Monday, January 26, 2009

Medieval Clothing in Europe During the Late 800s

Today’s post looks at medieval clothing in Western Europe in the 800s. One of the earliest artwork examples I have found are illuminated Bibles from the 800s. Around 870 to 875, Ingobertus illuminated the Bible of San Paolo in Rheims, France for Charles the Bald. The scene depicting the story of King Solomon’s judgment shows an example of the clothing worn during that time. (1)

All of the men in the picture, including the guards are wearing the same type of knee-length tunic. Only the king and saints, with their golden halos, wear longer clothes. In the picture, there is little to distinguish between peasants and nobles. Only spears, shields or swords distinguish the guards. This matches with what I have learned about medieval clothing so far. Clothing in Europe in the 800s was not as much of a status symbol as it became during the late medieval and during the Renaissance, so there was less distinction between the clothing of nobles and peasants. However, upper class people wore better quality materials.

During this time, men, both peasants and nobles, wore knee-length tunics girded about the waist and breeches. Longer robes and tunics were worn in royal courts and by churchmen.(2) In the upper right corner, there is a man wearing a knee-length tunic made of the same material as the king’s robe, so I think he is a noble, if not royalty. Except for the material, he is dressed in the same style as every other man in the picture. I have tried, without success, to find an interpretation telling more about the roles of the people depicted in this illumination.

For the type of material used for clothing, please see the previous post about medieval clothing in Western Europe. The pictures are my interpretation of what the clothing looked like based on details from the illumination.

Medieval Men’s Clothing:

1. A calf-length cloak attached at the right shoulder with a brooch. In general, the right arm and hand is free with the cloak covering the left arm. The left hand is hidden beneath the cloak and gathering up the material. The colors of the cloaks are red, dark red and light blue. The brooches are round and appear to be gold or bronze (?). They appear to have various designs, which are difficult to distinguish in the picture. Views from behind show extra material, like a hood, hanging down the back as part of the cloak. The king’s cloak goes to his feet and his rectangular brooch is much larger.

2. A loose knee-length tunic belted around the waist. The tunic material hangs down over the belt. The tunic colors are dark red, yellow, white and brown. The yellow and white tunics have brownish-red vertical strips. The stripes are widely spaced, with one going down the center of each leg. The king’s tunic is mostly covered by his cloak. Only the right arm shows. However, I hypothesize that his tunic goes to his feet. Its color is purplish-white with large, gold dots placed in groups of three.

3. Presumably (although not seen) a lighter, linen tunic is worn beneath.

4. Breeches covering the legs and cinched tight right below the knee with leg bands. Some of the men are wearing breeches that clearly cover all of their legs, on others it looks like the breeches end where tied right below the knee. A few look as if they are not wearing any breeches at all, yet they still have the leg bands right below the knee. Breech colors are yellow, red and white. The material of the breech is tight around the calf but on some men, it looks looser above the leg bands. Based on Ingobertus’ picture it is difficult to tell whether the leg band ties hang down on the front, back or side of the leg. In the picture, the ties always appear off the side of the leg, regardless of how the person is facing. It is not possible to tell from the picture whether the legs of the breeches are separate pieces of material on each leg or if they are sewn together like pants.

5. Boots go up to mid-calf and appear to have ties at the top, matching the style of leg bands just below the knees. Boot colors are red, white, blue and brown. It is not clear from the picture what material the boots are made with: dyed leather, wool, or linen? One man wears boots that are laced across the front from the toe all the way up to the top.

6. None of the men wear hats or head coverings. The king wears a large gold crown. One man, whom I believe to be part of royalty, rides a white donkey, wears a foot-length tunic of the same material as the king, and has a gold circlet on his head. Their hair is short coming only to the nape of the neck. No beards or mustaches except on the king and saints.

Medieval Women’s Clothing:

There are two women depicted in the illumination. I do not know whether the women are wearing peasant or upper class clothing.

1. The women are wearing a loose piece of material that drapes over the head, across the shoulders and around the body. It does not appear to be fastened with any brooches or ties. I am not sure if this is realistic or if it is just showing clothing commonly assigned to women in biblical settings. The color is yellow/white. The drapery conceals the length and styling of their hair, although it appears to be long and hanging down the back.

2. There are three layers of tunics. The outer tunic has shorter sleeves coming to the middle of the upper arm. The outer layer is floor-length and covers the body from the base of the neck to the toes. One woman’s tunic is light red/pink with dark red trim around the neck and arm. The other woman’s tunic is bright red.

3. The drapery conceals the whether the women are wearing a belt around the waist. However, per secondary sources, it is likely.(3) If there is a belt it is clear from the picture that is around the waist and not higher, like it is during later periods.

4. The only visible part of the second tunic is loose sleeves falling to the middle of the lower arm. The length of the second tunic is unknown, but probably floor length. The color is bluish-white.

5. The only visible part of the third tunic is tight, wrist-length sleeves. The length of the tunic is unknown, but probably floor-length. The color is bluish-white.

6. No feet and thus no shoes are visible.

Reviewing the above pictures, I am startled by how much the men’s clothing resembles Roman clothing as seen in movies. I have not specifically researched the clothing worn by Romans so I do not know how closely they match in details. However, it does make sense for medieval clothing to resemble Roman clothing, even as late as the 800s. Clothing styles did not start changing significantly until around the 1100s. (4)

Thank you for reading this post about medieval clothing!


(1) To view the illumination by Ingobertus go to

(2) Philip Steele The Medieval World: A History of Fashion and Costume (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005), 10.

(3) Philip Steele The Medieval World. . . , 10.

(4) Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast, Early Cultures Across the Globe (Vol. 2: Fashion, Costume, and Culture) (New York: The Gale Group, 2004), 297.

No comments: