Women’s medieval gowns are elegant and feminine in their simplicity. Those long sleeves are gorgeous; but the most beautiful part of the attire is, probably, the headdress, with its massive metal circlet and a daring hairdo. Sure, modern people are surprised by how such an easy hairstyle could be daring, but for the 12th century it really was.
First, put on the medieval base layers: linen chemise and wool hose with wool garters. And, or course, the leather shoes.
Next layer: a wool kirtle/underdress decorated with simple wool embroidery. No bra – but linen bindings could be used if needed. The neck opening is fastened with a small pin brooch.
Hair was mostly worn in 2 plaits – either your own, or enhanced with horse hair or yarn. The plaits were further decorated with ribbons, braiding, etc. Wealthy women would encase the ends in silk or metal casings. The ribbons could be intertwined with the hair (in between two strands), or used on top of a plait. This style was considered quite daring, as before, all hair was hidden under the coverings. Though, married women would still wear a veil, the plaits were on display.
Add veil, a fillet/circlet, and a belt, and this layer was perfect for summer or indoor, informal wear.
Later on in the century, barbettes and wimples are slowly becoming fashionable and hair is hidden again.
Here is a good example of hair intertwined with a silk, tablet woven braid.
Next layer – an overgrown called a bliaut (or bliaud) in the period. Variants of the bliaut were worn by both men and women. The garment was characterized by a fitted body and long sleeves – sometimes so long that the ends were knotted to stop them from trailing on the ground. The fit was achieved through side lacing – and for the first time in centuries, the shape of the body was made more obvious.
A maid (or a female relative for those without a servant) would provide the service – but a well trained husband would perform just as well.
This bliaut is a modest affair in wool, lined with linen and decorated with embroidered band at the neck. Posh versions would feature silk; middle and lower class wool too, but the cut would be less flamboyant, with much shorter, practical sleeves.
And a long woven girdle.
Also, use a linen veil to cover the head. Only the husband would see the hair uncovered and unbound, in the privacy of the bedchamber. A metal circlet or a woven band to keep the veil secure. And now the rings – popular female jewelry piece at the time.
The whole set up is rather comfortable and easy to wear. By the way, the men’s stuff is comfy and practical, too.
There you have it – 3 layers might seem much, but being all natural fibers, they breathe well and keep the body temperature stable.
The photo of a posher bliaut in silk, with silk bands and a longer train.
For warmth or ceremony, a cloak would be worn – usually a semicircle one, in wool – though, elaborate ceremonial ones were silk.
(c) Prior Attire