high middle ages fashion

High Middle Ages Fashion: Elegance and Extravagance

The High Middle Ages, spanning from the 11th to the 13th century, was a time of great change and development in Europe. This was a period of significant growth in trade, art, and culture, which had a significant impact on fashion. The fashion of this era was marked by elegance and extravagance, reflecting the wealth and status of the people who wore it.

Medieval clothing was heavily influenced by religion, social hierarchy, and cultural traditions. From the simple clothes of the peasants to the sumptuous gowns of the nobility, fashion played a vital role in defining one’s status in society.

Key Takeaways:

  • The High Middle Ages was a period marked by significant growth in trade, art, and culture.
  • Fashion during this era was characterized by elegance and extravagance, reflecting the wealth and status of the people who wore it.
  • Medieval clothing was heavily influenced by religion, social hierarchy, and cultural traditions.

The Influence of the Church on Fashion

The Church had a significant impact on High Middle Ages fashion, particularly when it came to religious attire and ecclesiastical garments. During this time, members of the clergy were seen as powerful figures in society, and their clothing reflected their status.

Type of Clothing Description
Cassock A long, black garment worn by priests and other members of the clergy. It was typically made from wool or other heavy fabrics and reached down to the ankles.
Alb A white, tunic-like garment worn under the cassock. It was often decorated with embroidery and was made from linen or other lightweight fabrics.
Chasuble A sleeveless outer garment worn over the alb. It was often made from rich fabrics, such as silk or velvet, and featured intricate embroidery or embellishments.

While religious attire was reserved for members of the clergy, its influence on fashion extended to the general population. The popularity of certain fabrics and styles used in ecclesiastical garments often led to their widespread use in secular clothing.

Overall, the Church played a significant role in shaping High Middle Ages fashion, as they were often the trendsetters of the time.

Noble Fashion: Sumptuous Attire for the Elite

During the High Middle Ages, the clothing worn by nobles was a symbol of their wealth and social status. The luxurious fabrics, intricate designs, and vibrant colors of their attire were intended to both impress and intimidate those around them.

Men wore long tunics made of silk or velvet, adorned with jewels and fur trimmings. They paired these with tight trousers and leather boots. Women’s clothing, on the other hand, consisted of long gowns made of expensive fabrics like satin or brocade, often featuring ornate embroidery and beading.

Materials Colors Styles
Noble fabrics like silk, velvet, and brocade Rich, vibrant colors such as deep reds, purples, and golds Tunics, long robes, tight trousers, leather boots
Jewels, fur, and other embellishments Dark colors such as black, navy, and green Long gowns, ornate embroidery, beading

The aristocracy’s attire was designed to impress, but also to restrict movement. They often wore intricate, cumbersome clothing that restricted their ability to move freely, conveying the message that they did not need to engage in physical labor like the lower classes.

The rich and powerful flaunted their wealth and status through their clothing, with royal clothing being the most extravagant of them all. The king’s robes were adorned with gold and precious stones, while the queen’s gowns were made of the finest materials and featured intricate beading and embroidery.

Despite the extravagant clothing, there were strict laws in place to regulate who could wear what. Only those of noble birth were permitted to wear certain fabrics and colors, ensuring that the lower classes could not mimic the fashion of their social superiors.

In conclusion, noble fashion during the High Middle Ages was characterized by its sumptuous materials, vibrant colors, and intricate designs. It was a clear indicator of one’s wealth and social status, with royal clothing being the most extravagant of them all.

Commoners’ Clothing: Practicality and Functionality

The clothing worn by commoners during the High Middle Ages was vastly different from that of the nobility. While the elite class favored extravagant and luxurious fabrics, working-class attire was more practical and functional, suited for their daily tasks.

Peasant clothing was often made from coarse, durable materials such as wool and linen. These fabrics were readily available and affordable, making them the go-to choice for those of lower social status. The garments themselves were simple, consisting of tunics, cloaks, and hoods that were easy to move around in and provided ample protection from the elements.

One notable difference between the clothing worn by commoners and nobles was the use of color. While the upper class flaunted bold and bright colors to showcase their wealth, peasant clothing was typically dull and neutral in tone. This was partly due to the limited availability of dyes and pigments for the working class.

Working-class attire was also reflective of the individual’s profession. Farmers, for example, wore loose-fitting clothing that allowed them to move freely while working on their land. Fishermen wore waterproof garments made from animal hides to protect them from the water.

Despite the practicality of their clothing, commoners still found ways to express themselves through their attire. Embroidery, for example, was a common way to add a personal touch to their otherwise plain clothing. Specific patterns and designs were also associated with certain regions or communities.

In contrast to the lavish attire of the nobility, the working-class clothing of the High Middle Ages served a practical purpose. It was designed to withstand the demands of daily life, while also providing some degree of individual expression.

