Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It

Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It

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by Dorothy Hartley

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Clear-cut and accurate in its guidance, this volume depicts medieval clothes and accessories not as inanimate museum exhibits but as items of vital interest and well worth recreating. Unlike conventional costume histories, which tend to classify their contents by era, this volume portrays the clothing of the twelfth through 15th centuries according to the wearer's…  See more details below


Clear-cut and accurate in its guidance, this volume depicts medieval clothes and accessories not as inanimate museum exhibits but as items of vital interest and well worth recreating. Unlike conventional costume histories, which tend to classify their contents by era, this volume portrays the clothing of the twelfth through 15th centuries according to the wearer's social class. Here are the garments of royalty, clerics, doctors, merchants, musicians, knights, artisans, farmers, and laborers — all magnificently illustrated with images from tapestries and illuminated manuscripts as well as in drawings and diagrams. Helpful advice covers choosing fabrics; placement of seams; draping and folding garments; how to walk, dance, and climb stairs in the cumbersome unfamiliarity of flowing attire; and even the best methods of storage.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Fashion and Costumes Series
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6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.41(d)

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Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It

By Dorothy Hartley

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13432-1



OUR English royalties are best found 'in character' on their effigies in Westminster Abbey, at Fontevrault, and the cathedral churches of Worcester (King John), Gloucester (Edward II) and elsewhere in more or less contemporary sculptures. It should be remembered that coronation robes and the official habits of their office soon became traditional and were little affected by current modes. Judicious research among illuminated MSS. Will yield a deal of valuable information.

Every detail should be corrected and decided upon, before an inch of the costume is made. For State ceremonies and historic occasions the costumes are often described by eye-witnesses with minute exactness which must be followed. Therefore in this section we give the traditional robes most generally useful. For resting figure (page 5, No. 5) the first garment would be a silk or linen vest and breeches (= drawers), over this a linen slip reaching below the knees; over this, for warmth, a woollen under-robe may be worn. The first visible robe is of plain linen or silk, ankle length, with long, fitted sleeves. This may have bands of embroidery. Over this a shorter tunic with wide shorter sleeves (page 5, No. 4) which may be of the greatest richness and ornamented with bands of embroidery and gold work. A long heavy girdle (not to be confused with the sword belt) holds all to the figure, and the natural movement of the arm pouches the robe slightly over the waist. Hose and shoes of simple make and a plain gold circlet complete the figure. In the photo (page 3 (B)) and the MS. (page 4 (B)) from which the robe is taken the elderly king wears a light linen coif, materially increasing his comfort without detracting from his dignity. This is specially helpful where a romantic and fantastic crown is designed. The square cloak (page 5, No. 1) is the height of the figure, approximately 6' × 6'. Adjust the two clasps and strap on the figure. It is simple in outline and forms excellent straight graceful folds. The circular cloak (page 5, No. 3) spreads better around a rotund or active monarch; it also may be clasped on the shoulder, and another version, knee-length, may be effectively swung around your youthful king, when he goes hunting in the Forest of Arden. The oval cloak is a good historical example for brocades, and the diagram shows how the cuttings from the circular end are replaced to form the fronts and continue the pattern correctly. Another cloak frequently to be copied, especially of the fourteenth century, looks extraordinarily difficult, but is actually the most simple of all, being a perfect circle with a head-hole in the centre. Sometimes you will find a hood attached to the neck-opening, slits for hands, or larger for arms and sometimes the whole cloak slit down the front. The wearers frequently poke their heads through neck or arm-opening indiscriminately and gather the material into pleats over shoulder or elbow. Therefore when studying and copying these voluminous robes, try always to translate them in terms of the plain square or perfect circle rather than conclude at once they are some complicated pattern.

Kingly shoes are usually cut on the same lines as those worn by their subjects.

