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Stefan's Florilegium


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14C-Fashion-art - 6/11/17


"An Age of Change: Examining 14th century Fashion" by Duchess Aislinn Morcroft.


NOTE: See also the files: fashion-msg, Cotehardies-art, cotehardies-msg, clothing-books-msg, cl-academic-msg, dagging-art, Houppelande-art, houppelandes-msg, wearg-p-fshns-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at



An Age of Change: Examining 14th century Fashion

by Duchess Aislinn Morcroft


The mid-fourteenth century marked the true beginning of "fashion" trends in clothing as we know it today.  Developing wealth of the mid to late 14th century left people with more time to focus on fashion and more money to spend on achieving the latest looks.  During the 14th century period, fads in fashion came and went, with no obvious progression from long to short hems or tight to loose fits.  Almost every decade, the pendulum swung, and the height of fashion changed.  Western fashion changed at a pace greater than other civilizations where fashion changed quickly only with major religious and political changes such as Muslim conquest of India.  These changes were likely able to see their fruiting due to rising wealth among all classes of society and new tailoring techniques.  An examination of the modifications in dress shape and style looking at 10-25 year spans during this century, while not inclusive of the sometimes yearly changes noted in regional styles, does give the interested individual a view of the evolution of the common garments most associated with this period of medieval history as well as the evolving concept of "high fashion", defined as an ever changing set of requirements in dress which had little or nothing to do with functionality of clothing use, and demonstrates that the only thing that remained the same in clothing styles during this 100 year period was change. 


Figure 1 - Maciejowski Bible c. 1300


Figure 2 - Manesse Codex c. 1304


Coming into the first quarter of the 14th century, things were still very simple by comparison to the extravagant fashions we see during the latter century, and reflect modesty in garment wear and decoration that were prevalent throughout the previous century and were promoted by the religious and moral writers of the time.  Looser styles as whole, the geometric shaped patterns with little wastage were pieced to create the shapes we see in these garments as these styles were prior to the advent of the set in sleeve which is not seen until after the 1320's. [[1]]  What fitting that did occur was done through laces or even sewing the wearer into their garment.  Figures one and two above demonstrate the loose styles noted throughout the visual record of the time. 


Figure 3. Roman de la Rose, 1340s


Text Box: New techniques in tailoring which allowed for increased fitting, like the set-in sleeve, occurring in the 1330's to 1340's dramatically changed the earlier fit of clothing and allowed for increased fitting of the human body above the waist, and voluminous skirt below the waist.  While underwear and shirts tended to continue to use rectangular construction methods [[2]], curved set-in sleeves and body panels, and use of larger triangular gores to increase skirt width without adding bulk to the line of the garment were introduced.  Practical experimentation with both the geometric construction method and the curved set-in sleeve method supports that while the geometric method of the previous century allows for very little wastage of fabric, the area where the sleeves meet the body of the garment (across the chest) tend to be too loose for close fitting as a result of achieving arm gores large enough to allow reach.  This precludes a tight a fit above the waist as noted starting in the mid-14th century.  Using the set-in sleeves and curved body shapes thought to be the pattern of 14th century construction after 1330 allows increased comfort in fitting, the fabrics are allowed to hug the body, and there is more range of motion in the arm. 


These changes allow the garments to be fitted much closer to the body without losing mobility.  This may also be why at the same moment in time, we see women involving themselves in what have traditionally been men's pursuits in the visual record such as boating, hunting, archery, etc.  Garments now allow an ease of movement, and the shorter sleeves allow women to be both fashionable and functional at the same time. 


Men's clothing in particular began to dramatically change, increasing in tightness to the point that slits were required up the middle front, and growing drastically shorter.  What began as a class divide in clothing (with nobles wearing longer gowns and squires short gowns) becomes popular throughout all social statuses, and by the end of 1340, even the King of England had both long and short suits [[3]] noted in the Wardrobe accounts of England.  The fact that this change was drastic and represented a change from previous era is supported by commentary provided in 1356 by contemporary historian Jean de Venette.  Looking back on the 1340's, he writes: "But at this time men, particularily noblemen, high born squires, and their following, as well as some citizens and practically all servants began to redesign their mode of dress.  They started to wear short clothing and that so short that both their buttocks and their private parts were pretty well visible, which was really very strange because previously things had been getting more decent." [[4]]


It is of particular note that prior to around the mid 1330's, there is no mention of buttons in the Wardrobe accounts of England or France.  Several sources theorize that this indicates that until this time, wearers were mostly sewn into their garments via thread or lacings, or the garments were left loose enough to pull over the head.  Guilles li Muisis, abbot of St. Martin at Tournai dictating in circa 1350 wrote of the good old days, when "buttoned sleeves were worn only by women of ill-repute and that others sewed up their sleeves." Newton also notes that this practice is recorded in the Roman de la Rose from the same time period. [[5]]  It is not until around the accounts of 1337-1338 that buttons are mentioned on suits, and even then these suits are described as "with buttons" which may indicate that the buttons are merely decorative and not meant to be functional closures for fit. By 1340, wardrobe accounts indicate buttons down the front of the garments, and are described as "buttoned".  The use of the closure as an action verb, when compared to early description of "with buttons" may indicate its functionality as a means of closure at this time.


