Clothing in 1302
The next pages show what can be considered a "standard" equipment of the people (civilians, knights
and men at arms) during the late 13th century. Although not everyone wore the same type of clothes and a lot of diversity existed, the
following pages give a good view of how a man would have walked around in 1302 in Bruges.
De Liebaart puts the emphasis on authenticity. Therefore, we would like to clearly distinguish between
the ridicule character on the foreground of this drawing and the accurately dressed man behind him.
Most of the clothing was made of wool and linen. These were the most common fabrics. Flanders was
the world centre of wool fabric. The wool itself was imported from England. The spinning, weaving, fulling (=the fabric becomes matted)
and painting happened in Flanders. The Flemish cloth was world famous and was exported to every corner of the known world.
Linen was the other commonly used fabric. It's made of flax and is much lighter. The lightest type was
used as lining for woollen garments and undergarments. The heavier types were also used in light summer garbs. Cotton was not very
much used in countries north of the Alps. It was available, but it was very expensive. Fabrics like silk, velvet and others were even
more expensive and were only used at the highest levels of nobility.
It's not only the modern man who is sensitive to fashion trends. This is of all ages and the people during
the Middle Ages were no exception. Present day people hardly can distinguish types of clothing from two distinct periods in time. A trained
person can tell a time frame of about twenty years simply by observing certain details in clothing.
This knowledge is mostly based on study of miniatures and several statues and pictures, and to a lesser
degree from archaeological excavations (clothing does not preserve well over the ages). This allows to determine certain changes and
nuances in accessories and put a time frame on them, based on the age of the sources consulted. Not much fundamental work has
been done on this as yet (apart of some specialised university studies). Most available popular books on medieval costume keep making
the same mistake people made since last century: they only emphasise on some spectacular details and neglect the rest. A beautiful
example is shown in the fact that for most people medieval women constantly wore those cone shaped hats. Fact is that these were only
worn for a period of some ten years during the late 15th century, and only by women of the highest classes.
Civilians, Knights and Men at Arms
Why do we specifically talk about these three categories here? First of all because we ourselves are
most interested by them. Secondly while these three are the most common people encountered on miniatures dating around 1302 (except
for clergy, but we don't consider them here). Third and last reason is because a lot of misunderstandings exist on these three categories.
Civilians make up the biggest part of every population and we like to know how the common man was
dressed. That's how we find out how those people lived.
On knights a lot of wrong ideas are spread around. In too much romantic novels the "knight in shining armour" makes his appearance and
feeds these wrong perceptions.
Men at Arms were mostly civilians, member of their communal militia, performing a military duty. They were the ones who were victorious at
Courtrai. How were they equipped in comparison with the knights?
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The drawing on this page is made by Henk 't Jong. Henk and his lovely wife Pauline own the "Medieval Advisors
bureau 'tScapreel" in Dordrecht in the Netherlands. This bureau is professionally studying the Middle Ages and advises anyone who
seeks help about most medieval business. By clicking on this logo you will get in touch with them. Highly recommended if you have a
Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
Copyright on the drawing by Henk 't Jong.
This information is provided by De
Liebaart and was last updated on March 30th 2001.