Women’s fashion of the 14th century in England. How is it different to the clothing from other periods? How many pieces of attire did they use? What’s special about this era in fashion? Why didn’t they use underwear? This article will give you the answers to many questions and show you the photos of female 14th-century folk clothing. There are some very curious details in the fashion of this particular period.
The basic undergarment was the linen smock which was worn night and day. No underdrawers were worn – this was both practical and discreet as, without ready access to private latrines, the ability to relieve oneself quickly and discreetly, without having first to remove a garment, was important.
Women wore kirtle or gown over the smock – and sometimes more than one for warmth. Their garments were economically made from a length of wool or linen cut into squares, rectangles, and triangles, which avoided wastage. The garments were loosely fitted and were pulled on over the head.
Shaping was limited to gathers, pleats, or tucks, and by wearing belts. The belt pulled the kirtle into shape at the waist and provided the means of carrying items, from purses to tools, such as drop spindles. A distaff could also be tucked into the belt, leaving the hands free for spinning.
The sideless surcoat or overtunic was an additional protective layer. It was sleeveless and had side openings, which allowed access to the purse or tools attached to the belt. The surcoat also hid the purse from view.
An apron could also be worn to protect the other garments from soiling. The Luttrell Psalter, created around 1340, shows aprons with different decorative stitches controlling the gathers, like this honeycomb style stitch. The apron also provided a place to wipe the hands, to wrap around hot pots, or to carry loose items.
The hose or stockings were usually made from wool or linen fabric. They were not cut on the straight grain of the fabric but diagonally across, as this gives a slight stretch to the fabric. It was still difficult to create a well fitting pair of hose. The hose were held in place by tying a garter or fabric strips or woven tape below the knee. The knot could be moved to the side of the knee to keep it out of the way when active.
Shoes or boots of leather would have been tied with leather laces.
Women kept their hair long and plaited it to keep it tidy, clean, and out of the way. The plaits, which were often bound with linen tape, were worn coiled or looped on either side of the head. Once pinned up, the plaits were secured by a fillet of linen tied at the back of the head. A linen kerchief would be placed over the head and hair, pinned to the fillet at the sides of the head – to avoid it being blown away are just sliding off.
A change in fashion began around 1340. Tailors began to cut clothes with curved seams, tight sleeves fitted into shaped armholes of figure-hugging gowns, and the skirts flared out long and full. Necklines grew wider and more open. The new fitted garments allowed freedom of movement but now, they needed additional openings to put them on and fastenings of lacings or buttons to close them. The wearer might also have required some assistance in dressing and undressing.
Women still wore belts to carry purses, etc., but belts were no longer required to control the fabric at the waist, as they would rest on the curve of the hip. The sideless surcoat became more elegant, too. It was given a wider neckline and an inward sweeping cut at the open sides, which served to emphasize the curvatures of the waist and hips.
The cut of hose remain the same, but the fit would gradually improve, too. Especially for men, as the new fashion was for shorter tunics, resulting in a demand for finely fitting hose.
Shoes could also be fashioned with buckles and the leather decorated with punched holes or slashes.
The coils of plaits were best done with the assistance of a maid, and even if they were not going to be seen, were done with care. Hair was combed through, divided into plaits just above the ears, and coiled or looped out of the way. As with the maid's hair, a fillet of linen kept everything in place and provided a means for pinning into place whatever headdress was worn.
The wimple was a linen cloth that wrapped around the face and neck and covered the hair completely. The custom of married women wearing head coverings is an ancient one. Initially worn by matrons in the eastern Mediterranean as a mark of status, veiling had become associated with modesty and religious practice. By the Middle Ages, married women were rarely seen outdoors unveiled. Hoods could be added for an extra layer of warmth and to ensure that the veiling stayed in place.
The change in cut heralded a new European fashion. Status could now be indicated by the cut of the textiles and their conspicuous wastage, and not just by the textiles themselves. With this new look, the silent language of a dress had just become more expressive.