Knightly Attire

Knightly Attire: Discover Medieval Men’s Clothes

Embark on a captivating journey back in time, where we delve into the realm of knightly attire and the intriguing world of medieval men’s clothes. This exploration spans the diverse and captivating medieval era, a period stretching from the 5th to the late 15th century. This timeframe witnessed a rich tapestry of sartorial styles that were dictated not only by fashion, but also social status, occupation, and region. Most notably, the wardrobe of knights – the valiant horsemen of the Middle Ages – stands out for its unique blend of function and aesthetics. Read on to discover the nuanced evolution of these styles from the early to late medieval periods, their components, and their lasting influence on modern fashion.

Origins of Medieval Men’s Clothes

Clothing in the medieval era has its roots in both the remnants of the Roman Empire and the influences of the migrating Germanic tribes. This period saw significant shifts in fashion due to various factors, including climate, local resources, cultural changes, and technological advances in textile production.

Early Medieval Period

In the Early Medieval Period, often referred to as the Dark Ages (5th-10th century), the men’s clothing was practical and utilitarian. The primary garment was the ‘tunica,’ a simple, rectangular woolen piece often belted at the waist, accompanied by ‘braccae’ or trousers. Knights during this period donned chainmail over a padded garment for protection, with little variation in design or style. The colors were predominantly earthy and neutral, with bright hues reserved for the elite due to the high cost of natural dyes.

High Medieval Period

Transitioning to the High Medieval Period (11th-13th century), clothing became more sophisticated. The ‘tunica’ or tunic grew longer and looser, with embroidered decoration becoming more common, especially among nobility. Breeches evolved into ‘chausses’ or fitted hose. Knightly attire evolved dramatically, with the introduction of the ‘hauberk’, a longer chainmail tunic, and the ‘surcoat’, a garment worn over the armor, often bearing the knight’s coat of arms. Helmets became more protective and ornate, signifying the wearer’s status and valor.

Late Medieval Period

The Late Medieval Period (14th-15th century) witnessed a Renaissance in clothing styles. The tunic became more fitted, often featuring stylishly slashed sleeves. Men wore ‘hose’ that evolved into a one-piece garment known as ‘joined hose’. For knights, this era marked the arrival of full plate armor, providing better protection and grandeur. The surcoat gave way to the ‘jupon’, a more tailored garment displaying the knight’s heraldic symbols. The evolution of knightly attire in this period reflects the increasing importance of personal heraldry and the knight’s identity on the battlefield and in court.

Key Components of Medieval Men’s Clothes

The defining elements of medieval men’s clothes, including the impressive knightly attire, lay in their simplicity and functionality. Several key garments were present in every medieval man’s wardrobe, and each had its distinct purpose and style.

Tunic and Undertunic

The tunic, often known as ‘tunica’ or ‘cotte’, was the essential base garment. It was usually loose and extended to the knees or lower, with wide sleeves. The undertunic, worn beneath the main tunic, provided additional warmth and comfort, especially when heavy armor or other outer garments were worn. The material and adornment of these tunics varied according to the wearer’s rank and wealth, ranging from rough-spun wool for peasants to richly embroidered silk for nobility.

Surcoat and Cloak

The surcoat was a staple of the knightly attire, worn over the armor to prevent overheating and often displaying the wearer’s heraldic symbols. In the latter part of the Middle Ages, it evolved into the jupon, a more fitted and shorter garment. The cloak, worn over all other clothing, provided additional protection against the weather. It was fastened at the shoulder with a brooch and was essential for travel and outdoor activities.

Breeches and Hosen

Breeches or ‘braccae’ in the early medieval period evolved into ‘chausses’ or hosen in the high and late Middle Ages. These were tight-fitting garments covering the legs and lower torso. By the late medieval period, they were often made in one piece and might be joined to a short doublet to form a garment known as ‘joined hose’.

Accessories: Belts, Hats, and Footwear

Accessories were an integral part of medieval men’s attire. Belts, often elaborately decorated, were used to cinch the tunic at the waist and to carry essential items like knives, purses, and other tools. Hats varied from simple coifs or caps for peasants to decorated hats or hoods for nobility. Footwear consisted of simple leather shoes for most men, though boots were common for knights and other horsemen. Knights would also wear spurs, a metal tool used to direct their steeds. The richness and design of these accessories often indicated the wearer’s social status and wealth.

Styles and Fashion Trends

The Middle Ages witnessed diverse fashion trends and styles, reflecting the socio-economic status and profession of the wearer. These styles varied greatly from the sophisticated courtly fashions to the utilitarian knightly apparel and the simple peasant clothing.

Courtly Fashion

Courtly fashion in the medieval era was defined by richness, refinement, and detail. It was during this time that fashion truly became a tool of differentiation and display of wealth. Noble men wore tunics of rich velvet or silk, often heavily embroidered or trimmed with fur. The use of costly dyed fabrics and exotic accessories were common. The later medieval courtly fashion saw the introduction of doublets, fitted jackets, and the ‘houppelande’, a high-waisted, long flowing gown often lined with fur.