Fashion Accessories: The Finer Details

Medieval fashion wasn’t just about clothing, but also included a range of accessories to complete the look. From jewelry to headwear, these finer details helped to reflect social status and add a touch of elegance to any outfit.


Jewelry was a popular addition to both men’s and women’s attire during the High Middle Ages. Necklaces, bracelets, and rings were commonly worn, with materials ranging from gold and silver to gems such as rubies and emeralds. These pieces were often highly detailed, with intricate designs depicting animals, flowers, and religious symbols.


Headwear was a crucial element of medieval fashion, as it not only protected the head from the elements but also helped to signify social status or occupation. For example, the coif, a close-fitting cap worn under a helmet, was associated with knights and other warriors, while the wimple, a cloth worn over the head and neck, was typically worn by women of higher social status.

Belts and Purses

Belts were commonly worn during the High Middle Ages, with both men and women using them to cinch their waist and add a decorative touch. Purses were also worn, suspended from a belt or carried by hand. These purses were often highly ornamented, embellished with embroidery or precious stones.

Medieval Fashion for Men and Women

The High Middle Ages saw distinct differences in clothing between men and women. Gender-specific attire was essential in defining societal roles and establishing a person’s identity.

Medieval Fashion for Men Medieval Fashion for Women
Tunics: Men typically wore ankle-length tunics made of wool or linen. The style of the tunic varied depending on social status; those worn by the nobility had tighter-fitting sleeves and were often decorated with embroidery or jewels. Gowns: Women’s gowns were long and flowing, with form-fitting bodices and flared skirts. They were typically made of silk or velvet and were often decorated with ornate embroidery or fur trim.
Hose: Men wore stockings called hose, which were typically made of wool and held up with garters. They were worn with breeches or shorts, which were often made of leather and had a tight fit. Headwear: Women wore a variety of headwear, including veils, hoods, and wimples. These were often made of fine linen or silk and were intricately embroidered or decorated with jewels.
Surcoats: Men often wore surcoats, which were long, loose-fitting garments worn over the tunic. Surcoats were often made of silk or linen and were embroidered with the family crest or other decorative elements. Belts: Women’s gowns were often belted at the waist, which helped to accentuate their curves and create a more defined silhouette. Belts were typically made of leather or silk and were often embroidered or decorated with jewels.

These gender-specific styles were not only functional but also reflected societal norms and values. Additionally, differences in clothing were used to distinguish social classes, with the nobility wearing more elaborate and expensive garments than the working class.

Fabrics and Colors: Reflecting Wealth and Status

One of the defining characteristics of High Middle Ages fashion was the emphasis on luxurious and high-quality fabrics. Many of these materials were imported from other countries, such as silk from Byzantium and cotton from the Islamic world. This allowed for more diverse options and added to the prestige of the wearer.

Textile production was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process during this era. Only the wealthy could afford to commission high-quality fabrics, which were often embellished with intricate embroidery and beadwork. The production of textiles was a significant industry, and many cities had guilds dedicated to the trade.

Fabric Type Significance
Velvet A sign of wealth and status, favored by the nobility
Satin Often used for lining or as a decorative material
Linen A practical choice for working-class attire

Dyeing techniques were also important in reflecting social status. Bright and bold colors, such as red and purple, were expensive and reserved for the elite. Darker, more subdued colors such as green and brown were more common among the working class.

The colors and patterns used in clothing during this era were often symbolic. For example, red was associated with passion, while blue symbolized piety. This added a deeper layer of meaning to the clothing worn by individuals of all social classes.

The use of fabrics and colors was a way for individuals to showcase their wealth and status, and it played a significant role in High Middle Ages fashion.

High Middle Ages Fashion Influences: Eastern and Western Inspirations

High Middle Ages fashion was not limited to the Western regions of Europe. Instead, it was influenced by both Eastern and Western fashion trends. The Byzantine Empire, with its opulence and splendor, had a significant impact on High Middle Ages fashion. Byzantine fashion was characterized by luxurious fabrics, intricate embroidery, and sumptuous styles. It was reflected in the clothing of the elite class in Western Europe, who incorporated similar elements into their attire.

Islamic fashion also influenced High Middle Ages fashion, particularly during the Crusades. The contact between Western Europeans and Muslims in the Holy Land led to a cultural exchange that influenced fashion. Islamic fashion was known for its use of richly colored fabrics, intricate patterns, and elaborate headwear. These elements were adopted by Western Europeans and can be seen in the clothing worn by both nobles and commoners during the High Middle Ages.

The influence of Eastern fashion on High Middle Ages fashion continued into the Late Middle Ages. Italian merchants often traveled to the Eastern Mediterranean and brought back fabrics, designs, and patterns that influenced Western European fashion. These influences can be seen in the clothing worn during the Renaissance period, which was characterized by a blend of Eastern and Western fashion trends.

Fashion Trends and Changes in the Late Middle Ages

As the High Middle Ages gave way to the Late Middle Ages, fashion underwent significant changes. The fashion evolution of this period was influenced by various factors, including economic, political, and societal changes that occurred throughout Europe.

