Practical and Classy: The Medieval Blouse
While many medieval women’s outfits call for dresses, a blouse and skirt combination can create a look that’s just as appropriate for a medieval or fantasy setting, while allowing for more flexibility. For starters, some people simply prefer wearing a blouse. It can be more practical and easier to move in, as well as being easier to find a decent fit.
Before looking at how we can wear this medieval blouse and create the ideal outfit, let’s look at the blouse itself. It’s a design inspired by actual medieval fashion trends, which is immediately obvious. The classic design is relatively loose on the body and features a round neckline and sweeping bell sleeves. These sleeves are short enough to stay out of your way but mark this as a medieval blouse.
The elbows and neck of this blouse can be adjusted by cotton strings, which allow you to alter the fit and change up your look slightly. The blouse itself is handmade using a cream cotton canvas with a relatively rough weave, making it both sturdy enough to withstand all-day usage and gives it an authentic look and feel.
The rough weave and simple cream colour make this canvas blouse ideal for a peasant character, but it can be suitable for pretty much any medieval or historical character. It all depends on what else you wear along with this medieval blouse, which is where we move onto the beauty of such a garment as part of your ensemble.
Simply put, this medieval blouse is incredibly versatile. The cream canvas goes with pretty much anything, so you can either keep it simple or get really elaborate with your outfit. The simplest costume would be the blouse and a skirt. Even here, you can mix and match the skirts you wear to allow for a few basic outfits.
But, as with many medieval costumes, layers work really well. A bodice over the blouse can provide a nice shape to the outfit and really finish it off. Or you could go the apron route, which is a popular medieval look. Even a belt would work really well, along with other accessories. These are great for peasant characters, but what if we want to wear this blouse as a noblewoman?
Well, medieval women from every part of society often wore at least two or three layers. With the medieval blouse as a base layer, you can pair it with a sleeveless overdress that allows you to let the bell sleeves speak for themselves. This is especially useful when it’s a hot day and you want the layered look without sweating underneath a load of full-length dresses.
Of course, these have just been a few suggestions in how you can use this blouse to create the perfect outfit. As ever, it’s best to have fun with it and don’t forget to accessorise. Whether your character is for a fantasy LARP event or historical reenactment, a Cosplay outfit, or you’re wanting an outfit as a display piece, you might find just what you’re looking for with this blouse.
The Ins and Outs of Medieval Women’s Fashion
When we look at how medieval women dressed, there’s a lot of emphasis put on the bigger picture. But in doing so, we lose the nuances of medieval fashion. While it didn’t have as much variety as we see today, there were definite trends to be found in medieval times.
An Overview of the Changes in Medieval Fashion
Before we look at the variations that we do see in medieval fashion, it might help to consider why it took a comparatively long time for trends to come and go during the Middle Ages. While today, trends can last a couple of years, medieval trends tended to last more like a generation.
In the early middle ages, things were more static. Well, as far as we know. Surviving garments from the medieval period are actually very rare because of the nature of clothing. Animal leather and plant fibres have a nasty habit of rotting away, and they didn’t have pleather and polyester back then.
So, most of our ideas about medieval clothing is from written descriptions and artwork. These were mostly penned by monks, especially during the early medieval period, when they were pretty much the only people making records. To be fair, they were very thorough, and this was not an easy job.
From what we know, the early middle ages featured similar simple styles for a long time, even rich and poor alike wore almost identical cuts. The main differences would be in the materials used and how fine the cut and fit of the clothing was.
The reason for this becomes obvious when you consider what it would be like to make clothing in the medieval period. Materials had to be worked for, even flax (the cheapest material) needed to be processed to an extent. Leather and wool also required hours of work to even get it to a state where you could use it in clothing.
Because everything had to be done completely by hand, a single tunic was an investment in time and money. Simpler styles cut down on this to some extent and made it so clothing would use as little material as possible. It was also better for clothing to last a long time, meaning that quick trends would be a complete waste.
A peasant would only have a couple of outfits, and even a noble wouldn’t have anywhere near as much clothing as we have today. That doesn’t allow much room for fashion to evolve.
In time, things started to get better. The spinning wheel was invented, and the design of the loom was improved. This made the process of making fabrics and clothing more efficient and simpler. At the same time, trade blossomed, and the economy improved.
