After my project with the Luttrell Psalter, I got interested in earlier medieval times and clothing and fell for the Morgan/Maciejowski Bible. The illustrations are so awesome! Also, the 13th century really is quite fashinating with its garments and ideal style differing so much from the 15th century that I have been into the last years. So here’s a short fashion/garment summary based on my studies of some mid-late 13th century manuscript.
Quick caracteristics of the mid 13th century female dress:
- Overlong dresses: Reach the ground even with belts. The wearer hold the skirt up with their hand or drape it over the belt when moving.
- Loose fit: The folds created in artwork indicates a loosely draped dress with lots of fabric.
- Large armholes: Loose armholes on garments both with the sleeves sewn on, with partially open armholes with the sleeve half attached, and with open armholes without sleeves.
- Sleeves: Loose upper sleeve, with tightness around wrist. S-sleeves and regular sleeves are both represented in finds (Söderköpings kjortel/kirtle was constructed with S-sleeve)
Shift (probably in linen) wool dress and wool overdress/gown, silk for elite society. Hose or socks in wool, shoes in leather. Apron (probably linen) when working, doesn’t appear to be a fashionable item. Hood and cloak for warmth, as well as overdresses lined with another fabric layer or fur. Lots of different headstyles; loose hair, hairnets, caps, wimple and veils, fillets, barbettes etc. If you want to check out more sources, my SCA mentor wrote this Interesting blogpost about Isabella de Bruce’s wardrobe from the end of 13th century.
Before I started this project I collected notes on ways to achieve the correct look:
- Make the dresses and gowns much longer than usual.
- Make the garment wider than my usual simple dresses, but with a fitted neckhole, shoulders and sleeves. Or rather; make the front part wider to drape across the body, but keep the width of the back piece to avoid bulkiness over the shoulder area.
- Add gores both in the sides, front and back of the skirt. Lots of width is needed for the upper class look.
- Add width to the garment from the armhole, instead of starting at the waist.
- Choose a thin, tightly woven fabric with a dramatic drape; the folds should be deep and clearly visible.
- Make the armholes and sleeves wider than you need, and then finish them snugly by the wrist, or add buttons for tight closure.
Here is my construction adjustments; the drawn lines is the blue 14th century dress, and the dotted lines are the adjustments I made while drafting this dress. The sleeve hole is larger, the dress front piece wider, and the dress longer than full length while standing. To save on fabric, I decided to not widen the dress from the armholes but make the front and back panels straight. The width of skirt is made with the help of the 4 gores.
The silhouette is rather straight, without female curves or visible bust, and the easiest way to spot a woman is to look for the pooling dresses, My SCA mentor told me that women seldom show their feets in period artwork, while the men have gowns leaving the feet visible. I found that interesting and so far everything I have seen from this period fits with that description!
So far, I have mainly focused on the gown. I used my 14th century linen shift, wool hose and shoes to complete the outfit enough for wearing. I also made a belt from tablet woven silk and a buckle and belt end in brass. This was also made for the 14th century outfit, but it does well enough here. The brooch is made in brass and coloured glass, and the hair band is tablet woven in the same silk colours as the belt, backed with silk and decorated with small fittings in brass. The veils seen in the photos is my old ones from my 14th and 15th century looks. A future step would be to create a fun headwear typical for the period, if I want to explore it further. The belt bag is an old one in historical brocade from the late 11th- early 12th century if I remember correctly, with silk tassels and cord.
To achieve the right silhouette a loose garment is the best, as well as wearing the belt below the natural waist and arrange the folds to drape nicely. If in need of a modern bra for support, choose one that doesn’t separate or enlarge the bust, but rather a soft bra.
A note on linings: Used in overdresses, gowns and cloaks. Fur, wool or linen are mentioned in sources, and also blends; wool/linen and cotton/linen which might be an option for cooler garments. The patterned linings in white and gray/blue is a representation of squirrel fur, the white being the stomach of the winter coat and the most expensive. (Actually, squirrel fur was so popular that the poor animal went extinct in areas during the medieval period.)
Would you like to check out more from this period? Kongshirden is a reenactment group focusing on the start of the 14th century in Norway, and they have some great clothing guides for free on their website! (in Norwegian, but there’s lots of pictures to check out).