Medieval Clothing – Naked Medieval Peasants Wash Underwear
Today we have retail sales, consumerism, and big box merchandizing—it’s hard to imagine there was a time when garments were controlled by a two hundred year old medieval law established to dictate clothing for seven social classes.
In medieval times there was probably a recognizable difference, but while researching for this blog, I was surprised by the minor clothing differences separating the lowest and highest classes.
Clothing materials were wool, linen, silk, burlap, animal leather, and hemp. Wool was used for the tunic. Undergarments were made with linen, which included shirt, under-pants, and occasionally stockings. One each of these five items, plus a hat, made up an entire wardrobe for most medieval peasants. Women wore the same type of clothing except the hat was replaced with a wimple—scarf covering the head, neck, and sides of face. Luckier peasants had two hats, a wide brimmed straw hat for summer and a felt cap for winter.
Upper classes could afford stockings, longer tunics, tunic belt, and a surcoat (over coat). Velvet was the material of choice for hats worn by the privileged. Also, the rich had clothing made of expensive imported silk, or dyed in bright colors to separate them from the poor.
Some of the restrictions go back as far as the Romans. Over several centuries, the differences between the classes diminished, as fashion became a higher priority of the rich. The poorer classes were eventually allowed access to high ankle boots, pockets, custom shoes, trousers, breeches, girdles, and gloves with full fingers (previously, the gloves for the poor only covered two sections of each finger).
In 1281, London attempted to re-established sumptuary laws for the social classes. These laws restricted what and how much a person could buy based on their social class. Furniture, food, beverages, and clothing were some of the controlled items. By law, violating meant harsh penalties ranging from a fine to loss of property, and in some cases, death. But, the momentum was too well established and law enforcement increasingly difficult.
As a young boy at family gatherings, I recall listening to the men after a meal. The opinions around the subjects of politics, car brands, hippies, and rock n roll filled the room with energy like aromatic smoke from a pipe. But, when the story telling began everyone found a seat or patch of floor. We sat for hours absorbing the stories, fact or fiction, that shaped who we became and it strengthened our imaginations. Fifty years later I know that a world without imagination would be pretty boring.
Retirement came a little earlier than wanted. I decided it was time for that dream job. Three years later, I am an aspiring writer telling stories that hopefully guides a reader’s imagination to a world of excitement, and provide a brief rest from the everyday duties.
Winter’s Thief is the first of a three book series. Soft cover books available at your favorite Internet bookstore, or at the website www.AndeanWhite.com. The e-book version is available at Amazon.com.