A Tavern Classic – The Medieval Peasant Tunic
This carefully reproduced medieval peasant tunic has a classic, archetypal appearance, making it an aesthetic fit for a wide range of historical and fantastical settings. On its own, this could be the shirt off just about any NPC in any fantasy RPG or video game we’ve ever played. But with its streamlined cut, this medieval peasant tunic allows wearers to layer up their clothing to create unique-looking character ideas for LARP, medieval reenactments, and Renaissance Faires.
An Everyday Shirt For Everyday People
This V-necked, ¾ -length medieval peasant tunic is cut in a similar way to many Late Medieval to Early Renaissance garments. The historically inaccurate, baggy sackcloth style that is sometimes portrayed in Hollywood movies has been abandoned in favour of a streamlined but loose-fitting tunic that looks great on its own or cinched in at the waist with a belt. The neck, cuffs and hem are trimmed in brown and the sleeves fall below the elbow but just above the wrist for most people.
A Tunic For Work
Clothing was a much more valuable commodity in the past and was made to be as durable and practical as possible. The cut of a medieval tunic often didn’t vary a great deal from person to person but wealthier people would use more expensive fabrics, dyes, and adornment to indicate their status. Nonetheless, this example of what is essentially medieval underwear could be worn by a huge number of people, engaged in all kinds of labour. It makes a suitable beginning of a costume for an innkeeper, adventurer, wizard’s apprentice, or warrior. Sparring cadets might strip down to these tunics as they work the practice sword, farm labourers would do the same when hard at work, and after a day’s work or training, sitting by the fire in shirtsleeves would be enjoyed by both.
Versatile Base Layer
With a single type of undergarment for every activity and year-round use – the medieval peasant tunic had to allow unrestricted movement and keep its wearer warm. The loose cut, open cuffs and baggy sleeves of these medieval tunics help achieve this, and the lower hem-line helps the wearer retain body heat – especially when worn with a belt on the outside to prevent air from blowing in. This baselayer might be worn under a guard captain’s uniform, a fisherman’s oiled leathers, or a blacksmith’s apron. At different periods throughout history, differing quantities of cloth pulled up and hanging over the beltline were considered fashionable. The overall cut of this type of medieval tunic didn’t change a great deal until the Renaissance, and even then, many commoners continued to wear these simple, utilitarian clothes.
Medieval Athletic Wear
Like we mentioned, clothing in the middle ages was a much more valuable commodity than it is now. Between harvesting, spinning, processing, and weaving – creating a medieval peasant tunic took a lot of raw materials and labour. So a single tunic needed to be suitable for a variety of activities. Several historical fencing manuals show students fighting with practise swords dressed in their shirtsleeves. Common sense suggests that this type of tunic was also designed with the workplace in mind. The ¾ length sleeves, for example, are probably a safety feature, preventing material from snagging and causing the wearer injury from farm machinery, mills, forges and a variety of other hazards.
To Everyone Their Place
The church dominated many parts of life for Medieval Europeans. The assumption that divine order had placed you in your position in life meant there wasn’t much room for social mobility (until the rise of the bourgeois class closer to the Renaissance). There was a socially-enforced expectation that if you were a serf – you’d dress like a serf. If you were a Lord or Lady in a castle, you’d be expected to wear clothing, jewellery, and accessories that reflected your social position. The rise of the mercantile middle class later in the period made access to expensive, imported fabrics and styles accessible to people outside the nobility, at least in theory. But when the lines began to blur towards the High and Late Medieval Period, laws were created to contain the situation. During the reign of King Edward, England saw the introduction of many Sumptuary Laws – a series of mandates on what kinds of clothes people could wear based on their social status. A medieval peasant tunic in this style was seen as a modest form of dress for a good Christian man.
Sumptuary Laws have existed in antiquity, with examples found in Greek and Roman culture that involved a prohibition on certain activities as well as clothing. But it’s the 14th Century laws of King Edward III which established the legal framework for restricting clothing based on social status in Medieval England. The rise of the mercantile class that began in Medieval Europe can be understood as the same force that eventually rose up to overthrow the monarchies of Europe and establish the foundations of the democratic, capitalist societies we see today. The Sumptuary Laws can be understood then as an attempt to push back the emancipation than comes along with the accumulation of individual wealth. Successful, private endeavours made cloth, dye, and other materials, once only affordable to the nobility, available to regular people. To the noble-born, this represented a threat to social order – and one they could frame in a quasi-religious argument. There was some economic component to these laws, too. The more England came to depend on exotic, foreign textiles, the more money was drained from its own economy. If fashions were allowed to dictate everything, there was no guarantee of return on English textiles.
