Terrouge E-zine Archives
Warriors in Waistcoats
Clothing has been a driving force in our society throughout the ages. It creates schisms, causes scandals, and divides classes. It's no surprise, then, that the clothing of the characters we write can tell stories of its own-- a wildcat warlord won't own the same tunic as a dormouse peasant, because of the materials they have available to them, and the money they make (or steal, in the case of villainous vermin). But how can you figure out what your characters can wear? How would different clothes be worn? What would different sorts of people wear in certain time periods and regions, anyway? What sort of materials would clothing have been crafted from?
This column will explore these things, helping you discern between clothing from many different eras. I will also show how you can mix and match different types of clothing to lend a unique air and attitude to your artwork and writing.
This month, we're covering medieval Europe. The continent wasn't the cheeriest of places. It was marked by death, hunger, and illness (like the devastating Black Plague in the mid-fourteenth century), as a new social structure began to emerge. We know it as feudalism. Nobility swore allegiance to their monarch, and vassals the same to the nobility; this class structure extended all the way down to the lowly serfs and laborers. Life was exceedingly difficult, and people struggled just to survive. The simple, functional fashions of the era seem sensible, in this light.
Most Middle Ages clothing was influenced by earlier periods, among them the Byzantine Era. These clothes had Greek, Roman, and Asiatic influences. By the late end of the medieval period, though, Western Europe had finally developed a unique style.
Dress, first and foremost, served as protection against the harsh elements. The clothing of both sexes was long and flowing, and the body was covered at all times. Men and women wore tunics, along with an overtunic which was belted at the waist. Another overtunic (ma de of fur, a material made popular for linings due to its waterproof, insulating qualities) went over this, and was belted at the chest. This garment fell straight to the ground. The rich wore cloaks with expensive linings such as silk and gold cloth, while members of the lower class donned short gowns that allowed them greater mobility.
Men's clothing consisted of a few staple garments, but differed between classes and occupations. A long tunic was worn under a short gown, and a surcote (a sleeveless, ankle-length garment with open sides and a slit at the front) was worn over this. Doublets (padded jackets) were also common, worn with the gowns, hose, and a cotehardie. This was an outer garment with a low neckline, featuring laces. It flared out at the hip or waist. Breeches, called braies, were occasionally worn, and these were belted at the waist and cross-gartered.
Women's clothing imitated masculine styles, but it was changed slightly to fit and flatter a woman's form. The gowns worn by the rich were wildly elaborate, and the skirts were long and flared. These were commonly made of heavy, fancy fabrics like different brocades. The waistlines were very high, stopping just under the chest. This concept of waistline was loosely adapted in later periods, such as the classically influenced Empire fashions in England during the early nineteenth century.
Sometimes, a decorative belt would be added. Necklines were high, as well. Sleeves differed from person to person—they were either cut wide and long, or simple with a very close fit.
Wool was the most widely used clothes-making material in the Middle Ages. The texture and make varied from class to class. . .nobility wore fabric that was lightweight and finely woven, and the weave of wool would become thicker and coarser as you moved down the ranks in society. Silk was also a popular fabric among the rich, and as its use (often as a lining material) spread throughout Europe it became cheaper. By far, however, the most popular lining material of the time was fur (though I doubt a Redwall character would have any need of that), worn both for its properties of insulation and the fact that it was waterproof and lightweight.
Shoes were uncommonly long and pointed, though as with other clothing, the length would often vary from class to class. There were actually laws restricting toe-length. For example, a nobleman could have shoes that were over two feet long, while a commoner was permitted to have a toe of no more than six inches.
Now that you have a good grasp on the concept of medieval fashion, we'll be able to move on to newer, more exciting eras. Next month. . .the Renaissance! Curb your enthusiasm, and try to stay in your seat. Don't drop that needle and thread!