Clothing and Garb in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages Garb
The clothing of peasants during the Middle Ages was very simple, while the clothing of nobility was fitted with a distinct emphasis on the sleeves of the garments. Knights adorned themselves with sleeveless "surcoats" covered with a coat of arms. Barbarian nomads wore clothing made of fur, wool, and leather. They wore long trousers, some of which had attached feet. Fine leather shoes were also worn. Imports such as turbans and silks from the East were common for the more fortunate of society.
As with today, clothing styles of medieval men changed periodically. At the end of the 13th century, the once loose and flowing tunics became tighter fitting. Besides tunics, the men also wore undershirts and briefs covered by a sleeveless jacket and an additional tunic. Stockings completed the ensemble. Men's medieval clothing also consisted of cloaks with a round opening that was slipped over the man's head. Such cloaks were worn over other clothing as a type of "jacket".
Early medieval women's clothing consisted of "kirtles", which were tunics worn to their ankles. These tunics were often worn over a shirt. When the women were in public, they often topped the tunics with an even shorter "kirtle." Of course the more affluent women wore more luxurious clothing than those of the less affluent lifestyle. Women, especially those who were married, wore tight-fitting caps and nets over their hair, which was wound in a "bun" on their heads. Other women wore veils over their hair, which was left either hanging loosely, or braided tightly.
Head Coverings Men and women both wore various head coverings in the middle ages. This is a commonplace and completely unremarkable thing. On a practical level, it keeps the sun off the face in the summer and the rain off the head the rest of the time.
A woman's beauty was of great value, and modesty was expected of them. A married woman should have her head covered because the glory of her hair belongs to her husband. For the same reason, a woman should have her head covered whenever she enters a house of God as to not be distracting. 1 Corinthians 11:5 says, “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” An uncovered head in Church is the equivalent to going in a bikini. A woman without a covered head, even unmarried, would be considered immodest by some. The more uncouth may even ask her price for the night.
Garb for Shadow Accord
Though the game is in the early 1200s, garb worn at game ranges as far forward as the 1500s. It is easy to find garb for SCA or Renaissance Faires, and they cater to a later period. Bodices, for example, don't exist in the 1200s historically but are perfectly fine in game.
Look for clothing that is warm and durable. "Costume" garb is often very badly made and one winter game in the woods will leave them in very ugly tatters. We have several people who can help you find or make garb if you need.
Holy Mary, Fallen Eve, the fertile womb that guarantees a fiefdom's future or the striking beauty behind the throne, women have quietly made their place in the hard times of the Dark Ages.
In general, the women of the Middle Ages are second class citizens, lead by the male members of their family and then by their husbands. Women are known to be prone to bouts of hysteria. Any unruly girls could be beaten into submission by their family and disobedience was seen as a crime against God. A woman who does not have a husband or family is put into the care of the Magistrate or Lord of the area. That lord may send her to a convent, marry her off to someone else of her station, or simply ignore her as he deems fit. An orphaned or widowed woman may find herself quickly out of options, turning instead to prostitution or thievery.
Those of noble or merchant families tend to have the most freedom. The education of wealthier women was concentrated on the practical as opposed to academic. Girls as young as seven are sent away to be taught how to be capable wives. Manners and etiquette were of prime importance, including how to curtsy and how to mix with others of their station. Time would be spent learning how to dance and ride if they were noble, or how to haggle a good price and keep a household for a merchant.
A peasant woman is taught at the hearth of her home. She is likely to be out in the fields working with the rest of her siblings. Life is often too hard for anything but what is needed to survive.
Chivalry and codes of honor are spreading throughout Europe. Some men will feel it is their duty to protect women along with his duty of courage, valor, and servanthood to his lord. From chivalry comes a general gentleness and graciousness to all women, especially one in need. It would be unthinkable for a proper Knight to allow a woman to walk unattended on the roads, and even a common man may be thought a coward if he refuses to accompany a woman to safety in the nighttime.
The Woodsmen's guild is known to have many uneducated, unkempt, and unruly women in their ranks. However, the menfolk of the Guild are very protective of them when they can't stick a blade into you themselves. Polite society largely avoids them.
There are historical examples of women who have taken up men's work. For example, Anna Comnena is considered the world's first female historian. She wrote a book, in 15 volumes dedicated to the biography of her father called the Alexiad in 1148. Julian of Norwich wrote her text 'Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love' about her vision and religious meditations when she fell deathly ill in her 20s. Heloise was a philosopher, Medieval scholar, Prioress at the Convent of Saint Mary in Argenteuil and Abbess of Paraclete in 1129, who also became famous for her secret affair with University of Paris scholar Peter Abelard. The rare woman fighter has been allowed to become a Dame in a Knightly Order.
Women in Men's Clothing
Joan of Arc is not yet born, but the story of the woman who don's her father's armor is not unknown. A woman disguised as a man didn't just happen for war. St. Mary of Alexandria, died 508, accompanied her father to a monastery and adopted a monk's habit as a disguise. When falsely accused of getting a woman pregnant, she patiently bore the accusation rather than revealing her identity to clear her name, an action praised in medieval books of saints' lives as an example of humble forbearance. Clothing is very sex-specific in the Dark Ages. A man wearing a bodice or a woman in pants may be called by the gender of their clothing just because that's what makes sense.
Notes and Citations