Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries

Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries

by Mary G. Houston

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Carefully researched, meticulously detailed account of the style and construction of period costumes. Includes descriptions and illustrations of royal apparel, elaborate ecclesiastical dress and vestments, academic and legal garments, and civilian dress of all classes. Also discusses jewelry, armor, textiles, embroidery and hairdressing.  See more details below


Carefully researched, meticulously detailed account of the style and construction of period costumes. Includes descriptions and illustrations of royal apparel, elaborate ecclesiastical dress and vestments, academic and legal garments, and civilian dress of all classes. Also discusses jewelry, armor, textiles, embroidery and hairdressing.

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Describes the style and construction of royal raiment, ecclesiastical vestments, academic and legal robes, and civilian dress for all classes. Also discusses related subjects such as jewelry, textiles, armor, and hairdressing. Over 350 black-and- white line drawings of complete costumes, decoration, and patterns are taken from contemporary illustration and sculpture. Includes a glossary without pronunciation. No index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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Medieval Costume in England and France

The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries

By Mary G. Houston

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1996 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14157-2



IT will help towards a clearer understanding of the style, if the illustrations of the flat patterns are studied, previously to those illustrations showing the costumes in wear, and when these latter are described, each drawing will be referred back to the flat pattern to which it pertains.

In general the costumes of this century are cut on the simplest geometric plans and, except for a few very early examples, there is no attempt to fit the figure as was seen in the twelfth and again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Undoubtedly this extreme simplicity of construction gives the great dignity of line which is the outstanding feature of thirteenth-century costume and which is only equalled by that of the dress of ancient Greece—Ecclesiastical Costume of the century will be treated of separately. Though there is little real difference between Ecclesiastical and Civil Dress at this period as far as the cutting out is concerned, it will be found more convenient to refer to the two types apart from one another.


Figs. 1 to 6 are taken from types in wear about the year 1200.

Fig. 1. This is the plan of a man's tunic, reaching to the middle of the calf. The points distinguishing it as of early date are: first, the wide decorated band at neck; second, the large gusset at the armhole, extending almost to the waist. This tunic was also worn full length and in the latter form was worn by women as well as by men. The wide armhole persisted till the middle of the century.

Fig. 2. Here we have a full length woman's tunic. The points to note in this as giving the date are: first, the broadbanded decoration at neck; second, the comparatively tight fit of the upper part; third, the long hanging cuffs, a survival of the period of the exaggeratedly long sleeves of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Fig. 3. This is the semicircular cloak worn by both sexes, at least as early as the sixth century A.D. and continuously till the thirteenth century. In the thirteenth century it was gradually superseded by a circular or almost circular garment. It was worn in various ways, either fastened with a brooch on the right shoulder (this method more commonly by men), or was wrapped round the figure in various ways, and it was occasionally worn with the opening at centre front. In this last position it was clumsy round the shoulders, and for that reason, no doubt, an improvement was made (see dotted line). This was the cutting out of a curved notch for the neck. There is a large coloured drawing, in plan, of an actual thirteenth-century garment of this type in Bock's Die Kleinodien des Heiligen Römischen Reiches Deutscher Nation. This is the Imperial Mantle (Paludamentum Imperiale) of the Emperor Otto IV. (1208–1212).

Fig. 4. This garment appears to be derived from that wide rectangular seamless robe of very ancient origin, which we find in Egypt as long ago as 1450 B.C. and in Persia ("The Royal Robe of Persia") in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. It continued in wear in Western Asia before and after the Christian era and in later times it is to be seen on a Romano-Byzantine Consular Ivory, fifth century A.D. (that of Stilicho and his wife Serena from the Cathedral of Monza). No longer rectangular, in the thirteenth century, but with the upper part curved inwards we find it cut as shown in the plan; we note also the lower part is considerably narrower and seamed down at each side. Viollet-le-Duc calls this garment the "esclavine" and gives an alternative method of cutting it, see dotted lines. It persists through the thirteenth century as late as 1290 (tomb in Chalons-sur-Marne Cathedral) and is seen in an early fourteenth-century manuscript (Somme du Roi, B.M. MSS. Add. 28162, also Add. 17341, late thirteenth century). It is described in Vetusta Monumenta, Vol. VI., Plate XXXIX., as the "sclavine." Here the garment is worn by a figure of St. John the Evangelist, as a pilgrim (which is reproduced from the original in the "Painted Chamber" at Westminster). A hood is usually attached to the sclavine during the latter years of its wear in the thirteenth century.

Fig. 5. Shows a cape-like garment or mantle characteristic of the early years of the thirteenth century. In England it appears in Saxon times, worn both by men and women (B.M. MSS. Cott. Claudius B. IV. and Harl. 2908). Where the representations show it full and voluminous, it would be cut as shown—simply a rectangular piece of stuff folded over and the front shortened more or less and rounded off, then a hole cut for the head. Other representations suggest a cut akin to certain early "extinguisher"-shaped chasubles of the period, and the construction would be more as shown by the dotted line. This latter shape restricts to some degree the movement of the arms. Fig. 5 does not persist through the century and, on the whole, it is rare even at the commencement.

