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Monday, October 10, 2011

Medieval Undergarments

While writing The Tapestry Shop, I researched medieval clothing. Paintings show us the outwear, but  little was written about underwear worn in the Middle Ages. What we know about clothing comes from the few extant pieces that have survived the years, carefully preserved in museums with controlled climate and lighting, but with underwear—being what it was—we have little to go by. The Chartres statues, for instance, represent outer garments, so we can only guess, from representations on pottery and drawings, at what was worn beneath. There are representations of women participating in games that show them wearing something that looks much like a bikini, a small lower piece and a binding wrap at the top.

When full skirts came into use, it's doubtful women would lift layers of cloth and then have to untie something to answer nature's call, although something like men's loincloths may have been worn during certain times of the month.
Women wore undergowns, or chemises, beneath their outer gowns. In the picture, this woman has her outer gown tucked into her belt, perhaps to allow a bit of air to pass through her chemise, but this was the furthest she'd go.
Men, in early Middle Ages, wore loincloths like what is shown. Laborers in the field thought nothing of stripping down to their loincloths in hot weather. At other times, the clothes were colorful and part of everyday outer garb, as the picture suggests, and men at sea had no compunction about stripping naked during daytime chores on the ship, unless there were women aboard.
We know more about the hose they wore, as that garment is visible in statues and paintings. Hose were made of two woven pieces of fabric sewn together, usually of wool. Their wool was a soft weave because of the manner in which it was made, nothing like our wool today which would be a bit itchy, at least to this writer. Later, hose (hosen) worn by armored knights were made of sturdier material and called chausses, an item worn beneath the armor.
In the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, hose became a significant part of everyday outer garb and were frequently colorful and made of fine fabrics.
There are several good reference books on the subject, but be careful to steer away from costume books used for Hollywood productions. Some are not true to the period, but look better on screen. For anyone who's interested, a good little overall guide, one I have on my reference shelf and which gives a good idea of the construction of medieval clothing, is Medieval Costume in England and France: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Centuries, by Mary G. Houston.

9 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I've always been interested in what people wore during various historical periods. I've read before that women wore a chemise beneath outer garments but no underwear as we know it during the medieval period. As always, you offer interesting and enlightening information.

Rebbie Macintyre said...

Thanks again for sharing your research, Joyce. Fascinating as always!

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Some fascinhating research here. I could have done with knwoing some of this when I wrote my last book. Actually, I did more or less get it right, I think...

BDTharp said...

I'm with you, what's hidden is interesting. I have a friend who makes undergarments from the 1800's, complete with stays, and tiny buttons. It's fascinating what women have worn over the centuries. Great blog. -BD

Mary Schoenecker said...

The illustrations added to your meticulous research. Thanks for sharing,Joyce. When I researched the Colonial Period in America I liked the title for undergarments - "small clothes". Maybe you will write an 18th century novel?

sheila olson said...

As the time passed the way of clothing also changed according to it. During ancient times people were using large gowns, lioncloths, undergowns etc but now a days people are using modern clothes like slip, small undergarments, bras etc. Though the trend has been changed but the selection of such clothes should be done of good quality.
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Aire Bra said...

aire bra
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metaslim said...

meta slim You must experience and accept the extremes. Because if the contrast is lost, you lose appreciation; and when you lose appreciation, you lose the value of everything.

mile himan said...

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The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that
is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.