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.

Zie verwijzing beneden 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.

Fabrics

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.

Fashion

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 medieval question.

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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.