Fig. 6 is the veil, head-cloth, peplum, couvre-chef, of almost universal wear by women during the thirteenth century. It was not, as a rule, quite so voluminous as that worn in the twelfth. Full scale, it measures about 22 inches across, and is rather more than double this in length. Towards the end of the century, women of position discarded it for more elaborate head-dresses, but it persisted for working-class women and elderly widows and still survives among the religious orders.

The methods of dressing the hair in the thirteenth century are easily understood when the illustrations of male costume are examined; but in cases where the women's heads are covered, it should be said that, for the most part, the hair was parted in the centre and dressed in two plaits, which were crossed at the back and then bound round the head. At the end of the century some figures show that each plait is coiled round above the ears, giving what was called the "ram's horn" or, as we should now phrase it, "earphone" style.

That padding was used as well is easily seen when some of the head-dresses of the end of the century fashions are examined. Young girls wore their hair flowing naturally down their backs, at times confined by a fillet or chaplet. Widows wore the wimple, or gorget, round the face and the veil over their heads, in similar style to the head-coverings of the Religious Orders.


Fig. 7. This is the almost circular cloak worn by both sexes, but more especially by women, from an early period till the close of the century. It persisted into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, more especially in traditional royal costume, when its simple dignity suited well a great occasion and its folds displayed the beauties of richly patterned silks. The method of fastening is shown in the small drawing of a woman's head and shoulders, superimposed (Countess Gleichen, A.D. 1260, from Jacquemin). The fastening consists of a small metal boss at either side, and this is furnished with a ring at the back, through which runs a cord or chain. This cord or chain can be drawn up and tied, if desired, so that the cloak will meet across the breast.

Fig. 8 is the characteristic tunic of the thirteenth century. It is given here full-length, but was also worn knee-length. The full-length type was common to men and women, the knee-length was worn by soldiers and men engaged in manual labour. As a rule, it was worn with a narrow girdle, which often did not show when the garment was pulled over it at the waist. When worn minus a girdle, it was inclined to trail at the sides, hence the side-pieces were sometimes sloped off, as shown, at the dotted lines. The sleeves were at times made tighter from the elbow to the wrist; this is specially characteristic of the end of the century, where we find the practice of buttoning the sleeve tightly on the lower arm. This buttoning became very popular in the following century.

Fig. 9. This three-quarter-length tunic, with short, wide sleeves, is the ancient "dalmatic," a garment which came into fashion in ancient Rome about the third century A.D. Its name comes from Dalmatia, the country of its origin. It is by no means of frequent wear in the thirteenth century, though from the fourth century onwards, till the end of the twelfth, it was a favourite form of dress in Europe for both sexes. The dalmatic survived in the thirteenth century, chiefly in royal costume (see King John's effigy in Worcester Cathedral), and it, of course, has an important place in ecclesiastical costume, to which reference will be made in the description of that division of our subject.


Fig. 10. This garment formed a warm outdoor gown for men during the latter part of the thirteenth century. A hood was usually attached to the neck. As a rule, its length was about seven-eighths of the figure, but it was also cut full-length (B.M. MSS. Sloane 2435). As will be seen, the sleeves were very long and wide, and no doubt in cold weather could be used as a species of muff to keep the hands warm. For convenience, however, we find slits high up on the front of the sleeves, so that the arms could be passed through and movement would not be restricted. The diagram at the right of Fig. 10 shows a pattern of the right sleeve with the gathers pressed flat, giving its correct width. On the left side of Fig. 10 the end of the left sleeve and armhole are shown in perspective to a larger scale. This gown was in favour as a riding-dress. There is a reproduction in Illustrations of Incised Slabs in the Continent of Europe, by W. F. Creeny, of a man on horseback wearing it, with coif on his head and with gloves. He is attired for hawking and has a falcon at his wrist. Date, about 1260.

Another reproduction in the same volume shows an architect of Rheims, A.D. 1263, wearing the gown cut as at Fig. 11 which is a second type of the same garment as Fig. 10. In this, the gathers come into a small band all round the neck. A hood is attached to the neckband. The gown is full-length and split in front from hem to knee. With the gown the architect wears a beret on his head.

Fig. 12 is the sleeveless tunic usually called the "surcoat." This example is a late thirteenth-century type (B.M. MSS. Sloane 2435), but the garment shows infinite modifications throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and persists in the dress of women as late as the end of the fifteenth, though the name is changed in these later times from "surcoat" to super-côte-hardi. The earliest type was that of a rectangle having a slit at top for the head and slits at the sides for the arms to pass through. This left an unsightly "poke" on the shoulders, so that these had to have their characteristic sloping seams. This simple form was the type we find worn over the thirteenth-century coat of chain mail (B.M. MSS. Roy. 12F. 13 and Cott. Nero D1, p. 45), hence the name surcoat. The figures clad in the armour of this period are said to be of the "surcoat type." Later we find it worn by both sexes, and the armholes no longer mere slits but larger and curved away. Fig. 12 has the back piece much wider than the front, but this type was not universal. We find many types with back and front of similar shape. During the centuries this garment became more popular with women, and eventually almost disappeared from men's costume. This diagram is shown in wear on Fig. 77, p. 48, and again on Fig. 90, p. 52.


