Tunics were worn in one shape or another until almost the end of the medieval period. Like much of the fashions from the early middle ages, they were a holdover from the earlier Roman rule. Medieval tunics were loose and relatively simplistic, the simplest design being made up of a folded fabric panel with a neck-hole and sleeves stuck on. If you’re a collector of medieval clothing, or you are trying to create a LARP character, you’re likely going to want a medieval tunic. They were worn by men and women alike, and by both peasants and kings.

The Men’s Medieval Tunic

The clothes that both men and women wore tended to be in separate layers. While tunics were worn throughout the middle ages by both the rich and the poor, the style of tunic did vary. In the early middle ages, fashion was comparatively static, but as we enter the high and later middle ages, things started to change. Both men and women’s tunics were dyed according to what the owner could afford and what dyes were available. For the common man, his clothing would mostly be either an undyed off-white or tan, or occasionally the blue of woad, which was a common and inexpensive flower. Richer men would have more brightly coloured clothing, partially for fashion’s sake, and partially to show off their wealth.

Early Medieval Tunics

At the beginning of the medieval period, the tunic was one of the signifiers of wealth and status. There were two main styles of tunic, one worn by the wealthy, and one by the not-so-wealthy. This was heavily influenced by the earlier Roman rule.

The Commoners

The first style was worn primarily by the common folk. This tunic never went below the knees and was worn over a shirt and some kind of leggings, whether they were some kind of trousers or the more tight-fitting hose. Medieval tunics would have been made at home, the material processed by either men or the women, then constructed by the lady of the house. The very simple design of the tunic would have made them easier to make at home. They were usually made from either wool or linen, although hemp was likely used for the poorest of society. The tunic would either have a hole large enough to be simply pulled on over the head, or a slit down the front that could be fastened. The common medieval man likely wouldn’t have a fancy brooch to fasten this slit, but he may have a simply made brooch or a pin, or the slit could be laced up. Most commoners, aside from the poorest peasantry, usually had two sets of clothes, their everyday working clothes and the “Sunday Best.” All but the most destitute usually had some kind of decorative needlework on the neck and cuffs of his tunic. Over this tunic, the commoner may wear an outer, sleeveless tunic. Alternatively, they would wear a cloak to keep the weather off themselves and their clothes. The medieval tunic would also be belted at the waist, which would carry the tools of our commoner’s trade.  

The Wealthy

As usual, the rich had the most interesting clothes. When it came to their tunics, they would wear a longer flowing garment that usually reached the ankles. This was similar to the style worn by the Roman upper classes. They were considered formal wear among those who could afford it, military men wore shorter tunics, but of fine material. The extra material wasn’t just because of the fashion, but it would show off the much finer cloth of the wealthy. This would be made from finer wools or linens. As silk was introduced, tunics made entirely of silk or with silk trimmings became a very clear indicator or wealth. Like more common tunics, these would either be designed to be pulled over the head, or with a slit down the front that could be fastened with a brooch. The brooch gave the wealthy and noble man another opportunity to display his wealth and status. The embroidery of these tunics would be more elaborate than that of the commoner. These longer tunics could be split up to the waist at the front and the back and were usually worn over hose. Atop the medieval tunic would be an outer tunic, or a cloak. The cloak could likewise be secured with an ornate brooch.

The Evolution of the Tunic

For a long time, medieval fashion stayed largely the same. There was more variation among the rich, but even then, the basic style only changed a little. These changes were usually improvements in the processing of dyes and wools, and richer materials became more common. Furs came into fashion among the richer men. For a budding LARPer, this relative stagnancy is actually great news. If you’re creating a costume which emulates a medieval commoner, your character will fit in well in almost every event. Even a noble would have similar clothing throughout much of the middle ages. However, in the later middle ages, things started to change for medieval tunics. Whereas before, a long tunic was the height of fashion, the 14th century saw things take a sudden reversal. The trend now called for hem-lengths to shorten. This trend was seen in all classes, if to a lesser extent among the poor. Eventually, the medieval tunic became so short and so tight among the most fashionable noble men, that it essentially disappeared. Instead, they just wore their doublets or cotehardie. The cotehardie were formfitting and reached the hips. This fashion was often considered immodest, as the hose that was usually hidden beneath the loose-fitting tunic left little to the imagination. By the end of the 14th century, medieval tunics were largely abandoned by the majority of men, being worn only by those needed to project an air of dignity. A form of tunic, otherwise known as a tabard, did appear in the 15th century, but it was not the same by any means.

