What Did People Wear in Medieval Times?

Gloves, Hats & Footwear

Gloves were worn outdoors and might go almost up to the elbow. They also used fur lining and frequently had embroidered designs, typically a gold band. Hats were worn by everyone. At home, men wore a linen coif (close-fitting cap) which was tied under the chin and decorated with embroidered designs. Women meanwhile wore a wimple (a headdress which also covers the neck and sides of the face). Keeping on their indoor headgear, a cap or hood was worn as well when outdoors or, when travelling, a hat with a brim that could be turned up at either the back or front. Some hats had a soft and shapeless crown, others were round or had a flat top, and all types could easily be decorated with a couple of ostrich or peacock feathers. From the 14th century CE, hat bands came into fashion.

Boots, usually quite loose in fitting, were either high riding boots or low on the leg (bushkins). Shoes covering the ankle were worn out of doors, and soft slip-on slippers in one’s private chambers. Shoes, made from cloth or leather, were closed via inner laces, a strap or buckle, which was another opportunity for decoration and personalisation. Footwear became increasingly pointed as the Middle Ages wore on, especially for men.


Maintenance

For the aristocracy, there was no worry over the maintenance of their wardrobe as that was done by their staff. The chamberlain was (before the role widened and became more important) responsible for his master’s wardrobe which was kept folded in chests or on pegs (‘perches’) when not in use. Ladies had their ladies-in-waiting and maids to help them dress. Washing was done by laundresses who soaked the clothes, or at least the less delicate smalls, in tubs of water mixed with caustic soda and wood ashes, and then pounded them clean using wooden paddles.


Social Display & Control

As already mentioned, there was not such a distinction between the general style of clothes of different classes except in terms of cut and materials. Nevertheless, the distinction was a sharp one, and it was protected by the upper classes, especially when people tried to dress above their station for personal advancement. Various sumptuary laws were passed from the 13th century CE onwards which restricted the wearing of certain materials by the lower classes in order to maintain the class divisions of society. There were even limits put on the quantities of such expensive imported materials as furs and luxury cloths like silk for the same purpose.

The clergy was one section of society that had more clothing restrictions than most: nuns could not wear expensive furs, and members of specific monastic orders had to wear a particular style of habit to make themselves easily identifiable. Neither could members of the secular clergy adopt certain wider fashions, notably the 13th-century CE shortening of tunics to show a little more leg or the use of too many colours in one outfit. Although there is evidence these rules were frequently ignored, the idea was to maintain the distinction between the clergy and other members of society, especially knights. There were even measures to distinguish between the faiths, and Jewish clergy, for example, had to wear two white tablets of linen or parchment on their chests from the mid-13th century CE.