Medieval Garments

Garments in the Middle Ages were designed to serve two purposes: to protect against the weather and to allow others to recognize the wearer’s stratum. Nobles wore elaborate clothing made from exquisite materials—silk, for instance. Sumptuary laws were in place for the various strata, assigning the colors red and blue to nobility. Peasants, however, wore much simpler, more easily obtainable colors such as brown, beige, and white, and preferred clothes suitable for hard labor. Nobles, for their part, fancied form-fitting, elaborately adorned garments.

Medieval garments throughout the epochs

The Middle Ages are subdivided into three epochs: The Early Middle Ages, The High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages. In the Early Middle Ages the tunic was presumably the most popular piece of clothing. It was a ubiquitously practical habiliment, one worn by the rich and the poor alike. Many nobles had Byzantine workshops fashion their garments from silk and embroider them with gold and silver threads.

During the High Middle Ages the cuts, as well as the colors of the clothes, grew more and more elaborate.

The Late Middle Ages brought even more variation in cuts. Clothes were even tighter once revealing garments emphasizing the physical charms of their wearer gained increasing popularity.

Archeological findings of medieval garments

Textile findings from excavation sites are an important source for understanding the cuts and garments of those times. Because textiles are made from biologically degradable materials, however, they are usually not very well preserved and only a few findings exist that reveal this kind of information. For this reason, huge sites such as those in Heidelberg or Freiburg are immensely important. Furthermore, a lot of ideas about the appearance of medieval clothing are inferred from texts or paintings. Those, however, usually depict only nobles’ garments and select cuts, which is why it is so difficult to determine the characteristics of peasants’ garb.

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