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English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop

English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop
Stephen 1135-1154

By Pauline Weston Thomas for

English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop
Stephen 1135-1154

This costume history information consists of Pages 29 to 45 of the chapter on mid 12th century dress in the era of Stephen 1135-1154 and is taken from English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop.

The 36 page section consists of a text copy of the book ENGLISH COSTUME PAINTED & DESCRIBED BY DION CLAYTON CALTHROP.  Visuals, drawings and painted fashion plates in the book have a charm of their own and are shown amid the text. The book covers both male and female dress history of over 700 years spanning the era 1066-1830. This page is about dress in the 19 year reign of King Stephen 1135-1154.


For the Introduction to this book see this introduction written by Dion Clayton Calthrop.  I have adjusted the images so they are mostly 400 pixels high and can be used for colouring worksheets where pupils add some costume/society facts.
My comments are in italics.


Reigned nineteen years: 1135-1154.
Born 1094. Married, 1124, to Matilda of Boulogne.


When one regards the mass of material in existence showing costume of the tenth and eleventh centuries, it appears curious that so little fabric remains of this particular period.

The few pieces of fabric in existence are so worn and bare that they tell little, whereas pieces of earlier date of English or Norman material are perfect, although thin and delicate.

Illuminated Manuscripts

There are few illuminated manuscripts of the twelfth century, or of the first half of it, and to the few there are all previous historians of costume have gone, so that one is left without choice but to go also to these same books. The possibilities, however, of the manuscripts referred to have not been exhausted, and too much attention has been paid to the queer drawing of the illuminators; so that where they utilized to the full the artistic license, others have sought to pin it down as accurate delineation of the costume of the time. In this I have left out all the supereccentric costumes, fearing that such existed merely in the imagination of the artist, and I have applied myself to the more ordinary and understandable.

As there are such excellent works on armour, I have not touched at all upon the subject, so that we are left but the few simple garments that men wore when they put off their armour, or that the peasant and the merchant habitually wore.

Ladies Pastimes

Ladies occupied their leisure in embroidery and other fine sewing, in consequence of which the borders of tunics, of cloaks, the edgings of sleeves, and bands upon the shoes, were elegantly patterned. The more important the man, the finer his shoes.


Left - The man in the coloured costume plate wears a skin cloak with smooth leather insides and which has a hood attached. His white shirt sleeve is visible beneath his cloak. His ankle gaiters cover the top of his shoes and his face is bearded. With regard to the first paragraph below its important to note that textiles easily perish and disintegrate after a few hundred years unless they are stored in perfect dry or freezing conditions.

As will be seen from the drawings, the man wore his hair long, smoothly parted in the centre, with a lock drawn down the parting from the back of his head. As a rule, the hair curled back naturally, and hung on the shoulders, but sometimes the older fashion of the past reign remained, and the hair was carefully curled in locks and tied with coloured ribbon.

Besides the hood as covering for the head, men wore one or other of the simple caps shown, made of cloth or of fur, or of cloth fur-lined.

The Man's Shirt - 1135-1145

Next to his skin the man of every class wore a shirt of the pattern shown - the selfsame shirt that we wear to day, excepting that the sleeves were made very long and tight-fitting, and were pushed back over the wrist, giving those wrinkles which we notice on all the Bayeux tapestry sleeves, and which we see for many centuries in drawings of the undergarment. The shape has always remained the same; the modes of fastening the shirt differ very slightly - so little, in fact, that a shirt of the fourth century which still remains in existence shows the same button and loop that we notice of the shirts of the twelfth century.


The Medieval Tunic

Man wearing tunic and ankle garters costume mid twelfth century.The richer man had his shirt embroidered round the neck and sometimes at the cuffs. Over this garment the man wore his tunic - of wool, or cloth, or (rarely) of silk; the drawing explains the exact making of it. The tunic, as will be seen, was embroidered at the neck, the cuffs, and round the border.

One drawing shows the most usual of these tunics, while the other drawings will explain the variations from it - either a tight sleeve made long and rolled back, a sleeve made very wide at the cuff and allowed to hang, or a sleeve made so that it fell some way over the hand. It was embroidered inside and out at the cuff, and was turned back to allow free use of the hand.

