Early medieval European dress

The clothing of the Middle Ages in the West was determined to some extent by the phenomenon of Christianity and its taboos, innovations in clothing provided by the barbarian invasions of peoples and Muslims, and the evolution of the Byzantine and Roman dress.

Early medieval European dress changed very gradually from about 400 to 1100. The main feature of the period was the meeting of late Roman costume with that of the invading peoples who moved into Europe over this period. For a period of several centuries, people in many countries dressed differently depending on whether they identified with the old Romanised population, or the new populations such as Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Visigoths. The most easily recognisable difference between the two groups was in male costume, where the invading peoples generally wore short tunics, with belts, and visible trousers, hose or leggings. The Romanised populations, and the Church, remained faithful to the longer tunics of Roman formal costume, coming below the knee, and often to the ankles. By the end of the period, these distinctions had finally disappeared, and Roman dress forms remained mainly as special styles of clothing for the clergy – the vestments that have changed relatively little up to the present day.

Many aspects of clothing in the period remain unknown. This is partly because only the wealthy were buried with clothing; it was rather the custom that most people were buried in burial shrouds, also called winding sheets. Fully dressed burial may have been regarded as a pagan custom, and an impoverished family was probably glad to keep a serviceable set of clothing in use. Clothes were expensive for all except the richest in this period.

Gradually, the use of the gown disappeared and the use of the tunics was extended and the barbarian “bracca” (a kind of trousers adjusted to the body, made of leather) gave rise to the panties (precedent trousers, stockings, etc.) from the ankle to the knee with straps intertwined or tightened at the waist and including the foot in the garment. Also evolved the layers and mantles in men and sails and the ties in women.

Byzantine influence
Bizanci’s fashion was the bridge with Europe of the oriental opulence of the large clothes and embroidered brides with silver and jewelry, very fashionable during the Carolingian era for ceremonial clothes, while the town was dressed in panties, sails, túnicas and mantellets, that the visigodos called Striges when they were even and borda when they were made with fabric enough.

Muslim influence
The invasion of the Saracens influenced the clothing of the conquered areas, imposing the dressing of the saraguelles and the habrabes habits, the bands and the turban and other touches of oriental inspiration. The most common pieces of Moroccan origin in Mediterranean Europe were perhaps the Hawaiian (short tunic, adjusted to the arms and waist with buttons).

Apart from the elite, most people in the period had low living standards, and clothes were probably home-made, usually from cloth made at a village level, and very simply cut. The elite imported silk cloth from the Byzantine, and later Muslim, worlds, and also probably cotton. They also could afford bleached linen and dyed and simply patterned wool woven in Europe itself. But embroidered decoration was probably very widespread, though not usually detectable in art. Most people probably wore only wool or linen, usually undyed, and leather or fur from locally hunted animals.

Archaeological finds have shown that the elite, especially men, could own superb jewellery, most commonly brooches to fasten their cloak, but also buckles, purses, weapon fittings, necklaces and other forms. The Sutton Hoo finds and the Tara Brooch are two of the most famous examples from the Ireland and Britain in the middle of the period. In France, over three hundred gold and jewelled bees were found in the tomb of the Merovingian king Childeric I (died 481; all but two bees have since been stolen and lost), which are thought to have been sewn onto his cloak. Metalwork accessories were the clearest indicator of high-ranking persons. In Anglo-Saxon England, and probably most of Europe, only free people could carry a seax or knife, and both sexes normally wore one at the waist, to use for all purposes.

The scarcity of the sources does not allow to reliably hypothesise the cut and material of the clothing used by the poor European classes during the early Middle Ages . The ruling elites preferred sumptuous materials, important from the lands formerly occupied by the eastern Roman empire and at that time divided between the Byzantines and the Arabs : silk (in this sense the constant production of the metropolitan area) and the cotton. However, the rich also used colored wool and bleached linen of European production. Most people probably wore only un-colored wool / linen and leather / fur from locally hunted animals.

Although the iconography of the time does not allow us to detect it, the archaeological evidence shows that early medieval fabrics were richly decorated with embroidery and often obtained with particularly complex and refined weaving techniques . A solid sartorial tradition is attested to the Anglo-Saxons: v. Opus anglicanum. The custom of decorating dresses with bands and fringes of different fabrics (eg silk) is well documented by iconography and sources (eg Paolo Diacono).

