The Writer’s Guide to 1550-1600 Men’s Fashion

Although the fashions of the second half of the 16th century were dominated by England’s Elizabeth I, the men of this period were not about to fade into the background. Middle- and upper-class men were peacocks in their own right and dressed to impress and show off their social status and wealth.

Underwear

Just as the previous half of the century, a linen shirt was the base layer worn by every class of men. Of course, the higher up the social ladder a man was the finer the linen and the more elaborate the embroidery.

Hose was still worn on the legs but it was becoming more like stockings than pants. It became more common for hose to not be joined at the crotch or even to come up that far. Almost all men worn some variation of breeches from the rugged and plain ones sported by peasants to the impractical and heavily embellished slops, Venetians and canions worn by the middle and upper classes. [1] Only in Italy did it remain fashionable to wear only hose on the lower body, with the two legs fully sewn together. This style is why actors in productions set in Renaissance Italy, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, wear tights.

Charles IX of France wearing doublet, jerkin, ruff, slops, hose, cape, and flat cap. Photo source.

Outerwear

The doublet and jerkin were still the standard items worn over the shirt. The fashionable silhouette had moved away from the wide shouldered look of the previous half century, becoming leaner with a V shaped waist.

Middle- and upper-class men took to boning their doublets or wearing a male version of pairs of bodies to suck in the gut and achieve the fashionable flat belly. [2] Although, around 1570, a padded look known as a peascod belly came briefly into fashion. [3] Over time the cod piece shrank back into a convenience flap. Those with wealth used the best fabrics they could afford and lavished an incredible amount of decoration on their clothing. Older men still wore the gown for additional warmth but it was an outdated look and became tied to specific occupations, such as scholars.

Lower class men normally wore their own more practical version of the doublet that was less tailored and often made of homespun fabric. This garment could be sleeveless or have sleeves, which were often laced in and thus removable.

All social classes wore long cloaks with hoods in bad weather. Upper class men would also wear short capes, often richly trimmed or lined in fur.

Shoes were low and flat with boots being worn for hunting and riding.

A 1568 painting of Flemish peasants. The men are wearing baggy hose and short doublets. Photo source.
A 1594 woodcut depicting English gardeners. They are wearing cotehardies reminiscent of the 15th century as well as hose and low shoes. Photo source.

Ruffs

Men also jumped on the ruff fashion and delighted in embellishing them as much as the ladies. Starting as a modest ruffle at the neckband of a chemise or partlet, the ruff became a separate garment and eventually grew to an enormous circumference that needed wire and starch to keep its shape.

Hair and Headwear

Hair was mostly short during this period although longer styles became popular in the 1580’s. In the 1590’s, the fashion among young men was a lovelock, one long section of hair hanging over the shoulder.

Where men really went crazy was with beards. All shapes and sizes were popular with the fashions changing often. [4]

A variety of hats were worn. The flat cap was still in style for all social classes. Tall hats and riding hats became popular among the middle and upper classes and were usually highly decorated and bejeweled. [5]

King John III of Sweden wearing a fashionable beard, ruff, and tall hat. Photo source.

Jewelry

A variety of jewelry was still extremely popular including pins, rings, earrings, and brooches. It became the style during the second half of the century to cut slits in the knuckles of gloves so the rings underneath could be seen. [6]


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Winter, Janet & Cayolyn Savoy: Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580, Other Times Publications, 1979.
 [2] Vincent, Susan (2009). The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today. Berg. p. 49. ISBN 9781845207632.
 [3] Arnold, Janet: Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women 1560–1620, Macmillan 1985. Revised edition 1986. (ISBN 0-89676-083-9)
 [4] Cunnington, C. Willett; Phillis Cunnington; Charles Beard (1960). A Dictionary of English Costume. London: Adam & Charles Black LTD.
 [5] Tortora (1994), p. 167
 [6] Cunnington, C. Willett; Phillis Cunnington and Charles Beard (1960). A Dictionary of English Costume. London: Adam & Charles Black. 

The Writer’s Guide to 1500-1550 Men’s Fashion

As I mentioned in my article on early 16th century women’s clothing, fashion of the first half of the period was dominated by male trend-setters including Henry VIII, Francis I and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Almost everyone can picture the famous portrait of Henry VIII wearing a slashed and embroidered doublet and a fur-lined overgown. Today we will be diving into this fashions in greater depth.

Once the world goes back to normal, I highly recommend visiting your local Renaissance faire and asking the participants about their clothing. Most have done an incredible amount of research and many make their garb themselves.

The famous portrait of Henry VIII wearing an ornate doublet and jerkin topped by a fur-trimmed overgown. Hans Holbien the Younger, 1537. Photo source.

Underwear

A linen shirt with full sleeves was the base layer worn by all social classes, the quality of the fabric determined by what the wearer could afford. The full body of the shirt was often gathered into the neck with upper classes having ruffles or box pleats at neck and wrist. Occasionally, the shirts would be embroidered. The main job of the shirt was act as a barrier between the body with its sweat, oils, and dirt and the outer clothing.

