Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Guest Author Kris Kennedy on Undressing the Heroine: Medieval Girls

Today I'd like to welcome back guest author Kris Kennedy to History Undressed!  Some of you may have read the Medieval Cookery blog, which Kris did with me a couple years ago. Since it published on HU, its been the most popular blog to date, and still gets hundreds of readers a week.  She's the author of sizzling and intriguing medieval romance--which I recommend you read, her books are awesome! Today, Kris is back to tantalize us with one of my favorite topics: historical clothing! 

Undressing The Heroine: Medieval Girls
By Kris Kennedy

A few weeks ago, Mia Marlowe came by and chatted about women’s dress in the Victorian age. I, though, write sexy stories set in the middle ages.

It’s difficult to imagine two eras more dissimilar. But there were still find important commonalities. Trappings change, technology advances, but what was important to people in 1215 was important in 1857 and is still important today: food, friendship, family…sex.

You knew that was coming, right? Clearly, one of the most important similarities shared among all time periods is this: heroes still have to undress their heroines.

Today we’re going to chat about this pressing issue, and I’ll run through what, exactly, our intrepid medieval hero will encounter as he attempts to do what romance heroes do so well: undress their heroines.

As with Victorian era, there were many fashion changes over the era considered ‘medieval,’ from gowns to headgear to footwear, from eye loops to buttonholes. So let’s focus on . . . oh, say the early 13th century, around the year 1215, the year of Magna Carta and, why, look at that, coincidentally the year Defiant is set.

First, our medieval hero is going to have a much easier job getting to the object of his desire than the Victorian hero.


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Assuming he is dealing with a lady of some means, he’s going to first have to remove the girdle, the gilded belt. It hung off the hips, circling the waist, dipping to a V low, usually over the abdomen, and cascading in a decorative fall to the knees or below. Made of hammered metal and precious stones, it would be gorgeous and lush. Often, suspended from it would be the keys to the home or castle. Nothing would be coming off until that did.

This is where the hero is going to begin his assault.

After that, his job gets a lot easier. He has two layers of tunics to get through, starting with an outer tunic, originally called a bliant, which came simply to be the surcoat. By the mid-century, there was even the daring sideless surcoat for women, cut to be form-fitting. It was laced up the back or sides. A brightly colored chemise would be worn, sweeping to the ground, and would show through the places on the sides.

Our hero is so getting in that way.

Sleeves were long, often beyond the wrist, to the knuckles or covering the entire hand. They were stitched tight at the wrist so the hands could still be used. (Buttons and buttonholes made their appearance in the West from about 1200 on, but probably weren’t used on wrists in 1215.) The hero would have to battle his way past these. Let’s hope he’d be gentle.

The sleeves of the outer tunic, on the other hand, began to hang quite long and wide, falling almost to the ground as time went on, creating a billow, luxurious look. Much later, they became mere thin bands of fabric, called tippets.

Once he’s through these, the hero’s job is pretty much done. Women wore hose, generally to the knee, either woolen or silk, held up by garters. No need for a Victorian-style slit in the pantlets; the entire skirt could just be flipped up at need, should the occasion require, ahem, quicker action.

And don’t be fooled in thinking the hero is flinging aside drab layers of linen and burlap as he works his way in. Women were highly decorated. (So were men and walls and food and saddles and sword hilts and…well, you get the picture) Ornamentation was the rule, not the exception. Valuable stones, precious metals, embroidery, and above all, color.

Gems decorated anything to which they could be affixed, including girdles and hair, brooches and purses. Fabrics were dyed bright, rich hues. Metalwork was intricate and expensive. Soft wool and silk, silk gauze and satins were dyed brightly, tempting and beguiling the hero.

So, remember to admire the romance hero in every era who has the determination and persistence to work his way through all the layers required to finally achieve the object of his desire.

Kris Kennedy writes sexy medieval romances for Pocket Books. Her latest, DEFIANT received a starred Publishers Weekly choice, and is out now. Her previous release, THE IRISH WARRIOR (Kensington, 2010), won RWA’s 2008 Golden Heart Award for Best Unpublished Historical Romance. You can find exclusive excerpts, newsletter sign-up, and more at the website: http://kriskennedy.net

 

5 comments:

Beth Trissel said...

Fascinating, Kris. I'm not well acquainted with the clothing era you know so intimately. I really enjoyed your post.

Laura said...

Hi, Kris,

This was fun! Your information, and your delivery :D

How DID the tight wristed sleeve come off?

LilMissMolly said...

What a great post. I love reading about these little types of tidbits. Thank you!

Kris Kennedy said...

Hello ladies!

Beth~ Good to see you, and I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. :)

Laura~ I'm glad it was fun! :) That's a good question. I admit, I haven't seen much about getting the sleeve free, but I'd always assumed you'd tug on the stitching and pull it free. Or you could snip it. It wasn't stitched terribly tight. Eliza, any other ideas?

Also, of course, once buttons were in use, they would be used instead. A whole lot easier for our hero. Or...maybe not!

LilMiss~ So good to see you around! Thank-you for saying hi. :)

librarypat said...

Thanks for a most enlightening post. I keep meaning to sew period outfits and never get around to researching the specifics on fabric and colors. You have helped much in that department.