Make yourself the perfect Medieval dress
Buy our full-size paper pattern with complete instructions and historical notes for 14th century Kirtle or "Cotehardie" with long buttoned or laced or short sleeves with or without tippets. Northern European and Italian variants included. A variety of closures and neckline options are also included.
It may seem rather academic but the accuracy of your gown depends upon how accurately you construct it. Of course you can make a fantasy version. But if you want to be historically accurate, it's best to look less like a pink princess and more like the peasants down the street. Also boots, hats, a cloak, and a bodice do not belong with this outfit. Hoods are worn. The hair can also be worn uncovered in elaborate braided hairstyles.
Creating a wonderful woolen gown is all in the cutting. A color you love will make a real beauty. Black or blue or yellow or crimson or even cloth of gold will make a garment elegant in its simplicity.
Fits busts 30½"-48" and waists 23"-41". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.
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light weight to coat weight wool
light linen or silk for lining
Dress: 5 yds 45" or 3½ yds 60" wide
Lining (optional): 5 yds 45” or 3½ yds 60” wide
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This pattern featured instructions for manufacturing by machine or it can be handsewn. Just use the period stitches in the back. You'll find every pattern in our collection has these tutorials as well as definition, references, sources and suggestions of books for further reading. Plus our blog is another one of our helpfulresources. No need for a translator! Keeping you informed is important to us.
The 14th century Medieval Dress also called Kirtle or Cotehardie
In the mid-fourteenth century, a new style began to appear among the fashions of Western Europe. This new way of dressing was fitted close to the body, revealing the curves that previous styles had hidden under voluminous folds of fabric. Writers in Italy blamed it on the fashions of French visitors. Simultaneously, the English blamed it on the Italians. The French refrained from comment.
Although universal in 1330, this style of dress was still in use well into the 15th century, surfacing as late as the 1490s which is firmly pretudor. Even the Tudor styles of the 1530s draw heavily on the cotehardie. And don't let the presense of a farthingale fool you; there are even Elizabethan era kirtles that look a lot like the cotehardie.
For many years, costume historians have been calling this style for both men and women "The Cotehardie". More recently, the tide of opinion has turned against this name, claiming that it doesn't refer to the women's dress at all but to the men's. The short, tight-fitting garment fashionable men came to wear in the 1340s and onward may have earned the pejorative "cote hardy" because it was the "outer garment " of the "bold ". (See Notes at the end of this document for the etymology.)
This begs the question: what did the wearers of this garment call it? Would those who had "cotehardies" made for themselves have called it by such a derogatory name?
The answer is not simple. There is no extant costume book from the 14th century that clearly spells out what people called the various garments in their wardrobes and what distinguished one from the other. In modern terms, what is the differentiating mark of "slacks" versus "trousers"? Perhaps to one person, there's a gender difference. And yet to another person, they are synonyms. This is the same problem we confront when naming historical styles and seeking to use the contemporary vocabulary. In truth, a woman might have just called this garment a "dress".
The Patent, the Close Rolls, and the Great Wardrobe Accounts from whence we derive much of our information on 14th century English clothing were written in Latin, using terms such as tunica (tunic), camisa (shirt), supertunica (overtunic) and roba (suit of clothes, not a robe in the modern French or English sense). Unfortunately these terms do not deviate from the words used before the change of fashion in the 1340s, therefore giving us neither new words for the new style of clothing nor terms in the vernacular that could have been used by the wearers.
Traci L. Austin's excellent work in her Doctoral dissertation, Women's Dress Lexicon from Fourteenth Century England, gives us an understanding of the terminology and the frequency with which the words were used in 14th century England.
Ms. Austin informs us that the most often used word for a garment in 14th century English literature is the word kertel or kirtle. This garment is a main body garment worn by both genders and all professions and social classes. Kirtles are described using the same terms (tight, exposing lots of skin...) as the garments against which the commentators railed. They are also described as being of all colours, multiple colours, and made from wool, silk and linen.
The word cote is also mentioned in Ms. Austin’s thesis. Cote is currently a favourite term among 14th century enthusiasts and Austin claims that it describes a main body garment like the kirtle. However, unlike the word kirtle, the word cote is only rarely mentioned in description of fit and cut. Cotes of various materials and colours are described in the literature, however. Only one reference using the word cote speaks of its cut. From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the knight wears “a strayt cot ful stre3t þat stek on his sides” (“A straight cote full straight that sticks on his sides” -- possibly describing a straight-cut garment that clings to the wearer’s body). Also note that the wearer thus described is male.
Petticoat is a word that makes us think of lingerie today, but in the it referred to an underdress. By around 1595, it came to mean not just an underskirt, but an overskirt. Skirts was the word for the tabs on a doublet.
In her thesis, Austin links cote to kirtle through their relationship to the word tunica used in English Wardrobe accounts. Austin first establishes that “kirtle” is the 14th century English term for the new tight-fitting style of tunic as described in the Wardrobe Accounts. She then goes on to link the word “cote” to “tunica” by paralleling the English Wardrobe Accounts (written in Latin) with the French Argenterie accounts (written in French). Assuming the surcote and supertunica , and mantels and mantles in both accounts are the same garments, Austin makes the leap of logic that the only other garment enumerated in a suit of clothes, the tunica, must be the same garment as the cote. Knowing the vast amount of bilingualism that existed in England at this time, it is not unreasonable to assume that English women sometimes called their kirtles cotes. And given the evidence of the French accounts, cote was indeed the French word for the new tight fashionable body garment.
So they called it a kirtle in English, a tunica in Latin, and a cote in French. What did it look like? Unfortunately there is no extant 14th century pictorial dictionary that gives us a photo-realistic picture of how the garment looked. But we can combine pictorial evidence and extant garments from this period and get a good idea. Let’s begin by looking at the kirtle before the tightness occurred.