The braies worn in earlier periods disappeared. Instead, men would tuck the ends of their shirts around their crotch. Underwear (briefs, drawers, smallclothes, etc.) would not reappear until the 19th century.

Outerwear

Over the shirt was worn a doublet and over that was worn a jerkin, which was cut low to show off the doublet. Hose was worn on the legs and could be two separate pieces usually held up with garters or joined at the crotch. Over the hose was sometimes worn breeches, fitted pants that ended just below the knee. An overgown could be worn on top of the jerkin for extra warmth. Originally ankle-length, this garment gradually shorted to knee-length. Shoes were normally low and flat although boots were worn for riding and hunting.

Starting in the 1530’s, the fashionable silhouette began to narrow under the Spanish influence, doing away with the shoulder padding and adopting higher tighter collars, jerkins that buttoned to the neck with shorter skirts, and fuller doublet sleeves. [1]

Lower-class men were still wearing the cotehardie or cotte of the previous century. If they could afford to follow the fashions, they would wear a doublet made of cheaper fabric with fewer embellishments. They would also have a bagger simpler version of breeches and hose or long pants known as trews.

In bad weather, a cloak would be worn over everything.

A painting of haymakers from 1510. The men are wearing sleeveless jerkins over shirts and hose. Photo source.
German shoes from 1505. Photo source.
Boots from the same 1505 painting. Photo source.

Codpiece

The codpiece is a historical fashion oddity and one that leads to stares if seen in portraits or at the local Renaissance faire. Starting off as a convenient crotch flap, it evolved into a padded phallic fashion statement. Basically, think of it as the men’s equivalent of the padded bra.

National Dress

There were variations in men’s fashions from country to country that mirrored those in women’s clothing. The Spanish style was somber and mostly black. The German style was colorful, flamboyant, and usually had a lot of slashing, a trend that was inspired by the mended clothing of soldiers after the 1477 Swiss victory over the Duke of Burgundy. [2]

A painting showing the extremes of German fashion. Photo source.

Headwear and Hair

Hair was usually kept short and men were either clean-shaven or had trimmed facial hair.

Several styles of hats were popular through the first half of the century including the German barett and its variations. Later the flat hat or cap came into style.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Kybalová, et al.: Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion
 [2] Wilcox, R. Turner (1958). The Mode in Costume. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 77. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1500%E2%80%931550_in_Western_European_fashion#Men's_fashion 

The Writer’s Guide to 1550-1600 Women’s Fashion

While the fashion of the first half of the 16th century was dominated by men such as England’s Henry VIII, France’s Francis I and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, the styles of the second half of the century were dictated by one woman: England’s Elizabeth I. She set the standard for most of Europe and many women scrambled to follow the fashion trends that she started.

Underwear

Just as in the first half of the century, a linen chemise was the first layer worn by all classes of women. The upper class started having their chemises embroidered in keeping with the over-the-top luxury of the time, usually with blackwork, and added lace at the edges. A high-necked version of the chemise was worn under the new high-necked fashions to protect the outer clothing from dirt, oil, and sweat. The partlet continued to be worn to fill in the necklines of dresses.

It appears the only women to wear drawers were Venetian courtesans. [1] Stockings covered the lower legs and were secured with ribbon or woven garters below or above the knee.

The pair of bodies that was introduced earlier in the century was worn across social classes although the boned kirtle was still popular. Lower class women would usually lightly bone their bodices, which were worn as an outer garment.

The use of the Spanish farthingale became more widespread among the upper classes, allowing for the widening of the skirts as the century progressed. By the end of the century, the fashion had become the wheel farthingale, which produced a drum shape. In France, women used a bum roll, a crescent-shaped pad tied around the waist, instead of the farthingale. In England, women wore both. [2] The bum roll played the important part in supporting the heavy skirts and keeping the weight from resting on the lower back. I will say from personal experience, wearing a bum roll made a big different to the amount of strain I felt.

A 1592 portrait of Queen Elizabeth I wearing a wheel farthingale.
Photo source.

Outerwear

Frocks or gowns of various styles were worn during this period. A decorated underskirt was usually worn over a farthingale and petticoat. The outer skirt would be split to show it off. A bodice, usually tightly fitted, would be worn over the pair of bodies. Decorative sleeves would be laced in at the armhole and could be easily changed. The shoulders were decorated with epaulets, tabs, or shoulder rolls. The upper classes would go in for lavish embellishment. Middle class women would try to emulate the fashion but would go for a narrower farthingale and usually had to sacrifice on fabric and trim.

The lower-class woman would usually wear at least two skirts over her chemise with the best and newest worn on top and tucked into the belt to keep it clean. Over that she would commonly wear an apron. Her bodice would be worn over the chemise and would be lightly boned to provide structure and support. Sleeves could be laced in at the shoulders for added warmth. [3]

Cloaks were worn by all social classes as an outer layer to protect against the weather and the dirt of traveling.

Jewelry was worn in profusion by the elite including jeweled belts, rings, brooches, necklaces, and earrings. The middle and lower classes wore what jewelry they could afford such as pewter pendants.

Elizabeth of Valois, Queen of Spain, wearing the stark austere Spanish style (1565). Photo source.
A 16th century woodcut showing the dress of village women. Photo source.

Ruffs

Probably the most distinctive and wackiest fashion statement of this half century was the ruff. Starting as a modest ruffle at the neckband of a chemise or partlet, the ruff became a separate garment and eventually grew to an enormous circumference that needed wire and starch to keep its shape. Of course, it was just another piece to be bedecked with embellishment such as lace, cutwork, or embroidery. [4]

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England from 1585 showing the opulence of late Renaissance dress including a large ruff. Photo source.

National Dress

Although fashion of this period is dominated by the English and Spanish courts, there were other parts of Europe that stuck with their unique fashion. Germany continued with their colorful styles. Italy never really got on the farthingale train, instead keeping a slimmer silhouette.

Headwear

The most popular hairstyle was curling or teasing the front of the hair and braiding or coiling the back and pining it up. Wigs and hairpieces were used to achieve the fashionable look. Married women would at least partially cover their hair just as in previous centuries. Blonde was still a trendy color but red skyrocketed in popularity with the ascendence of the redheaded Queen Elizabeth.

The French hood was still fashionable as were several styles of riding hats and cauls. [5]

Make-up

The make-up used in the second half of the century was almost identical to that used in the first half. The beauty ideal was pale skin, red lips and cheeks and dark eyelashes and eyebrows, usually achieved with the use of kohl. [6] Fair skin was a status symbol because it showed a woman didn’t have to work out in the sun. For the working-class woman who did have to work in the sun, she still tried with whatever she had on hand.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500–1914, Abrams, 1996. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1550%E2%80%931600_in_Western_European_fashion#cite_ref-Art_2-0
 [2] Arnold, Janet: Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women 1560–1620, Macmillan 1985. Revised edition 1986. (ISBN 0-89676-083-9). 
 [3] Winter, Janet & Cayolyn Savoy: Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580, Other Times Publications, 1979.
 [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1550%E2%80%931600_in_Western_European_fashion
 [5] Köhler, History of Costume. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1550%E2%80%931600_in_Western_European_fashion#cite_ref-34
 [6] "Beauty History: The Elizabethan Era". Beautiful With Brains. Archived from the original on 13 February 2015. Retrieved 12 February 2015.

The Writer’s Guide to 1500-1550 Women’s Fashion

Today I will be take a closer look at the styles women were wearing in Europe during the first half of the 16th century. Most of the trendsetters were men such as England’s Henry VIII, France’s Francis I, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

If you want the basics of 16th century fashion please check out my previous post, The Writer’s Guide to 16th Century Fashion.

Underwear

The base layer for all social classes was still the linen chemise with full long sleeves. The style of the upper class was to gather the volume into a neckband, often with a ruffle. Over this was worn the kirtle but it was changed from the previous century with the addition of boning in the torso that provided support and a smooth silhouette for the gown to go over. It also had the addition of a waist seam, allowing for a fuller skirt. Stockings were worn, kept up by a ribbon or woven garter tied below the knee, and shoes were flat.

Starting in the 1530’s, the pair of bodies was introduced. It was a garment usually boned with reed, the ancestor of the 18th century stays and 19th century corset. It laced in the front and back, which is why it’s called a pair since there were two pieces.

A pair of bodies worn by Queen Elizabeth I of England. Photo source.

National Dress

German fashions were colorful with large amounts of embellishment. The dresses were low cut and open fronted, lacing over the kirtle. The skirts were later decorated with bands of contrasting fabric, which was often embellished or slashed.

The style of Holland, Belgium, Flanders, and Italy retained the high waisted silhouette of the previous century.

The Spanish style was austere and heavily used black and was also increasingly using the Spanish farthingale, a boned skirt that was the ancestor of the hoop skirt. This style displayed the front of the kirtle, which was heavily decorated. Later, an under skirt would replace the kirtle as the pair of bodies came into use. The portion that would be seen in the front was embellished heavily while the rest of the skirt hidden under the outer skirt was left plain as a cost-saving measure.

The English and French fashions began following the Spanish lead, adopting the farthingale. These gowns often had a low square neckline, usually filled in with the chemise or a partlet, a small garment that covered only the chest and shoulders. The English favored wide turned-back sleeves, a fashion that is heavily linked with Anne Boleyn. [1]

A dress in the front-laced German style. Photo source.
Catherine Parr, sixth queen of Henry VIII, wearing the English fashion (1545). She is wearing a French hood. Photo source.
An Italian lady (1530-35) wearing a high-necked chemise or partlet that fills in the low neckline of her gown. Photo source.

