Late Medieval Clothing

Contemporary people, when they discuss medieval clothing, often have a certain notion about what it must have looked like. Yet the Middle Ages encompassed approximately 1100 years, and during this time, fashion not only varied from region to region, but in fact changed drastically, while styles undoubtedly evolved differently in different parts of the world. The Late Middle Ages, beginning in the early 13th century and lasting until the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century, represents merely the final epoch of the Middle Ages. The evolution of fashion during this time is quite fascinating, because in this era, much more than today, clothing’s primary function was to depict the wearer’s social stratum. The nobility and the wealthy bourgeoisie strived to show off their prosperity with expensive fabrics and intricate habiliments to distinguish themselves from those belonging to the lower strata, such as the peasantry. Consequently, during the Middle Ages, the latter’s clothing, which needed to be primarily practical, changed very little—or hardly at all—while the garb of the rich, which was supposed to be elegant, led to the creation of quite a few fashion trends.

Evolution in clothing in the Late Middle Ages

During the Late Middle Ages, fashion changed a lot faster than it had in previous epochs, though not quite as rapidly as we’re accustomed to today, when tastes in styles shift constantly—annually, or as often as every other month. During the Late Middle Ages, that shift usually occurred once every generation, which was still a lot faster compared to the Early Middle Ages, for example, when sartorial tastes would remain the same during an entire century.

Numerous advances in production processes and technology allowed higher amounts of clothes to be manufactured and fabric costs to go down. Furthermore, the popularity of extravagant head wear rose, and people, especially women, started to adorn themselves with conspicuous hats, veils, bonnets, and elaborate hairstyles.

Today’s conceptions of clothing in the Late Middle Ages

While it might be true that clothing in the Late Middle Ages was quite extravagant and variegated, movies tend to arbitrarily throw fashions from completely different epochs together, to create a unique style that benefits the narrative of the movie. These representations of clothing from the individual epochs of the Middle Ages stray quite far from reality—but since most people obtain their knowledge about medieval clothing from such movies, misconceptions abound, overlooking the fact that the Middle Ages had more than one fashion style.

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