Knightly Apparel

Knightly attire was centered around functionality and protection for battle, but it was also a powerful tool for display. Early knights wore chainmail armor over padded garments. As time progressed, the surcoat was introduced, often displaying the knight’s coat of arms. Late medieval knights wore full plate armor for improved protection, and the surcoat evolved into the more tailored jupon. Knightly attire was not only for battle – knights also had clothing for court and leisure, which mirrored the trends in courtly fashion but with a more martial flair.

Peasant Clothing

Peasant clothing was fundamentally utilitarian, made from readily available materials like wool, linen, or hemp. Men typically wore a simple tunic belted at the waist, breeches or hosen, and a cloak for colder weather. Their accessories were functional, including simple hats, belts, and shoes. Despite their simplicity, peasant clothing has had a significant influence on contemporary fashion, as we will see in the next section.

Influence of Medieval Men’s Clothing Today

The impact of medieval men’s clothing, particularly the knightly attire, extends far beyond the Middle Ages. Elements of medieval fashion continue to inspire contemporary fashion designers, with the dramatic silhouettes, rich fabrics, and intricate detailing often finding their way into modern high fashion. Knightly attire influences the design of performance costumes in film, theatre, and renaissance fairs. The simplicity and functionality of peasant clothing have found their echo in minimalist and sustainable fashion trends. In addition, elements like tunics, surcoats, and cloaks have been adapted into contemporary outerwear designs. Overall, the exploration of medieval men’s clothes offers not only a glimpse into the past but also inspiration for the present and future fashion narratives.

Role of Religion in Medieval Clothing

Religion played a pivotal role in the medieval era, permeating all aspects of life, including clothing. The Catholic Church, being the dominant religious institution, held significant influence over clothing norms. Monastic orders, for example, adhered to strict rules of simplicity, humility, and uniformity in dress. Monks wore a tunic, a cowl or hood, and a scapular for work. High-ranking clergymen wore vestments richly decorated in symbolism and biblical narratives.
Beyond the clergy, religion also influenced lay clothing. During certain religious observances or periods like Lent, specific restrictions applied, such as refraining from wearing jewelry or lavish clothes. Crosses and other religious symbols were commonly featured in accessories and jewelry as expressions of piety.

Clothing Regulations and Sumptuary Laws

Sumptuary laws were regulations that governed consumption, including clothing. These laws were designed to reinforce social hierarchies and norms, ensuring that each class dressed ‘appropriately’ to their rank. For instance, certain colors, fabrics, and embellishments were reserved for nobility. These laws regulated the dress of knights, dictating everything from the fabric of their surcoat to the metal of their spurs.
Breaking these laws was considered a serious offense, leading to penalties that could be financial or involve public humiliation. However, records indicate that these laws were not always strictly adhered to, demonstrating the human desire for individual expression and status elevation.

The Craftsmanship Behind Medieval Attire

The crafting of medieval attire, from basic tunics to complex knightly armor, required a high level of skill and expertise. Tailors, also known as drapers, made most of the everyday clothing. They worked with various materials, from homespun wool and linen to imported silks and furs.
Armorers were highly skilled craftsmen responsible for making and repairing the knight’s armor. This task demanded knowledge of metalwork and leatherwork, and with the transition from chainmail to plate armor, the armorer’s craft became highly specialized and respected.
Footwear was crafted by cordwainers, while hatters made hats, and glovers specialized in gloves. Embroiderers and furriers added decorative elements to the garments. This network of craftsmen, each contributing their expertise, helped create the intricate and layered look that defines our perception of medieval clothing and knightly attire.


Understanding medieval men’s clothing, particularly knightly attire, is akin to piecing together a tapestry of history. These garments, defined by their functionality, social class, religious norms, and legal regulations, provide a window into the past. They allow us to understand the medieval era’s socio-cultural context and everyday life intricacies.
The clothes were more than just a necessity; they were a means of communication, a signal of rank and wealth, an expression of cultural values and personal identity. From the simple tunics of peasants to the opulent courtly fashion, and the functional yet symbolic knightly attire, each garment tells a unique story of its time.
Moreover, the influence of these medieval styles continues to ripple through our contemporary fashion narratives, informing design trends and providing a source of inspiration. Whether it’s the intricate detailing of courtly fashion, the impressive silhouette of knightly armor, or the simplicity of peasant clothing, the echoes of the medieval era continue to resonate.
In our exploration of medieval men’s clothing, we discover the craftsmanship and artistry of the era’s tailors, armorers, and other artisans. Their skillful work, coupled with the rich fabrics and innovative designs of the time, result in a timeless aesthetic that continues to captivate us. This enduring fascination reminds us of the importance of looking to the past to understand the present and inspire the future.
Therefore, whether you are a history enthusiast, fashion devotee, or a curious reader, the world of medieval men’s clothing offers a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. So, step into the world of medieval men’s clothes and explore the vibrant tapestry of history, culture, and fashion that it weaves.