Headwear and Hair Styles

French hoods, a stiff arched hat that sat back on the head with a veil draping from it, were the most popular headdresses among the upper class although the gable hood was worn frequently in England. However, there were a variety of other styles such as the German barett and cauls, made of a netted cord over a silk lining gathering into a headband. In warmer climates, such as Italy and Spain, hair was worn uncovered and often twisted or braided up in elaborate styles.

To achieve the fashionable light hair, women would apply a mixture of lemon juice, alum, and white wine to their hair and sit in the sun. They would curl it by saturating it with gum Arabic or beer and wrapping it around clay curlers. [2]

A portrait of Mary Wotton, Lady Guildenford, by Hans Holbein (1527), in which she wears a gable hood. Photo source.
A woman wearing a barett from Albrecht Dürer’s Young Woman (1507). Photo source.

Make-Up and Jewelry

Cosmetics were used by upper class women to achieve the beauty ideal of pale unblemished skin, red lips, and light-colored hair. Some of the substances used to whiten the skin were toxic such as mercury, alum, and ceruse (derived from lead) but nontoxic alternatives did exist with ingredients such as olive oil, lemon juice, eggs, and rosewater. Red pigment for the lips and cheeks was achieved by vermilion, a mixture of ceruse and henna and cochineal (a powder of insect shells).

Jewelry for the upper class was sumptuous and elaborate and included necklaces, rings, pins, brooches, earrings, and bracelets.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1500%E2%80%931550_in_Western_European_fashion
 [2] Ribeiro, Aileen (2011). Facing Beauty: Painted Women & Cosmetic Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 60–124. 

The Writer’s Guide to 16th Century Fashion

The 16th century was the second half of the Renaissance, a dynamic and changing period of European history. The focus of scholarship and art shifted from the religious to the secular. However, the church still had tremendous influence on people’s lives and some of the most astounding works of religious art were created during this period. An increase in trade made more fabrics available and spread production techniques. Fashions became more regional, making it possible to tell a person’s nationality by their dress.

For this blog I will be covering the basics of 16th century fashion then diving into depth about women’s and men’s styles in upcoming articles. If you want to learn more about the fashions of the first half of the Renaissance, please check out my last post on the 15th century (which you can find here).

Once the world goes back to normal, I highly recommend visiting your local Renaissance faire and asking the participants about their clothing. Most have done an incredible amount of research and many make their garb themselves.

Overview

Fashion in the first half of the 16th century was dominated by several monarchs fighting to outdo each other, including England’s Henry VIII, France’s Francis I, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The most famous example of this one-upmanship was the 1520 Field of the Cloth of Gold, a sumptuous royal summit that lasted for 17 days. [1] The fashions of second half of the century were led by England’s Elizabeth I.

The styles were typified by opulence. Clothing was constructed of multiple contrasting fabrics and bedecked with embroidery, jewels, slashing, and trim. Silks, brocades, and velvets were worn by those who could afford them. The lower and middle classes wore varying qualities of wool and linen. Cotton was extremely expensive during this time and not widely available.

The Spanish court did provide a bit of a counterpoint to the growing sumptuousness of the fashion trends of the rest of Europe. They favored a rigid severe style that heavily used black. They were basically the goths of the late Renaissance. Black was an expensive color because it was difficult to produce and it faded quickly. [2] It became the standard for formal clothing. Despite the monochromatic color, the clothing was often still ornate, made of rich fabrics and heavily embellished.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, a temporary city set up for a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I. Photo source.
A 1528 portrait of Sir Thomas Moore and his family displaying the styles of the day. Photo source.

Silhouette

The silhouette of female fashion began to widen at the beginning of the century from the slim lines of the Middle Ages. The clothing also became more voluminous to provide more warm layers against the cooling temperatures of the Little Ice Age. The desired silhouette of the second half of the century was a V-shaped torso with width in the shoulders and hips, an optical illusion that made the waist look as small as possible.

The popular silhouette for men started long and lean but over the decades broad square shoulders became popular, achieved by using wide collars, pads, and large sleeves. Shapely calves were also all the rage.

A 1580 example of the wide silhouette for both men and women. Photo source.

Court Dress

Great value was put in displaying wealth through sumptuous clothing. Nobles, especially those who spent most of their time at court, would spend opulent sums of money to keep up appearances and outdo each other, vying to catch the eye of their monarch and earn their favor. Many went into debt to do so and several financially ruined their families.

Middle- and Lower-Class Clothing

The contrast between social classes became more pronounced. The lower and middle classes could not keep up with the nobility but they still tried to follow the fashion trends although with cheaper fabric, less embellishment and by excluding the impractical elements. Their clothing was less elaborate with fewer embellishments and made of cheaper fabric with a focus on durability and practicality.

