The wide range of medieval garments makes it hard to decide what to wear, especially when you have problems picturing your LARP or medieval costume.
We want to present a small overview of historic costumes, to help you decide how to fashion your historic or fantastic costume after your wishes.


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Historic and authentic in opposition to fantastic costuming?

Especially impersonators of historical characters are in need of a historical correct, authentic costume or gown. It´s not that easy to obtain specific period costumes, for example for the German High Middle Ages, you might have to make and sew them yourself or pay a tailor. Sewing patterns for medieval costumes can be found in various publications, but without tailoring skills, they are not of much use. Have a look at the category Gowns in, you'll find many dresses and gowns which could be altered for your purpose, by attaching medieval tablet woven braid or other adornments, thus easily changing it to a historic authentic gown. In this way you´ll get inexpensive, yet well worth seeing historical clothing, not missing too much in the matter of authenticity.

A small overview of historic costumes

This text should outline thecostume history of the Middle Ages, but we are not able to provide the whole picture, also we don´t claim to be historical exhaustive.
In case you want to know more about this subject, we recommend looking for webpages and publications, specializing in this topic.

Resources...archaeological finds of historic costumes

The number of archeological finds of historic costumes diminishes, the more you move back into the past. Naturally, this problem makes it harder or impossible to interpret the finds.

Costume finds of the viking period might be reduced to small pieces of cloth, or some of the infrequent, more or less fully dressed, bog body finds. Also in this period, the number of drawings and pictures, e.g. on rune stones or coinage is even more infrequent and highly abstract. There´s a lot to guess from the known textile techniques of the viking period, but you can´t know for sure.
What kind of cloth were used, what colors were used to dye them, it´s not easy to find out. In the Early to the High Middle Ages, the state of source material improves, not because the number of archeological textile finds rises, but primarily due to the large number of illuminated manuscripts, for example the famous Codex Manesse, also known as Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, the Bayeux Tapestry and many more.
Even so, while interpreting illustrated historical costumes, be aware that it´s not that simple. You have to know what person is shown, when was the illumination created, for whom was it created, even that there´s the possibility the illuminations of the manuscript show historical characters not in period clothing, as they were created hundreds of years later (which is in fact true for a lot of illuminations of the Codex Manesse). Peasants and poor people are underrepresent in illuminations, even though being the majority of the people in the Middle Ages. Nobles, Knights, Rich were overrepresented.
The illuminations don´t show details, it´s difficult to extract information about sewing patterns, the kind of cloth used or the dyes. But taking a closer look, might be worthwhile, a painted pleat, the creases for example at the neckline allow for some conclusions about the possible layout and sewing pattern of the garment.
You even have to be careful about publications about historical clothing, you´ll find literature or colored copper engravings from the 19th or early 20th century, which are now available as reprints. These reprints often give details about medieval clothing, which were in most cases made up (or freely interpreted) by the author, who in seldom cases had the scientific knowledge that we have today.

Early Middle Ages...Vikings & Co

Please don´t expect us to present the typical costume of the Early Middle Ages, as you well know, there is none. Not only the fact, that archeological resources are rare, there´s also regional differences to keep in mind. Different tribes wear different garb, a viking of the Rus does not look the same as a viking from Scandinavia. The Franks, Allamanni or Germanic people possibly had their own costume, there might have been not only distinctions between tribes but also regional distinctions within one tribe.
As impersonator of historical characters, this gives you the chance to vary your appearance more freely. But you should always keep in mind, the technical background, for example the technical possibilities for making cloth, available materials & dyes, the kind of jewelry that could be made or was available by trade.
Archeological finds from Haithabu or bog bodies give us some impression of the period clothing.
The basic design of the Early Middle Age male costume consisted of trousers, a tunic or frock, a square or rounded cape or mantle. Women wore a simple dress and long apron or frock.
Available cloths were made from linen and wool. Cotton cloth was almost unknown, at least in northern Europe.
Also note that buttons, as we know them today were not widely-used, trousers were girded with belts or ribbons, capes were fastened with fibulae and brooches.
To show the social standing of the wearer, the clothing was embellished with elaborate embroidery, finely woven braids and precious jewelry. Medieval shoes were mainly made from leather, mostly peasants boots or turn shoes and leg wraps.

