Historic Medieval Gowns

There are many examples of historic Medieval gowns, to adapt with tartans and motifs for your ideal Scottish wedding dress.

The Medieval ladies first wore a simple leine and brat like the men.

Being women, they began lacing up the sides or back for a shapelier garment, then adding sleeves and a waist line. Gored panels were added in the skirts for more fullness at the hemline. As time progressed the sleeves and hemlines became elaborate, as the XI century historic Medieval gowns show.

As the merchant class prospered, the Bourgeoisie ladies spent that money on clothes, eventually rivaling the aristocracy in fashion, as can be seen in their portraits.

X Century Historic Medieval Gowns

Otto II of Germany, who lived from 955 to 983. The costumes are splendid with a strong Byzantine influence on these historic Medieval gowns. The band of embroidery on his right sleeve was a decorative detail until 1250.

The Book of Costume
A close-up view of this historic Medieval gowns armband detail

Image courtesy of clipart.com

As a wedding dress, this could be sewn in linen, brocade, or a heavier silk with the trim detail in Celtic knots embroidery or tartan trim. The page on construction details will discuss how to decoratively attach trims.

Details that could be adapted for wedding gowns are the banding on the hemline, necklines, cuffs, as well as the robe which could flow into a train.

Silks were being grown in China and India, with trade routes developing toward Europe.

XI Century Historic Medieval Gowns

One of the strongest influences on historic Medieval gowns were the Crusades, which began in 1095 and ended in 1271. The Crusaders brought home many ideas and customs…silks, brocades, and turbans being the ones that most influenced fashions. The patterned, textured materials from the East were popular imports until the XIII century, when the Italians began manufacturing luxury fabrics.

The brat or cloak has become a mantle, or outer garment that’s often sleeveless, open in the front, and secured with a decorative band across the upper breast. The leine has become a tunic, often worn one over another, hemmed at varying lengths to reveal the elaborate trim on both garments. This under garment is called a kirtle. Decorative edges are found on all the historic Medieval gowns. On some it’s narrow bands of elaborate, luxurious braiding call orphrey.

Orphreys were popular from the VII to the XV century, as ladies could weave them at home on small hand looms. Orphreys were also used as girdles, which are decorative belts of fabric, precious metals, and jewels, worn tied below the natural waistline.

The hair was parted and flowing or braided, with small veils held in place with circlets or crowns.

Malcolm III, king of Scotland 1058 to 1093, with his wife. Note her kirtle and girdle, the mantle with the upper edge trimmed, and her crown. They are more simply dressed than the Continentals of the time.

Image courtesy

XII Century Historic Medieval Gowns

Many of the historic Medieval gowns were plain linen with decorative trimmings, such as this 12th century tunic.

The Book of Costume

The diagonal neck closing is typical. As a Medieval wedding, this garment could be trimmed with two or three co-coordinating trims, including tartans, Celtic knots, and/or solids. A narrow band of tartan could be added at the waist seam.
These 12th Century borders offer some more possibilities

The Book of Costume 12th century borders

These tunic borders were adapted from Byzantine fashions.

Modern clan tartans are a 19th Century idea, though ancient kilts date from the 12th century. The use of modern tartans with historic Medieval gowns is historically incorrect. But it’s your wedding and very, very few people will know the difference, so you decide for yourself. Remember you could also be a 19th century lady wearing wedding clothes as described in the ancient writings of an ancestor.

In the 1100’s, the cut and weave of clothing ceased to be strictly utilitarian. The fabrics were of small, overall designs, while the embroidery was in geometric bands.

Over the century, decorations became more fanciful, with the three most typical elements being

  • parti-colored ~ two sides different colors or patterns of fabric
  • dagging ~ Hems finished with patterns or open slits with opposing fabric revealed underneath
  • fur

From the 1150’s on, the mantle evolved into the surcoat, a sleeveless outer garment, reaching to the feet, worn over a tunic or kirtle.

The ladies often worn two orphrey girdles together ~ one at the natural waistline and one knotted lower.