Working class women would forgo the wide skirt supports because they were impractical but still follow the rest of the silhouette. They would also skip the pair of bodices, instead opting to bone their bodices.

They were also limited by the sumptuary laws, a series of regulations that outlined what a person could or could not wear based on their social standing. These laws could be skirted by paying a fine although they were also widely ignored.

Lower class men and women harvesting hay, 1510. Photo source.

Regional Styles

Regional styles continued and were distinct from each other, although a crossover of fashions happened throughout Europe. For example, Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe included bodices and sleeves in the French, Dutch, Italian, Polish and Spanish styles. [3]


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Ashelford, Jane: Visual History of Dress in the Sixteenth Century, introduction
 [2] Mikhaila, Ninya; Malcolm-Davies, Jane (2006). The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century dress. London: Batsford. p. 20. ISBN 978-0713489859. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1550%E2%80%931600_in_Western_European_fashion#cite_ref-Tudor20_20-4
 [3] Arnold, Janet: Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, W S Maney and Son Ltd, Leeds 1988. ISBN 0-901286-20-6. 

The Writer’s Guide to 15th Century Fashion

Just like the 12th century, the 15th century contains many fashion elements that will be familiar to readers and viewers of fantasy and fairy tale adaptations. Fashion was changing during this century and varied in significant ways from the styles of the centuries that proceeded it. It also saw the introduction of several iconic styles of headwear that are still used in fantasy today.

15th Century Fashion

The idea of “fashion” really started coalescing during this century and as fashion trends came and went for the first time wearing “out of date” clothing became a real problem. [1] Europe was also becoming more prosperous, leading to more and more complex clothing styles and expensive fabrics. This prosperity also meant that lower-class people had more money to spend on their clothing and could follow the fashion trends. The variations of clothing between nations became more pronounced, making it possible by the end of the century to look at a person’s style of dress and determine whether they were from England or Italy or Germany.

With England and France too busy with the Hundred Year’s War to focus on fashion, the Duchy of Burgundy became the style world’s beating heart. Its fashion-conscious ruler, Phillip the Good, had access to the finest and most fashionable fabrics from both East and West, from English wool to Italian silks to furs. Wool could be dyed in a rainbow of sumptuous colors and Mediterranean silk-weavers could produce richly detailed designs and opulent silk velvets.

One fashion trend that took hold was slashing. The outer garment was cut, often in a decorative pattern, to reveal the undergarment or lining. It allowed for incredibly colorful outfits. The Germany Landsknechts took the trend to often outrageous extremes.

The houppelande was a popular style that had variations for both men and women. It was a voluminous outer garment, usually floor-length, with large hanging sleeves. The edges were often dagged or cut in a decorative pattern. Appearing in the 1360’s, it stayed popular for over a century. [2]

A 15th century painting depicting both men and women wearing houppelandes. Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1412-1416). Photo source.

Men’s Fashion

Men were still wearing the linen shirts and tailored hose from the previous centuries although the shirts had become shorter with changing fashions. The most popular outer garment worn during this time period was the cotehardie, a fitted coat-like garment that buttoned up the front. It usually had long sleeves and a “skirt” that extended to the knees. Over time, the cotehardie evolved into the doublet, with the skirt length shortening until it disappeared altogether. The doublet’s sleeves were often full. If another layer was worn, it was the houppelande.

Various hats were popular based on location and social status. The chaperon remained stylish from the 12th century and there were multiple styles ranging from tall to low crowned and wide brimmed to brimless. [3]

Several 15th century men’s styles of clothing and headwear. A detail of front piece to L’Instruction d’un jeune prince, by Guillebert de Lannoy, c. 1468-70. Photo source.

Women’s Fashion

The most common woman’s garment was the kirtle, a snug-fitted ankle-length garment that was worn by all social classes over a long-sleeved linen chemise. The sleeves could be short or long and were sometimes detachable. This style was also sometimes called a cotehardie but the fashion began to fade in favor of the houppelande, which was popular to the middle of the century. [3] The Burgundian gown was also a popular style of dress with a V-shaped neckline that displayed the kirtle worn beneath, long sleeves, and a full skirt.

Italy developed its own styles such as the sleeveless overdress known as the cioppa, a lightweight underdress called a cotta and a sideless overdress known as a giornea. [4] The Spanish developed the verdugada, a gown with a bell-shaped hoop skirt stiffened by reed. This was the beginning of the Spanish farthingale, which would have a big impact on fashion going into the Renaissance.

Women’s hats during this time period were crazy. They include the fairy-tale famous hennin, a cone that extended from the back of the head often ending in or was covered by a veil. There were several versions of the hennin, some with two shorter horns. [5] This style is worn by Madame Vivienne in Dragon Age: Inquisition although she has disposed of the veil. Other styles used various padded or wired shapes covered by veils. In warmer countries, such as Italy, it was acceptable for even married women to wear their hair only covered by a sheer veil or cap. {6}

A woman wearing a fur-trimmed Burgundian gown with a black kirtle underneath. She is wearing a short hennin and veil. Detail from Petrus Christus , created from 1450 until 1460. Photo source.
Giovanna Tornabuoni in the Italian fashion of the 1480’s. She is wearing a giornea over a kirtle. Photo source.

