Tell me about the early 14th century

If you read my blog a lot you may realise that the areas between the 5th and 17th centuries are basically a costuming black hole for me.  I’ve done barely any work in that period, and a correspondingly brief amount of research.

I know about textiles from the ‘Dark Ages’ and Medieval period, but my knowledge of the clothing is pretty basic.

But now I have a reason to tackle the Middle Ages – specifically the early 14th century in England.  Think 1310-1330.  (Sorry, can’t tell you what the reason is yet).

Manuscript painting of Thomas of Lancaster (l.) with St. George, via Wikimedia Commons

I do know that sometimes the trick to knowledge is not actually knowing the stuff, but knowing where to find the information.  I have a lot of leads, but I also know that there are a lot more out there.

So, dear readers, who among you does late 13th and early 14th century costuming?  What are your favourite resources for that period?  Expand my knowledge!

Isabella landing in England with her son, the future Edward III in 1326. Miniature circa 1455. Via Wikimedia Commons

Update:  I’m mostly interested in men’s clothes – commoners, lower grades of knights, jesters, mercenaries, and maybe a nun or novitiate.  I’ll get to the fun upper class ladies later!



  1. Karen says


    Back in the day (I don’t know that I want to admit I was in the SCA) this one was considered very good. Search Amazon as they seem to have a number of good ones.

    • Haha! I know where you are coming from. I have known lovely people in the SCA, but it still rather scares me, which is one of the reasons I’ve avoided Medieval costumes, even if only subconsciously.

      • Karen says

        My friends were seriously into this period (I did Elizabethan.) One friend who was queen joked that she was going to invoke a rule that stated men’s cotehardies must be wrist length. She had seen reference somewhere and thought it would be fun. The ladies wore cotehardies (cut in 4 pieces for kirtles or undergowns and more pieces for top layers.) The men wore braes and chauses. There are miniatures in Books of Hours of gentlemen at leisure rolling their chauses so the more fashion-forward gentlemen did so in camp. Oh me, the memories. We had fun and some of us were serious scholars.

  2. Stella says

    cottesimple.comOooh, interesting! I don’t really know a lot about it myself, but I’m pretty sure the houppelande was the go-to garment for men, with a kirtle and overgown for women. They seem to have worn linen shifts (and breeches, if male) under their outer garments, and the wealthy wore amazing patterned brocades. Despite the fact that the industrial revolution was still centuries away, they had really wonderful fabrics back then. I think wool was a big part of the English economy at the time, so I’d guess outer garments would all be woollen for an English person.

    I’m assuming you’ve had a look at the Codex Manesse? It has great pictures of clothes from that era, although it is German. I think the Luttrell Psalter might be good too.

    You may want to try http://www.cottesimple.com but be aware it focusses on the later part of the century. What it does have is an email address for the lady who runs it, who can probably help you out.

    I would think the character’s status is quite important for this period, because clothes were so expensive and fashion was still a very upper class activity. If the person’s a peasant or yeoman, I’d be looking at resources for the 13th century.

  3. Elise says

    What about the country/region, or class? There can be so much variance. (Not that I’m an expert, just that I’ve seen a lot of paintings from that period in differing countries)

    Good luck!

    • Yes, I’m definitely taking those into account, but I don’t want to give too many details away, and looking at England in the early 14th century is pretty specific already in the scope of Medieval history.

  4. amazon.comhttp://www.amazon.com/Medieval-Costume-Fashion-Herbert-Norris/dp/0486404862

    It gives a fair bit of context as well, so there aren’t as many pictures — but it has a wealth of information.

  5. Lynne says

    There are some very good books, if you can get them – request from the library? I have these ones, and if you can’t source them, I could scan useful pages and email them to you. A bit tricky because some of them are bigger than my scanner screen. If you have time, you could do a field trip! 🙂

    “The Evolution of Fashion – Pattern and Cut from 1066 to 1930”
    by Margot Hamilton Hill and Peter A Bucknell. Batsford. 1967 – I have a 1984 edition. This is a very helpful book. It is very good at giving a detailed description of all the various bits, including hair, and gives the shapes of the pattern pieces. I’ve made the sideless gown from c.1260.

    “Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It”. Dorothy Hartley.
    Batsford. 1931. My edition is a Dover paperback from 2003.
    Dorothy Hartley is a much respected historian, specializing in the middle ages with special reference to the more domestic side of life – more how they lived, fewer battles. She has lots of illustrations of various bits and pieces. Smallish book, probably still available – well worth acquiring.

    “Period Costume for Stage and Screen – Patterns for Women’s Dress, Medieval – 1500”. Jean Hunniset. Players Press (sic). 1996.
    You probably know her. Wonderful woman – extensive British theatre and BBC experience. Easy to follow patterns.