Always the archeology has allowed to deduce the great importance given by the European high-medieval society to the goldsmith’s art.
The use of “transportable” accessories metal (for arms, the coat, the ‘ armor and / or tack the horse), daughter of a practice still steeped in culture nomadic barbarian, was in fact the main indication of the status of high social of the early medieval man . Of some Roman-barbarian cultures, eg. the Burgundians, we possess, not by chance, only material testimonies of a goldsmith type.
We must not forget, however, that throughout the early Middle Ages the possession of the metal weapon, primarily the multi-purpose knife of the scramasax typeworn on the belt, was a fundamental characteristic of the status of “free man”.
The most superb jewels were usuallythe cloak pins. The “Sutton Hoo Buckle” and the ” Fibula di Tara ” are two of the most famous examples of British men’s jeweleryof the period. However, there were also buckles, bags, accessories for weapons (the balteo and the sheath for the sword), necklaces and medallions of various shapes (eg the bracteates)., over three hundred golden bees and jewels (originally perhaps ornaments to hang from the mantle) were found in the tomb of the Merovingian king Childeric I

Both men’s and women’s clothing was trimmed with bands of decoration, variously embroidery, tablet-woven bands, or colourful borders woven into the fabric in the loom. The famous Anglo-Saxon opus anglicanum needlework was sought-after as far away as Rome. Anglo-Saxons wore decorated belts.

Male dress
The primary garment was the tunic — generally a long fabric panel, folded over with a neck-hole cut into the fold, and sleeves attached. It was typical for the wealthy to display their affluence with a longer tunic made of finer and more colorful cloth, even silk or silk-trimmed. The tunic was usually belted, with either a leather or strong fabric belt. Depending on climate, trousers were tailored either loose or tight (or not worn at all if the weather was warm). The most basic leggings were strips of cloth wound round the leg, and held in place by long laces, presumably of leather, which is called cross-gartering. This may have been done with loose-fitting trousers also. Tighter-fitting hose were also worn.

Over this a sleeved tunic was worn, which for the upper classes gradually became longer towards the end of the period. For peasants and warriors it was always at the knee or above. For winter, outside or formal dress, a cloak or mantle completed the outfit. The Franks had a characteristic short cape called a “saie”, which barely came to the waist. This was fastened on the left shoulder (so as not to impede sword strokes) by a brooch, typically a fibula and later a round brooch on the Continent, and nearly always a round one for Anglo-Saxons, while in Ireland and Scotland the particular style of the penannular or Celtic brooch was most common. In all areas the brooch could be a highly elaborate piece of jewellery in precious metal at the top of society, with the most elaborate Celtic brooches, like the Tara Brooch and Hunterston Brooch, perhaps the most ornate and finely made of all. The “cappa” or chaperon, a one-piece hood and cape over the shoulders was worn for cold weather, and the Roman straw hat for summer fieldwork presumably spread to the invading peoples, as it was universal by the High Middle Ages. Shoes, not always worn by the poor, were mostly the simple turnshoe – typically a cowhide sole and softer leather upper, which were sewn together, and then turned inside out.

The text of Eginardo is doubly useful as it also provides us with precise indications about the “thin” ritual clothing of Charlemagne, at that time the most important of the Roman-barbarian sovereigns of Europe. The ritual clothing brought back from the archaeological sources for the Anglo-Saxon sovereigns of the period is substantially the same: tunics, claws, leggings and cloaks decorated with fibulas and various goldsmiths .

Only in the tenth century, the European sovereigns, above all the Holy Roman Emperors, enriched their wardrobe with opulent hangings of Byzantine inspiration: golden quilted robes and jewels. The process reached full maturation at the time of the Ottoni, thanks to the marriage between theand the Byzantine princess Theophanus : the two spouses are depicted with paludamenti Constantinople gifts on an ivory table today at the National Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris.

The biographers of Charlemagne record that he always dressed in the Frankish style, which means that he wore similar if superior versions of the clothes of better-off peasants over much of Europe for the later centuries of the period:

