Medieval period is one of the interesting periods for historians. Many political changes & reforms came during this period. All these reforms had an absolute impact on people’s lifestyle, dress & fashion. Which still inspire our modern fashion designers. In this series we will talk about all these things regarding medieval culture, society & political impact along with medieval clothing. Our part 1 consists Medieval Period’s short history, Social system, Sumptuary law & Women’s clothing.
History of Medieval Period:
Approximately 5th century to late 15th century is regarded as Middle Ages or Medieval period by historians. However, it actually began with the fall of western roman empire & ended before renaissance. When western roman empire falls catholic churches turned into most powerful institution. The formation & rise of Byzantine empire (395-1453) started during this time. A new revolution started with the birth of Islamic Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which created empires like Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), Abbasid Caliphate (750-1517), Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171), Ayyubid Caliphate (1171-1260), Caliphate of Cordova (929-1031) etc. Meanwhile in Europe the Franks established Carolingian Empire (800-888). Besides there were impact of Vikings, Magyars, Saracens etc in Europe. After 10th century, High middle age began where the population along with agricultural development increased which caused social systems like Manorialism and Feudalism. The clash between the empires, civil wars were common in political environment. Western European Christians tried to regain their holy land from Muslims which created holy war or Crusade. All these things created four-category people such as King, Religious preacher, Soldier or Knights and the common people. Apart from these things based on different social customs there was lot of category and dividing within people of Medieval period.
Social Systems of Medieval Period:
Medieval period saw social system like Manorialism. Manorialism was seen in rural area where legal and economic power was given to a lord of the manor. Which further updated and turned into feudalism. In feudal society the core power was within three (the nobility, the clergy, the peasantry). Feudal system is mainly a combination of legal & military customs. There were king at the highest order then Knights, Clergy & tradesman. Peasant were the bottom character in this pyramid system. In Islamic world everyone lived under caliph. There was soldier, tradesman, scientists, poets, philosophers from cities like Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo etc.
Sumptuary Law of Medieval Period:
Sumptuary law was widely applied in Europe during medieval period. The law was basically used to regulate consumption and protect the feudalism ideology through daily commodities like dress, food and luxury expenditure. Sumptuary law made it easier to make discrimination between the people according to their class. People from various class was permitted to wear or use different rank dress due to this law. Prosperous Bourgeoisie was identified based on their dress. So, the moral of the story is only the wealthy could dress in fashionable way and had more option to dress than the other. It was commonly said by the Medieval philosophers about fashion that “The King himself was a leader of fashion, the nobles followed the King, the merchants followed the nobles and the peasants were clothed in the simplest of garments.”
However, from women’s hairstyle to food everything was maintained under sumptuary law & breaking these laws could be harsh for anyone because of penalty system. But the most interesting fact is most of the countries in Europe like England, Spain, France, Italy, German etc accepted these sumptuary laws.
Women’s clothing had different priorities based on culture. Italian people followed their cultural heritage on the other hand German and Switzerland used heavy and detailed work in their dress. English people are always elegant with their fashion sense & same goes for France too although France was inconsistent in fashion. Medieval women mainly used to wear “Kirtles” which consisted full length tunics covering their ankles. General women used two tunics and sometimes a long cloak around the tunic. In some case short kirtles were seen to wear on tunics. A belt-like item was used to create a long-waist appearance which was regarded as “Gridle”.
By the time tunics turned were narrowed and woman gowns became more emphasized. Use of headwear of scarf was seen. Women’s cloth started to become tighter and fitting. As far as Muslim women concerns, they used to wear long tunic that reached down to their knees. If women go to crowd, they used to wear veil in their faces. However, as wool was most popular fabric at that time most of the women’s cloth including tunica was made of wool.
By Team Stalwart,
Mentor: Sumita Bhattacharja Joly (2018-1-6-007);Dept: Textile Fashion & Design
Leader: Shariful Islam Akash (2019-1-6-040);Dept: Textile Fashion & Design
Executive: Nashita Ahmed (2020-1-10-041);Dept: Environmental Science & Engineering
- Featured photo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/silver-knight-helmet-289831/
- Image 2: https://unsplash.com/photos/XZG685RvN9E