The ladies hair became more decorative as they wound their hair with ribbons from the XII century on. From 1125 to 1150 their hair was veiled in public. From 1100 to 1200 they wore long braids. From 1150 to 1200, the wimple was in fashion, mimicking the headgear worn by the knights with their armor. A wimple covered the head and neck, similar to a nun’s under-headgear, and was fastened on top of the head.

XIII Century Historic Medieval Gowns

Cloaks were semi-circular with a front fastening and fur lined, while tunics had sleeves tapered to the wrist. Skirts were gored wide.

The bodice was skimpy with blousing at a low waistline, it was sometimes belted. Necklines were low with horizontal banding.

Sleeveless surcoats continued to be worn with decorative orphreys over the historic Medieval gowns.

This 13th Century tunic still has an armband, but it’s diagonal embroidery (smaller image on the right). Note the short, rounded tabard with trim and the trim at the hemline. Also the decorative tie at the shoulder. There’s great possibilities here for a Medieval wedding gown.

The Book of Costume

For those who couldn’t afford the luxury fabrics imported from the Far East, block printed fabrics were printed at home and by guild artisans. The fabrics for these historic Medieval gowns are easily replicated at home using linoleum blocks or custom rubber stamps with fabric inks and paints.

During the Crusades the tabard often replaced the mantle. The knights wore one over their armor displaying their arms for identification. Thus we have their ‘coats of arms. The tabard is a one piece garment, with no sleeves, and a central hole for the head to fit through. Once over the head, they were tied in place with self-fabric ties, left hanging loose, or secured by a belt or girdle.

For the ladies, the tabard could be extended in the back into a train and was often trimmed with fur, embroidery, or in our case, tartan. The men were bringing home the elaborately woven, luxury brocades and silks from the Far East. Jewels often beaded their important gowns, especially for weddings and coronations.

This painting is of Blanche of Castile and her husband, Louis VIII of France, at his coronation in 1223.

Image courtesy wikipedia.com
Hair and Head Dress Fashions
In the early 1200’s, the hair was worn loose with a fillet while at home. The fillet was a narrow decorative band, tied in back. It evolved into a pill box cap.

By the mid-1200’s the ladies were wearing the babette, an under chin neck band that fastened on top of the head, and the crespine, a netted hair covering, and wider headdresses.

This crespine headdress was worn by Lora de Saint Quintain in the 1300’s.

The Book of Costume
carved in 1397
in Yorkshire, England.

Toward the end of the century, as an effort to curtail the extravagance of the Bourgeoisie, they were fined for dressing like noblewomen. The next century tells a different tale…

XIV Century Historic Medieval Gowns

During the 1300’s, the Bourgeoisie were no longer fined, nor did they imitate the noblewomen, for they had surpassed the aristocracy in their fashion sense and statement, as seen in these historic Medieval gowns.

The ladies dress, called both a kirtle and a cote-hardi, was close fitting, with tight buttoned sleeves, and belted. Their outer garment was still a surcoat or mantle.

Alyne’s costume is a composition with all the garments unified by an identical edging. The mantle is fur-lined and fastened across the breast by tasseled cord. It is sleeveless, very long and caught up, with the edges and hem embroidered. The kirtle has long, tight sleeves, with the hem, neckline, and bodice embroidered to match the mantle.

The Book of Costume
1325, Alyne, Lady de Creke

As a Scottish adaptation, the embroidered edges could be tartan silk or wool ribbon attached with decorative serging or embroidery stitches. This technique is explained on the Embellishment page. The mantle could be lined with silk or wool tartan.
Notice the similarity to the gown worn by Blanche of Castile for the coronation of her husband, Louis VIII of France, in 1223. (three illustrations back) This is a portrait of Queen Jeanne d’Evereux after her husband’s death in 1328.