Figure 4. Taymouth Hours c. 1330-1340


The fit of the garments is changing, especially for men, at this time.  The sleeves on the outermost layer begin shortening (travelling from the wrist to now the elbow for length) and develop longer and longer tails [[6]] called tippets in English or sometimes beaks.  As the sleeves on the outer layer shorten, the now visible middle layer is available for ornamentation.  Buttons up the sleeves allow tightness and an expression of wealth and decoration.  Women's over-gowns begin to tighten and expose curves not seen in the past century or so, and men's garments both tighten drastically through the chest and waist, and shorten dramatically.  At this point, by about 1345, the man's short cote hardy has reached its full awareness and is the typical outer garment. [[7]]  These cote hardies are mostly knee length at this point, buttoned down the front with full skirts below the waist to ease movement.



As the second half of the century dawns, clothes continue in their tightness but get still yet shorter for men.  Garments are molded to the human form.  From the 1350's, buttons are prolific both on the front of the garments as well as the sleeves.  Figure 5, a wooden figure of Walter de Helyon c. 1360 demonstrates both the tight fit of the cotehardie, as well as the profuse use of buttons on the center closure and the sleeves of men's garments.  While difficult to see in this image, the original wood carving also has long thin tippets at the biceps.  Clearly, this man was represented the height of fashion at the time of this carving.


Figure 6 - Coronation Book of Charles V. Paris cl1365-1380


These rather drastic changes did not go without comment from the conservative, older population.  In Li Muisis' Annals, Guilles again comments on both the men and women's scandalous dress.  "And what can I say of clothes and their decorations," he questions rhetorically.  "The men's so tight, so short that their private parts could often be seen beneath them.  And what can I say of the dress of women? Their dresses and ornaments were made in the likeness of men's, so tight their nude bodies could be seen through their clothing."  Manuscript images from the same time sought to teach a lesson regarding appropriate dress to keep from being cast into hell using fashion to demonstrate lack of piety.  One manuscript even shows people being cast into the pit by demons, in various states of undress, but with the trappings of fashion still present, indicating that if you focus too much on your outward appearance and not enough on God, you were bound for hell.  Even the contemporary historian responsible for the French historial chronical Grandes Chroniques cites tight clothing and flared skirts as the demise of the French chivalry and suggests that fashion is primarily responsible for the French defeat at Crecy.


Figure 7 - Bible Historiale c1357


Following 1340's there is also a dramatic increase in sumptuary law imposed by both religious and secular departments in order to curb excess and promote modesty in clothing.  Authorities both religious and lay were concerned about too many people being able to access fashion and expensive textiles which placed the social order as they knew it at risk. [[8]]  Ironically, this did not keep citizens from attempting to rise above their social class and dress to extremes.  In some cultures it even became part of the fashion of the day to flaunt a disregard for these laws.  In Florence, for example, the fashionable middle to upper class women paid their fines for otherwise forbidden clothing, and then attached the lead seals to the hem of their gowns as if to show that they had "paid" for the right to break the law.[[9]]


Figure 8,9,10 - Taccuinum Sanitatus c 1390-1400


Approaching the final quarter of the century, women's clothing styles remain fairly unchanged between 1350 and 1370, continuing with tight bodices, flowing skirts, tippeted sleeves and buttoned fronts and button-sleeved kirtles under their cotehardies.  Men's garments continue to shorten, and develop an exaggerated "S" or "serpentine" shape that gives the impression of almost a sway back as demonstrated in Figure 7, but otherwise also remain unchanged.  Dagging on hems, sleeves, and hoods grow in popularity and dagging remains through the end of the century. Perhaps this lack of dramatic change in clothing style is the result of the renewed hostilities of the Hundred Years War with frequent battles and treaties noted in the histories during this period or as a direct result of the devastation of the Black Plague. It is also possible, however that given the notable reduction in European illuminated manuscripts [[10]] during these years, that change in fashions was present during this time, but not chronicled through the visual record for our study at this time.  The late 1370's, however, saw the beginnings of change again, with slightly longer cotes on men (again to the mid-thigh or top of knee) and a reshaping of the cotehardie on women, which opened the neckline wider and raised the line of the skirt to the natural waist.