Note.—Never weight cloaks; use heavy material. If necessary, use an interlining, but in this case sew it all over into one material and avoid it where possible. Fold circular capes by rolling around the circle and hang up by the neck end of the roll; with square cloaks, roll two sides inwards towards the back unless it is desired to show the lining, when it is as well to store the cloak rolled outwards to train the folds to open that way.



THE religious orders must be carefully distinguished from the ordinary secular clergy: the parish priests under the direct jurisdiction of their diocesan or bishop. Not till about the tenth century were they definitely constituted into orders; but their origins go back to the early centuries of established Christianity, and they derive on the one hand from the hermits, on the other from the true monks or coenobites. Although they took vows (of chastity, poverty, etc.) they were not essentially priests, especially at the outset, but rather bodies of men primarily devoted to working out their salvation (and that of their neighbours) by prayer and contemplation allied to good works.

The orders of the Middle Ages are divided into (1) Monks; (2) Canons Regular; (3) Military Orders; and (4) Friars (= 'Mendicant Orders'). The archetype and earliest of orders is that of St. Benedict, which definitely took shape at Monte Cassino in A.D. 529. St. Augustine brought the Benedictines to Saxon England in 597. Their offshoots, the Cluniacs and Cistercians, reached England respectively before 1077 and in 1127; the Carthusians were settled in Somerset by 1222. The Friars are a creation of the thirteenth century. Friars differ from Monks principally in that, beyond their actual houses, they have in principle no property, even corporate, but live entirely (in theory at least) on alms. Also their work was individual and lay mainly outside of their houses, whereas the monk or canon laboured corporately within. Also their respective organizations and interdependence differed. The chief orders of Friars were the Dominicans (or Black Friars) established here by 1221, the Franciscans (or Grey Friars) 1224, and the Carmelites (White Friars) before 1245. The Friars played in the nature of things a far more 'popular' rôle in mediæval life than the Monks, being brought into continual direct contact with the populace at large, to whom they appealed for the means to exist, and to whom they ministered indiscriminately. The Franciscans' object was to succour the poor, the sick, the ignorant and the outcast; the Dominicans went about preaching the Gospel to whoever would stop to listen. For that reason the Mendicant Orders figure more prominently in popular art and literature from the thirteenth century down than the Monastic Orders. To go into the minutiæ that distinguish the habits of various subdivisions of each order one from another and the modifications that took place at particular dates would carry us beyond the scope of the present work. Some few data may be given by which certain orders can be readily recognized. The Franciscans wear all brown (originally of a greyish tone, later snuff-coloured) and are girt with a knotted cord (hence the French name, 'Cordeliers'); the Dominicans a black cloak and hood over a white gown and scapular; the Carmelites, originally striped grey and brown, presently adopted a white cloak and cowl over brown. The Benedictines are all black, the Cistercians and Carthusians all white, etc. To most of these correspond female orders, whose habit is largely adapted, at least in colour and material, from their respective masculine prototypes.

The distinguishing marks of the military orders—Hospitallers and Templars—and of the Canons Regular require separate study. In so far as any of the 'Regulars'—i.e. of the 'Orders' as opposed to the secular or diocesan clergy—were full-fledged priests, they shared with the seculars the vestments appropriate to the priestly rites: alb, amice, stole, maniple, chasuble, dalmatic, cope, etc. These again should be studied as liturgical vestments pure and simple, since they are only worn 'on duty.' Originally they derived from more or less popular garments in general lay use. Only in the early Middle Ages do they become stereotyped for purely liturgical wear, each with its particular function: their symbolism is of much later date. Thus the chasuble, the distinctive mass-vestment of the priest, almost certainly derives from the late Roman paenula, a poncho-like cloak, chiefly used in travelling and rough weather. The maniple, at first a mere folded handkerchief, presently became more ornamental and then a mere token of ritual functions. The clergy are rarely represented on effigies or brasses except vested for the Eucharist: this is only to be expected, for both the deceased and his friends would account his sacrificial ministry his highest claim to honour. It is worth noticing how beautiful are the liturgical vestments of priest and prelate from the late twelfth to the mid-fourteenth century in form, proportion and decoration, when compared with later forms, which have neither grace nor convenience to recommend them. One is glad to note within the present generation a wholesome tendency to reaction in the matter ofchurch vestments. Notably the episcopal mitre and the priestly chasuble are recognized to be meaningless travesties of their noble thirteenth-century prototypes, and there seems a hope that we may see them soon generally restored to a more seemly pattern. It may be added that the final and worst deformations are essentially post-mediæval.