Footwear

Footwear consisted of laced ankle boots but later into the century, poulaines became popular. They sported long toes that could reach ridiculous lengths. To protect their shoes from dirt and mud, middle- and upper-class ladies would wear pattens, which are similar to wooden platform sandals.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Wilson, Elizabeth (1985). Adorned in Dreams. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1400%E2%80%931500_in_European_fashion#cite_ref-2
 [2] Laver, Concise History of Costume and Fashion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houppelande#cite_ref-1
 [3] Laver, Concise History of Costume and Fashion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1400%E2%80%931500_in_European_fashion#cite_ref-Laver_33-1
 [4] Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century, Harper & Row, 1965. 
 [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hennin
 [6] Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century, Harper & Row, 1965. 

The Writer’s Guide to 12th Century Fashion

People seem fascinated by the European Middle Ages and it is a popular period for fantasy authors to draw upon. Part of that fascination rests on the clothing, the image of ladies in elegant flowing gowns with long sleeves, of knights in dashing doublets. However, the Middle Ages is a massive chunk of history, spanning from the 5th to the 15th century. That’s a thousand years of fashion! Plus, there was a lot of variations in style across regions. Today I’m going to be focusing on the 12th century and giving you the basics of men’s and women’s clothing during this century.

12th Century Fashion

When most people think of medieval European fashion what they often picture, usually without knowing it, is the 12th century. Long flowing garments with wide bell-shaped sleeves were in fashion for both men and women. Most of the fashions of the previous centuries had been loose-fitting and comprised mainly of square or rectangular shapes to prevent fabric wastage. However, with the growing use of lacing, clothing became more fitted through the waist, starting first with the upper classes.

The bliaut (pronounced bliːˌoʊ) was a French fashion with variations for men and women. It was characterized by sleeves that were fitted to the elbow then flared into a bell or trumpet shape, a skirt that flared at the hips, and was moderate to tightly fitted through the torso depending on the time period. It was common for the edges to have a decorative pattern called dagging. The bliaut was popular from the 11th to the 13th century. [1]

Men’s Fashion

Generally, men wore a knee or ankle-length tunic over a long-sleeved linen shirt and tailored leggings called chausses or hose. It was common for linen drawers or underwear known braies to be worn. Younger men usually wore knee-length tunics while older men opted for the more austere ankle-length. The legs of the hose were not attached in the middle and it was fashionable to have a different color for each leg. The hose was held up by being attached to the braies.

A shorter fitted garment that became known as the doublet was just coming into fashion during this century and was usually worn under the tunic. The style would change and remain popular into the mid-17th century. [2]

Hoods worn various ways were the most popular headwear (think of most depictions of Robin Hood). Some of them had long tails called a liripipe or short capes that covered the shoulders.

A 12th century painting showing the varying lengths of men’s tunics. Hortus Deliciarum by Herrad von Landsberg. Photo source.

Women’s Fashion

Women generally wore tunics reaching the ankle or the floor over a linen chemise, chainse, or smock. A loose-fitting tunic was known in the French court as a cotte (pronounced coat). The tightly fitted bliaut was also popular and could have lacing in the front, sides, or back. The style was sometimes worn with a long belt or cinture that wrapped twice around the waist and knotted over the abdomen. Some examples end in decorative tassels or metal tags. A mid-century variation was the bliaut gironé, which had a pleated skirt attached at a waist seam. [3] Here is a fantastic “getting dressed” video by one of my favorite YouTubers, Prior Attire, showing the different layers worn by a 12th century woman.

Married women covered their hair with a veil although it was common for their long braids to hang out from underneath. The braids were frequently wrapped in ribbon and sometimes extended with purchased hair. Late in the century, the wimple was introduced and was fastened to the head under the veil and covered the neck. [4] The veil was pinned to two strips or bands of fabric that encircled the head. Contrary to popular belief, the veil was not held on by a circlet, although such jewelry was worn over them. With the veil securely pinned to the bands no other attachment method was needed.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bliaut. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1100%E2%80%931200_in_European_fashion
 [2] Boucher, François: 20,000 Years of Fashion, Harry Abrams, 1966, pp. 164–172. 
 [3] Snyder, Janet, "From Content to Form: Court Clothing in Mid-Twelfth-Century Northern French Sculpture", in Désirée Koslin and Janet E. Snyder, eds.: Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress: Objects, texts, and Images, Macmillan, 2002, ISBN 0-312-29377-1, pp. 85–101. 
 [4] Payne, Blanche: History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century, pp. 159–168. 