The most dramatic change from the previous 10 years of fashion to occur in the last quarter of the century was the return of the long gown as a status symbol.  The end of the fourteenth century begins with the advent of the houpelande in France and the Goun (Gown) in England.  Where the short cotehardie was still worn as a middle layer on men, now the long gown had returned as the outermost layer.  Women wore both the newly styled cotehardie with open neckline and higher waist and a long gown with high neckline which was belted under the breast.  Man or woman, though, the gowns enabled the rich to demonstrate their wealth through conspicuous consumption of fabric necessary to pull off the long skirts and sleeves noted toward the end of the century and into the next.  Ironically, clergy and chroniclers alike began to complain about the excessive amounts of cloth in these long styles, almost forgetting their predecessors' complaints of too little fabric used previously.  Sumptuary laws again try to tighten down on the luxury available to the rising middle class by limiting quality of fabrics, ornamentation, and amounts of cloth to be used for the voluminous skirts and sleeves now fashionable.


  It seems that no matter which ten year period reviewed, two things were common—style was changing and people at all social classes wanted that style.  The shear volumes of sumptuary laws added, and prolific manuscripts that are available, especially toward the end of the century clearly indicate that not only were people at all social classes aware of the changing styles of the upper nobility, but that more and more people had the wealth in which to obtain those styles for themselves.    As the fourteenth century drew to a close, one thing was certain.  Fashion, as defined in Margaret Scott's Medieval Dress and Fashion as "ever-changing appearance, based on novelty and not necessity, which is considered desirable and sought by as many people as possible" [[11]], was here to stay.  While men's fashion changed much more dramatically and frequently than did women's during this century, both men and women experienced a degree of experimentation and expression never seen before—and maybe not seen after in the same timeframe.  This truly makes the 14th century an age of change.




[1] French manuscript Miroir Historial shows set in sleeves c 1335-40.  Van Buren: Illuminating Fashion, p. 44.

[2] Crowfoot et al., Textiles and Clothing, p.177.

[3] Newton describes a "suit" as a complete layered outfit with undershirt, gown, and overcoat.

[4] Newton, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, p.8.

[5] Newton, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, p. 129.

[6]  Figure 4 denotes both the shorter oversleeve with the long tippet and the visible tight undersleeve.

 [7] Van Buren, Illuminating Fashion, p.50.



[8] Scott, Fashion in the Middle Ages, p. 44.

[9] Scott, Medieval Dress and Fashion, p. 97.

[10] Scott, Medieval Dress and Fashion, p. 81.

[11] Scott, Medieval Dress and Fashion, p 79.



List of Illustrations


1 Maciejowski Bible, New York, Pierpoint Morgan Library, MS M.638, leaf 15


2 Manesse Codex, Zürich, Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. pal. Germ. 848, fol. 64


3 Roman de la rose, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Selden supra 57


4 Taymouth Hours, England, British Library, Yates Thompson MS 13, f.88r detail


5 Wooden figure of Walter de Helyon, Much Marcle, Hereford and Worcester


6 Coronation Book of Charles V, Paris, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius B VIII


7 Bible Historiale, Brussels, Bibliotheque royale, MS 9634-5


8 Tacuinum Sanitatis, Milan, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673


9 Tacuinum Sanitatis, Milan, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673


10 Tacuinum Sanitatis, Milan, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673




Crowfoot et al., Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, Museum of London Press, 2006.


Eagan and Pritchard, ed. Dress Accessories 1150-1450, Museum of London Press, 1991.


Newton, Stella Mary. Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk, 1980.


Scott, Margaret. Medieval Dress and Fashion, The British Library Press, 2009.


Scott, Margaret. Fashion in the Middle Ages, J Paul Getty Museum Press, 2011.


 "1300-1400 in Fashion". Wikipedia  Last modified January 8 2013.  Accessed on February 12, 2013.   <http://–1400_in_fashion>


Van Buren, Anne. Illuminating Fashion:Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands,    1325-1515, The Morgan Library and Museum Press, 2011.


Copyright 2015 by Kim Karr, 1891 Basket Oak Dr, St. Charles, MO 63303. <Rogueduchess at>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

[1] French manuscript Miroir Historial shows set in sleeves c 1335-40.  Van Buren: Illuminating Fashion, p. 44.

[2] Crowfoot et al., Textiles and Clothing, p.177.

[3] Newton describes a "suit" as a complete layered outfit with undershirt, gown, and overcoat.

[4] Newton, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, p.8.

[5] Newton, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, p. 129.

[6] Figure 4 denotes both the shorter oversleeve with the long tippet and the visible tight undersleeve.

[7] Van Buren, Illuminating Fashion, p.50.

[8] Scott, Fashion in the Middle Ages, p. 44.

[9] Scott, Medieval Dress and Fashion, p. 97.

[10] Scott, Medieval Dress and Fashion, p. 81.

[11] Scott, Medieval Dress and Fashion, p 79.

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