Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Medieval Lady's Closet

The title of this blog is quite misleading and for that I humbly apologize. You see, in medieval times, they didn’t actually have closets. Clothes were kept in wardrobes and chests—the latter being the case the majority of the time.

Women in the middle ages, wore a garment called a smock, later renamed chemise by the Normans, which is French for shirt. The term was very fitting, because a chemise is basically a very long shirt, or today would look like a woman’s slip. It was a flowing piece that reached the ankles and had long sleeves, over time it shortened in length and in sleeve. In the 1300’s it would become a little more snugger to show off the figure. It was often made of a thin fine linen or silk material. She would not wear any ‘panties’ under the chemise. Yup, she was naked as the day she was born.

Historians are unsure if women wore stays (corset) in the early medieval days or not. There has been some hinting to it, besides dresses being so narrow of waist it is hard to imagine they didn’t have one, but also an illustration of a demon who was wearing a corset, which was done in the 12th century. Most likely instead of a separate garment, bones, or wooden slats were sewn into the actual gown.

We do know that stays or corsets were worn later on and still worn today, although it isn’t a part of women’s fashion. They were quite popular in the Elizabethan eras as well as the Regency and Victorian times. Corsets were made out of linen fabric that was stiffened with busks of wood or whalebone. It was then laced up the back. Depending on the style at the time, the corset would either flatten the breasts, or push them up to enhance them. Throughout history these contraptions, being tied so tightly, have been the subject of jokes and were a great risk to the health of women.

Pain is beauty, and for some women, it was painful to live. As it is today, being thin was popular in the past as well. Just so popular in fact that women would lace themselves so tight they could hardly breathe, and would pass out. Don’t even think about eating…

It was very popular to be able to span your own waist with your hands.

Petticoats came into popularity sometime in the earlier 1500’s. It was an under-skirt that was attached by laces to the corset. Their thickness depended on the skirts worn by the woman and the weather. As the gowns of women expanded it is said that the petticoats did as well. It wasn’t uncommon for a woman to wear three sets of petticoat skirts. Various materials and colors were used. Petticoats had a number of forms other than being simple skirts. The year is 1545 and in walks the farthingale. The material was made of the same thing as a skirt petticoat, but it was lined with wood, whalebone or wire, making it a wide cone shape.

As it does today, a lady’s fashion changed quite often. But what did stay the same throughout the middle ages was that she wore a long gown over another gown. The under-gown was referred to as a kirtle and would be seen through the over-gown or over-tunic. Slits were made in the sleeves or along the sides. These slits could be open or laced up to show the under-gown. Sometimes the over-tunic was slit from the hem up to the knee or thigh to show the under-gown.

Sleeves were long. In very early middle ages, 1100 – 1216 or so, sleeves were wide and hung lower, when they changed to a tighter fit at the wrist. Around 1300 the loose look came back, except this time her over-tunic would have slits in it hanging low, and her arms, sleeved in a tighter fitting kirtle would come through. By 1400 having long hanging sleeves was back with a vengeance.

Around the hips was worn a girdle, but not a girdle like the way we think of one. This was a type of loose belt that was used to enhance the outfit. Often a loop was attached to hold her small eating knife. Towards the end of the 1300’s this belt moved up from being worn loosely around the hips to being high-waisted, and tighter. By 1460, wearing your belt lower or higher was the fashion depending on your gown.

The bodice of her gown could be bejeweled, or have ornate buttons. It was fitted. It wasn’t until the 1400’s that a lower v-neckline became popular, along with laced up bodices. Prior to this necklines were either worn very high up the neck, or were more square in shape. Collars changed throughout history too. Folded collars coming into popularity around the 1400’s—sometimes turned up and sometimes turned down.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of what the medieval lady might look like after taking at least 30-60 minutes to get dressed.


Leah Banicki said...

Found this very enlightening. Thanks for sharing.

erotictoys said...

Are you saying ladies are not wearing any panties? What will happen if it's their period? It look kinda messy, right?

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Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Leah!

Eliza Knight said...

Erotictoys, no they did not wear panties... Panties as we know them today didn't come into play until the early-mid 1900's In the 1800's women wore drawers, which were long--to the knee.

When a woman got her period she stayed mostly confined to her rooms, and she used strategically placed rags. She would tell people she was indisposed. Very messy...

erotictoys said...

Omg that sounds messy. Thanks for your time Miss Eliza.

Lauren said...

This is a great post! I can't imagine being able to span my hands around my waist!

Anonymous said...

thank you so much Eliza! i was able to get so much information for my report. Ican't wait to read your upcoming blogs!

Anonymous said...

What did the female peasant wear, because I cannot see them wearing long dragging sleeves while they were working. And what did the nobles servants wear?

Anonymous said...

An enchanting blog full ofpictures and fascinating articles,thank you