Page 1 of 1

The evolution of tunics to doublets and related issues

Posted: Wed Sep 28, 2005 6:10 pm
by guthrie
I have a few questions and observations with regard to the evolution of tunics into doublets and other related upper body male attire. It has been sparked by reading books suchas the "the medieval tailors assistant" and my own observations of period pictures, as well as any other sources which present themselves.

Some people and kit guides suggest that tunics should have enough material to be gathered loosely over the belt. I have seen this in some illustrations from the 13th century, but not necesarily in others, including soem from the early 14th. Thursfield says that early cotes (I shall use tunic generally, since I assume they are basically the same garment) had their sleeves turned back at the wrist. I have since seen this in the MAcziojowski [sic] Bible, but i have also not observed this in some other English pictures from the 13th century. I can think of two ways to explain the differences I have outlined- one is that there were regional changes and fashions, and the other that perhaps the figures in the pictures were frequently wearing some kind of supertunic which has covered up the evidence for what i am looking for.
(Then of course the artist could be making it up)

A plea to those of you who might think of bringing out a book with period pictures- please always give the date and reference of the picture. Even if all you want it for is to illustrate some craft/ sword/ famous person, the other information in the picture in terms of clothes and such are of interest to such people as myself.

Posted: Wed Sep 28, 2005 11:23 pm
by Drachelis
If there is pictorial evidence then it would probably be correct.

My bug bear is that the medieval individual did not wear uniform clothes ( unlike some of the re-enactors I have seen) there must have been loads of varations on each garment - different trimmings, different necklines, waistlines, sleeves etc etc - and probably most people who were not at court were a good few years behind them - they didn't have fashion magazines and the like .

I would think a variation on a cuff might be one of the little individualities that folk would have created.

They were not under the rule of Chairman Mao and all wearing exactly the same.

Another reason for little differences was the fact that if a garment was good and serviceable it was worn and not discarded because it wasn't the latest fashion - and they would have been repaired and reworked time and time again until they wore out.!

I can even remember back to my own childhood when false hems were put on trousers to lengthen them and mend fraying - cuffs and collars were turned - hey! even bed sheets were turned edges to middle to put the worn parts to the edge. She also used to cut down her dresses to make stuff for me.

The up to the minute fashion culture has only developed over the past 40 years.

Little differences created individuality

Shadowlight Designs.

Posted: Sat Oct 01, 2005 9:38 pm
by guthrie
Its that individuality I think I am trying to get a handle on. Pictures only show so much, outer garments and not the under garments, etc.

Does anyone have any idea how long a good piece of clothing could last? I imagine a pair of hose would be pretty far gone in a year, but a doublet could last 2 or 3, or even longer with patching etc. Bearing in mind that the cloth was of pretty good quality and would wear differently; how much differently I do not know, I'm not a fabric geek.

Then, apparently doublets were close fitting by the end of the 14th century, and into the 15th. Dave Rushworths wee booklet for then has a picture of bits of a close fitting doublet, though he doesnt make it clear where it came from. By comparison Thursfield has a simpler patter, which is fair enough to get people started, but somehow I wonder what else was done.

Maybe I'm just getting greedy, I want a book or two that has loads of pictures, with diagrams of surviving examples of period clothing, laid out in chronological order, so that the progression can be studied, as well as local variations and the differences between pictures and reality.

Posted: Sat Oct 01, 2005 11:14 pm
by Drachelis
I would think that clothing would last far more than two or three years - think of grandpa's demob suit -restyled a few times but still going strong. I have coats and jackets in my wardrobe ( classic styling) that are 10 to 15 years old - Ming has suits ( well suit jakets cos he sits on his foot and wears the seat out of the trousers)that are 10 years old.

Most drawings and paintings show folk in "posh frocks" one would want to look ones best in a portrait so everyday wear is less recorded - also one would not pose in ones underwear and therefore it is difficult to source underpinnings.

I think we have to get into a medieval mindset - which is not much differetn from us today - folk were just as ingenious and had just as many bright ideas ( within their technology) - I tend to work with gut feeling of what fits rather than believing that the only garments available are shown in books an nothing that doesn't appear in them isn't kosher.

Materials and fabrics being correct is more important - lycra and plyester weren't invented.

Shadowlight Designs

Posted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 6:26 pm
by nutmeg_bec
I have a friend who worked full time in re-enactments up until a few years ago, and his doublet (tunic/etc) is still going strong after 25 years(!) Though, it has neded repairing a few times over :lol:

Posted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:51 am
by Gwen
I think some of your question guthrie, can be answered by the status of the person in question.

In the 15th C. (which is mostly what I know about), there was a thriving trade in used clothing. Clothes were sold and resold down the line, so those at the bottom and poorest would be buying the most tattered and out of date.