The C13th Cloak

Over the tunic was worn the cloak, a very simple garment, being a piece of cloth cut in the shape of a semicircle, embroidered on the border or not, according to the purse and position of the owner. Sometimes a piece was cut out to fit the neck.

Another form of cloak was worn with a hood. This was generally used for travelling, or worn by such people as shepherds. It was made for the richer folk of fine cloth, fur-lined, or entirely of fur, and for the poorer people of skin or wool.

The cloak was fastened by a brooch, and was pinned in the centre or on either shoulder, most generally on the right; or it was pushed through a ring sewn on to the right side of the neck of the cloak.

The brooches were practically the same as those worn in the earlier reigns, or were occasionally of a pure Roman design.

As will be seen in the small diagrams of men wearing the clothes of the day, the tunic, the shirt, and the cloak were worn according to the season, and many drawings in the MSS. of the date show men wearing the shirt alone.

Mid C12Th men wearing the clothes of the day, the tunic, the shirt, and the cloak.


Trousers, Hosiery & Footwear

On their legs men wore trousers of leather for riding, bound round with leather thongs, and trousers of wool also, bound with coloured straps of wool or cloth.

Stockings of wool were C12th Century Costume of a Manworn, and cloth stockings also, and socks. There was a sock without a foot, jewelled or embroidered round the top, which was worn over the stocking and over the top of the boot in the manner of ankle gaiters.

The country man wore twists of straw round his calf and ankle.

For the feet there were several varieties of boots and shoes made of leather and stout cloth, now and again with wooden soles. As has been said before, the important people rejoiced in elegant footgear of all colours. All the shoes buttoned with one button above the outside ankle.

Boots - 1100

The boots were sometimes tall, reaching to the bottom of the calf of the leg, and were rolled over, showing a coloured lining. Sometimes they were loose and wrinkled over the ankle. They were both, boot and shoe, made to fit the foot; for in this reign nearly all the extravagances of the previous reign had died out, and it is rare to find drawings or mention of long shoes stuffed with tow or wool.

During the reign of Stephen the nation was too occupied in wars and battles to indulge in excessive finery, and few arts flourished, although useful improvements occurred in the crafts.


Champlevé Enamel

There is in the British Museum a fine enamelled plate of this date which is a representation of Henry of Blois, Stephen's brother, who was the Bishop of Winchester. Part of the inscription, translated by Mr. Franks, says that 'Art is above gold and gems,' and that 'Henry, while living, gives gifts of brass to God.'

Champlevé enamel was very finely made in the twelfth century, and many beautiful examples remain, notably a plaque which was placed on the column at the foot of which Geoffrey Plantagenet was buried. It is a portrait of him, and shows the Byzantine influence still over the French style.

This may appear to be rather apart from costume, but it leads one to suppose that the ornaments of the time may have been frequently executed in enamel or in brass - such ornaments as rings and brooches.

Colours in C12th Clothing

It is hard to say anything definite about the colours of the dresses at this time. All that we can say is that the poorer classes were clothed principally in self-coloured garments, and that the dyes used for the clothes of the nobles were of very brilliant hues. But a street scene would be more occupied by the colour of armour. One would have seen a knight and men-at-arms - the knight in his plain armour and the men in leather and steel; a few merchants in coloured cloaks, and the common crowd in brownish-yellow clothes with occasional bands of colour encircling their waists.

The more simply the people are represented, the more truthful will be the picture or presentation. Few pictures of this exact time are painted, and few stories are written about it, but this will give all the information necessary to produce any picture or stage-play, or to illustrate any story.

The garments are perfectly easy to cut out and make. In order to prove this I have had them made from the bare outlines given here, without any trouble.


Lady in robe with long sleeves. Costume of the 12th century.Though many parts of England were at this time being harassed by wars, still the domestic element grew and flourished.

The homes of the English from being bare and rude began to know the delights of embroidery and weaving. The workroom of the ladies was the most civilized part of the castle, and the effect of the Norman invasion of foreign fashions was beginning to be felt.

