Most people in the Middles Ages wore woolen clothing, with undergarments made of linen. Brighter colors, better materials, and a longer jacket length were usually signs of greater wealth. The clothing of the aristocracy and wealthy merchants tended to be elaborate and changed according to the dictates of fashion. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, men of the wealthy classes sported hose and a jacket, often with pleating or skirting, or a tunic with a surcoat. Women wore flowing gowns and elaborate headwear, ranging from headdresses shaped like hearts or butterflies to tall steeple caps and Italian turbans.
Most of the holy orders wore long woolen habits in emulation of Roman clothing. One could tell the order by the color of the habit: the Benedictines wore black; the Cistercians, undyed wool or white. St. Benedict stated that a monk's clothes should be plain but comfortable and they were allowed to wear linen coifs to keep their heads warm. The Poor Clare Sisters, an order of Franciscan nuns, had to petition the Pope in order to be permitted to wear woolen socks.
Peasant men wore stockings or tunics, while women wore long gowns with sleeveless tunics and wimples to cover their hair. Sheepskin cloaks and woolen hats and mittens were worn in winter for protection from the cold and rain. Leather boots were covered with wooden patens to keep the feet dry. The outer clothes were almost never laundered, but the linen underwear was regularly washed. The smell of wood smoke that permeated the clothing seemed to act as a deodorant. Peasant women spun wool into the threads that were woven into the cloth for these garments.
Fur and Jewelry
Fur was often used to line the garments of the wealthy. Jewelry was lavish, much of it imported and often used as security against loans. Gem cutting was not invented until the fifteenth century, so most stones were not very lustrous. Ring brooches were the most popular item from the twelfth century on. Chaucer's...