The Book of Costume
Jean Fouquet
The Grandes Chroniques de
France Series in 1450

On a similar theme, the bodice, the skirt, or both could be heavily beaded with Celtic knots or thistles and trimmed with fur or felted wool with beaded embroidery. This technique is explained on the Embellishment page. Old fur coats and stoles can sometimes be found in antique shops for little money and reworked.
Catherine’s crown sits on Italian braids. The brown mantle has an inside edge embroidered and edged with gold as can be seen down her right arm. The kirtle is a gold-embroidered green fabric. Both garments are lined with white fur.

The Book of Costume
1330, by Bernardo Daddi
St. Catherine

As a Scottish wedding gown, the embroidery on the kirtle could be medium Celtic knots or thistles, with smaller ones on the trim. The edging on the mantle could be silk or wool tartan ribbon attached with a decorative stitch. This technique is explained on the Embellishment page.
With the gowns being worn so long, very few portraits reveal what’s on the feet. This 1308 wall painting in Westminster Abbey is of Siebert, King of the Saxons. He was the founder of Westminster Abbey. As another example of embellishment on historic Medival gowns, look at the trim on his hemlines as well as his slippers.

Book of Costumes
Norfolk was thriving on the wool trade. This example of historic Medieval gowns shows the utmost luxury the rich Bourgeoisie, such as Margaret de Walsokne were wearing.

The mantle has an embroidered edge with contrasting lining, the cords to hold the mantle in place are thrown back and the closure barely visible. The sideless surcoat is sleeveless and fur-lined. The edge is embroidered and the neck is widened, being highest at the center back.

The kirtle has tight, buttoned sleeves with detailing on the cuff. The neckline is inverted, being highest at the center front. There is beautiful, overall embroidery.

The sideless surcoat was cut out at the armseye, with fur edging. The neckline was low, with the back cut wider, and prominent buttons down the center front, all examples of the detailing on historic Medieval gowns..

The Book of Costume
1349, Flemish Brass work
Margaret de Walsokne
Norfolk, England

Translating this to Scottish taste, the embroidery work could be Celtic knots or tartan ribbon attached with decorative serging. This technique is explained on the Embellishment page.

The sleeve embroidery could be beaded thistles, another Scottish wildflower, or Celtic knotwork. The cloak lining could be tartan rather than fur.

By the 1350’s, historic Medieval gowns had been divided into a separate bodice and skirt, with a lower neckline and longer sleeves and came to be called a cote or cote-hardi, meaning tunic or gown. The English wore a higher neckline with a fitted, laced back, and pleats arranged at the girdle.

The Black Plague of 1347 to 1351 killed 1/3 to 2/3 of the population. The Bourgeoisie who were already amassing wealth, doubled their fortunes, as reflected in their costumes.

The next set of historic Medieval gowns are Italian, late XIV century, with brocaded or embroidered cotes. Numbering from the left, notice the turban head-dresses on #1 and #2, while #3 is bare-headed, #4 wears a roundlet, and #5 dons a crespine.

Book of Costume

Adapting gown #1 to Scottish motifs could entail large thistles, shamrocks, or Celtic knots embroidered, beaded, appliquéd, or block printed on silk or handkerchief linen, with a trim of tartan on the neckline and possibly inside the sleeve hem.

Gown #2 could have thistles or knots embroidered, beaded, or appliquéd on the bodice, with the looped trim being tartan or Celtic knots and a tartan, brocade or plain silk skirt.

Gown #3 could have a tartan train, underskirt, and lower sleeve. A narrow tartan trim on the neckline and just above the elbow-length upper sleeve could make a lovely design. Or the underskirt could be a second color solid, with the cote skirt lined with tartan.

Gown #4 would look elegant in velvet with the stand-up collar edged with tartan and the skirt lined with tartan.

For gown #5, imagine a tartan bodice and skirt with a plain arasaid lined with silk. Another idea would be a plain gown with embroidered or tartan trimmings and a tartan arasaid and underskirt.

Looking at the next example, the yoked bodice is unusual for the times. The yoke is heavily embroidered, as are the sleeve cuffs. The hemline has a decorative trimming.