This led to different fabrics being available, new styles being introduced as more people communicated with one another. Most importantly, this led to the gradual emergence of the middle classes. These weren’t nobles but were commoners who had skills and money. They were usually merchants and artisans.
The merchants were able to source more and more materials and fashions. The artisans were able to focus on their craft, so could create more elaborate and skilful designs for those who could afford it. Finally, as they had this money, they began to copy the styles of the elite.
While fashion finally had room to evolve at this point, things really kicked off in the 14th century thanks to a series of disasters all throughout Europe. Most famously, Europe became infested with the Black Death. What had been a population boom at the start of the 14th century ended with the population of Europe being massively reduced.
While this was undoubtedly a tragedy of unprecedented levels, it was also a catalyst for change. The middle classes swelled, and society was forced to change enormously. With it, came changes in fashion. Let’s look in a little more detail at some specific changes.
The Rapid Changes After the Plague
As we say, modern fashions can be a flash in the pan. But the same can be said of some high medieval styles, especially when we look at clothing among the rich. We suddenly enter a time when a trend can only last under a decade, which is saying something when considering that some more elaborate clothing can take months to craft.
Beautiful patterns and designs printed onto the gowns started to be introduced, contrasting with earlier styles that used only dyes and embroidery to decorate clothing. Rich materials became more accessible, such as velvet and silk. Such clothing had previously only been available for royalty, but the new middle classes apparently had money to burn.
Head coverings were a common accessory, but the styles would change often. This was also true of other accessories. Like today, wearing a hat that was unfashionable was something to be ashamed of, so you had to keep your eye on fashions before attending that next soiree.
Still, the gowns themselves did change quite a bit. Sleeves in particular seemed to fluctuate, going from narrow sleeves, to skin-tight, to voluminous, to practically dragging on the floor, and so on. The shape of clothing began to matter more, leading to dresses that simultaneously had hilarious amounts of fabric but still clung to the figure of the wearer.
Gowns started to develop waistlines, which rose and fell with the times, resulting in high waisted gowns that provided a definite shape. The necklines also changed, starting off as a high-necked tunic neckline before squaring out to show off more and more of the neck and collarbone of the wearer. Eventually, the neck of the outer gown would plunge to reveal contrasting fabric and the lining underneath. As you’d expect, the Church didn’t always approve of these fashions.
Even the way that clothes were fastened changed. To begin with, a tunic would either require no fastening, or would be secured with a brooch. Some clothing required lacing. But these rich gowns could be fastened with rows upon rows of delicate buttons, sometimes made with precious materials.
This precise tailoring was miles away from what early medieval people were capable of. It was complex and required reams of precious fabric, which often required a lot of processing to be of a fine enough quality. The clothing of the rich and well-to-do was a work of art.
Even the clothing of the peasantry saw some changes, if not as extreme. While they couldn’t afford the fine materials or the excess in fabric as the wealthy, they did still benefit from the improved economy and production methods. So, we see the trappings of fashion influence even the poor. These fashions often imitated those of the nobility, albeit to less intense levels. After all, practicality was more important.
However, fashion was not allowed complete freedoms. This burgeoning middle class presented a threat to the nobility, as well as society in general. At least, the society that benefited the nobility. You see, it was becoming harder and harder to distinguish between nobles of high status and a rich, fashionable commoner.
This, along with economic concerns involved in the import of certain fabrics, led to sumptuary laws.
These laws primarily focused on these middle classes and, of course, women. They dictated which colours and materials that people of each status could wear. Even some styles were controlled, such as limits on low necklines. Fur, for example, was banned for anyone below the rank of a knight or a lady in England.
These laws lasted from the 12th century until the 17th century in England, although there were many changes in the nature of these laws in that time. Other countries had different sumptuary laws. The nobility sometimes ignored many of these laws, being willing to pay the fine for the literal crime of fashion.
The technical specifications for the medieval blouse are as follows:
- Material: 100% cotton canvas
- Colour: Cream
- Care Instructions: Hand washing recommended. Do not dry using the dryer. Do not bleach. Iron on a low setting.
The medieval blouse is available in sizes ranging from X-Small to X-Large. Because of the handmade nature of the item, the measurements are approximate.
- X-Small: Measurements not yet available
- Small: 32.3 inches bust, 25.2 inches waist
- Medium: 35.4 inches bust, 28.3 inches waist
- Large: 38.6 inches bust, 31.5 inches waist
- X-Large: 42.1 inches bust, 35 inches waist