FROM HISTORICAL ART
OF CLOTHING NAMES
Medieval Women's Clothes
NOBLEWOMEN'S CLOTHES - RICH MERCHANT CLASS WOMEN'S CLOTHES
- WORKING CLASS WOMEN'S CLOTHES
- PEASANT WOMEN'S CLOTHES - SECOND-HAND CLOTHES IN WILLS - SECOND HAND
noblewomen would not make her own clothing, although she would have
a good knowledge of how clothes were made and what was fashionable.
Her clothing would be made by a tailor who was hired specifically to
make custom-fitted garments for the social elite. If a noble family
was wealthy enough and had an extensive staff, they might hire a tailor
Her fabrics would be of the finest wools, silks, silk velvets and brocades.
Linens would have been fine.
In the case of Royal households, a tailor might be employed full-time
along with other laundresses and clothing specialists. Not only did
it ensure that the tailor was always available to that family, it prevented
other families from hiring him or her. A tailor who worked in a shop
in town was available to anyone with the money to pay for his services.
Merchant Class women's clothes
Rich townswomen may have engaged in their husband's trade, worked the
shop front while he worked producing goods or have been solely in charge
of her own household and staff. Her work was neither hard nor grubby.
Her fabrics would include fine linens and wools of a high quality. Brocades
of some quality would be worn, but not those that equalled the nobility.
Her clothing was also made by hand, whether by herself or bought off
the rack from a mercer's store. Ready-made clothing was available to
the rich townswoman, but many women may have still preferred to make
their own in order to get a better fit. By sewing her clothing herself,
the townswoman was able to have a good-fitting garment without the expense
of hiring a professional tailor to make it. Many, of course, did get
their clothes tailor-made. Most of these women were very well off and
strove to emulate their noblewomen icons in dress.
Although second hand clothes were available to the wealthy townswomen,
the thought of being caught in another woman's hand-me-down would most
likely have seemed appalling.
Class women's clothes
Women who worked often carried out their husband's trade and therefore
wore specialised clothes specific to their employment. Other women who
worked also had clothing suitable to work in rather than regular clothes
with which they might tend the front of a shop. Working class clothes
were also made by hand, whether by herself or bought off the rack from
a mercer's store. The fabric available was more varied and of a better
quality than that of peasant women, but usually it was of a sturdy nature
in order to stand up to the rigors of labour and be durable.
Ready-made clothing was available, but many women may have still preferred
to make their own or buy second-hand from a fripperer's shop. Working
class women had less money to spend on clothing but still valued good
cloth, and were the class most likely to have purchsed second hand clothes.
A clever lady could remodel or cut down one style of gown into another
using the good fabric which she may not have been able to afford normally.
Sumptuary laws dictated whether these garments could be lined with furs
and what kind of furs were permitted to the lower classes, but in all
liklihood, valuable furs were probably stripped from garments before
Peasant women usually made their own clothing at home. This in now way
implies that the quality of their clothing was poor or shoddy. A woman
who did all her sewing by hand would be able to produce a high standard
of workmanship. The main difference between the clothing worn by a peasant
woman and a townwoman would be the quality of the fabric itself and
the colours available.
A peasant woman would need to make sure her clothing was strong and
durable and since she made it herself- it was all custom made to fit.
It needed to be roomy enough to work in around the shoulders but this
does not mean her clothes hung like a sack or were not well made.
For the very poor or at special times of the year, clothing might be
given to the poor by the wealthy as part of celebrations or as gifts
by the church or wealthy patrons who made gifts of clothing to the poor.
A peasant woman who worked for a well-off family in town could expect
to recieve a new gown as part of her yearly upkeep. Not only was this
a form of charity from the part of the employer, in also ensured that
the staff they employed were reasonably dresses and fit to be seen as
part of their retinue.
clothes in wills
Second hand clothing were usually of two kinds. Firstly, clothing that
was bought from a second-hand clothing merchant called a fripperer
and clothing that was handed down. Often clothing was included in
wills and specific beneficiaries were names as to who received what.
One example from a private will dated 17 June, 1550 of a man described
as a Citizen and Fruiterer of London, England states:
To my sister Magher, the best gown
that was my well-beloved wifes Alices, her best kirtle
His own clothing gifts were extremely extensive
including fabrics which included velvet, satin and taffeta. The wife's
gown does not specify what the kirtle is made from, so it is to be assumed
that it is none of these fabrics or they would have been especially
mentioned. This shows that a prosperous merchant could own garments
of good enough quality and value that they need to be specified as to
who might receive them and not just left for general distribution among
family and friends. They were specifically intended to specific persons
because of their value.
The will of Joan Buckland, widow, of Edcock who dies in 1462 leaves:
...all my other gowns and kirtles,
that they be given to my women servants dweling with me and my departure.
Also to the woman that is by me at the time of my departing... one
gown furred with mink.
Clothing was often handed down from a mistress
to her ladies-in-waiting. A noblewomen was expected to keep up to date
with current fashions and although she might keep an outer garment for
a few years the same way we keep a favourite winter jacket, she might
look to replace her undergowns which were usualy visible. Undergowns
would be handed down, if the fabric was suitable, and re-made or re-fitted
to suit the new wearer's status. Trains might be trimmed and fur removed
to make an outfit suitable for a lady-in-waiting.
A 1459 bequest from York from widow Joan Cotyngham, shows that even
underwear might be gifted:
I also leave to Joan Day, a poor little
woman staying in a certain maison-dieu, my russet gown lined with
buckshin and a chemise of linen cloth.
hand clothes merchants
Francoise Piponnier and Perrine Mane in their book Dress in the Middle
Ages say that clothing might be bought from sales held in the market
square. Buyers might be private persons or secondhand merchants who
would re-sell at an increased price. These merchants bought and sold
in used clothing much the same as our second-hand clothes shops today
with the exception that clothing was by far a more valuable commodity
than today and far less disposible. Secondhand clothing dealers were
closely monitored and could either have a shop in the town or wander
the streets offering their wares.
A person who bought second hand clothes might have it recut to fit the
new owner, or have the garment unpicked and remade inside out so that
the fabric which was not exposed to the ouside elements became the inside
and the fresh side of the fabric became the outer. This process gave
a fresh, new look to otherwise faded material.
Hand-me-down clothing was often handed down for the same reason as families
do today. Should a growing child outgrow an item of clothing, it would
hardly be thrown out; it would be passed down to the next smallest child
in the house, especially in households of lower financial standing.