Medieval Clothing - Medieval Women's Clothing - Medieval Peasants' Clothing answers questions
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Medieval Clothing

June Duc de Berry
Medieval Peasant Clothing

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.


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 - unlike in Central Asia or India - European women never wore pants. Nuns wore tunics like other women, but generally in black or white rather than colors. Rich women 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.

Merovingian boots

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.

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

gold and garnet pins and necklace

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.

Learn by doing: a day in the Middle Ages
Clothing in the Islamic Empire

Bibliography and further reading about medieval clothing:

Medieval costumes
Medieval projects
Medieval Europe
Medieval Islamic Clothing home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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