All About Peasant Clothing In The Medieval Times: Materials And Styles

Fashion of medieval England peasants: Wool, silk, linen as well as colorful inexpensive fabrics made into practical and functional clothing.

During the medieval period in England, peasants were the downtrodden of society. They were thought of as low class citizens, but were depended upon for a variety of important tasks. Peasants were the backbone of society; but in spite of this, they were not appreciated or paid fair wages. They made barely enough money to survive and were taxed heavily. Peasants were lucky if they could obtain adequate shelter and food. Obtaining nice clothing could be an almost impossible chore. The gulf between the rich and the poor was painfully clear in all areas, including dress.

The rich cared a great deal about fashion. They dressed in expensive, often colorful, garments made of wool. Silk and satin were thought to be better, but wool was easier to obtain. Tailors and seamstresses were also available to provide the rich with private fittings and specialty garments. Wealthy women often wore long flowing dresses, or tunics, trimmed with fur or velvet. They also favored elaborate headwear and shoes made of cloth or leather. Wealthy men favored loose fitting tunics, cloaks, pantaloons, and stockings. The options for peasants were not so plentiful.

Peasants could not afford to worry about fashion. Their clothes were usually made of the cheapest grade of wool available. Wool prices depended upon the quality, color, and process by which it was made. Expensive wool was light, could be colored, and made to be almost as fine as silk. Cheap wool was scratchy, difficult to clean, and uncolored. It was also the only kind of wool most peasants could afford. Some were fortunate enough to obtain clothing made from fabrics such as linen or silk, but that was a rarity.

Peasant men often wore woolen jackets with woolen pants or knickers. This ensemble was sometimes accented with a cotton shirt. Peasant men also wore medium-length tunics with bare legs or stockings. The tunics would be cinched with a rope or sash. Shoes and hats were luxuries that not all could afford, but peasant men sometimes wore shoes and hats made of cloth. What is commonly known as the wench look was the norm for female peasants.

The wench look consisted of a long tunic commonly referred to as a kirtle. Kirtles were made of various materials, but usually of wool or linen for peasants. Kirtles were either laced in front similar to a corset or they were laced down the back. A loose fitting shirt would normally be worn underneath the kirtle if it were short-sleeved. A shirt may or may not have been necessary if the kirtle was long-sleeved. Long-sleeved kirtles usually had bell sleeves, which made an undershirt unnecessary.

Unlike the rich, peasants could not afford the services of tailors, seamstresses, or weavers. Peasants were known to make their own clothes. Money was hard to come by so peasants often resorted to alternate means of meeting their needs. The barter system was popular. Bartering enabled peasants to trade goods or food in exchange for clothes and shoes. If a peasant could make good quality clothes, shoes, or hats, then they were in high demand and had an easy time trading in exchange for necessities.

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