F. M. K.



The Learned.—These disputant clerks on p. 15 (A and B) are copied from a MS. The gown is simple and plain from neck to hem with plain inset sleeves fitted at the wrist, around which frequently pokes down the white shirt, which may also work up at the neck in stressful moments. The cloak is simplicity itself, but very effective. Page 17 shows the making. Two lengths of cloth, each slightly gathered in the centre around the neck, meet in a plain join on each shoulder. The shoulder seam should not be gathered but plain, and should be long enough to reach well over the shoulder joint. This is the whole secret of the hang of this cloak, for it gives the elbow-lift shown on the left figure and causes the loose folds to move and sway with every movement of the shoulder or heave of the chest and to flap wildly and expressively around the outflung arms. The high collar is a straight length of material sewn on and folded over, and forms a circle, wide enough to slip easily over the head. As seen (page 17, No. 1) the width of the material which makes the two sides of the cloak is generally about right for the collar. This gown is usually rusty black. The dishevelled locks of heated argument are shown in the photos (page 15,) but if desired an impressive cap may be made after pattern, page 17, Nos. 3 and 7. To make this, make a tube of thick felt (or a hood), the diameter of the head, and the length from top of head to nape of neck. Slip this over the face and head with its single seam running perpendicularly down the front. The head is then fitted by means of a single seam running up the forehead over the top of the head to the back of the skull, and a horizontal slit cut across the back below the base of the skull. This slit should be taken up till the cap fits the bulge of the head very closely. The face opening may next be marked out with chalk close above the eyebrows and down in front of each ear. A single cut up the face-seam then releases the victim and the face-hole may be carefully cut to frame the learned features with good effect. If this explanation deters your victim from having his face in a bag while you pin up the back of his head, reassure him. In practice the fitting does not take a minute and it is the easiest way to get a truly good fit for the individual head. The close neat fit around the features is very effective.

Properties for the Scribe.—By the end of the fourteenth century are found spectacles with thick horn rims, eyeglasses with jointed hinge; a book, of which the binding is elongated at the top to form a bag with a knot at the end, slips under the belt, and strong clasps and studs hold all secure; a purse made of two semi-circular strips and one long one of leather, simple and small as becomes a philosopher; Desk Fittings: a good steep slope with a firm soft surface (felt or leather), sheets of parchment, weighted cords to hold parchment in position. These weights will be seen hanging down at the back of the desk, front or back; large ink-bottle, small ink-bottle, water-bottle and powder-bags for ink, reflecting globe (for artificial lighting), duster, penwiper, rules, a cloth to throw over the desk, and spare sheets of parchment. N.B.—Scribing is a double-handed action, the ivory rule in the left hand pressing down the resilient parchment close to the soft pen nib point,—the quills usually short, large flowing feathers impractical. When copying, the book or parchment is above or to the side as convenient. When a clerk is reading to the scribe he sits below him and rather behind.

Illustrations (page 16).—The hole in the side of the desk was a useful store-box for dusters, etc. The figure in a fur cloak wearing gloves is not a scribe, but suggests a useful costume. The knob on the end of the schoolmaster's cane is a decorative picture of its bang; the rod would be an ordinary straight one.



