The Realms of Talithia


musings on writing and all things medieval

Medieval Garb

As I may have mentioned somewhere in this blog, I do medieval reenactment. Up to this point, my garb has been a two-person affair, requiring the help of friends to lace me up the back (in my 20’s, I could lace myself up, but gone are those days). It makes things quite challenging, and limiting. If I want to go to an event alone, I would have to depend on the kindness of strangers to lace me up. They would, but that’s a bit awkward and embarrassing.

I solved the problem by finding garb that didn’t have laces in the back. Or front. All I need to do is pull it over my head. It’s lovely garb… a short-sleeved kirtle with a long-sleeved chemise… but the seller identified it as 9th - 11th century Frankish garb. Something about that didn’t ring true to me (and none of my characters wear short-sleeved kirtles), but I found images in medieval art of short-sleeved kirtles, so I set aside my misgivings and ordered it (sadly, I am not a seamstress).

It arrived and I sat down to do some research on women’s clothing of the 9th - 11th centuries. I want to wear a veil and wimple, but I wasn’t finding any evidence that women in those early days (aside from nuns) wore wimples. I contacted one of my resources listed on this site, and she confirmed that wimples were pretty much a thing from the 12th century onward. I also wasn’t finding evidence of short-sleeved kirtles in that time period.

I was starting to get dismayed, so I shifted my research focus to short-sleeved kirtles. As it turns out, they’re a 15th century thing. Although I liked the idea of the 9th - 11th centuries (and my characters aren’t as late as 15th century), I’m okay with the 15th century. Jehanne d’Arc was 15th century (La Pucelle should be releasing soon), so, really, I can’t go wrong.

Horae ad usum Parisiensem

Horae ad usum Parisiensem

What I discovered, however, was that there were three layers to the short-sleeved kirtle: chemise (base layer), undergown, and fashionable overgown. You can see that detailed in the image to the right, where the lady has a white chemise, blue undergown and olive overgown.

I have the chemise (a natural colored linen) and the overgown (a midnight blue linen, with silver trim). It’s lovely, but I’m missing an important part. I don’t think I can add an undergown, as the overgown measurements probably only allow for a chemise. Had I done this research ahead of time, and planned ahead, I could have added another half-inch or so to my measurements to allow for an undergown. I could starve myself until I gained the extra room, but that wouldn’t be my first choice. So what’s a girl to do?

The Birth of Mary  (detail)

The Birth of Mary (detail)

What girls have always done, apparently. Pin on false sleeves to make it look like there’s an undergown beneath the overgown. See the lady in the middle with one blue sleeve? Yeah, that’s pinned on. Middle-class women of the 15th century apparently had their Sunday best sleeves. My research tells me that the English folk song Greensleeves is a reference to this type of fashion. If that is true, the fashion continued for awhile after the 15th century.

I’m not a seamstress, but I do have a sewing machine, and I think even I can pull off a sleeve or two (with help from my seamstress friend down the road, perhaps).

The only thing left to do is decide on the color. :)

J. L. RowanComment