Book of Costume
Late 1300’s, da Firenze

As a wedding gown, handkerchief linen or silk, with the bodice and cuff of tartan, or a quilted, embroidered, or a beaded design would be distinctive. The hem adornment could be attached trim or embroidery, or another fabric of like weight, cut and sewn as dagging from one of the heraldry designs.
Toward 1400, historic Medieval gowns, or houppelande, had a very short waisted bodice, wide low V neckline, and a wide belt just under the breasts as seen in this portrait of Ginerva d’Este. The neck is higher in front, sloping down in the back. The pleating on the sleeves is called cartridge pleating. The sleeve is differentiated from the gown by a heavy twisted rope of three colors. The train is embroidered with family motifs and fur lined.

Book of Costume
1435, Pisanello

The twisted rope could be trapunto work or stuffed tartan ribbon braided and sewn on the armholes and neckline. These techniques are explained on the Embellishment page. The train could be tartan or embroidered with Scottish motifs. This headband twisted around the hair could be of tartan ribbon, embroidered, or beaded in a Celtic design.
The fashionable gored skirt had a wide border, with fur still popular. The skirt was long and had to be held or tucked up. Class permitting, an attendant would hold up the skirt, revealing a co-ordinated underskirt. For economy the underskirt often had a wide band of the luxurious fabric matching the tight sleeves of the undergarment or the border on the outer gored skirt. What didn’t show was a more economical, plain fabric ~ most likely linen.
From the 10th through 16th centuries, knighthood was an important influence on historic Medieval gowns. Armorial bearing and heraldry was used to distinguish the men beneath their armor. Ladies fashions soon followed with heraldry emblems on their gowns.

For more information on Heraldry Wikipedia will get you started. You can design your own heraldry to be used in your wedding and passed down to your children. The insignia can be embroidered or block printed. These techniques are explained on the Embellishment page. The insignia can be used on garments, cloths for the altar and tables at the reception, or banners to be carried up the aisle by the bridal party. Your invitations could be engraved with your personal insignia.

Jacqueline de la Grange, wife of Jean de Montagu who was Chief Minister to King Charles VI of France, is displaying the Montague and de la Grange coats of arms.

The martlet, or bird, denotes her husband is the fourth son. The gold color in her bodice states they are of the nobility.

14th century Heraldric costumes
Historical Encyclopedia of Costumes
Albert Racinet, 1825-1893

The gown displays lots of ermine, another common embellishment on historic Medieval gowns, for those who could afford it. A lush plain white fabric, or a loosely felted wool, could have the ermine pattern beaded on, or embroidered with a silky sheen thread could give the same effect. These techniques are explained on the Embellishment page.

On the left, Anne, Dauphine d’Auvergne, is shown in 1370, wearing her husband’s coat of arms. The fleur-de-lys denotes he is the sixth son. On the right, her attendant, also a married woman, is wearing her husband’s insignia including the martlets, indicating he was a fourth son. Also notice the heraldry shield and diagonal stripe designs on the maid’s dress.

14th century Heraldric costumes
Historical Encyclopedia of Costumes
Albert Racinet, 1825-1893
The tabards worn by knights and their ladies, over their historic Medieval gowns, usually had open sides and a closed front. It slips on over the head, is often belted, but sometimes hangs loose. For knights and their ladies, they were often emblazoned with the knight’s insignia.

On this tabard, note the fleur-de-lys of the sixth son, the Rampant Lion, and the harp, the last two being Scottish motifs. This is a modern adaptation, as the motifs are repeated on opposite sides, which was not done in Medieval times. Also sleeves have been added.

1300 HeraldryTabard worn by the Blanc Coursier John Anstis

A tabard worn over the tunic with heraldry, embroidered beading, or appliqué trim would look great at a Medieval Scottish wedding. Tunics and tabards would also fit in well for mothers and attendants.

With one of the colors matching the skirt, this tabard could be worn with a tartan or silk skirt, with sleeves or sleeveless for any lady of the bridal party.

Cloaks were only worn for ceremonial occasions. Only the bourgeoisie wore hooded cloaks.