“He used to wear the national, that is to say, the Frank dress: next to his skin a linen shirt and linen breeches, and above these a tunic fringed with silk; while hose fastened by bands covered his lower limbs, and shoes his feet, and he protected his shoulders and chest in winter by a close-fitting coat of otter or marten skins….. He despised foreign costumes, however handsome, and never allowed himself to be robed in them, except twice in Rome, when he donned the Roman tunic, chlamys, and shoes; the first time at the request of Pope Hadrian, the second to gratify Leo, Hadrian’s successor. — Einhard ”
No English monarch of the time had his dress habits recorded in such detail. The biographers also record that he preferred English wool for his riding-cloaks (sagæ), and complained to Offa of Mercia about a trend to make cloaks imported into Frankia impractically short. A slightly later narrative told of his dissatisfaction with the short cloaks imported from Frisia: “What is the use of these pittaciola: I cannot cover myself up with them in bed, when riding I cannot defend myself against wind and rain, and getting down for Nature’s call, the deficiency freezes the thighs”. But then he was six foot four inches tall. His clothes may well have been a political gesture, as the preceding Frankish dynasty, the Merovingians, seem to have been ready to borrow Byzantine styles. An early 6th century Merovingian Queen was buried in a violet silk dress and a red silk tunic embroidered in gold, as well as woollen hose and cloak.

At the beginning of this period the clergy generally dressed the same as laymen in post-Roman populations; this changed completely during the period, as lay dress changed considerably but clerical dress hardly at all, and by the end all ranks of clergy wore distinctive forms of dress.

Clergy wore special short hairstyles called the tonsure; in England the choice between the Roman tonsure (the top of the head shaved) and the Celtic tonsure (only the front of the head shaved, from ear to ear) had to be resolved at the Synod of Whitby, in favour of Rome. Wealthy churches or monasteries came during this period to use richly decorated vestments for services, including opus anglicanum embroidery and imported patterned silks. Various forms of Roman-derived vestment, including the chasuble, cope, pallium, stole, maniple and dalmatic became regularised during the period, and by the end there were complicated prescriptions for who was to wear what, and when. To a large extent these forms of vestment survive today in the Catholic and (even more conservative) Anglican churches. The same process took place in the Byzantine world over the same period, which again retains early medieval styles in Eastern Orthodox vestments.

Secular (i.e. non-monastic) clergy usually wore a white alb, or loose tunic, tied at the waist with a cord (formally called a cincture), when not conducting services. Senior clergy seem always to have fastened their cloaks with a brooch in the centre of their chest, rather than at their right shoulder like laymen, who needed their sword-arm unencumbered.

Ecclesiastical clothing
During the Migration Period, the clothing of the European clergy did not differ at all from the clothing of the secular population of the Western Roman Empire. During the High Middle Ages, while the clothing of the laity was contaminated with Germanic elements, that of the ecclesiastics remained linked to the old Roman model and developed it, diversifying clothing and vestments for the various ranks of the priestly class (chasuble, cope, pallium, stole, hand piece, dalmatic) with specific and strict requirements on who could wear what and when. These sacral vestments are today an integral part of the liturgy in Roman Catholicism and in theOrthodox Christianity.
The enormous wealth accumulated by churches and monasteries also allowed the religious to afford clothes richly decorated with precious material and embroidery and / or obtained with precious fabrics like silk.
The secular clergy also had a light tunic, tightened at the waist by a rope belt, to wear “out of order” . The monks, on the other hand, wore the habit, derived from the sagum of the military, or the cocolla. The religious who could afford a cloak carried him closed by a brooch / brooch on his chest, not on the shoulder like the laity, since they could not hold the sword. The high priests carried a distinctive signrichly decorated pastoral care .

In the early centuries of the Middle Ages there were two types of tonsure : the Roman one (top of the shaved skull) and the Celtic one (shaved frontal process, from ear to ear). In England, the choice was governed in favor of the Roman tonsure at the time of the Whitby Synod (7th century).

Female dress
Women’s clothing in Western Europe went through a transition during the early medieval period as the migrating Germanic tribes adopted Late Roman symbols of authority, including dress. In Northern Europe, at the beginning of the period around 400 – 500 CE in Continental Europe and slightly later in England, women’s clothing consisted at least one long-sleeved tunic fitted at the wrists and a tube-like garment, sometimes called a peplos, worn pinned at the shoulders. This garment was carried with the Germanic Migrations to Iberia and Southern Europe. These garments could be decorated with metal applique, embroidery, and woven bands.

After around 500 CE, women’s clothing moved towards layered tunics. In the territories of the Franks and their eventual client tribes the Alemanni and Bavarii, as well as in East Kent, women wore a long tunic as an inner layer and a long coat, closed in the front with multiple brooches and a belt, as an outer layer. An example of this can be seen in the interpretations of the grave of Queen Arnegunde. Not all graves identified as female contain the brooches necessary to close the front of the “coat dress”, indicating that not all women wore that style, or at least that not all women were buried in that style. The brooches may have been too expensive for most women.