    I have a couple of treasures that the National Library threw out when they were losing their marbles a few years ago.
    “Costume on Brasses” Herbert Druitt. Kingsmead Reprints. 1970 – originally 1906. Very scholarly, lots of robes and armour.
    “Gothic Woman’s Fashions”. Olga Sronkova. Artia – Prague. 1954.
    Description and illustrations – good close-ups.

    And it is a bit later than your period, but I am currently cooing over
    “The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries” George Wingfield Digby and Wendy Hefford. Victoria and Albert Museum. 1971. It is 14th Century.

    Let us know when you can be more specific. Men or women? Social class? Occupation?

    What fun!

    • Thanks Lynne! I have The Evolution of Fashion (though I’ve always distrusted it. I can’t place my finger on it, but somehow it doesn’t seem right. Like the pattern pieces are more based on what a theatre costume maker would use, rather than history perhaps?) and Hunniset’s book, and the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries were already on my list, but the rest are getting added. Lucky you getting stuff from the National Library!

      • goodreads.comsarahthursfield.comamazon.comNo offense, Lynne, but for Dreamstress’s purposes I’d advise against using Hartley, too.

        Hartley’s book doesn’t have a lot of information about *what* was worn in your target period, and some of what she says about period costume is wrong. Her book’s more about how you can study the period art to deduce how period costume worked and must have been made. She’s aimed at theatrical costuming, too.

        If you’re looking at older books, this one is a better bet (go to the URL for the actual citation information):


        This book has a lot of good suggestions about construction, not so much documentation (again, go to the link for the ISBN): http://www.sarahthursfield.com/Book.php

        For a general look (women and men) the Cunnington’s books are quite good for an older study. They use redrawings not original art, but they redraw the originals pretty well and they try to summarize all the clothing elements, and they break down different fashion periods more finely than many similar books. The Handbook of Medieval Costume should include the period you have in mind (the Amazon cite below gives publication information):


        If you need more information about men’s clothing than women’s, reenactor sites might be helpful too, though the best one I know of concentrates on the French not the English, and I can’t find the URL right now anyway.

  6. I’m not an expert or anything, but the historical clothing professor at my university mentioned the Moy Bog Gown (found in Moy, County Clare, Ireland) as being right around the 14’th century time frame.

    I do know there are several people on the interwebs who have recreated it if you google it. I’ll look through my browser history to find the links if you’re interested.


    • Thanks Em. I remember reading about the Moy Bog gown years ago, and if I am correct Irish clothes in the 14th century were quite different from English clothing, so it may not apply, but I’ll have a look into it again. At the very least the stitching will be helpful!

      • Oh! I remembered this in the middle of the night, but if you’re looking for specific examples of clothing from the 14th century England, try looking up images from psalters or books of hours from that provenance.’
        Most of them were owned by women and are quite beautifully illuminated with larger images.

        I realize that doesn’t help with the “how” to sew the clothing, but it’s something right?

  7. This is not my area either, but I included this book in the bibliography for my comps (which I’m in the middle of writing) as an example of recent antiquarian-type research:

    van Buran, Anne, “Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, 1325-1515”, New York, NY: The Morgan Library and Museum, 2011.

    Obviously it’s French, not English so I don’t know how relevant it would be for labouring classes. But the period you’re concerned with is pre- or early 100yrs war, is it not? In which case the aristocracies of the two countries were virtually identical – they were all cousins, after all! lol

    This a big, folio-sized book with all colour plates (really scrummy to look at!). You may need access to a university library to get a hold of it, though. I don’t know what your library systems are like where you are, but it certainly wouldn’t be in the public library system where I am.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what this is all about!

  8. fidelio says

    amazon.comamazon.comRobin Netherton has done a fair bit of work–you might try googling her for on-line material; she also edits a journal with Gail Owen-Crocker.

    Also: Margaret Scott, and others.

    The Museum of London series has some interesting books on clothing-related topics.

    I would avoid Norris, inasmuch as he is both very old, and doesn’t show his work, so to speak. Hartley has the same problem,but a lot of what she shows looks right, and has the feel of someone who’s looked at things, and who also sews. She may be wrong, but her wrongnesses are not just plain daft, as so many wrong costuming writers are. Hunniset, Holkeboer, and Hill & Bucknell are all theatrical costuming books, with the weaknesses typical of that ilk. Stella Mary Newton’s Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince is interesting, if a little late for your interest.