Wearing parti-colored hose, that is of different colors, particularly white, yellow, or green with black, blue, or red, became fashionable with historic Medieval gowns. Later different shoes were also the trend.

Hair ornamentation varied from crowns, nebulae, turbans, roundlets of padded fabrics, and bejeweled crespines to embellish the historic Medieval gowns.

From 1300 to 1350, the hair was banded by wimples or caught in crespine nets. During the 1350’s the wimple went out of fashion, while the horned headdress with a veil came in. Long hair was only seen on children, brides, young girls, and queens at their coronations.

Lots of jewelry and buttons were seen.

XV Century Historic Medieval Gowns

Note the small cap, the high front neckline that dips lower in the back and the lavish brocade design.

Book of Costume
1400’s Veneziano

A brocade dress, with the cap cording trimmed in tartan would be a subtle touch of Scotland
This is a Franco-Flemish portrait, with the girdle divided in two rows, or possibly braided.

Book of Costume
1438, Franco-Flemish

Substituting a braided tartan for the trim at the waistline would be a small touch of tartan. A very narrow tartan binding could be sewn where you see lines along both edges of the collar.
Hair adornments were small caps, turbans, twisted rolls of mixed colors, roundlets with snood-type netting in the central hollow to confine the hair, as seen in this 1460’s portrait.

Book of Costume
1468-9, Benozzo Gozzoli

These roundlets could be of felted wool, with cathedral windows revealing tartan pieces and a smaller trim along the bottom of tartan. This technique is explained on the Embellishment page. The roundlet could also be three twisted rolls of tartan. Note the rounded hemline on the tunic, another fine touch found on historic Medieval gowns.
This painting shows a veil wrapped in a fantasy style.

Book of Costume
c. 1450 by Filippo Lippi

Using a light-weight batiste or billowy chiffon, you could have a very unique head-dress, allowing it to flow into a light-weight veil with a train possibly flowing from it.
This portrait of the Queen of Sheba, by Piero della Francesco in 1452, shows a farthingale gown, a modified roundlet, and a train trimmed on the inside ~ all fine examples of historic Medieval gowns and their adornment.

Book of Costume
1452-66, della Francesco
Queen of Sheba

Using tartan for the roundlet and the trimming on the train would be a simple, understated addition of tartan to a wedding gown. This could easily be adapted on an off-the-rack gown and veil.
Duke Jean de Berri, brother to King Charles VI, with his fiancé. As an example of historic Medieval gowns, the Duke’s fiancé wears a houppelande of light and dark gray-blue brocade, with dragging cape sleeves, and a feathered hat. Notice the detailing on the hem of her train.

Image courtesy Wikipedia
originally from The Book of Hours
by de Limbourg and brothers

The houppelande and train in tartan would be dramatic. The white underskirt could be linen embroidered with a Celtic knot or thistle motif. Or it could be of lace. The gold underskirt could be a solid color linen or silk, or repeat the tartan of the houppelande. The ostrich plumes on the roundlet could pick up three colors from the tartan.
From the 1450’s, the Farthingale skirts with bell shaped, stiffened underskirts became more popular. Skirts were long but there was no longer a need to hold up the front for walking. The bodice front formed a long ”V” displaying decorative undershirts and shoulder rolls were added at the armseye on historic Medieval gowns.

Book of Costume
mid-1400, by Father de Bernabarre

On the left, the patterned undershirt could be tartan. On the right, the small plaid areas on the bodice could be tartan.
In 1491, Anne of Brittany married King Louis XII of France, wearing the first known white wedding gown.
Though shown here on a man, note the precise pleating, the trims, and specifically the closure for the outer garment ~ all examples of historic Medieval gowns.

Book of Costume
1498, Durer

The closure is twisted cording, a technique shown on the Embellishment page. You might even consider the head-dress in colors drawn from your tartan.

As 1500 approached, the Medieval Era is drawing to a close and the Renaissance is being born. Gowns of the Renaissance Era will show more ideas and fashions for you to consider.

Click here to continue to Historic Renaissance gowns

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