Fitting clothes to the body; 12th-13th cent.

In the second half of the 12th century and moving into the 13th, there were some major steps forward in fitting cloth to the shape of the human body. At the start of the 12th century, around when the Crusades were launched, clothing shapes were very simple: T-shaped tunic with a neck slit; blocky breeches with a drawstring; tubes of cloth that only stayed on the legs because they were tied; round or cone-shaped hat; simple mittens with a drawstring for harsh winters.

First, the cone-shaped hood began to shift into a form that didn’t begin with a semi-circle of fabric. Instead, tailors cut out a shape that is more like a modern coat hood. Where a modern snow hood is round at the back of the head, the tailors cut a long trailing decorative piece that resembled the way the point of the original cone had flopped in back. It could be cut in a deliberate shape this way. Instead of tapering like a real cone, it tended to stick out of the back of the hood in a long tube, often very long. Although it still looked a lot like the original hood, it was fitted better to the human head. The neck could be cut closer to the skin, since the tailor could create lacing or a pin at the front.

Next, wealthy people began to have a different kind of hose cut to go under their robes, which were still at least knee-length. Woven cloth can be cut at right angles to the threads or at a diagonal, called in sewing, “on the bias.” When woven cloth is cut on a bias, the cloth is more flexible. When some tailor turned his hose pattern 45 degrees and cut out the shape of a leg on a bias line, he created a tube that could bend at the knee. Since it could flex and bend with the leg, the hose could be styled closer to the leg. Instead of baggy breeches and saggy “hose” tied on with laces, a gentleman could wear one close-cut set of wool hose.

Throughout the 13th century, the new style of hose caught on. For a long time, its use was restricted to the very wealthy because it was wasteful of fabric. A square yard of fabric could make several vertical-cut tubes of hose, but perhaps only one leg of one pair of bias-cut hose. There were awkward triangle-shaped scraps left over. Tailors learned how to cut smaller irregular patterns out to make sewn-in feet, and these pieces were surely pieced out of the scraps. But bias cutting is always more wasteful than straight cutting. When cloth was so expensive, poor people could not afford flexible bias hose.

The third innovation was in gloves. Gloves were the ultimate sign of wealth for a long time. Poor men’s hands got chapped, or maybe their wives knitted a pair of mittens—or patched together a pair from scraps of woven blanket. Civil rulers and “princes of the church” wore gloves with fingers. Gloves require careful tailoring to wrap fabric around the odd shape of the hand. They must also be made of very thin material. Oxhide worked for shoes, but for gloves, they needed the leather from does, rabbits, or even chickens.

Gloves made of tougher material along the wrist were used for hawking, the ultimate aristocratic sport. Gloves and hawks were associated as closely as polo and the British royal family. Finer gloves were for indoor use; bishops wore them when they officiated at Mass in the cathedral. When people like bishops needed to wear rings, they put them over the gloves, not under them. The gloves were not for cover as much as for display. Fine indoor gloves were heavily embroidered or even jeweled.

This entry was posted in Clothing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply