It may be necessary to speak briefly concerning the matter of dress at the remote periods under consideration. Extravagance in the display of jewelry and rich materials in the dress had increased greatly toward the end of the twelfth century, and were still on the increase.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Influence of Medieval Institutions - Dress - How Women Dressed in the Middle Ages

Women of Class & their Dresses

Among the new substances, derived like so many others from the East, was one common enough now, but then greatly prized—cotton, which appears to have been introduced into France in the twelfth century. It appears to have been in general use throughout Europe in the thirteenth century. The use of silk among the higher classes was very considerable, and it was mixed perhaps with other substances, and received various colors, so as to form a variety of silken stuffs known under different names. Saie was a cloth of very fine texture made of wool. It was often employed to evade the ecclesiastical rule which enjoined, by way of penance, the wearing of woolen garment, intended, of course, to be rough, next to the skin. Camelot, which came from the East, is to have been made from the hair of camels.

In the latter part of the twelfth century, and into the thirteenth, embroidery of various kinds was employed in these stuffs, and in dresses made from them, to a very extravagant degree. It was not unusual to have the crests and armorial bearings of the family embroidered upon the outer dress; and it was often covered with large figures, not only of plants and flowers, but of animals also. Widows were closely muffled, and wore caps and veils very much like nuns.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Influence of Medieval Institutions - Dress - Petrarch's Laura

Petrarch’s Laura

National Peculiarities in Dress

A taste for the rich and elegant dress displayed itself first in Italy and France, and thence spread into the more northern nations. Petrarch’s Laura is described as wearing gloves brocaded with gold, and dressed magnificently in silk, though a pound of silk at that period was valued at above twenty dollars, in our money. Spanish ladies wore necklaces of steel, to

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Influence of Medieval Institutions - Dress - Beautiful Hair of the Women in the Middle Ages

Beautiful Hair

which thin iron rods were fastened, curving upward to expand the veil when thrown over her head.

All nations prided themselves on long and beautiful hair. Among the Saxons and Danes, married women only covered it with a headdress; girls wore their tresses loose and flowing. A faithless wife had her head shaven, and the Church sometimes ordered it as a penance for other sins. The Spanish and Italian ladies retained the Roman predilection for golden hair. In order to obtain the desired hue, they made use of sulphur and aquafortis, and exposed their heads to the sun on the hottest hours of the day.


The writers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries make much more frequent mention of the variations of the fashions than those of more remote periods. The causes of this may easily be discovered, both in the principal events of the last centuries of the Middle Ages, and in the reciprocal relations of the nations of Europe. The long wars between the English and French, and the military expeditions of the Germans, French, and Spaniards to Italy, caused such an intermixture [sic] of nations as had not taken place since the time of the crusades. When the soldiers who had been in foreign service for many years returned to their native land, they very often retained the dresses and decorations which announced their extraordinary achievements and adventures; and these foreign costumes and ornaments found admirers and imitators among their countrymen and countrywomen.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.