids, and also as pouch strings, with the thicker, more ornate bands sometimes being used as belt trims. The Museum of London has examined extant examples of these bands, and worked out the method for weaving them. The method is contained in a diagram in the Appendix.

    The find of a woollen cap dating back to the 10th century also adds an interesting element to the mix of accessories for men and women. It is a selveged cap, woven from worsted yarns, with a z/z twist, and an open, regular tabby weave. It has a rolled hem at the face edge and a double hem at the base. Diagonal seams at the top rear of the cap provides a curve to fit the head. A patch is stitched to the inner side. Seven such caps are identifiable from the site at Fishamble Street/John’s Lane Dublin, and five of silk. These were possibly produced locally, but have been more positively located to Northern Europe or Scandinavia. They were of high quality , fine worstends, the two selvedges suggest that the wool was produced on a small loom probably used especially for caps and scarves.

    Once again the internet provided me with primary source pictures of tweezers dating back as far as the 1st century AD, from Rome. The Museum of Classical Archaeology contains several extant examples of bronze tweezers such as this, dating from Pre Christian Rome to later Rome, approximately 800AD. Tweezers were used for the same purposes they are today-cosmetic removal of facial hair and the removal of splinters in the skin. They were also used in the removal of body hair for cosmetic purposes.

    The Museum of Classical Archaeology (located in Adelaide, South Australia) also contains examples of bronze needles, used for hand sewing and embroidery. These needles appear to be quite common, as many other museums of international classical archaeology have several in their collections. The needles that were used by the weavers of the crespines were made, as previously mentioned, of copper alloy. These needles varied in length from 101mm to 147mm, and were made from drawn wire and have an open eye at each end so that the silk thread could be wound on to the needle very easily.


    A new style of over tunic and over gown is called the Guarde Corps or Herygoud. After 1200, there is a variety of overtunic called the guarde-corps. Between 1225-1250 it appeared in greater number and lasted well through the century. This is a very loose tunic that comes to ankle or mid leg, whose distinctive feature is the very wide loose sleeves gathered at the top where they have a short slit lengthwise in front to allow the arm to pass through, in which case they hang idle, almost to the knees.

    “Garde-Corps or Herygoud, (13th and early 14th century) was a voluminous garment hanging in folds to the ankles or just below the knees. Made with wide tubular sleeves gathered at the shoulders, and reaching well beyond the hands. For convenience, the arm could be passed through a long vertical slit in the front of the upper part of the sleeve, which was left hanging loose. This supertunic was generally (but not always) hooded.”

    The gown depicted in the illumination of the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, from the first half of the 13th century, from France, shows this type of sleeve on a gown rather than a man’s tunic. The dress combines what is considered all the excesses of the period, “a narrow upper body laced tightly, blousing to stress the belly, jutting suddenly over the hips and falling in crumpled heaps on the ground and the most prolonged sleeve possible, with a dramatic cuff.” This gown shows the long false sleeve with the slit in the front for the hand to pass through, with the long false sleeve trailing the ground.

    As earlier mentioned, the painting from Montmorilon, Notre Dame, dated the first half of the 13th century AD shows the image of “The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine”. St. Catherine is seen to be wearing a gown that is quite tight in fit to the hips, falling in long folds to the floor. Her sleeves, though are of particular interest. They show the variations described above in the Garde-Corps-the long false sleeve with the slit in the front for the hand to pass through, with the long false sleeve left to trail uselessly on the ground.

    From the “Great Bible of Winchester” dated 1160-1170AD comes the image of the ‘queen’ or noble woman, wearing another tight fitting gown to the hips. The sleeves on this gown are tight to perhaps between the elbow and wrist, where they flare out dramatically to form the long, bell like, trailing sleeves. This is described better as a tight sleeve with a suddenly widened cuff. This sleeve is repeated in the manuscript from Alsace, at approximately 1180AD, the illustration “Superbia” in particular. The sleeves of her gown have the “full cuff falling suddenly from a tight sleeve decorated with the persistent Byzantine upper-arm band.”