The Writer’s Guide to Historical Fabrics

As a writer, clothing holds so much possibility. What a character is wearing can tell your readers a lot about them from their social status to the care and attention they give to their personal appearance to where in your world they are from. Being accurate is important if you are writing historical fiction, especially if it involves dressing or undressing, such as in a romance novel. However, having a basic understanding of historical clothing can come in handy for the fantasy writer as well to use as inspiration for worldbuilding.

Today I will be covering some basics and over the next few weeks will be taking a close-up look at medieval, Renaissance and 18th and 19th century clothing.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Common Fabrics

If you are sticking with real-world fabrics instead of worldbuilding your own, here are some important things to keep in mind. Fabric varied in cost and availability depending on location and historical period. Also, there were varying levels of quality with each type, from fine to course. Some fabrics were expensive during certain time periods only to become cheap and common during others. Also, due to industrial manufacture crowding out hand production, there are types of fabrics that are no longer available.

Wool – Made from the hair of sheep, wool has been a common and widely used fabric throughout history, prized for its warmth. The earliest woven woolen garments come from Iran and date back to 4,000-3,000 BC. [1] Historically, there have been several grades of wool from finely woven stuff from selectively bred sheep to course fabric produced by the peasant class from their own livestock. The wool trade stretched from Europe to Asia and was widespread and lucrative up until synthetic fibers were introduced in the mid-20th century.

Linen – Woven from the fibers of the flax plant, linen was an incredibility common fabric especially favored for any layer that touched the skin. The flax plant is native to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Linen is exceptionally breathable, a big benefit in hot and humid climates. It can be woven incredibly fine, almost transparent. It also wicks moisture away from the skin and releases it, which means it doesn’t stick to you like cotton does. Linen was used heavily by all social classes in Europe and the Middle East for centuries and was also popular because it stood up to frequent and vigorous washing.

Cotton – A fabric made from the fluffy fiber around the seeds of the cotton plant. The plant is native to the Americas, Africa, Egypt, and India. [2] Fragments of cotton fabric have been found in the Indus Valley dating to the fifth millennium B.C. and in Peru dating to 6,000 B.C. Cotton fabric was common in the regions where it is native for most of history. The first Europeans to encounter the fiber were the Greeks led by Alexander the Great. Cotton was slowly introduced to Europe, beginning as a luxurious and expensive commodity. Over the centuries, it became cheaper and more common until becoming the unexpensive ordinary fabric we know today.

Silk – Made from the fibers of the silkworm’s cocoon, silk has always enjoyed a spot as a valued and expensive fabric. The Chinese developed the method of collecting the fibers and weaving them into fabric, a secret they closely guarded for centuries. The earliest example of silk fabric dates to 3,630 B.C. and was found in Qingtaicun near Xingyang, Henan. [3] India also has a long history of silk production and the country is the largest consumer of silk today. [4] The Roman Empire had a thriving silk trade and beginning in the 12th century, Italy became the primary supplier of silk to all of Europe. [5]

Linsey-Woolsey – A fabric made by combining linen and wool fibers. Although it has existed from ancient times, the fabric was most common in 18th century colonial America due to a scarcity of wool. [6]

From left to right: wool, linen, cotton, and silk.

Clothing and Social Class

Throughout history, it has been common to be able to tell a person’s social standing and wealth by their clothing. The two biggest indicators are the cost of the fabric and whether the style follows the latest fashion trends. However, there have also been laws limiting people’s ability to wear certain styles, colors, or materials. For example, ermine became associated with royalty and several countries throughout the centuries passed laws forbidding anyone not of the royal family to wear it.

Sumptuary laws have been enacted throughout history in various parts of the world such as ancient Greece and Rome, Japan under the shoguns, China, and Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They laid out rules on what a person could or could not wear based on their social status, including fabric, embroidery, and colors. Some of them could be incredibly picky, dictating the size of sleeves or whether you could wear lace. Most of these laws could be sidestepped by paying a fee although they were often widely ignored.

Portrait of Louis XIV, King of France, in his coronation robes trimmed with ermine. Painted in 1701 by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Photo source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] Smith, Barbara; Kennedy, Gerald; Aseltine, Mark (1997). Beginning Shepherd's Manual, Second Edition. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-2799-X. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wool#cite_ref-19
 [2] The Biology of Gossypium hirsutum L. and Gossypium barbadense L. (cotton). ogtr.gov.au. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton#cite_ref-1
 [3] Vainker, Shelagh (2004). Chinese Silk: A Cultural History. Rutgers University Press. pp. 20, 17. ISBN 978-0813534466. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk#cite_ref-silkculture_12-1
 [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk#India
 [5] "Italy – Calabria, Catanzaro". Office of Tourism. Archived from the original on 21 August 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk#cite_ref-35
 [6] Baumgarten, Linda: What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America, Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-300-09580-5, page 96. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linsey-woolsey#cite_ref-B96_2-1 

The Writer’s Guide to Horse Myths: Part 3

This is my third and final installment on misinformation about horses. After this, I will be moving on to historical clothing.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Training for Battle

Horses are naturally flighty, easily startled animals. After all, in the wild, they are in almost constant danger from predators. A horse’s natural reaction to any scary situation is to spook and run away. When humans started using horses in battle, they had to train this flight reaction out of them. It’s similar to a human who trains themselves not to freeze in a dangerous situation through martial arts or other combat instruction. A critical part of normal training for a horse is to trust the rider and every horse must be desensitized to one extent or another. For some, it’s learning to not be afraid of the hose; for others, like police horses, it’s learning not to shy at gunshots, explosions or screaming people. Here is an interesting video about training police horses.