The transition in fashion during the Late Middle Ages reflected the shifting attitudes towards material wealth and social status. The elite class began to move away from extravagance and towards more practical attire, while the common people began to aspire towards more luxurious clothing.

One of the most significant changes in late medieval fashion was the emergence of a more natural and relaxed style. For men, this meant moving away from the tight-fitting garments of the High Middle Ages towards looser, more comfortable clothing. Women, on the other hand, began to reject the restrictive corsets and gowns of the previous era in favor of more flowing and relaxed dresses.

The Late Middle Ages also saw a changing trend in colors and fabrics. The bright and bold hues of the High Middle Ages gave way to more subdued colors, and wool began to replace silk as the preferred fabric of choice.

Another significant change was the emergence of regional fashion styles. As trade and communication between regions became more prevalent, fashion began to reflect the unique cultural influences of different areas, leading to the development of distinct regional styles.

In conclusion, the Late Middle Ages marked a significant shift in the evolution of fashion. As society and culture changed, so did the attitudes towards clothing and style, leading to new trends and fashion statements. The fashion evolution of this era set the stage for further changes in the centuries to come, and remains a fascinating period of study for historians and fashion enthusiasts alike.


High Middle Ages fashion was defined by elegance and extravagance, with the elite class flaunting their wealth through sumptuous attire, while the working-class opted for practical and functional clothing. The Church played a significant role in shaping fashion during this era, with their religious attire influencing the general population. Fabrics and colors reflected wealth and social status, while the finer details of accessories complemented fashion trends.

As the era transitioned into the Late Middle Ages, fashion trends evolved, influenced by both Eastern and Western regions. Through the changes, one thing remained constant: the historical significance of fashion during this time. High Middle Ages fashion provided a glimpse into the social and cultural norms of the period, and even today, it continues to inspire contemporary fashion.

Appreciating Historical Fashion

Looking back on High Middle Ages fashion, it’s easy to see the extravagance and excess of the era. But beyond that, it’s important to appreciate the historical context, the social norms and values, and the influence that fashion had on society. From religious attire to noble sumptuousness to practical peasant clothing, every garment tells a story of its time. And by understanding these stories, we can better appreciate the rich history of fashion and its continued impact on our world today.


Q: What is High Middle Ages fashion?

A: High Middle Ages fashion refers to the clothing and style trends that were prevalent during the period between the 11th and 14th centuries in Europe. It was characterized by elegance, extravagance, and a significant influence from the Church and nobility.

Q: How did the Church influence fashion during the High Middle Ages?

A: The Church had a significant influence on High Middle Ages fashion. Religious figures wore specific types of clothing, such as ecclesiastical garments, which influenced the general population. The Church promoted modesty and dictated certain dress codes.

Q: What kind of clothing did nobles wear during the High Middle Ages?

A: Nobles during the High Middle Ages wore sumptuous attire made from luxurious materials. They favored rich colors, intricate designs, and extravagant accessories. Noble fashion was a display of wealth and status.

Q: How did commoners dress during the High Middle Ages?

A: Commoners during the High Middle Ages dressed for practicality and functionality. Their clothing was simpler and made from cheaper materials. It was designed to suit their daily activities and was less extravagant compared to the clothing of the nobility.

Q: What were some popular fashion accessories during the High Middle Ages?

A: Fashion accessories such as jewelry, belts, and headwear played an important role in High Middle Ages fashion. They added a finishing touch to outfits and complemented the overall look. Jewelry, in particular, was crafted with intricate designs and precious gemstones.

Q: Were there differences in fashion between men and women during the High Middle Ages?

A: Yes, there were differences in attire between men and women during the High Middle Ages. Men typically wore tunics, breeches, and cloaks, while women wore dresses, veils, and head coverings. The styles and designs varied based on gender.

Q: What fabrics and colors were popular during the High Middle Ages?

A: Fabrics such as silk, velvet, and brocade were popular among the nobility during the High Middle Ages. Colors such as deep red, purple, and gold were associated with wealth and social status. The dyeing techniques used were essential in achieving vibrant colors.

Q: What were the influences on High Middle Ages fashion?

A: High Middle Ages fashion drew influences from both the Eastern and Western regions. Byzantine fashion and Islamic fashion had a significant impact on the evolving trends of the era, introducing new styles, patterns, and textiles.

Q: How did fashion change in the Late Middle Ages?

A: Fashion in the Late Middle Ages underwent changes and trends as the era progressed. New styles and garments emerged, reflecting the societal and cultural shifts of the time. Factors such as economic stability and trade influenced fashion evolution.

Q: What is the significance of High Middle Ages fashion?

A: High Middle Ages fashion holds historical importance as it showcases the elegance and extravagance that defined the era. It represents the cultural and societal values of the time and provides insights into the lifestyles of different social classes.