    If you type ‘medieval clothing’ into the search section at Amazon, and limit to BOOKS, there are quite a few good titles. I’ve heard good things about Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress, Medieval Garments Reconstructed goes to town with the Greenland finds, which are about the right timeframe for you, and are a valiant attempt to stay in fashion at the far end of the European world. Pipponier’s Dress in the Midle Ages is another one worth a look. I don’t know how good Thursfield’s Medieval Tailor’s Assistant is, but it’s worth a look, if only to see where it might go wrong.

    Houston was fairly good, in her day, but that was quite a while ago. This is true of a lot of the Dover reprints; they’re dated, and some were not strong to begin with.

    Burnham’s Cut My Cotehas some interesting things on the development of tailoring, as opposed to just sewing, that are worth a look.

    One of the things to keep in mind about the period that you are looking at is that it’s the point where clothing, especially at the upper end of the social scale, becomes tailored–fitted on the body, as opposed to just sewn. Cuts become much less a matter of simple geometry. Sleeves become set-in, and garments begin to fit more closely to the body. It was a developing tendency in the 13th century, but it really comes forward in the 14th.

    I would be wary of anything on costuming for this period that does not recognize this trend, or that suggests addressing it with darts instread of gores, gussets, and curved seams. You don’t see much in the way of waist seams prior to the 15th century, especially for women, so I’d be wary of those sources as well; they aren’t thinking about clothing fashion as an evolutionary process, but as a series of ‘looks’.

    I have seen very few large-company commercial sewing patterns work a dead beetle for this era, and while those for women aren’t good, the ones for men are dreadful. There may be some smaller companies aimed at reenactors that aren’t covered in wrongness, but I’d be wary there as well.

    • I knew I liked you! We think so much alike in terms of research, analyzing books, and considering fashion. I shall be coming back to your comment quite a bit!

      The change to tailoring was one of the few things I did know – it’s something I cover and teach in Textile Design History, because it was partly caused by textiles, and affects them. Translating the knowledge to practical sewing is something I’m going to have to work on though!.

      • Fascinating. I both love and hate that site – so much information, but so densely packed! As I read their write-up (and have always understood it – though as I well admit pre-16th century is not my period) set in sleeves were known, but weren’t common. “Early medieval sleeve designs were generally cut in one with the garment, not set-in.” (emphasis mine). Were set in sleeves part of the trend toward more tailored clothes for the richest?

        I’m not dealing with particularly rich or fashionable clothing though, so shan’t have to worry about set in sleeves!

  9. Anna says

    personal.utulsa.eduA digitized version of Codex Manesse is available here: http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848

    The Bodleian library has scanned a great many manuscripts that you can sort by date if you click on “browse medieval and renaissance manuscripts”: http://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/medieval_home

    There also is a list of illuminated manuscripts sorted by century at wikimedia commons:

    Something about archaological finds: http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/bockhome.html

    In terms of vocabulary to search for: Generally speaking, a surcot (overgown, sometimes called cotehardie today) was worn over a cotte (gown) – women wore long gowns, men often wore shorter ones, depending on the exact time frame. Women wore a linen shift underneath, men a shift/shirt and braies.

    I’m not sure if it’s a typo, but the miniature at the bottom of your post is from 1455, not from 1355, and shows a typical 15th century style of dress.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the resulting garments!

    • Hi Anna! Ah, good old Wikipedia! So many issues, but often such a great place to get started! Thank you!

      And thanks for catching the typo in the miniature. I have number issues and get them mixed up all the time (but at least I did know that the clothes were 15th century – so that’s the important part for what I do!).

      About the men’s shift/shirts. Any idea how close the construction would be to an 18th century shift?

      • Anna says

        imareal.oeaw.ac.atI’ve been known to get mixed up about dates, too – much to the confusion of my long-suffering boyfriend who always thinks he’s got the wrong picture of the time periods mentioned. (“1770? Bustle dress? What?”) 😉

        Well, there’s only so much you can get wrong when putting online medieval manuscripts, so I find the wikimedia project to be quite useful, although one should of course check if the attribution is correct. It’s sometimes easier to find relevant manuscripts in wikimedia’s list and the look them up properly than looking through library catalogues or weirdly constructed university databases.

        Shifts or shirts were a simple T-shape, widening towards the bottom hem, generally covering at least the upper thighs. The neckline was round or with a slit, no drawstring. I’m not sure if there are any examples of gussets under the armpits in this time frame, like the ones found in the 15th century.

        The “lost son” in this image from 1330 seems to be in his undershirt: http://tethys.imareal.oeaw.ac.at/realonline/images/7009012.JPG
        It’s southern German or Austrian though – the database at http: http://www.imareal.oeaw.ac.at (“Datenbanken” and then ” REAL online Bilddatenbank in the top right corner”) is great and compiled by a university institute, but it only contains images from Austria and its surroundings.

