Dress Design: An Account of Costume for Artists and Dressmakers



The female head-dress consisted chiefly of flowing hair banded with a circlet of various shapes, but a development of braiding plaits is found very early, and the hair was probably arranged so before the Roman era. These plaits were generally brought over the shoulder to the front, the hair being parted in the centre, thus making an oval forehead. Various caps began to show originality, and jewels were set in the centre of the forehead on the little crown-like hat, which must have been most becoming. Squares of coloured stuffs were draped over the head and shoulders, sometimes upon white linen squares, and many ladies began to bind the face and head, shutting out the hair, in the 8th century. The kerchief draping is very important to study, because it was the general mode amongst the people.

Heavy collars of ornament and strings of beads, hanging even to the waist, are noticeable features of these centuries, also large ear-rings.

A full cloak, with a large clasp or brooch, opened in front, or was turned to free one shoulder; there was also a long "drape" thrown round over the opposite shoulder or brought picturesquely over the head.

The ecclesiastical form of cloak as described in the male attire was also formed about the 6th century; its graceful line was frequently bordered completely with a band of ornament, and it was clasped just across the breasts.

The complete circular cloak, with a hole for the head, is seen very early, decorated with a pinked edge, which may also be noted on some of the short dresses of the middle classes. Aprons are no doubt of the earliest origin. A loose tunic falling to the hips was girded rather high up the body, as in the classic dress, and bands passing both outside or crossing between the breasts and going over the shoulder came from the same source; these were with, or without, short sleeves to the elbow. A long loose robe was the chief attire to the 6th century, belted rather high in the waist, and caught up with a girdle at the hips; these girdles gave a great interest to the early centuries, with the art of arranging the fullness of skirt into its hold.

Fig. 1.

From the 6th century the dress became closer fitting, and a short bodice is seen; the neck was cut very low, either square or round in shape, and this style had short tight sleeves or tight sleeves to the wrist. The later tunic of the 9th century marked the beginning of the slit-open upper sleeve, and a greater length of the neck opening, which came to be fastened down the front to the waist.

The early skirts (to the 6th century) were hung from the hips, and were often attached to a heavy girdle band, the fullness was gathered mostly at the back and front; other skirts hung from a higher belt and were again caught up in the girdle. A V-shaped neck setting was worn by the Franks, from which probably came the shaped front piece that will interest us in the 13th century. The shoes were similar to the male shapes described later, and the same mode of binding the stockings was sometimes imitated.


In taking the long period from the Roman occupation to the 10th century, we can discover a real development of style in costume, as with the system of vassalage a distinction of class arose. No doubt the Romans introduced a finer tuition of weaving, needlecraft, decoration, and dyeing; and later the various peoples coming from the Continent, when settled under Alfred in the 9th century, produced a solid style of barbaric splendour.

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

The male hair dressing, from the rugged mass of hair, soon became well combed and trimmed square across the neck: ear-rings may still have been in use by some nobles till the 11th century, and chaplets were worn upon the hair. The Saxon beard was divided into two points. Small round tight caps of wool, fur, or velvet, and rush or straw hats of a definite shape were in use to the 10th century. Tight caps, with lappets tied under the chin, and hoods appear on the short capes about the 8th century, or probably earlier. The garment was of the simplest form, cut like a plain square loose shirt to the middle of the thigh, and this was put on over the head. The opening to pass the head through was the first part to receive a band of decoration. The sides were sometimes opened to the hips and the front caught between the legs and held at the waist. A garment opened down the front, and another wrapped across to either shoulder is also seen. A belt girt the waist, and the tunic was pulled loosely over it. This also carried the essential requirements in the shape of a pouch, dagger, knife, comb, sword, &c. The neck was ornamented with chains of bronze, gold, beads, and charms, and up to the 8th century a bronze ornamental armlet was worn, besides a wristlet.

The men of the ruling class from the 8th century were clothed in a long garment of simple shape, falling to the ankle, richly bordered at the hem and neck. This generally had long tight sleeves, and often over this a shorter tunic, reaching just below the knee, sometimes sleeveless, or with rather full sleeves tightening to the wrist.

Fig. 4.

A plain square chasuble shape was in fashion from the 8th century, reaching to the bottom of the calf of the leg, and richer materials began to be used; no belt was passed round this, as it was allowed to fall straight.

Loose breeches were worn from very early times, and a loose trouser to the ankle, being tied there or bound crosswise from the boot sometimes right up the thigh. The same binding was done even with the bare legs and later hose: close-fitting short breeches and cloth hose became a feature in the 10th century, and with the latter an ornamental knee-piece or garter below the knee sometimes finished the strappings.

The cloak was the "grand garment," heavily banded with ornament and fastened with a large clasp on one shoulder, or at the centre of the breast. Long circular cloaks of varying lengths, put on over the head, were much favoured, and when caught up at the sides on either shoulder gave a fine draped effect.

Another cloak of ecclesiastical character, sloping in a curve from the neck and not meeting in front, is seen on many notable figures from the early 8th century, large clasps bridging the width low down on the chest.

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Plate III.—(a) Elizabethan Jump (or Jacket). About 1600. (b) Portrait of a Lady in Embroidered Costume. Between 1620 and 1640.

Fig. 5.—Types of Shoes.
British, Roman, Norman to 13th century.

No doubt the sandal of various forms was much used for footwear through this period, also a simple low shoe which was held on by the leg-strappings, as, about the 8th century, shoes are seen with loops at the upper edge, these being attachments for the binding, and this was no doubt a method from the prehistoric times.

There was also a soft boot reaching to the calf, laced up the front; and, after the 8th century, a rather pointed shoe, open down the instep, laced, tied, or gathered into a buckle about the ankle.

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