On the other end of the scale would be someone like Edward IV, who -according to his tailor's bills and inventory- seems to have ordered a new wardrobe every season!

"February 1472 was George's [Lovekyn, yeoman tailor, suppier of clothing to Edward IV] heaviest working month: he suppied 13 doublets, 13 gowns, 2 jackets, a cloak and a brigandine, and these, apparently, lasted Edward until August." (Order and Fashion in Clothes: The King, his Household, and the City of London at the end of the Fifteenth Century" Anne Sutton, Textile History 22, 253-276, 1991)


Posted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 8:36 am
by guthrie
13 doublets lasted until August, yet one now can last for 35 years?
INteresting information, thanks everyone.

Posted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 8:41 am
by Gail Horn
Oh, they just don't make things to last any more - I was, until I expanded out of it, wearing one of my grandfather's old shirts, still with the original buttons, and he's been gone for more than 40 years! It's lovely material, too.

Posted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:44 pm
by Gwen
guthrie I think the point is that those who can afford to do so buy new clothes frequently to keep up with current fashion, to have something new to wear, etc. I'd be hard pressed to believe that Edward could have possibly worn out 13 doublets in 6 months, any more than Tony Blair could wear out 13 suit jackets in the same amount of time.

These days famous/rich people seldom are seen in the same outfit twice, and given the above numbers I suspect it was a similar thing 500 years ago. Someone lower on the food chain probably did wear their clothes for years and years, regardless of current fashion. That happens today, look at Drachelis' classic coats and jackets.

I think a strong argument could be made for a certain amount of uniformity in the clothing of fashionable individuals and groups. Especially within a rich household, the retainers would be wearing what might amount to a "uniform" of sorts. Since that's the sort of person most reenactors are portraying, it's not suprising to see that level of uniformity in attire.

Uniformity in dress isn't really such a novel or outrageous idea- we all tend to dress pretty much like the crowd we associate with, be it bankers in suits or punkers in spikes and torn hosery.

Medieval people didn't have fashion magazines per se, but that doesn't mean they lived in a vacuum. With a letter able to go from London to York in 3 days, and a letter from the Continent taking less than 3 weeks, fashion did not stagnate.

"The late 1450's and 1460s witnessed a marked fashion change and caused such a furor that a variety of commentators rushed to put their thoughts into writing.

'In this year [1467] ladies and young gentlewomen put aside the trains they wore on their gowns, and instead wore borders on their gowns of grey, lettice and marten, of velvet and other fabrics, as wide and as valuable as they could afford velours de hault or more....And at this time also the men took to wearing clothes shorter than they had ever done, to such a degree that one could see the shape of their buttocks and genitals, in the same way as people usually dress monkeys...'

(Excerpt from 'Dress and Fashions', by Anne Sutton, taken from Daily Life in the Late Middle Ages, Edited by Richard Britnell, ISBN 0-7509-1587-0)

This last is a really wonderful resource to answer some of the questions you're asking, and should be available through any library. if you're a book buyer, my copy says it set me back about £20, and I think worth every penny.

Another wonderful resource is The Visual History Of Costume by Valerie Cumming & Aileen Ribeiro ( 0896762211). This book will get you about as close as you could want to an evolutionary timeline of clothing. It reproduces period visual sources in short time intervals, allowing you to really see the evolution of things such as tunics into doublets.


Posted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 10:56 pm
by guthrie
Thanks gwen. I shall have a look for those books.


Posted: Wed May 04, 2011 1:23 pm
by jazzey
guthrie wrote:Thanks gwen. I shall have a look for those books.
Yeah I'm trying to get them made actually. I'm not really that big on the trends.. :drunk:

Re: The evolution of tunics to doublets and related issues

Posted: Thu May 05, 2011 1:01 pm
by Colin Middleton
The figures for durability that I've encountered sugest that hosen would be replaced every 6 months or so (and shoes the same), coats possibly annually (though you're more likley to have several coats to choose from) and doublets should last about 24 months.

That said, clothes were often handed down (the steward gets the lord's cast off, the yeoman gets the steward's cast off, and so on), so they may actually see those 'life-spans' for 3 or 4 people, before being too worn out to use anymore.

There are also references to the refurbishing of clothes (particularly coats, where the surface of the wool is restored every now and then), which probably extends the life considerably.

On the subject of fashion change, remember that there are only so many ways to cover a person. We are, after all dealing with the same fabrics and the same body shapes, so our options are limited. Also, the fashionable shillouette is likely to travel widely, further reduicing the way that clothes are shaped (i.e. if the King's wearing short gowns with a narrow waist, everyone with money will want that shape for the next few years), which will then be interpreted by the local tailors to give variations in the details, while retaining the same general look.

Best wishes