Other Men’s Tunics

There were some variations among men’s medieval tunics, which were found in specific groups of people, usually among the upper classes. These were found among knights and the religious orders.
  • The medieval knight tunic that we’re more familiar is also often referred to as a tabard or a surcote, depending on the style. While medieval knights did wear tunics outside of battle, these would be very similar to the tunics of other nobility. In battle, they wore long sleeveless tunics over their armour which identified them. Eventually, they were phased out completely as suits of plate armour became common.
  • Long flowing tunics were also worn by and associated with the religious orders. This tunic was worn underneath an outer sleeveless garment and tended to have large sleeves. This is still true today, as many vestments still call for a long, robe-like tunic.

The Women’s Medieval Tunic

Much like men in the early medieval period, women wore layered tunics. Then again, there were a few differences. While ankle-length tunics were worn only by the wealthy men, medieval women rich and poor wore long tunics that reached at least to the calves. These layered medieval tunics made up what would come to be known as medieval dresses. For much of the middle ages, medieval women wore a tunic-like dress known as a kirtle over their shift dress, which was yet another tunic. Atop the kirtle was sometimes a final, sleeveless tunic. These tunics were worn in much the same way as male tunics. They had either a neck hole which was large enough to be pulled over the head or were designed with a slit that ran down the front which could be secured using laces.

Commoner’s Tunics

As well as making the tunics of their husbands and families, medieval peasant women would make their own tunics. These would be made from either wool or hemp, depending on what they could afford. Women were more likely than men to have dyed clothes, but it would usually be the blue woad, or another inexpensive dye. The dyes that peasants could afford would fade in time, so this was often saved for the better clothing. This better clothing would be worn either to Church, or to social events. Atop the tunic, common medieval women would wear wide belts of sturdy material, often leather. These belts would carry whatever tools that she needed, as well as keeping the dress in place. If she needed to hitch up her long tunic to get it out of the way, she could tuck it into the belt. This provided her with a handy pouch with which to carry things.

Tunics of the Nobility

Medieval noblewomen would have clothing that was very similar to that of the peasants, at least in the early middle ages. The tunics would be made using much finer material, even silks, and with more elaborate embroidery and long-lasting dyes, but the basic design was much the same. As time went on, this design, like with men’s medieval tunics, changed. The once loose tunic became fitted closer to the body and lower cut at the neck, eventually showing much of the chest and collar bones. As ever, the moral guardians of the time complained about the ever-diminishing sense of modesty. Buttons and fur trimmings were introduced in the design of these tunics, which further served to show off the wealth of this lady. The inner tunic, or kirtle had evolved into something of a more complex and formfitting cut, while the outer tunic, or surcote also started to change. In the 15th century, the outer tunic was replaced with a long garment known as the houppelande. This garment was only worn by the very rich and could have incredibly long sleeves and skirts that trailed on the ground. If you’re wanting to either collect or wear the outfit of a dramatic and wealthy noblewoman, there isn’t much that can beat the houppelande.

Medieval Tunics for Sale

It’s starting to seem pretty obvious that if you’re going to take part in any kind of LARP event, you’re likely going to want to look at some of the medieval tunics for sale here at Medieval Ware. This is the part of the medieval outfit that people will see first, so can do a lot to define your character. Of course, you don’t just want your medieval tunic to look good, but you want it to be comfortable as well, especially if you’re wearing it all day and all the more so if you’re planning on moving about a lot while wearing your outfit. The recreated tunics are both stylish and comfortable, cut using the same simple design as historic medieval tunics and made with materials ranging from linen, wool, cotton and even leather. The medieval leather tunic in particular would suit more outdoorsy hunters and scouts very well. There are some tunics which are heavily based in historic designs, making them ideal for the medieval history buffs out there. If you prefer something a bit more fantastic, we have that covered as well. Don’t forget that medieval people, peasants and nobility alike, didn’t only wear their tunic. The tunic was usually worn on top of an undershirt of shift of some kind, creating a layered look. As well as that, belts were worn over the tunic for much of the middle ages, so don’t forget your accessories. As you will see, there are many different kinds of medieval tunics for sale, which will suit either your character, or be perfect for your display.

In Conclusion

While they’re simple garments, medieval tunics were the quintessential look of the middle ages. Almost everyone in the medieval period wore some kind of tunic, making it an essential item for anybody wanting to create a character for LARPing, whether they are of a historical or fantastical leaning. If you’re more of a collector, these were a part of everyday life and would make a great part of your collection.