Medieval manuscripts blog

20 February 2016

Fashion Goes Medieval

Are you sure

King Priam of Troy sends his son, Paris, to Greece. Grand Chroniques de France, Paris, c. 1320-30, Royal MS 16 G VI, vol. 1, f. 4v


London Fashion Week has begun and to celebrate we at the British Library have decided to offer some historically informed opinions on what we’d like to see for A/W ’16.

Fashion is not immune to the charms of the medieval world. Fashionistas will recall the Byzantine-inspired textures and tinctures of Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall ’13 Ready to Wear show. We feel there is great potential in the marriage of fashion and medieval culture. 

Here’s a run-down of some looks we want to see next season.

  1. The Wimple

It hasn’t been on-trend since c.1550, but we think it’s time it made a come-back. Team with killer heels for maximum impact.

Wimple 2

Detail from La Somme le roy, France, late 13th century, Add MS 28162, f. 9v

A scalloped hem will give your wimple a more relaxed feel. Perfect for a first date.


Detail from a historiated initial, Israelites consulting the Lord, from a Bible, England, ?London, c. 1400-25, Royal 1 E IX, f. 56v  


  1. Statement Headpieces

The fascinator has had its day. Millinery needs to get theatrical.

   Statement head

Detail of the queen of Macedon and her ladies from ‘Histoire d’Alexandre le Grande', Paris, late 1420s, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 7r

Experiment with diaphanous fabrics for an improbable, wind-defying look.


Jean de Courcy is led form the Forest of Temptation by the Seven Virtues from 'Chemin de vaillance', Bruges, Master of the White Inscriptions, late 1470s, Royal MS 14 E II, f. 194r

Offset a linear silhouette with head-wear more suited to bee-keeping. 


Lady out hunting, Alphonso Psalter, England, c. 1281-4, Add MS 24686, f. 13v

Even a monochrome outfit can be made to stand out with some serious underpinning.   

Christine louis

Detail of Christine de Pizan presenting her work to Louis of Orléans from 'The Collected Works of Christine de Pizan', Paris c. 1415, Harley MS 4431, f.95r

    3. Upsized Outfits

Outfits? The attire of one person? It’s starting to look at bit dated. We want to see clothing put together with an eye for a person’s surroundings. For example, stockings should be matched to the robes of nearby bishops.


The Coronation Book of Charles V of France, Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V, Paris, 1365, Cotton Tiberius B VIII f. 48r

Or your horse.


Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, being assisted by his wife and daughter-in-law, The Luttrell Psalter, Northern England (Diocese of Lincoln), c. 1325-50, Add MS 42130, f. 202v

 4. The Bocking

We’re calling it the Bocking. It’s the stocking-boot. The shoe-boot (shoot) was big on the high street last year, but this year we want it to be all about the continuous sharp-toed stocking-boot.

The longer the toe, the better. Preferably so long, your shoe extends into the personal space of people nearby or over the lip of an image frame. 


                                 Bocking 3   

(Left) Le Songe du vergier, Paris , Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, c. 1378, Royal MS 19C IV, f 1v

(Right) Detail, Philippe de Mézières presenting his treatise to Richard II of England. Philippe de Mézières, 'Epistre au roi Richart', France, 1395-6, Royal MS 20 B VI, f.2


5. Beards: Bigstyle.

The hipster beard is big right now, but it can be bigger. Think beard meets onesie.



A Wildman (Wodewose) from the Genealogy of the Infante Dom Fernando of Portugal, Lisbon and Bruges, Antonio de Holanda and Simon Bening, 1530-4, Add MS 12531 f. 1

~ Mary Wellesley


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Wonderful! Who says librarians don't have a sense of humour?

A fun post.
Just one point--the lady in the illustration of La Somme le roy is not wearing a wimple.
The white strap around her chin is a barbette.
The scalloped strip of fabric around her head is a fillet.
The white cap next to her head is most likely a St. Birgitta's coif (the surviving example is said to have belonged to St. Birgitta of Sweden).
This head gear indicates a married woman.
And yes, I do far too much thirteenth century reenactment.

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