How Medieval Clothing Signified a Wearer’s Social Status

Much like today, the clothes that one wore in medieval times signified the wearer’s social status.

The clothes of peasants were made from rough, homespun cloth that was often itchy and uncomfortable. And, since few members of this class possessed more than one change of clothing, and bathing was not a common practice, they were often soiled, smelly and vermin infested as well.

The medieval clothing of the merchant and landownng classes on the other hand, were often made of smooth and luxurious fabrics that were expensive to purchase and hard to find – such as Egyptian cotton, which had to be shipped a considerable distance. In fact, quite often, these folks wore their wealth on their backs, as there were few items that disposable income could be used to purchase. (And, in times of economic hardship, these clothes could in fact be sold to others.)

Men and women wore specific styles of clothing during the medieval period. Men tended to wear tunics which flowed over their hose (which doubled as a form of pants) and were paired with a belt. This type of outfit was worn with a felt hat, perhaps decorated with a feather.

Women’s medieval clothing on the other hand, included a kirtle, which was like a long tunic that covered an undershirt as well as concealed their legs. During this period, they often wore their hair loose, in long braids that trailed down their backs, or caught up hair pieces that had nets. It was only much later that women began to coil their hair on their heads (with the invention of the hair pin).

While these items of medieval clothing would have been similar for all classes, it is the richness and color of the fabrics, as well as the embellishments (such as embroidery with gold or silver thread, the inclusion of seed pearls and other small jewels) that would have set the clothing of the upper classes apart from their contemporaries. And, while the clothing would have received much better care, they were still, quite probably, incredibly ripe!

Author: Jacqueline Louise Gagnon