The women of later Anglo-Saxon England, outside of East Kent, mostly wore an ensemble of multiple layered tunics. These women were particularly well known for their embroidery and may have decorated their clothing with silk and wool embroidery or woven bands. These tunics are often interpreted as having a style of neckline called a “keyhole neckline” that may have facilitated breast-feeding. This neckline would have been closed with a brooch for modesty and warmth. In later Anglo-Saxon England, there is visual evidence for a large poncho-like garment that may have been worn by noble or royal women.

The most famous garment of early medieval Scandinavia is the so-called Apron Dress (also called a trägerrock, hängerock, or smokkr). This may have evolved from the peplos of the early Germanic Iron Age. The garment is often interpreted as a tube shape (either fitted or loose) that is worn with straps over the shoulder and large brooches (sometimes called “turtle brooches”) at the upper chest. Examples of appliqued silk bands used as decoration have been found in a number of graves. Not all graves identified as belonging to women contain the brooches that typify this type of garment, indicating that some women wore a different style of clothing. There is evidence from Dublin that at least some Norse women wore caps or other head-coverings, it is unclear however how pervasive this practice was.

On all top layers, the neckline, sleeves, and hems might be decorated with embroidery, tablet weaving, or appliqued silks, very richly so for the upper classes. Hose or socks may have been worn on the legs. Veils or other head coverings appear in art depicting northern European women beginning with the Romans, however this is not universal. More pervasive use of headcoverings, especially for married women, appears to follow the Christianization of the various Germanic tribes. Fur is described in many classical accounts of the Germanic tribes but has not survived well in archaeological remains, making it difficult to interpret how and where it was used in female clothing. In all regions, garments were primarily made out of wool and linen, with some examples of silk and hemp.

Regional variation
Areas where Roman influence remained strong include most of Italy except the North, South-Western France, as far north as Tours, and probably cities like Cologne in Germany. Iberia was largely ruled by the Moors in the later part of the period, and in any case had received rather different influences from the Visigoths compared to other invading peoples; Spanish dress remained distinctive well after the end of the period. The Visigothic Kingdom of Toulouse also ruled the South and West of France for the first two centuries of the period.

Early Anglo-Saxon women seem to have had a distinctive form of tubular dress, fastened on the shoulder with brooches, and belted. This style matches some German dresses from much earlier in the Roman period. After about 700, which roughly coincides with the general conversion to Christianity, they adopted the general Continental style.

The pagan Vikings, especially the women, dressed rather differently from most of Europe, with uncovered female hair, and an outer dress made of a single length of cloth, pinned with brooches at both shoulders. Under this they wore a sleeved undergarment, perhaps with an intervening wool tunic, especially in winter, when a jacket may have been added as a final top layer.

In Italy, the presence, until the eighth century, of strong Byzantine enclaves (Rome, Ravenna, Venice, etc.) coordinated by the Esarca, contributed to the spread among the high social classes of the sumptuous “neo-Roman” clothing of the court of Constantinople: polychrome tunics covered by various paludamenti used by the ecclesiastics such as the dalmatic used as overpasses and the pallium as distinctive of rank . Mass was also the Byzantine influence on the Roman-barbarian goldsmith production of Italy occupied by the Lombards in the 6th century: vcd Corona di Teodolinda.

In Spain, after an initial phase of cohabitation between the Roman-barbaric Visigothic Kingdom and the local Byzantine enclaves, the start of Arab domination in the 8th century contributed to the development of a hybrid clothing unlike any other in Europe: massive diffusion between the elites, also Christian, of silks decorated with typically Islamic styles (so-called arabesque); pronounced taste for bright colors , which can still be found in the traditional clothing of south-eastern Spain ; wide “zaragüelles” trousers derived from Arab-Persian breeds sarāwīl ; etc.

Likewise, in northern Europe, where the Roman sumptuary influence was scarce, persistent forms of “barbaric” clothing.

In the British Isles, at least until the eighth century, the Anglo-Saxons maintained fairly archaic forms of clothing and so did the Gaels, whose main unisex garment remained the woolen cloak (bran) under which they wore a tunic (léine) longer for women .

In Scandinavia, men’s fashion was quite different from the European fashion itself, except for the persistence of kyrtillas a dress instead of the actual tunic. On the other hand, women’s fashion was particular, with long tubular dresses secured to the shoulders of the woman by a pair of laces to be hooked to the pins on the shoulders. The persistence (at least until the tenth century) of paganism among the Vikings also escaped their women from female fashion prevailing on the continent to cover their hair with veils and headphones .

Source from Wikipedia