Creating a Fourteenth Century Medieval Gown from Primary Sources.

The Clothing Finds In 1924 Poul Norlund published a book about the discoveries he had made in Greenland. He found a graveyard of people buried around 1350. One of the most amazing parts of this discovery was that much of the clothing they were buried in was almost intact, and could be exhumed and examined. Norlund's book includes scale drawings of the garments, accurate measurements and interesting commentary about how the garments fit in to our conception of fashion history. They are quite similar to what we think of as cotehardies. These are the only extant examples of male and female dress of this period that we have.

See Pictures section:

  • Extant dresses (# 38 and #41 on same page-Norlund) (page 1)
  • Pattern with a drawing of how it should turn out (#41 - T+C) (page 2)
  • #63 that buttons in front. (Norlund) (page 2)

Between 1972 and 1983 there were a variety of excavations around a small area of London, which seemed mainly to be used as a dump. The items uncovered in these digs are the subject of an excellent series of books put out by the Museum of London. The one that is concerned with cloth artifacts, called Textiles and Clothing (T+C), is an exhaustive look at the fragments that were found in these areas. The book provides many clear pictures of the actual pieces, with descriptions of the cloth and stitches.

In 1984 Inga Hagg published a book about some 9th and 10 th century finds at Hedeby (northern Germany). This book is written in a language that I do not understand (German), but it contains some diagrams which have proven very useful.

See Pictures section:

  • Neck facing and button facings (one page of p 160 and Plate 1- T+C) (page 3) Also to

  • Details of cardweaving and the closeup of the button holes (one page of p 41 Nevinson and p 161 T+C)

Why should all of these sources be used in combination? There are a number of similarities in the shape of the garments found in all of these places. The sleeves of the garments found at Hedeby and even more so in Greenland are cut very much like a modern set in sleeve. The lower, fitted half of the sleeves in London are very similar in shape and finish to those in Greenland. Similar types of fabric buttons are found in both Greenland and London. The stitches used in construction of the garments are quite similar in all three digs. Archeological dating puts both the Greenland and London sites at about the middle of the fourteenth century.

Evidence in Manucripts, Effigies, and Statues

Dresses with no buttons, or with only sleeve buttons


Manuscripts from Grande Chroniques de France around 1380

  • Philip I, King of France, surrounded by his Family (fol 182)
  • Charles IV the Fair welcoming his sister, Isabella of France, Queen of England (fol 350)

* * Note that this has men but not women in buttoned tunics. Although the womens' gowns in this manucript are very fitted, there is no sign of where they join, by either buttons or lacing

Half-Buttoned Dresses



Full Button Dresses


  • 1401 Elizabeth
  • 1380 Eva (?) Wales pocket slits
  • 1408 Robert Paris and Wife buttons to the bicep

Laced Front Dress


  • 1380 Thomas Earl of Warwick and his Wife, Catherine de Beauchamp,
              Countess Warwick buttons on sleeve lacedfrontgowns.jpg

Not Just the Nobles:

Carved Writing Tablets

  • 1380 Children playing button sleeves, hoods childrenontablet.jpg


Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry about 1415

  • June Reaping
  • February In the barn

Photocopy Bibliography

Crowfoot, Elizabeth: Pritchard, Francis: and Staniland, Kay.
       Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450. London: HMSO, 1992.

Duby, George
       History of Medieval Art- 980-1440, Rizzoli International Publishers, NY 1986

Gresham, Colin A.
       Medieval Stone Carving in North Wales. University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1968

Hagg, Inga
       Berichte uber die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu. Bericht 20 Neumunster, 1984

Haines, Rev. Herbert
       A Manual of Monumental Brasses, Adams and Dart, Bath, England, This ed. 1970

Martindale, Andrew
       Gothic Art- From The Twelfth to the Fifteeneth Century, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1967

Morris, Richard K.
       Maltwood Art Museum-Brass Rubbings, University of Victoria, Great Britain, 1970

Nevinson, J. L.
       "Buttons and Buttonholes" Costume Magazine 1977 pp 38-44

Noel, Jean-Francois; Jahan, Pierre
       Les Gisants, Paul Morihen, Paris, 1949

Norlund, Poul
       Viking Settlers in Greenland. Cambridge University Press, London. 1936.

Stone, Lawrence
       Sculpture in Britain- The Middle Ages, Penguin Books, Great Britain, 1972

Suffling, Ernest R
       English Church Brasses from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Century, Tabard Press, London, 1970

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