Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
September 13th, 2012 by Monica Murgia

Guest Post: Medieval Fashion, Pirates, & the Modern Era

Last year, I taught a History of Costume course.  Prepping for the lectures took a lot of time, since I covered ancient Egypt to modern times.  It was pretty inspiring to brush up on each era of fashion.  In particular, I really enjoyed looking at Medieval fashions.

My reader Mark reached out to me after reading Fashion, Illuminated. He offered today’s post on Medieval Fashions.  Mark is a historian and researcher that writes regularly on Medieval and Renaissance fashions.  While this is his primary focus, he also writes extensively on subculture fashions, including gothic, steampunk, and pirate influences.  Mark maintains the blog on the following fashion sites:

The Middle Ages -
Steam PunkDdressing -

These sites offer period reproductions.  Be sure to check them out!  And thanks, Mark, for today’s post!


The medieval era spanned 1000 years, from 500 AD  to 1500 AD.  This long duration witnessed a number of cultures and lifestyles.  Common people of this era lived a simple lifestyle. So, the medieval clothing styles were very different from those of commoners today. However, many medieval styles have been adopted by the fashion industry during recent times.


Illuminated Manuscript: Medical Treatise with an Ornate Initial and a Peasant Mowing Oats by Aldebrando da Firenze
Illuminated manuscript: Medical Treatise with an Ornate Initial and a Peasant Mowing Oats by Aldebrando da Firenze.   Depics a peasant in Medieval garments.  Image courtesy of  Corbus Images.


It is significant to mention here that fashion did not remain same in all the Middle Ages.  A lot of change occurred from the early Medieval era to late Medieval period. In the early period, people used to wear the simple tunics.  However, the inclination towards flamboyant dresses increased until the late Medieval times.  This extravagance and flamboyancy became more accessible during the Renaissance.

Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius (detail), miniature in a French manuscript of The Consolation of Philosophy attributed to the Coëtivy Master, about 1460–70. Image courtesy of


The trend of woolen clothes was prominent during that period. But, fashion lovers of that era were inspired by the kings and queens.  Gowns, ornate sleeves, tunics, tagos and sandals were some key fashion pieces among the royals as well as the fashion-obsessed commoners.  Fitted tunics were the basic items of clothes. Long and trailing gowns and sleeves were also the basic fashion dresses.  Wide gowns decorated with embroidery were also very prized during that period.

Initial C: The Massacre of the Innocents in a breviary, French, about 1320–25. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, each page 6 9/16 x 4 3/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig IX 2, fol. 142.  Image courtesy of


On the other hand, there was a social class during the medieval age, which was known as peasant class.  The peasants would do the hard labor, so they had no scope of fashion. Such people would wear the simple and practical clothing. But surprisingly, peasant dresses have also become sources of inspiration for fashion in recent times.  Some modern dress elements are added to the basic tunic are added, making them appropriate for the contemporary market.


Illuminated manuscript, fifteenth century. Alexander the Great surveys the ocean submerged in a glass diving bell.  Image courtesy of Cabinet Magazine.


Apart from the above mentioned communities of the society, there was an outlaw community also, which gained the popularity for its fashion trends.  It was the community of pirates, who would rob the treasure ships across the seas.  These people would wear the dress looted from the ships.

Ship at Sea.  Image courtesy of The British Library.


They also had distinct fashion sense.  They would wear dark-colored garments in a disorganized manner.  Today’s pirate fashion is inspired by that clothing combination.  Moreover, the impact of modern dressing styles and the Hollywood styles of the film series like “Pirates of the Caribbean” can also be witnessed on these dresses.



Detail of a miniature of two ships, full of heathen knights.  Image courtesy of The British Library.



The Middle Ages ended in 1500 CE, and Renaissance began. People adopted the ornate dressing styles during this period.  Innovations in garment construction also occurred during this time. Both Medieval and Renaissance costumes have become the major sources of inspiration for present day fashion trends.

Be sure to visit Mark’s sites to see examples of these trends in garments available today.

The middle ages -
Steam punk dressing -


Detail of a miniature of ships being wrecked during a storm at sea. Image courtesy of The British Library.



One Response to “Guest Post: Medieval Fashion, Pirates, & the Modern Era”
  1. william k. byrd says

    well that is really nice monica sincerely yours William k. byrd I love all kinds of art

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