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Hose, Socks & Garters for Medieval Women

Hose, as well as socks, were worn by medieval women.

Our model woman Margherita Datini's wardrobe account of 1339 lists both white linen undersocks and long hose of silk or wool. The wife of a wealthy Italian merchant, Margherita had access to commercially produced items in the town, and would have worn what regular women of her class wore.

The illumination detail from the Morgan Bible, at right, shows a woman with her kirtle raised to reveal a pair of striped hose or socks.

Hose were worn by all classes of women as a precursor to the modern sock although socks were worn also. Hose in medieval England were cut on the bias to allow for a certain about of elasticity in the cloth, particularly linen and wool. At right is a detail from Ruth Threshes Grain For Naomi from the Maciejowski Bible, showing green, striped socks or hose.

Rosemary Hawthorne's book Stockings and Suspenders states that in Spain, knitted silk hose were known as early as the 11th century and gradually made their way to Europe and eventually France but seemingly no further until 1562 when the English Queen was gifted silk stockings from The Yeoman of The Wardrobe, Robert Rowbotham.

Knitting was a craft which was exclusively a male dominated art, and in the early stages, an occupation only permitted by the clergy.

Fine stockings and ecclesiastical gloves were knitted from fine silk using two or more needles on round frames similar to the modern French knitting bees, only substantially larger.

Only in the late 15th century were widows admitted to the guild to carry on the skills of their husbands. Regular two-needle knitting does not appear to have been used to make hose, only short socks.

Many hose were cut from cloth and sewn together.

Pictured at left is a beautiful brocaded silk hose belonging to the Archbishop of Bayonne in the late 14th century. The cut and pattern is still very uncomplicated, but the fabric denotes it as an item of clothing of great worth.

Leggings worn from the knee to ankle have also been known as streapeles.

While a man's hose extended over his upper thigh and joined to his waistband or upper clothing, it is believed that a women's hose, as best we are able to define, reaches no further than just above her knee and was kept up with a garter buckled or tied under the knee.

Footed Hose
Footed hose were popular with men during the 13th and 14th centuries and can be seen in many manuscript illuminations and artworks. The footwear is essentially hose which covers the entire leg and foot with a sturdy leather sole sewn to the underneath.

A late 13th century altar front painting from France The Three Magi, from the Episcopal Museum shows two of the Magi with gowns drawn back to the hip showing long, thigh high hose with two side straps very much like suspenders but it is completely unknown whether this is a fashion which was adopted by women.

The image of the artifact at left, shows hose dated to 1247 which are the burial hose of Rodrigo Ximenez de Rada from Madrid. Although these are men's hose, they do give us an idea how the hose were worn for men: that is, tied to a band around the waist. There is no proof that this method was adopted by women, but there is also no real proof that it was absolutely not. Most evidence points to hose with garters for women.

Owing to the nature of hose itself, it is difficult to ascertain whether women wore footed hose or hose with shoes only.

Generally a wealthy woman's leg is not depicted under her voluminous robes other than the point of her shoes and written references to this item seem to be either not worth writing about, unseemly to write about or not written about because they were not worn.

The Museum of London has a few woollen finds from London excavation sites from which reconstructed hose have been made, showing the various styles of foot and seam placement. It is impossible to tell whether these were worn by men or women.

Socks can be documented back to the 8th century. Early socks were knitted with a technique called nahlbinding, which uses a single needle, instead of the two usually associated with later knitting.

The sock at right shows a different construction to earlier types of sock or hose- that is, it appears to have a triangular gore in the side as well as the seam which joins the foot to the top.

They are made of knitted silk and are dated around 1540-1560 and are part of the Museum of London collection. It is unknown whether the sock belonged to a man or a woman.

In order to keep the hose from slipping down the leg, a garter or hoggers was utilised. Some tied above the rounded part of the calf and just under the knee itself, but the more affluent ladies had those which buckled.

Since garters were not intended to be seen by any man other than her own husband or wishful lover, a woman's garters may have fine needlework embroidered onto them, French mottoes of courtly love or amorous words of love.

Shown at left, a garter from a late 14th century deposit in London, although once again, it is not possible to know whether it was worn by a woman or man. The daggued edges are actually woven scallops which appear to have been constructed by hand when the band was originally woven and not cut in afterwards.

It is probable that it belonged to a man as the decorative daggueing seems designed to be displayed rather than concealed. The straight edge would have been worn of the upper of the leg with the daggues dangling downwards. It is interesting that the wearer could afford time-consuming, and thereby expensive, daggued garters and yet they garters are tied rather than buckled which is what one expects of a person who can afford specially-woven narrow ware.

Not all garters were made this way.

It was quite usual for the selvages or other strips of material to be cut and sewn into garters as a way of reusing scraps of fabric. Other garters were made the same way as woven belts- with tablet weaving.

Also from a late 14th century deposit in London, at right, woven twill used for a garter. It is an unpatterned compound twill. Image from the Museum of London.

Since the fabric is a plain weave and the garter is tied, we can deduce that the wearer was perhaps a regular person and not from the upper classes. A working person would see no need for expensive metal buckles when they would not be seen at any rate.

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