Officers and their horses from the Columbus Division of Police’s Mounted Unit undergoing regular training. Photo source.

Horse Emotions

Horses experience a wide variety of emotions from joy to trauma to grief. They bond with horses, people, and other animals. They will put themselves in danger to save the ones they love.

A friend of mine told me a story of having to put a horse down. They led him from the corral to the barn and as my friend was walking back afterward, passed the horse in the next pen. The horse looked at him, look toward the barn and nickered. My friend said, “I’m sorry. He’s gone.” The horse let out a loud whinny and charged for the gate, calling for his friend.  Then he turned and walked back slowly, his head held low.

Becoming a Good Rider

Becoming a competent rider takes time and training. Most people cannot mount a horse for the first time and be good riders. Yes, you can be told the basics of steering and getting the horse to move in a few minutes and probably do well enough at slow speeds but you are probably going to be in trouble trying to do anything more advanced like jumping or mounted combat. Another detail to keep in mind is that riding uses muscles that normally don’t get a lot of exercise so even if an amateur rider is fit, they are probably going to be in a world of hurt after a few hours.

Writer’s Tip: I would love to see a scene in a book showing the struggles of a first-time rider.

First riding lesson. Photo source.

Breaking a Horse

Breaking a horse to saddle also takes time. If the horse has had little to no contact with humans it will take weeks to months before the trainer can even touch the horse. Once the horse is used to being touched and groomed, then they must become accustomed to the tack being put on them then weight put in the saddle. Generally, it’s not recommended to ride horses before the age of 2-4 because their skeletal and muscular structures are still maturing and too much weight could hurt them.

There are people who claim to be able to break a horse to saddle in a day or a week but usually most of their methods are abusive and involve terrorizing the horse into compliance. These methods are sometimes called rough breaking.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.



    	
    	

The Writer’s Guide to Horse Myths: Part 2

Today we are busting more horse myths. This is misinformation I see repeated by well-meaning authors who unfortunately don’t know they are spreading untruths.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Sleeping Standing Up

A horse can enter certain phases such as light sleep while standing but to go into deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) the horse must lie down. If the horse is standing when it enters these phases of sleep it would probably fall over due to the muscle relaxation. An adult horse needs a minimum of thirty minutes of deep and REM sleep to avoid sleep deprivation. [1] Foals spend a lot more time napping, up to half the day when they are less than three months old. [2] Usually horses will sleep only when they feel safe and often with one of their herd mates acting as a lookout.

Neglecting Grooming

Unfortunately, I have read several books where the protagonist rides all day, makes camp at night, and completely ignores her horse except to maybe take the saddle off. Grooming is important to a horse’s health because it removes dirt and sweat from its coat and gives the rider the opportunity to check for any injuries. One of the most important grooming tasks is cleaning the hooves. The sole of a horse’s foot has two grooves. Rocks and other debris can get caught in them and if not removed can cause the horse to go lame. Cleaning the hooves is also a good time to make sure the horseshoes are not coming loose.

The sole of a horse’s hoof. Photo source.

Not Warming Up or Cooling Down

Just like it is important for you to warm up and cool down as part of a workout, it is critical for horses. When starting a ride, the horse should be walked or slowly trotted until its muscles warm up before attempting faster paces. The same should be done at the end of a ride to prevent the muscles from cramping up. Yet I see several books, shows and movies with riders mounting and galloping off or galloping up and immediately hitching their horse.

Not Tying Up

Speaking of hitching or tying up your horse, I’m amazed how many times I’ve seen the hero dismount and walk away, leaving his horse loose. It’s not like parking a car because your car won’t wander off. If you want your horse to be there when you get back it’s important to either hitch or hobble them. Hobbling involves connecting the horse’s front legs with a short piece of rope or leather. The horse can take small steps comfortably but can’t go very far.

A set of hobbles. Photo source.

Riding Without a Saddle

In a pinch, you can ride without a saddle but it does have some drawbacks. First, it’s not very comfortable. You are straddling the horse’s spine with the bony withers right in front of you. Second, without stirrups to help you stay in place you must use a lot more leg which becomes tiring after a while and starts to chafe.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

 [1] https://ker.com/equinews/sleep-requirements-horses/
 [2] https://www.thesprucepets.com/learn-how-all-horses-sleep-1887328