        • Anna says

          I just noticed you’re looking for sources concerning nuns. What they were wearing wasn’t quite as fixed as we might think today, but depended on the order they belonged to, their status, the strictness of local rules and if the monastery had been reformed recently.

          Life in monasteries was constantly oscillating between relaxing rules towards worldly comfort (with highborn nuns wearing normal clothes and jewellery, owning pretty things, leaving hard work and constant prayer to the common lay sisters) and reformation (with strict rules concerning clothes, prayer times, duties, nuns and monks not being allowed to own any personal property). The Rules of St. Benedict for example, that were written in such a reforming spirit, state clearly what monks or nuns had to wear. If monasteries that supposedly lived according to these rules followed everything is quite another matter.
          It’s a fascinating subject, I studied it for a bit at university, hope I’m not coming over as too much of a know-it-all 😉

          If you’re looking for a clearly identifiable “nun look”, you could use pictures of St. Clara like this one:
          It’s polish, from around 1365 – 14oo, but habits are pretty universal if the order is the same.
          (This is a screenshot of the source info: prettyrandom.net/stclarascreenshot.jpg – You can find it in the database if you look for “Nonne” (“nun” in German) via the button “Standesbezeichnungen” , it only allows linking specific images or the whole database)

  10. Black Tulip says

    A friend who used to do medieval re-enactment recommended Sarah Thursfield to me, as she had made garments for him in the past and he had been very pleased with the results. I have got “The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant”, but unfortunately can’t comment on it from experience – it’s on my burgeoning to-do list.

  11. Hi,
    I have a book: English Costume of the Early Middle Ages; The Tenth to the Thirteenth Centuries, 1948

    It has description and sketches, one set of sketches are in the colours of the period.
    Let me know if you want me to scan and send to you.

    • I just read “There were no remarkable changes in men’s costume in the thirteenth century.” (from the 12th cent.)

    • Thank you! That’s very generous – I’ll let you know if I need it. As fidelo mentioned, using quite old books can be a bit problematic, as the research can be a little out of date, so I’ll see how I go.

      • The books I have are by Iris Brooke who wrote about 25 books on costume through the ages, her best one being the one I have which include her own illustrations as all her books do. She is well known as an author who knows clothing of this area.
        I don’t agree that ‘old’ books are not of good use.

        • Oh, I certainly wouldn’t say ‘not of good use’ – just problematic. Older books can be invaluable, and I often use them for my research, but most of them do tend to repeat some of the more egregious costuming myths (numerous corset deaths! – for example). They also tend to apply their periods views on taste and worth more than is accepted in modern research. With periods I am familiar with I know enough to be able to judge and balance statements, but I don’t know enough about medieval textiles to know when statements are questionable. Modern books also have drawbacks, but being in and of the period makes it easier for me to balance them. I was trained in modern research, so know its strengths and pitfalls. I want to get a good foundation in the latest research before I venture into older books – I think it will help me to analyze them in a more accurate and considered way.

          • Noted. I left a link of the History of Sleeves on Fidelio’s post as it was stated that sleeves were set in at this time. Set in sleeves didn’t appear until the 17th cent.

  12. I have a few suggestions but the reference I have are in french but if you want to translate or if they have something in english .It doesn’t cost anything to take a look.Maybe I can suggest books from Heimdal editions.I have them in french because it’s my first language.I have excellents books on differents topics you may like.You can also try group (not sca)like Association pour l’histoire vivante(association for living history) .Group like this one may guide you in a good direction.I hope it will help you.

  13. I have two posts full of useful links on my blog. For books, I have the Greenland book (Woven into the Earth), the London digs ones (Textiles and Clothing, plus Dress Accessories) and ‘Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince’.

    I would avoid or be rather wary of earlier books, e.g. the Dorothy Hartley one mentioned, as they were often written prior to most of the archaeological finds we now have, plus are often written on the assumption that 1800s and 1900s peasant and ‘folk’ costumes were based off ‘ancient’ designs. There’s a lot of opinion written as fact, plenty of which is incorrect opinion.

  14. Jennifer Geard says

    The 13th century may have been relatively consistent, but the 14th century was a time of marked change, as the flowing “Gothic” robes of the 13th century became more fitted, with cuts morphing gradually from geometric to geometric-with-body-fitting to negative-ease to let’s-layer-something-over-that.

    About 15 years ago I threw together some notes for a class, and revised them slightly for another class in 2001. They were quick and dirty, I talk about “armscythes” instead of “armscyes”, and I suspect the field has moved on since I last paid attention, but they’re a starter. http://verso.org/clothing/fine-arraye.doc

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