Interjection ­ Medieval sewing patterns

Why are there so few medieval sewing patterns available, one might ask oneself. The answer is too mundane, know one, know them all. This is true, at least for the Early and High Middle Ages.
Sewing patterns and tailoring in a narrower sense developed in the Late Middle Ages. In the times before, any woman sew clothes as suited her best, depending on her skills. This fact is evidenced by archeological finds of clothes, that resemble patchwork items, any piece of cloth was stiched together, just to use each available piece of fabric, regardless of size.
The typical medieval tunic is built, not tailored, using a modular system: a large square cloth for the torso part, add a hole in the middle for the head, attach two squares at the sides for the arms, thats it.
Clever use of inserted gores ensured fullness of hem or enhanced correct fit.
Diamond shaped gores at the armpits were for acknowledging that humans are not flat like a sheet of paper. Wedge-shaped gores widen sleeves and Tunics hems, later the gowns, cottes and surcottes.
Also the quality of seams, embellishments and trimmings depend on the skill of the needlewoman. Medieval clothing seldom was thrown away, discarded clothes were recycled, cut in pieces, patched and darned or reconstructed for the next wearer.

High Middle Ages ­ Codex Manesse and other manuscripts

In the High Middle Ages, the influence of fashion gains strength, be it the fashion of the french or italian court. This is true for the upper class, the nobles, knights or even famous minstrels that traveled a lot. Precious fabrics reached Europe through the Silk Route, coming from the orient, and were worn by those who could afford them. Common fabrics of this period were linen, woolen materials of varying qualities and origin, barchent (a fabric made of linen warp and cotton shute) and of course silk, velvets or brocades. Furs and pelts were imported from the North.
In the Middle Ages one kind of dressing item got lost, trousers were unknown. Rather than trousers, chauses were worn, fitted to the leg and tied to the drawstring of the braies (medieval underwear). Also the braies do not use the same pattern as trousers do today. The medieval braies resemble a textile tube, with added slits and a drawstring for fastening it to the hips.
The chauses developed into the trousers of the Late Middle Ages, thats the reason why these ´joined hoses´ have the seam at the back of the leg. Therefore a complicated inset was needed to close the trousers and cover the hips

The typical costume of the High Middle Age is layered (like onion layers). The first item to wear, the undergarment, worn on the skin was the undershirt, hemdelin or chemise, made from white undyed linen. On top of that was the cotte or undertunic, first full-length, later shorter, as long as the hips. The cotte was a wide loose fitted garment, no buttons or lacings were used.
The undertunic was lined or unlined, depending on the financial standing of the wearer, with silk, furs or other expensive fabrics. The undertunic of men might have slits back and front, to facilitate moving and more important riding.

On top of the cotte follows a supertunic or surcoat, a garment with short sleeves, long sleeves, fake sleeves or sleeveless. Men wore the cotte with slits, to show the undergarment, ladies surcots had no slits and were longer and wider at the hem.
Later the sleeveless surcoat was altered by widening and deepening the armholes, cut low enough to show the gown worn below as well as the hip belts. These deep armholes were christened ´Gates of Hell´ by the scandalized men of the Church.
The "Gates of Hell" as well as the armholes, necklines and hems were decorated with elaborate stitching, braids and expensive furs, e.g. ermine, depending on social standing and wealth of the bearer.

