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 CLOTHES MERCHANTS
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 exclusively.
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 on-selling.
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
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.
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,
To my sister Magher, the best
gown that was my well-beloved wifes Alices, her
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
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
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.