THE photo (page 19) shows a plain dark gown made of two lengths of cloth; the simple sleeves are set in perfectly plain along the side seams as shown (page 21, No. 1). At the bottom (page 21, No. 2) the material is laid on the cloth and (page 21, No. 3) is the pattern of the sleeves. When these are joined from the wrist upward it will be seen a small triangular piece is left over at the armhole; set it in quite plain before the side seam of the robe is joined up, you will find it moves on the arm loosely and comfortably. See that the wrist fits neatly. The neck is hollowed slightly and may show the linen under-slip (this may also slip down a little at the wrist, looking almost like a cuff). The whole robe is held into the figure by a broad strong belt, to which the doctor's purse and book may be attached. The white coif is a plain straight piece of linen tied under the chin with two strings, and shaped to fit the head down a back seam. In making: tack up the coif, tie the strings under the chin, and then fit the back seam A, B, A, page 21, while actually on the head. In no other way can you get the individual close fit. A slight comfortable fullness over the ears is obtained by turning the corners back over the looped chin strings in tiny triangles (about one inch). The almost unnoticeable gathering thus formed makes the coif much more comfortable than when the string is merely sewn on exactly at the point. It is worth while taking some trouble over the coif, which was worn by nearly everybody throughout the thirteenth century. It was always of white linen. The apron is a single straight strip of white linen with a neck slit cut across, and side fastenings. Do not shape this neck-hole in any way. A variant is shown on page 20, where the neck is hollowed into a circle; the difference will be seen at once. The basket (page 21) holds the inevitable glass urine bottle. Above are two medical instruments. A gown, cap, apron, an accommodating leather wallet, and a warm cloak (page 16 (A)) would dress the doctor for most occasions.

Illustrations and Properties.—Page 20. (A) Late thirteenth century—The doctor lets blood, more usually an assistant holds the basin. Afterwards the wound is bound up and the doctor himself removes the cloths and blood. Note the surgeon's close linen coif, a head-dress in universal wear at that date, but from the latter part of the fourteenth century increasingly restricted to the professional classes, and eventually to the legal profession. The loose hanging sleeve of the patient has presumably been ripped at the shoulder for the occasion, but cf. the medico's upper gown or garde-corps in (D) and (E), slit on the upper arm to free the arm below, which in cold weather could be muffled in its ample folds. The close caps of these worthies recall the little Basque beret now popular for sport, even to the little stalk on top. (B) A modern-looking bed. Pillows were not as a rule in cases, but two squares of white linen knotted at the four corners covered them front and back. (See Beds, Interiors.) Patients naked, but head wrappings worn. (C) Reducing dislocated shoulder. See that implements are large size and well made. (One MS. shows an excellent Gotche's splint.) The drawers of the patient with gathered hem (see also (E)) are interesting, especially the way in which the ends of the legs are tied up to the waistbelt. Have everything well made and adequate. (C) and (E) are a warning to have the patient reasonably undressed before treatment. (D) Interior of a dispensary. On the shelves from left to right find bladders of lard, sponges, bags of seed, bundles of sticks, a horn of ointment, bundles of twigs and dried leaves, bunches of dried berries, rolls of bark and dried roots, round wooden basins and pots and animal skins stuffed full and hung up like bags. On the lower shelf strange shapes of jars and bottles from far countries. On the lower shelf rows of wooden boxes. Balances, pestle and mortar (a good action uses two hands, pestle in right and stirrer in left, a sort of double beating). A water bath on a tripod over the fire and a hooded fireplace. (E) Arrows are extracted by pushing through and pulling out the barbed head by its point. Bandages, modern style, slightly wider. Fluffed up flax and oily wool (creamy white) from the sheep's udder as a natural lanoline dressing. For crutches, etc. see p. 131 ('Invalids ').


Excerpted from Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It by Dorothy Hartley. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a big historic fashion buff and love how this book not only showed how to create an outfit but when in to detail how to move in it. Like the chapter on full skits of a noble lady, how to move on your heels to get the full belly look. As well as some tips to use modern fabrics. Not only is it a book to work with it's a fun read that I've yet to put down.