Clothing in 12th Century Scotland
This stone carving of a woman's head was made in Scotland in the
Middle Ages. Throughout this time, married women were not considered to
be fully dressed without head covering. The cloth under the chin shown
in this carving is called a barbette. The hat-like circle worn on top is
a filet. The barbette was common, but it wasn't always worn.
When Bernard of Clariveax, founder of the Cistercian Order of monks,
first saw the ladies of the court of France in 1137, he described their
head coverings, which he considered scanty: "For head-dress they have
a kerchief of fine linen which they drape about their neck and shoulders,
allowing one corner to fall over the left arm. This is the wimple, ordinarily
fastened to their brows by a chaplet, a filet or a circle of wrought
For a very good discussion of aspect of clothing with illustrations,
About 12th Century Women's Head Gear
Page, part of the Angevin Treasures web site, a wonderful resource
for information about clothing in the 12th century.
(photo by Janet McNaughton taken at Dryburgh Abbey )
Underwear, made of linen, was very basic. Men wore drawers. To see
detailed information on medieval men's underwear and how to make it, see
Andy Goddard's Braies
Page.Women wore a long under-gown similar to a slip with sleeves. This was
called a kirtle. The term kirtle is sometimes used to refer to an over-garment,
perhaps because the sleeves and hem of the kirtle were often very much on
display. If you look at the picture in the middle of this page, you'll see
it's very difficult to tell what is under-clothing and what is outer-wear.
Men wore a simple tunic which came down to the knee or lower and could
be tied with a belt around the waist. Men also wore hose, which were like
stockings without feet. These were either pinned or tied under the tunic.
To see pictures and a pattern for a simple man's tunic, visit Matthew
Newsome’s page The Liene. For more information about tunics and hose and how to make them,
visit the Lothene page
Early Medieval Clothes Patterns.
Men also covered their heads through this time period with hats and
hoods. To see some examples of these, visit the Angevin Treasure's
12th Century Men’s head gear page.
In the early medieval period, women's clothing was patterned very much
like men's, but with hems that always reached the ground. In the 11 and
12th centuries, women's clothing began to be more elaborate, with fitted
waists and long, sweeping sleeves. Sometimes, the elaborate kirtle worn
underneath was deliberately revealed by cutting holes in the outer garment
or gathering it up at the waist. The chronicle writer Geoffrey de Vigeois
described the women of the court Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was queen
of France in the 12th century in disapproving tones, saying:
"They have clothes fashioned of rich and precious
stuffs, in colours to suit their humour. They snip out the cloth in rings
and long slashes to show the lining beneath, and the borders of the clothes
are cut into little balls and pointed tongues, so that they look like the
devils in paintings. They slash their mantles, and their sleeves flow like
those of hermits."
From this time on, sleeves became so elaborate that they were often
separate articles of clothing that attached into dresses. A lady who
wanted to show her favour to a knight in a tournament might give him one
of her sleeves to carry. To see pictures of clothing worn by women in the
12th century, visit the Angevin Treasure web site's
12th Century Women’s Clothing page.
Women also wore hose.
In Scotland during the 12th century, most women would have dressed more
simply than those in the court of the king of France. For everyday wear,
dresses may have been made of plain, undyed wool cloth, worn over a linen
kirtle. For more formal occasions, dresses made of red or yellow cloth
would have added some colour. Belts made of wool or leather would also
add some extra decoration.
This illumination from early 14th century Germany shows typical men's
and women's clothing for upper class people of the 12th century. This is
a picture of lovers in conversation. The woman is wearing a very basic filet
which leaves most of her hair uncovered. Unmarried women were not required
to cover their hair. You can see that the design for men's and women's clothing
was basically the same, loose, flowing tunics worn over long-sleeved garments,
although the woman's tunic is fuller and has been swept up to one side to
create a draped effect and reveal more of the dress beneath. Both the man
and the woman are wearing fur-lined tunics, a sign of wealth and a great
luxury in a cold climate. In most places in the Middle Ages, only noblemen
had the right to hunt and trap animals on their land, and only the king had
the right to the animals on all other land, so fur was not available to ordinary
(The picture is from the Konstanz-Weingartner Leiderhandschrift.)
The man's shoes in the picture above look very basic, and they were.
Shoes worn in 12th century Scotland were made of leather using the "turnshoe"
method, meaning they were turned inside out after stitching so that the seams
were on the inside. By present-day standards, these shoes would have provided
little support for the feet. They look quite a bit like modern slippers.
When the leather soles wore out, new soles were stitched to the uppers.
In wet and muddy conditions, shoes with wooden soles, called pattens, were
sometimes worn. Walking was the only means of getting from place to place
for most people. Carriages had not yet been developed and only wealthy Normans
rode horses. Cold, wet feet must have been common. As is the case today,
though, shoes were subject to fashion.
Fabrics and Colours
Sheep that provided wool and the flax plants which provided
linen were readily grown in the Scottish climate. Wool was sheared from
sheep, washed and carded using square carding combs of wire teeth embedded
in leather. The clean, carded wool was then spun into yarn. Spinning wheels
were not invented until the 13th century, and in the 12th century, women
spun yarn using simple spindle whorls, as they had for centuries. To see
a picture of a woman using a drop spindle with a whorl, visit the Lothene
Craft Page. Look at the first photo on the page. To find out how to spin yarn
using a drop spindle visit Kathryn's
How to Use a Low Whorl Drop Spindle
Linen is made from the stems of the flax plant, in a very long and complicated
process that involves letting the stems rett ( literally rot) for a while before they are dried and broken to separate
the useful inner fibers, called tow, from the outer bark. The tow is then
separated into long strands by being thrown repeatedly over iron hackling
combs. All cloth was hand-woven on simple, upright looms that were usually
supported against a roof beam. Making cloth was an important part of any
woman's work, even if she belonged to a noble family.
Most cloth was left undyed in natural colours of grey,
black or brown, but red and yellow were the most common colours for dyed
cloth. Fine wool cloth was imported from "the Low Countries," present-day
Holland and Belgium. Blue was a popular colour for clothing in pictures
painted during this time, but in fact, blue was a very difficult colour to
achieve with natural dyes.
Very fine cloth, such as silk, was imported from countries such
as Spain, but it was rare. The remains of a fine yellow silk cloth dating
from the 13th century were found during a dig in Perth, Scotland. The cloth
had a woven pattern of doves in it, and must have been very costly in its
Sources for this Page
Medieval Scotland: An Archaeological Perspective, Peter
Yeoman, B.T. Batsford Ltd/Historic Scotland, 1995.
Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England
, Alison Wier, Pimlico, 1999.
Life in a Medieval Castle, by Joseph and Frances Gies,
Harper and Row, 1979.