The Manesse Codex, a German manuscript from the earliest years of the 14th century, shows men and women wearing flowing upper garments that reveal the sleeves of the garments worn underneath. The illustration of the woman at right is from a picture showing a couple engaged in hawking or falconry. The woman shown at right wears a flowing body garment with long sleeves under a similar sleeveless garment. No fastenings are shown and there is no indication of tightness.
In the reproduction from the Lutrell Psalter shown at left, some elements of the kirtle are present -- most notably the long tapering sleeves closed with buttons -- but the garment is still fairly loose-fitting and flowing, at least compared to kirtles depicted after the 1340s.
On the cusp of this change in fashion is an illuminated copy of the Romance of Alexander. This fragment of the original, housed in the Bodlein Library at Oxford and known as MS. Bodl. 264, consists of miniatures illustrating the legends of Alexander the Great and with marginal scenes of everyday life painted by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop, 1338-44.
LotR costumes might be made out of leather and the typical pirate wench can wear polyester but for a beautiful white wedding dress, satin or taffeta is best. Bridal gowns can also run the gamut from tartan for celtic styles (with your groomsmen in kilts) to luxurious brocade. For an elegant and unique feel, simple skirts and chemises on the bridesmaids should probably be avoided. Good fabric suppliers will help you avoid looking like it's halloween.
In folio 121 recto, (detail reproduced at right), we see four women wearing kirtles, two seated on either side of a man. One is clearly the Queen by virtue of the crown on her head. The kirtles all have wide necklines and the sleeves of their undergowns are fastened with buttons (right) and laces (left). The sleeves of the overgowns fall behind the elbows in tippets, perhaps lined with fur. The interesting thing to note about their kirtles is that they fall in loose folds from the bust. Elements that are described as being part of the tight-fitting kirtle are therefore present, but it is obvious from this manuscript at least that the garment had not yet tightened.
The debate goes back and forth whether this was originally a French style or an Italian one (writers in one country blame this “decadence” on the other). So let us begin by looking at pictorial evidence from both countries. France first.
At right is a reproduction of three characters from a 1350s copy of the Roman de la Rose -- two women flanking a man. All three wear the new tight-fitting style. The fabric of their garments is smooth over their torsos and fall into folds at their hiplines. The man wears what we can imagine is the kind of hood that “hung like cowls” that Villani speaks so strongly against. His garment is short and tight to the body. The women’s garments are similarly tight although they retain a high neckline. This is interesting to note because it is not the depth of the neckline that is villified in the accounts but the width.
Another illustration from the Roman de la Rose, reproduced at left, shows an interesting feature of this garment. This character is turned to the side, so we can see the silhouette of her body. Her garment is painted to look tight-fitting -- there are even some stress wrinkles on her back where it bends, showing us how tight the garment really is. And yet there is absolutely no indication of her bust. There is no roundness in her upper torso. There are simply no breasts depicted.
Dolls aren't just for kids. Some of the best information we have on clothingl of the day come from poppets that weren't made for children. They were for adults. The purpose of these china babies was to show the pieces of apparel a tailor could make for a customer including undergarments.
This may sound strange, but it must be remembered that realism had not yet entered into the art of painting. For example, people were painted larger or smaller according to their relative importance to the story of the painting, not their actual physical size. Anatomically, their figures are often at the very least misleading and at the most, physically impossible. It was not until Giotto di Bondone’s use of perspective in the early 14th century that realism came into Western European art. Still, it was one hundred years later, in about 1415 in Florence, Italy, that Filippo Brunelleschi demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, used today by artists. Therefore we must be very careful what we accept as real and what we disregard.
No matter when art began to be photo-realistic, its origins can certainly be seen in Italian examples earlier than French paintings. Nardo di Cione’s painting of the Last Judgment, detail of which is shown at right, shows truly realistic wrinkles, drapery, and the human form. The painting is so realistic that we can imagine the body beneath the tight-fitting garment she wears.
And yet as late as 1365, Andrea da Firenza shows us women without busts in his “way of Salvation”, a detail of which is shown at left. The female dancers in his painting all appear to be anatomically correct and their dresses are so tightly fitted that wrinkles appear at their sides and underarms. And yet, they appear flat chested.
The question is not, of course whether women in the 14th century had breasts. Of course they did. But this appearance and disappearance of the bust and the disarrangement and incorrect anatomy depicted in illuminations of this period should not be ignored when using these pictures as evidence of the shape and construction of historical clothing.
There is a trend currently in the historical costuming community to create 14th century kirtles that lift the bust into an unnaturally high position, like that seen in marginalia of the Wenceslaus Bible, the famed “Bohemian Bathhouse Babes”. The argument made is that this lift is indicative of medieval bust support. However, the fact that the figures are not anatomically correct in any other way is ignored. To demonstrate my meaning, please observe the illustration to the left. The figure depicted at far left is traced from a 1380s copy of the Roman de la Rose. She displays the lifted bust and small waist that it is possible to achieve with various bust-supportive fitting techniques developed by costumers in this century. But also observe her larger-than-life hands, her impossibly small arms, and her apparent lack of a ribcage. Her torso is also abnormally long and her hips start far too low. Next to her I have placed an illustration of someone of the same size in the same pose drawn using modern standards of human-form illustration. Note the differences. Why should we assume that her bust is anatomically correct when the rest of her is not? Why should we accept this bust position as fact when so much else in the paintings of this era is disregarded? We must be careful not to create a medievaloid answer to a modern fitting problem. This might answer the question of what should modern women do for bust support under their kirtles, but it cannot answer the question of what medieval women did without concrete evidence.
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This information copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History