Monday, 9 May 2005

13th century (un)dressing in Castles


Dover Castle, Kent, constructed in the 1180s

The lords and ladies living in the stone castles of the 13th century were a lot cleaner than their Elizabethan counterparts. For one thing, they washed themselves, all over. In fact they used soap, which was then made by boiling mutton fat with ash and caustic soda. They used a special twig to brush their teeth with.

As soon as they had attended to their cleanliness (well, they actually had servants to do the attending part for them), they would go about getting dressed. Men and women wore similar clothes; there were stockings of wool or silk to put on, a shirt with long detachable sleeves, which incidentally had to be stitched on every time the shirt was worn. Once this tedious task had finished, a gown had to be worn over all this and secured with a brooch. Unlike the men, the ladies wore a tight bodice over their gowns. If they were going out and it was cold they would wear a coat, which was very roomy and if the weather was really threatening to freeze their various bits and pieces off, a fur-lined mantle would be worn, also fastened at the shoulder by a brooch. As a matter of fact, in those days your station in society was judged by the length of your garments (poor people wore short clothes). Of course, there is always someone to upset fashion’s apple-cart and Henry II did just that when he decided he preferred wearing short items of clothing. Showing off his good legs perhaps?

Anyway, as there were no pockets, people had to tie draw-string purses on their belts or under their skirts. The leather shoes they wore were extremely fine. An elegant gentleman was the one whose shoes were such a tight fit that nobody could understand how he ever got into them, never-mind how he planned to get out of them at bedtime.

For some strange reason (or perhaps not so strange), only men wore underpants, called braies, while women went about bare bottomed, presumably dreading a windy day…

2 comments:

ilya said...

So what hapenned after the 13th century that made people stop washing up so often?

Alterior said...

That is a very good point, one which I was wondering about last night. I really don't know why they stopped washing. I even read that in the 13th century people had baths every morning in giant wooden tubs! :-)))