Clothed Seemly and Proper, the Third Part: The late 12th and 13th centuries

The late twelfth and thirteenth centuries showed some strong characteristics, mostly in the shape of sleeves and the belting of the tunic. Generally, this time saw clothing becoming more full and voluminous, so that it fell in graceful draped folds, often from a belt or girdle.

The thirteenth century is characerised most strongly by the Magyar sleeve. Where previous sleeve cuts were straight, or else widened dramatically at the elbow or wrist, the Magyar sleeve was the exact opposite: the armhole and upper arm were cut very wide, narrowing to the elbow and wrist (see illustrations for classic Magyar look). The sleeve shape was adopted by both men and women.

This was the age of Richard Coeur de Lion, bad King John and the legendary Robin Hood. Richardís passion for Crusading brought many new fabrics into Europe; at this time cotton and silks are increasingly used by the nobility, including rich fabrics such as shot silk, cloth of gold and a silk equivalent to crepe de chine. Bysine was a fine cotton cloth used for mantles, and Damask, the rich silk cloth with a pattern woven in the same colour but a different finish, took its name from Damascus. The samite mentioned by Tennyson was similar to modern bridal satin, a heavy fabric with less gloss than most modern satins.

Menís clothing

Tunics tended to be long, mid-calf length. The undertunic, now called the cote, was worn with full-length sleeves tight to the wrist, with the Magyar shape (full sleeve at the armhole and upper arm). Overtunics with this characteristic sleeve were belted at the waist, with the fabric gathered up to provide a blousy fullness at the torso.

At various points in the thirteenth century, menís sleeveless overtunics came into fashion; these were cut with very wide armholes, to accomodate the magyar sleeve, in an effect similar to a tabard (two rectangles of cloth joined at the shoulder, and in some cases below the waist).
Nobleman with characteristic magyar sleeves; cote and supertunic slit to reveal the legs.

Breeches and stockings were visible under the long tunics only if the cote and tunic were slit to reveal them (see illustration). Shoes were slightly pointed (or very pointed under Henry III).

Full circle cloaks in rich fabrics, often fur-lined, were worn.

The capuchon hood dates from this period, a hood worn attached to a short cape which covered the shoulders. The characteristic Robin Hood hats, tall points with the brim turned up, were also worn at this time.
Man in sleeveless surcoat (second from right); woman in barbette and fillet (far right).

Womenís clothing

The major change in feminine costume was the tightening of the tunic sleeves, often buttoned from elbow to wrist. The tightness of the sleeve may be continued to the shoulder, or else widened abruptly above the elbow to form the magyar sleeve. The fullness of the tunic was gathered in at the waist by a belt. Later in this period, the cyclas was worn over the undertunic; this was a full-length sleeveless overtunic similar to the dalmatica.
Women in belted tunics; woman on right has mantle and barbette and fillet headdress. Note sleeve tightness at wrist, widening to the shoulder.

The mantle, as with the men, was voluminous, usually a full circle in rich fabrics, fastened with straps across the chest. At this time women started wearing the almoniere, a purse to contain alms, suspended from the girdle on the left side.

The wimple and peplum head-dress were worn in the early part of this period. The wimple was a square of white cloth which was brought beneath the chin and the two ends of the cloth were then brought upwards to the top of the head, where they were fastened by a brooch or pin. Over this was worn the peplum, which was simply a veil placed on top of the head to fall symmetrically to both sides and behind.
Tomb statue: woman in sleeveless surcoat and wimple headdress.

Later in the period, the elaborate styles which were presumably worn beneath the wimple and peplum, were exposed as the veil fell out of fashion. Hair was worn gathered to the head on both sides in nets, which might be held in place by linen bands beneath the chin and around the head (barbette and fillet headdress).


Phyllis Cunnington, Costume in Pictures (1961). Dutton Vista.

Mary G. Houston, Medieval Costume in England and France (1939). London: A&C Black.

Francis M. Kelly and Randolph Schwabe, A Short History of Costume and Armour (1931). Batesford.

Return to the Medieval Costume page