Figs. 13 to 16 are all of ancient origin. In Etruscan and Roman times we find the cucullus, or hood, worn by travellers and shepherds. Fig. 13 (a side view) is a type which is worn, as a rule, detached from cloaks or other garments; it has, as it were, a cape of its own, and is seamed down the centre back and centre front (or, as in the diagram, it can be left open, and buttoned under the chin). It prevails from the beginning to the end of the thirteenth century (B.M. MSS. Roy. 1. DX. and Sloane 2435) and, in modified form, throughout the fourteenth century. The point at the back of head was sometimes much longer (B.M. MSS. Harl. 1527), and in the fourteenth century excessively so. In another variety of this hood the face opening was looser and the shoulder cape much deeper (see again B.M. MSS. Harl. 1527), also this type of hood was frequently made of sheepskin when worn by shepherds. It became more popular at the end of the century and during the fourteenth century it was worn to the almost complete exclusion of other types which, however, survived among the monastic orders.

Fig. 14. (a side view) is the simplest form of hood. A rectangle of cloth, a little longer than twice its width, is folded in two, seamed down the back with a face-opening left in front and only a small part seamed below the chin. The bottom edge is, of course, left open and wide enough to pass easily over the head. This type of hood was sewn on to a mantle or gown; when sewn to a cloak it had, at times, no seam under the chin, so that the cloak could be worn open if desired.

Figs. 15 and 16 (both front views) are seamed at the sides. They are of the type which was attached by sewing to gowns or cloaks. In Fig. 15 the opening sometimes fitted the face closely, but other varieties show a wider face-opening, and this is suggested by the dotted line. Tiron (Histoire et Costume des Ordres Religieux) gives an illustration of St. Benedict wearing this type of hood, though, in this case, the front opening, instead of closing under the chin is open all the way down, so that in place of an elliptical hole, the opening takes the form of a round-topped arch. If the face-opening is tight, the point at the top remains straight up on the crown of the head in wear, but with a larger opening it can be thrown back on the shoulders and appears in that position much the same as types 14 and 16. Indeed these three types, when they are thrown back off the face and hanging down behind, are almost indistinguishable.

Fig. 16 has a shallow V-shaped slit instead of a rounded hole to admit the head and face. In Figs. 15 and 16 the part below the chin was sometimes cut longer than in the diagrams, so that it lay on the chest, shoulders, and back.



IT is customary to refer to styles of costume as belonging to the reign of this or that monarch—as "period Henry II.," hence, from its importance, and from this association, we naturally turn first to Regal Costume in the thirteenth century.

We must, of course, distinguish between Coronation Robes, which, in most cases, are really of the nature of semi-ecclesiastical vestments, and the garments worn on great occasions and for ordinary wear.

Plate II. is adapted from a stained-glass window in Sainte Chapelle, Paris. In the original, the figures are seated at a table so that the garments from the hips to the ankles are hidden; in Plate II. they are drawn on thirteenth-century standing poses, the better to display their dress. These are costumes worn at a feast. The king wears a red tunic cut as in Fig. 1, but longer, and his sleeveless surcoat is similarly cut to Fig. 12, except that the skirt is much fuller and the armholes mere slits, also there are no buttons. The queen has a tunic cut as in Fig. 8; it is very long and so much pouched over the girdle that the latter does not show; the cloak is cut as in Fig. 7. The colouring is from a thirteenth-century manuscript. Shoes similar to those worn by the king are shown on page 55.

Fig. 17 is from the Effigy of King John on his tomb in Worcester Cathedral. He is represented in Coronation Robes and wears the under-tunic, the dalmatic, and the cloak, cope, or mantle, which are seen, if in modified form, at every English coronation; his gloves with jewelled backs, the sword he holds in his left hand, and the sceptre, which was formerly in his right, are also essential points of his costume. The cutting of his dalmatic is similar to that of Fig. 9, and his cloak is semi-circular, diameter about 10 feet.

Fig. 18 is from the Effigy of Berengaria of Navarre (Widow of Richard I.), who died in 1235. The tomb is in the Abbey of l'Espau, near Mans. She wears a head veil under her crown, her cloak is cut as in Fig. 7, her robe as in Fig. 8, her crown Fig. 97, her girdle, with alms bag, Fig. 103, and her brooch Fig. 99, are shown to a larger scale on page 55. She holds a book, on the cover of which there is a tiny effigy of herself, lying in state, with wax candles burning on either side.


Excerpted from Medieval Costume in England and France by Mary G. Houston. Copyright © 1996 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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