    The Engelberg Manuscript from Switzerland, dated 12th century shows more interesting variations on sleeves and headwear. The lady who has something to confess wears her veil as a turban, with the end passed under the chin, barbette-fashion. The bodice is laced tight under the arms, widening immediately to permit the bloused effect and side fullness. The sleeves have the very long pleated 12th century cuffs, set below the elbow of a very tight sleeve. Her urgent friend wears a barbette under her chin with a fillet. The barbette appeared first in the mid 12th century. The tight bodice is achieved by back lacing. Although this is not visible, the tightness of the bodice, and the lack of side lacing leads me to conclude that the effect could only be achieved by back lacing, as stretch fabrics were not known in the period, nor infact until the late 18th century, with the Industrial Revolution. The skirt of the gown is long, almost circular, and gores have been added immediately below the waist. The sleeves are again very tight with fantastically long pleated hanging bands laid across the arm, below the elbow.

    The pleating of the sleeve effect was obviously very popular, lasting well into the 13th century, both from manuscript illustration to sculptural decoration. The Spanish sculpture of “St. Juliana and the Devil”, dated the third quarter of the 12th century AD, has not only the tight sleeves to mid forearm, inbetween the elbow and wrist, but also the pleated effect of the hanging sleeve and cuff. Juliana’s gown also seems to be three quarter length, with the undertunic showing, which demonstrates that the sleeve pleating was not restricted solely to full length gowns. She wears her hair uncovered, in 4 tresses, these seem to be not so much plaited as bound to half way down and then allowed to fall in uncovered curls to the ends.

    Returning once again to the manuscript of “Superbia” from Alsace, 1180AD. Her veil is worn in a high knotted turban, with flowing ends, “it was inevitable in a century of such impetuous adventurousness in costume, that the susceptibility of the ends of the veil to arrangement should lead to such headdresses as those of the females of the Swiss plate (mentioned earlier). The toes of her decorated shoes show the effect of the new preoccupation with length.” An unnamed manuscript of the 11th century shows the ‘socks’ being worn on the hair. Women’s costume consisted at this time, of a “super tunic, often embroidered, a large square mantle, and a long head-rail draping the head and shoulders and concealing the hair....women also wore silk sheaths to cover the hair” The silk sheaths on the hair remained quite popular until the mid 12th century. This is not, also, the first or only mention of square mantles. The wall painting in Canterbury Cathedral, St. Gabriel’s Chapel, dated 1180-1190AD shows that there were longer capes, both rectangular and circular, one is hooded, and all are inclined towards the center front closure.

    The goffered fillet, as it is called, is a crown style pill box hat that was very popular with ladies of the nobility for its similarity to a crown. It is a fillet that has semi-circular cerated edges, and pleating between the points of the semi circles seem to emphasise this trait. It has also been described in the sculptures of Chatres Cathedral, dated between 1150-1250 for the entire complex, as being a fluted cap. Illustrations from the Maciejowski Bible show this design of barbette as well. The illustrations of the Maciejowski Bible, circa 1250-1260AD show that the hair is worn long and uncovered, and in stylised curls. The barbette and fillet is sometimes worn on top of the hair, but not always. The illustrations of the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, show both women, who were both married, then widowed, with only one of them marrying a second time, wearing at different stages throughout the manuscript, uncovered long, curled hair, or a barbette and fillet over long, uncovered curled hair. It also shows that the women wear the crespine, and occasionally, the capuchon, previously thought to be solely a men’s garment. Gloves are worn, by both men and women, and the men’s tunics are shown with rolled up sleeves. In all stages of our time period, men also were seen wearing the Phrygian cap, which is similar to our arming cap, tied underneath the chin, allowing the fringe and back of the hair to be seen.

    The 13th century also has some slight variations on dress, although in the sense of richer and more elaborate fabrics, and plaited uncovered hair for ladies than anything else. The manuscript of the Morgan Library collection, numbered M. 730, French, 13th century, mid to late, shows a husband, wife and children with gowns of a very simple cut, because of the heavy and magnificent material. The illumination is said to be done at Arras, in France, which by the 14th century had become one of the greatest centers of weaving in Europe, so much so, that tapestries and tapestry fabric were known as ‘Arras’. The tunic of the husband shows a high collar, richly decorated, with tight sleeves, falling full to the floor. The fabric is also obviously richly decorated. The son wears a lesser decorated version of the tunic. The wife wears a simple gown, tight to the waist, and full with the skirt, also with tight sleeves. Her neckline seems to be oval in shape, with the extreme points of the oval lying on her shoulders. The neckline appears to be decorated. Her daughters all wear the same style of gown. On her head she wears a circlet, richly jewelled, and her hair is long and caught in tresses or plaits, as is the hair of her daughters.