As the knights were away to their fighting, so were the knights' ladies engaged in sewing sleeve embroideries, placing of pearls upon shoes, making silk cases for their hair, and otherwise stitching, cutting, and contriving against the return of their lords.

It is recorded that Matilda escaped from Oxford by a postern in a white dress, and no doubt her women sympathizers made much of white for dresses.

Medieval Sherte Or Camise

The ladies wore a simple undergarment of thin material called a sherte or camise; this was bordered with some slight embroidery, and had tightish long sleeves pushed back over the wrist. The garment fell well on to the ground. This camise was worn by all classes.

The upper garment was one of three kinds: made from the neck to below the breast, including the sleeves of soft material; from the breast to the hips it was made of some elastic material, as knitted wool or thin cloth, stiffened by criss-cross bands of cloth, and was fitted to the figure and laced up the back; the lower part was made of the same material as the sleeves and bust.

The second was made tight-fitting in the body and bust, all of one elastic material, and the skirt of loose thin stuff.

The third was a loose tunic reaching half-way between the knees and feet, showing the camise, and tied about the waist and hips by a long girdle.

Medieval Sleeves

Colour Costume Plate - A WOMAN OF THE TIME OF STEPHEN (1135-1154)The sleeves of these garments showed as many variations as those of the men, but with the poor folk they were short and useful, and with the rich they went to extreme length, and were often knotted to prevent them from trailing on the ground.

The collar and the borders of the sleeves were enriched with embroidery in simple designs.

In the case of the loose upper garment the border was also embroidered.

In winter a cloak of the same shape as was worn by the men was used - i.e., cut exactly semicircular, with embroidered edges.

The shoes of the ladies were fitted to the foot in no extravagant shape, and were sewn with bands of pearls or embroidery. The poorer folk went about barefoot.


Right - The woman in the costume plate wears a dress that has been made form fitting to her figure by lacing at the back. The dress has extra long sleeves and these have been tied up to keep them from trailing the ground.  She holds a green wimple in her hands and she was able to use that to cover up her luxuriant braided hair. The plaited braids are are fastened at the end into silken cases.

Below Left - Cases for the Hair

C12th Hair
Cases for the Hair
C12th Hair - Cases For Hair.

The hair was a matter of great moment and most carefully treated; it was parted in the centre and then plaited, sometimes intertwined with coloured ribbands or twists of thin coloured material; it was added to in length by artificial hair, and was tied up in a number of ways.

Silk Hair Cases

Either it was placed in a tight silk case, like an umbrella case, which came about half-way up the plait from the bottom, and had little tassels depending from it, or the hair was added to till it reached nearly to the feet, and was bound round with ribbands, the ends having little gold or silver pendants. The hair hung, as a rule, down the front on either side of the face, or occasionally behind down the back, as was the case when the wimple was worn.

When the ladies went travelling or out riding they rode astride like men, and wore the ordinary common-hooded cloak.

Brooches for the tunic and rings for the fingers were common among the wealthy.

The plait was introduced into the architecture of the time, as is shown by a Norman moulding at Durham.

Compared with the Saxon ladies, these ladies of Stephen's time were elegantly attired; compared with the Plantagenet ladies, they were dressed in the simplest of costumes. No doubt there were, as in all ages, women who gave all their body and soul to clothes, who wore sleeves twice the length of anyone else, who had more elaborate plaits and more highly ornamented shoes; but, taking the period as a whole, the clothes of both sexes were plainer than in any other period of English history.

Ladies Costume - Time of King Stephen 1135-1154. A.D.One must remember that when the Normans came into the country the gentlemen among the Saxons had already borrowed the fashions prevalent in France, but that the ladies still kept in the main to simple clothes; indeed, it was the man who strutted to woo clad in all the fopperies of his time - to win the simple woman who toiled and span to deck her lord in extravagant embroideries.


The learning of the country was shared by the ladies and the clergy, and the influence of Osburgha, the mother of Alfred, and Editha, the wife of Edward the Confessor, was paramount among the noble ladies of the country.


