I love, LOVE the Middle Ages. This time period, more or less between the 10th and the 15th centuries has engraved many vivid images on our minds, however, lots of these are incorrect. The Victorians, for example, fed us tales of damsels in distress and valiant knights. While there is some truth to this, it does not describe the entire period. I love researching different time periods and I discovered that women had more rights during this time then they did in the Renaissance period, particularly after the black plague. And, it was not a time of complete ignorance. The sciences were beginning to flourish again after the “dark ages” – from the fall of Rome ’till the tenth century. Of all the centuries I believe that the 1400s was the height of fashion. The crusades were over and Europe was recovering from the black death. It was comparable to the 1980’s following the recession of the 70’s with outrageous fashion that pushed the boundaries of not only what was technologically possible but also the fabric of society.
More and more I see that Medieval weddings are a popular wedding theme. They range from just the bride and groom in period costume to the entire wedding party and even the guests participating and joining in the fun. A Medieval wedding can go all out with authentic meals and entertainment with some taking place in castles. There are restaurants that feature medieval meals and entertainment such as jousting that can accommodate both your ceremony and dinner. In this blog post I am going to focus on the bridal costume, but don’t worry I will do other posts for the groom and men who are going to dress up and another one on how to make your reception authentic and some Canadian locations for castle weddings.
So without an further adieu, let’s begin!
Clothing in the Middle Ages was actually very simple, much more simple then the “Medieval” costumes that you can buy online. Those online costumes are based more on the Victorian image of the Middle Ages and are overly romanced and highly inaccurate. In the Middle Ages, cloth tended to be made from linen and wool. Silks did exist but were only owned by the very, very rich. Colours were earthy, being made from natural dyes. Blue was the most popular colour for women, especially when it came to weddings But like most women in the history of the world, brides simply wore the best dress they could afford to buy, or the best dress they already had. The blue colour was made from a plant called Woad. It was very smelly, in fact so smelly that Queen Elizabeth I, in the Renaissance period, banned Woad dyers from the city limits. It was used as tattoo ink. Remember William Wallace with his blue face? that was woad paste!
Pictured above: a Kirtle or underdress which had long tight fitting sleeves. Over top of this a dress would be worn with flared sleeves starting at the elbow. A Stomacher or early form of corset is worn on the outside of the dress. Photo source ~ revivalcothing.com
- It was common in the Middle Ages, as in many parts of the world today, for women to wear head coverings. Unmarried women were allowed to let their hair loose but they still wore a veil with a Burlet. Burlets are head bands made from twisted fabric. They are not too difficult to make yourself, but are not expensive to buy either. You can substitute the Burlet with a gold band or a crown of flowers. Hair was worn loose or braided underneath.
However, once women got to a certain age, or were married, it became custom for them to cover their hair entirely. The Wimple was very popular for centuries and can still be today seen in cloistered nuns.
Pictured above is a handmade, embroidered 12th century style Wimple. This is probably not the best for the bride to wear, but if your guests or wedding party are going to participate you can have the mother-of-the-bride or groom wear them. A beautiful piece by Racaire’s Embroidery and Needlework.
The Hennin is probably the most iconic image of the damsel of the Middle Ages. It can be a single cone or a double one like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.
The pointed Hennin was only worn on Continental Europe. In England they had a similar hat but it came to a blunt top instead of a point and was not nearly as tall. A fun fact about the double Hennin was that many church officials had a major problem with it because they thought it was like the horns of Satan. Another example of men just not getting fashion! LOL
Hennins are a product of the later Middles Ages (1400 +) so don’t consider this if your going for a earlier time period. The average length was 12-18 inches but could be higher. You can add fabric at the top to add more interest to it. Remember that they are worn at the back of the head, not at the top. Fashionable ladies tended to pull all their hair underneath it so that no stray hairs could escape.
Hair nets or Snoods were common from the Dark ages. They were made more elaborate with the additions of pearls and beads. These hair nets eventually evolved into what became known as the Crespine. This is my favourite headress. Ever since I saw Isabella of France in Braveheart wear one in her wedding scene I knew that this was the best hair accessory EVER!!!
Pictured here, the Crespine (also called a Caul) was a hair net made from metal that held the hair at the side of the head. It could be circular or cylinder. For instruction on how to make your own caul go to this virtue.to.
Dateline July 4, 2012: Happy Independence Day to my American readers and an apology to everyone. I forgot to include a collage of Medieval head wear when I did the original post! Oops! It must have been too much Canada Day celebration! Here it is below with descriptions of each piece that has been designed and handmade by Kats Hats of the UK. All photos from Kats Hats.
Heart Shaped Hennin C. 15th Century; Goffered Headdress C mid 14th century; Butterfly Hennin C 15th Century; The Torque hat C. 1220-1320s; Hennin C mid 15th century; Cross Tree Riticulated Headdress C late 14th; The Crispinette or Caul c 1300-1500; Crispin or Templars late 14th; Reticulate Caul C 1100-1540
High heeled shoes did not exist in the Middle Ages. Typically shoes were made of soft leather and simple lacing. They were almost slipper like.
I hope this gives you some ideas for your Medieval wedding plans. In the end you can mix and match from what ever centuries or locations you want but just make sure you have fun! The best site I found with authentic non-Victorian-Romanced clothing was Revival Clothing. I hope you visit them for dress ideas.
Also Wikipedia has great information on fashion in the Middles Ages.
Over the next couple of weeks more posts on men’s clothing options from the Middle Ages and also venues where you could host your Medieval Wedding!
All the best! Jordin