Medieval Clothing

Medieval Clothing
- The Woman's Dress
- The Man's Outfit
- Children

- Colors
- Hats
- Shoes
- Purses and bags
- Belt

- Nice to Know

Undergarment, cotte

Coating, surcot













We receive knowledge of medieval clothing from the contemporary arts:
of paintings, sculptures and the miniature paintings in books.

In the Middle Ages the tailoring business developed and fashion as a concept was born. There wasn’t much difference among the distinct social classes in the way the clothing were cut, the differences became evident mostly in the colours and materials. The country folk prepared their fabrics themselves and the nobility and the bourgeois had the possibility to buy their own imported fabrics.

The domestic wool was revised into frieze of different strengths -durable, felt and carded fabrics. The most expensive, the finest and the most colourful cloth was an extremely important merchandise imported for example from the Netherlands, England and Germany.

There are a couple of basic patterns and some tips available in the links which will enable you to make a simple, individual medieval outfit. Remember however…! When you start to prepare your dress that there were large regional differences in the medieval European outfits and that the actual Middle Ages started in Finland rather late, only in the 13th Century and that we were strongly influenced by both the Viking and the ancient outfits.

Preparing the fabrics and the threads was time-consuming and valuable handicraft

Fabric was extremely valuable despite whether or not it was home-made or an imported one.

The medieval threads were spindled with a distaff. For one whole dress where the density of threads was 12 threads per centimetre one needed as much as 15 000 metres of finished thread i.e. 30 kilometres of one-filament thread. The thread had to be tightly woven and durable. It was closely utilised and the clothes were used all the way to the end –the parts that were worn-out and broken were mended and patched. When the piece of clothing was totally worn-out, the good parts were used again. This might be a reason why the archeological findings are mostly church textiles. The looseness of the clothes was received by the using of gussets –sometimes they were plenty –this way one would also save the valuable fabric. The colours were important to the contemporary people and by lifting the coating the colours of the underclothes and the lining could be shown. The working cloth of the country folk was a linen shirt.

Long, dragging clothes were typical in the Middle Ages especially for the rich. Height was emphasised in clothes as well as in architecture. Buttons were first used in the 14th Century, however, they were more used in men’s than in women’s clothes. Armorial bearing shapes and mi-parti outfits (two different colour halves of clothing) were typical in the Middle Ages.


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Click on the images!miehenpuku.gif (443994 bytes)

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- trouser-socks were tided up the waist

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A brooch called "Faithfulness"











Medieval Clothing
Clothing 1200-1350

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The Woman’s dress:

The shirt and the undergarment or cotte, the woman’s arms couldn’t show; the sleeves of the undergarment were long and slim.

The coating or surcot with large openings for hands, "hell’s windows" and longitudinal sections for pockets were. (One-coloured, mi-parti or decorated with armorial bearings) The coating was usually lifted so that the colour of the undergarment shows beautifully.

Cloak, fur linings, socks and stocking suspenders, graceful booty shoes.

Long hair and a virgin crown, plaits, pillbox hats and a chin kerchief, chignon, hair net.

The Man’s outfit:

The shirt or the frock, belt, sock-like legs i.e. pant-socks from woollen cloths or leather (occasionally different colour legs).

A round or a half cloak (fur linings) as a coating, tied on the right shoulder.

Maybe the most typical medieval hat –hood with a tail. Pointed snout shoes.


Small children were dressed in frocks, out of linen or wool. The hats distinguished them –the girls had bonnets and the boys usually a round cap made from six gussets. The older children dressed differently than the adults did.



The medieval people preferred strong colours –red, sky blue, leaf green and white could be featured in one dress. The colours emphasised each other.

The fabrics were dyed with plants. Yellow was received out of birch leaves, red out of the roots of northern bedstraw, olive green out of blood-coloured cortinarius and juniper berries, blue with a dyer’s woad. Bright colours were dyed then, as is done today also, with imported colours. Brick red was dyed with madder roots strong red with kermes insects or nowadays with cochineal insects and blue with indigo. Pure green was made by dying the thread first with blue and then with yellow or vice versa. Black colour was very difficult to dye and mostly natural black wool was used for fabrics. The dyer’s profession was highly valued.


The young girls’ hair was tied with a flowery wreath or a metal band i.e. a virgin’s crown. The long hair either flew freely or it was plaited with decorative bands, sometimes the plaits were even lengthened with tows. The older and the married women covered their hair. The veal or the chin kerchief were typical medieval hats together with a band-like head-dress and a pill-box hat. The chin kerchief and the veal was attached with pins.

Another typical medieval head-dress was the tail hood worn by both men and women.

Other men’s head-dresses were the hoods tied under the chin, pointed elf-like caps, barrets and different hats.



The medieval shoes were booty like, soft and graceful, with no heels. The pointy "snout shoes" were typical in the Late Middle Ages –especially for the rich shoes were prepared from leather, fur or woollen felt. Shoes were extremely expensive and therefore the country folk walked bare-footed during the warm season.

Purses and bags

Purses and bags were made from leather or fabric. Fabric purses were often decorated with embroidery.


Belt was an important detail in a medieval costume. It was usually worn on top of the undergarment and important things were hanging from it like belt bags or purses where money was kept, knife, keys and so on..


… nice to know…

The Dark Ages weren’t so dark after all, many different winds were blowing in Europe usually through monasteries. Brick became common as building material, grand high churches along with their large windows were built, towns developed… In Paris there were 200 000 inhabitants and in the city alone 26 public baths… Classic epic tales were born… and many other things also small everyday matters…like…
The saddle together with the stirrup enabled the knights with their heavy armour to balance on the horse…
Scissors became common place and so the tailoring profession developed… and the concept of fashion was created. In 1391 a French style doll was sent to the Queen of England…
The introducing of buttons in the 14th Century helped to make clothes tight-fitting… and the different buttoning left and right respectively dates back from this period…
The country people and servants used aprons…
Hand kerchiefs were known already in the 1250’s. In an Italian book of etiquette people are recommended to use the scarves the servants apply for blowing one’s nose –later on in the book it is also mentioned that a foot cloth may be applied for similar purposes…
Beauty and looks were taken care of, the ideal was a long, thin body, long hair as well as slim arms and legs.
The pale skin was in fashion, -the skin was bleached for example by using lead pasta
The eye brows were trimmed, the hair on the forehead, the temples and in the neck was shaved in the 14th and 15th Centuries, this was done to emphasise the height
Eyes were not emphasised, however red powder was used on the cheeks
The women stood in an S-formation, the stomach was bulged forward, this also for the height impression…
Rose, cardamom, cumin and mace were used as perfume… the home-made medieval perfume can be made by mixing a ground fragrant herb in water or oil
Women used to have with them in the cities when walking outdoors a scenting bag of herbs or a fragrance bag containing for example ground cumin to counterbalance the odour in the cities
The black colour as a symbol of sorrow became common in the 1350’s, the black cloth was worn on top of the colourful clothes.

In weddings the ordinary evening dresses of the period were worn, for the bride it was her last chance to show off her hair – it was decorated with a golden or silvery garland or a ribbon tied with flowers. There was no veil.

AuthorTea Langh