The energy of the clergy in this reign was more directed to building and the branches of architecture than to the more studious and sedentary works of illumination and writing, so that the sources from which we gather information with regard to the costume in England are few, and also peculiar, as the drawing of this date was, although careful, extremely archaic.

Picture the market-town on a market day when the serfs were waiting to buy at the stalls until the buyers from the abbey and the castle had had their pick of the fish and the meat. The lady's steward and the Father-Procurator bought carefully for their establishments, talking meanwhile of the annual catch of eels for the abbey.

Picture Robese, the mother of Thomas, the son of Gilbert Becket, weighing the boy Thomas each year on his birthday, and giving his weight in money, clothes, and provisions to the poor. She was a type of the devout housewife of her day, and the wife of a wealthy trader.

Duties of Ladies

The barons were fortifying their castles, and the duties of their ladies were homely and domestic. They provided the food for men-at-arms, the followers, and for their husbands; saw that simples were ready with bandages against wounds and sickness; looked, no doubt, to provisions in case of siege; sewed with their maidens in a vestiary or workroom, and dressed as best they could for their position.

What they must have heard and seen was enough to turn them from the altar of fashion to works of compassion. Their houses contained dreadful prisons and dungeons, where men were put upon rachentegs, and fastened to these beams so that they were unable to sit, lie, or sleep, but must starve. From their windows in the towers the ladies could see men dragged, prisoners, up to the castle walls, through the hall, up the staircase, and cast, perhaps past their very eyes, from the tower to the moat below.

Such times and sights were not likely to foster proud millinery or dainty ways, despite of which innate vanity ran to ribbands in the hair, monstrous sleeves, jewelled shoes, and tight waists. The tiring women were not overworked until a later period, when the hair would take hours to dress, and the dresses months to embroider.

Merchant's Wives

In the town about the castle the merchants' wives wore simple homespun clothes of the same form as their ladies. The serfs wore plain smocks loose over the camise and tied about the waist, and in the bitter cold weather skins of sheep and wolves unlined and but roughly dressed.

In 1154 the Treaty of Wallingford brought many of the evils to an end, and Stephen was officially recognised as King, making Henry his heir. Before the year was out Stephen died.

I have not touched on ecclesiastical costume because there are so many excellent and complete works upon such dress, but I may say that it was above all civil dress most rich and magnificent.

I have given this slight picture of the time in order to show a reason for the simplicity of the dress, and to show how, enclosed in their walls, the clergy were increasing in riches and in learning; how, despite the disorders of war, the internal peace of the towns and hamlets was growing, with craft gilds and merchant gilds. The lords and barons fighting their battles knew little of the bond of strength that was growing up in these primitive labour unions; but the lady in her bower, in closer touch with the people, receiving visits from foreign merchants and pedlars with rare goods to sell or barter, saw how, underlying the miseries of bloodshed and disaster, the land began to bloom and prosper, to grow out of the rough place it had been into the fair place of market-town and garden it was to be.

Meanwhile London's thirteen conventual establishments were added to by another, the Priory of St. Bartholomew, raised by Rahere, the King's minstrel.


Reigned nineteen years: 1135-1154.
Born 1094. Married, 1124, to Matilda of Boulogne.

This costume history information consists of Pages 29 to 45 of the chapter on 12th century dress in the era of Stephen 1135-1154 and taken from English Costume by Dion Clayton Calthrop.

The 36 page section consists of a text copy of the book ENGLISH COSTUME PAINTED & DESCRIBED BY DION CLAYTON CALTHROP.  Visuals, drawings and painted fashion plates in the book have a charm of their own and are shown amid the text. The book covers both male and female dress history of over 700 years spanning the era 1066-1830. This page is about dress in the 19 year reign of King Stephen 1135-1154.

For the Introduction to this book see this introduction written by Dion Clayton Calthrop.  I have adjusted the images so they are mostly 400 pixels high and can be used for colouring worksheets where pupils add some costume/society facts.
My comments are in italics.

You have been reading English Costume History at © from the chapter on King Stephen 1135-1154, from Dion Clayton Calthrop's book English Costume.


Page Added 5 August 2010 Ref:-P786

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