Applications Of These Laws
Perhaps the most directly affected by these laws were groups that were seen either as socially undesirable or a threat. Thus, lepers, prostitutes, Muslims, and Jews were either forbidden from wearing certain colours or made to wear clothing that would indicate their status. Jewish people had to wear a conical cap and yellow badge, while Muslims wore a crescent-shaped badge. Thankfully, countries were free to interpret these laws as they saw fit and some never engaged with such direct and ugly discrimination. To the average Christian, the laws meant restrictions on luxury clothing and items you could buy and wear in public. The stated aim of controlling the flow of capital out of the country is widely regarded to be a front for maintaining a distinction between hereditary nobility and those who’d simply established wealth. Of course, even these laws could be used as a way of flaunting wealth. If you had sufficient capital, you could wear certain clothing in defiance of the law, showing everyone around you that you were too rich to care and could easily pay the penalty fines.
The relationships between clothing, social order and revolution are very complex. Material objects are the clearest way for us to indicate status, and clothing the most convenient, universal, and portable object humanity has ever created (your phone is a close second). Every extra fold or decorative pleat showed that you had not only enough money to cloth yourself but enough to spare on extra material. The noble ladies trailing dress is a good illustration of this idea. In a garment such as that, it’s clear you didn’t intend to go stepping through muddy puddles and that you weren’t concerned about the waste of material. The complexities of clothing and how they related to things like gender and social class in the Medieval Period can never be fully understood but might be better analysed and further debated.
The Roots Of Fantasy – Medieval Or Renaissance?
This tunic falls between the two historical periods in the title of this paragraph – and we think this is fitting. While most fantasy universes include a civilisation or two which are technologically analogous to the European Medieval Period, there are almost inevitably civilisations that equal, or even surpass, the achievements of the Renaissance. For further proof of this idea, look at many of the cities as described in official D&D modules. The infrastructure, technology, trade, transport, and architecture described often owe more to 16th Century Florence than they do 12th Century Carcassonne. This mix can seem anachronistic at first glance. But in reality, the uneven distribution of wealth, technology, and education during the Late Medieval/Early Renaissance Period likely meant there were truly isolated areas that were significantly less developed than their urban counterparts. Human culture develops faster than human nature and we still see these alternate timelines of technology existing at the same moment. Now, it’s simply distributed more globally, with certain countries and continents using technology several generations old in the most economically developed areas.
Changes In Attire
It has often been the case that those with the most wealth get the loudest voice in determining what is fashionable and desirable. To some extent, this is still true today, although today’s trendsetters tend to fall below the very wealthiest in our society. In Medieval Europe, monarchs set these trends and as the centuries wound on – wanted to maintain exclusivity over them. As we approach the Renaissance, the clothing of the wealthy (both noble and newly-rich) departs from the Medieval tunic in that it attempts to mould the shape of the person into whatever outline was deemed fashionable at the time. In general, Medieval clothing was more flowing and less concerned with accentuating and distorting the human shape. Picture the frilly voluminous excess of 16th Century fashions to those from two centuries before and this change becomes obvious. Henry VIII, the best-dressed sovereign in the world, is credited with introducing a great many changes in fashion during his time. The exaggerated shoulders and lines that accented his allegedly impressive physique in youth became ubiquitous throughout the courts of Europe and were markedly different from the medieval tunics that came before.
Clothing As Revolution
Though it seems like a minor event in history, the nobility was correct to view the social order as under threat from the way people dressed. As the lines between them narrowed visually, the idea that some were destined to a life of luxury without merit while others toiled in poverty, became untenable. The rise of the mercantile class in the early Renaissance represented the first time that capital had emancipated people from a social-enforced economic order. This shook the foundations of society, led to the French Revolution, and continues to be a part of the socio-economic debate today. Though fashion can certainly take a central role in contemporary society, it’s hard to imagine clothing playing so pivotal a one as it did in the Middle Ages and beyond.
Material: The Medieval Peasant Tunic is 100% Cotton
- Small: Chest – 41 Inches, Waist – 45 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 17 Inches, Sleeve Length – 21 Inches, Length – 32 Inches
- Medium: Chest – 45 Inches, Waist – 51 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 19 Inches, Sleeve Length – 22 Inches, Length – 34.5 Inches
- Large: Chest – 48 Inches, Waist – 54 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 20 Inches, Sleeve Length – 23 Inches, Length – 36.5 Inches
- X-Large: Chest – 54 Inches, Waist – 60 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 21 Inches, Sleeve Length – 25 Inches, Length – 42 Inches
- XX-Large: Chest – 58 Inches, Waist – 64 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 23 Inches, Sleeve Length – 26.5 Inches, Length – 44 Inches
- XXX-Large: Chest – 60 Inches, Waist – 66 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 25 Inches, Sleeve Length – 28 Inches, Length – 48 Inches
- XXXX-Large: Chest – 64 Inches, Waist – 68 Inches, Shoulder to Shoulder – 28 Inches, Sleeve Length – 29.5 Inches, Length – 52 Inches
Measurements are approximate.