Medieval Clothing - Middle Ages for Kids
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Medieval Clothing

June Duc de Berry

In Medieval Europe, as in the Roman period, most people wore loose linen or wool tunics like big baggy t-shirts. But clothing did become more complicated in the Middle Ages, and more used to distinguish men and women of different professions from each other. Men mostly wore tunics down to their knees, though old men and monks wore their tunics down to the ground, and so did kings and noblemen for parties and ceremonies. Men sometimes also wore wool pants under their tunics. Wearing pants was originally a Germanic idea, and the Romans disapproved of it. But it gradually caught on anyway, especially among men who rode horses and in colder areas. Other men, especially noblemen, wore tights under their tunics. Outside, if it was cold, men wore wool cloaks.

During the 1200s AD, women in Spain also learned from Egyptian women how to knit wool instead of only weaving it. By the 1400s, women were knitting in northern Europe too. Knitting was much faster than weaving, and also produced nice warm stockings that fit well, though they wore out quickly and needed to be darned. Knitting wasn't so exciting in Egypt and southern Europe where it was warm, but in northern Europe, where the Little Ice Age was bringing colder and colder weather, knitting slowly became very important.

Bruegel

On their feet, men wore leather shoes if they could afford them. You can tell if a medieval painting or tapestry was made before or after about 1300 AD by looking at the mens' shoes. In the earlier paintings men wear shoes with square toes, but later the shoes have pointy toes and even curve up at the toes in a kind of hook, just to be extra fancy.

Women also wore different kinds of clothes depending on who they were. All women wore at least one tunic down to their ankles. Many women, if they could afford it, wore a linen under-tunic and a woolen over-tunic, and often a wool cloak over that if they were going outside. On their legs women sometimes wore woven tights or socks, but women never wore pants. Nuns wore tunics like other women, but generally in black or white rather than colors. Noblewomen often wore fancy tall hats, sometimes with streamers coming off them. They sometimes plucked the hair from their foreheads to give themselves very high foreheads which people thought were beautiful.

Not much medieval clothing survives today, because clothing tends to rot when it is buried under the ground, and even in the air it tears and gets threadbare and then people use it for rags. Most of what we know about medieval clothing comes from medieval pictures and sculptures, which have lasted better.

Merovingian belt buckle

This is an Early Medieval (Merovingian) belt-buckle made out of bronze.

Merovingian boots

Here is a pair of boots from the Merovingian period (about 700 AD) now in the Cluny Museum in Paris.

Here is some Merovingian jewelry from the museum at St. Germain en Laye near Paris. The jewelry is mostly gold and glass. There are some pins and some necklaces.

Clothing in the Islamic Empire

To find out more about clothing in the Middle Ages, check out these books from Amazon or from your library:

The Middle Ages (My World), by Peter Chrisp (1997). For kids, with lots of information about everyday life, and suggested activities for classes or homeschoolers.

Medieval costumes
Medieval projects
Medieval Europe
Medieval Islamic Clothing
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