The most popular protection against cold, wind and rain of the High Middle Ages was the cloak or cape, which was cut in form of a circle, three fourths of a circle or a complete circle. The more cloth a coat was made of, the richer the owner, also linings made of fur were popular. Unlike today, fur was more often used as lining, not shown on the outside (only as trimming).
Aside from the capes, also called tassel coat because of the tassel fastenings, other variations of coats can be found in the Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, for example the garnache, which was a long-sleeved coat, with richly pleated sleeves.
The hood was established at least since the Early Middle Ages. In the High Middle Ages, differences between hoods for men and women developed. Ladies hoods were not closed up front by seams, but were closed by laces, brooches or other fastenings.
We should not forget the importance of headdresses, be it the barbette and veil for the noble lady or the headscarf for the peasant woman, the straw hat for the peasant, headdresses go with the medieval costume, show social standing or matrimony.

A frequent misunderstanding, often encountered at medieval fairs or LARP events, is about the usage of the color yellow. Oftentimes ladies wearing yellow medieval costumes have to face people calling them whores and commentating on their costume and the implication thereof.
But looking at medieval dress codes, you will find that they vary from community to community, the color yellow did not globally mark whores, in fact other symbols were used, e.g. laces in certain colors, bans to wear veils, and many more.
Regional difference are numerous, there is not the one typical medieval costume of the High Middle Age. To immerse into this area its necessary to do some research for yourself and look for the specialist literature.

Late Middle Ages - Lansquenets & Co

In the Late Middle Ages, costume history starts to become really complicated. The patterns get more and more artful and intricate, the rate of fashion variations increases. We want to keep this text short and readable, so we are not able to have more than a short look at a single temporary fashion of the Late Middle Ages: the dress of the landsknechts (Lansquenets). The landsknechts were mercenaries, dressed in conspicuous costume. Their doublets or hoses were deliberately slashed at the front, back and sleeves, the shirts and other undergarments were pulled through to form puffs of different colored fabrics. The puffed and slashed, parti-colored clothing, tight trousers with enlarged codpieces, broad flat shoes and hats with feathers made them look like birds of paradise.

Rococo, Renaissance and early modern period costume history

As the depth of the field of costume history increases, we confine the text to mentioning one single aspect. The invention of the corset changed fashion and awareness of life for women after the medieval period.
Being part of the undergarments, corsets were both a blessing and a curse, excessive ideals of beauty forced women to lace themselves up to breathlessness, to get a slender waist.
To this day, corsets developed into a outerwear well worth seeing, adding to the flair of medieval, larp, fantasy and gothic costume.

Fantasy Costumes ­ Lord of the Rings and others

Embedded into a medieval framework but free from stifling necessities, here we find the fantastic costumes that allow for a wide scope to become creative oneself.
Be it costumes inspired by well-known and popular fantasy films, for example "Lord of the Rings", "The Chronicles of Narnia" of even "Avatar" or completely made up, dressing up as Half-Elves, Elf, Dwarf, Ogre or Undead, using the right equipment, Make-up and the own fanciful costume makes it possible to impersonate all and everything your creative mind can think of.
We want to mention the large number of End Time, Real Time or Vampire Larps, that also add to the fantastic possibilities of this category.

Gothic fashion - not medieval at all?

Yes and no. Gothic fashion creations base on medieval or romantic patterns. The main attribute of gothic fashion is the color black, which gets accompanied by white, red or pink. Symbols from the punk fashion, safety pins, a ragged look, elements of the fetish and bondage fashion and much more get added up to form the gothic fashion style. Gothic fashion separates into manifold styles that in the end are boundless.

Halloween Costumes - having nothing in common with LARP?

At least I can wear my exquisite medieval costume at any Halloween event, beefed up with a few spine-chilling accessoires and matching make-up. People not involved in Larp or Reenactment, who want to have a look at this genre may want to start with a inexpensive costume coming from the category carnival, or simply endow themselves for the next halloween party.

Summary - Fine feathers make fine birds.

This simple and true proverb makes it difficult to shop for medieval costumes. The hunt for the one, perfect costume is endless, there is always another better, more amazing and fantastic costume, another idea, another aim.

That is the reason why medieval costuming, larp and any other fantastic costume is so interesting, enthralling and long lasting.

We are coming to finish this overview here, have fun rummaging and strolling through Dein-LARP-Shop. We hope that we were able to give you an appetite for more fantastic and creative costuming.