The change from ancient to medieval costume began (c.400) with the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Roman attire, which had previously assimilated the elaborate features of Byzantine dress, was gradually affected by the austere costume of the barbaric invader. Both men and women wore a double tunic; the under tunic, or chemise, had long tight sleeves (a feature that remained until the 17th cent.) and a high neck; the girded wool overtunic, or robe, often had loose sleeves. A mantle, or indoor cloak, was also worn.
After 1200 a great variety of fine fabrics from the East were available as a result of the Crusades, and the elegant dress of feudal Europe was evolved. With the introduction of various ways of cutting the basic garment, fashion, or style, began. A long, girded tunic, then called the cote or cotte, continued to be worn over the chemise by both men and women; a surcote (sleeveless and with wide armholes) was often worn over it. At this time family crests, or coats of arms (see blazonry; heraldry; crest), became popular, and particolored garments came into vogue.
Proper fit was increasingly emphasized, and by 1300 tailoring had become important and buttons had become useful as well as ornamental. The belted cote-hardie, with a close-fitting body and short skirt, was worn over a tighter, long-sleeved doublet and a chemise. And, as men's legs were now exposed, hose were emphasized. The introduction (c.1350) of the houppelande, or overcoat, marked the first real appearance of the collar. Over a chemise and corset women wore a gown with a V neck and a long, flowing train; the front of the skirt was often tucked into the high-waisted belt. In its extreme, the style of the period was typified by profuse dagging (scalloped edges), exaggerated, hanging sleeves, pointed slippers, and fantastic headdresses (see headdress and veil).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.