Arts » Costume and Sewing » 14th Century English Gentleman's Costume

14th Century English Gentleman's Costume

Catherine de Arc



This outfit is something that might have been worn by a gentleman through much of Western Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century.


The underwear of a gentleman at this time consisted of a shirt and brais. Braies, brais, bracchae, or breeches were the medieval equivalent of underpants. They were what protected your nether regions from your saddle. The shirt is underwear for the body. It protects the outer clothing (which may be difficult to wash) from the body’s sweat and oils and the body from possibly irritating outer fabrics (like wool).

Undergarments required regular washing. Of the three main fabrics of the middle ages (linen, wool, and silk), only linen would stand up to regular washing. It is also less irritating against the skin than wool and a fraction of the price of silk.

Linen does not survive well in the ground and so we have few extant examples. Many of those that do survive have a z spun warp and weft and are about 19-22 threads per cm in a plain tabby weave (Textiles and Clothing). The linen I have used is about 20 threads per cm, which puts it in the middle of the range.


In all of the surviving illuminations I have found that show shirts and brais, they are always white. Linen does not dye as well as wool or silk and all that washing would quickly ruin the colour. On the other hand, linen does bleach well in the sun, and pure snowy white was a colour to aspire to. If you had sufficient room, you could wet your linen and hang it in the sun where the H2O (water) would become H2O2 (peroxide) and whiten your linen.

The pieces were stitched together with silk thread, which was in common use as a sewing thread in this period, especially for visible stitching, though it was also used for seams and hems on all types of fabric (Textiles and Clothing). It was usually a fine 2-ply thread just like mine. Linen thread would have been a more common choice for this purpose due to its lower cost then but these days it is the same price as silk thread and nowhere near as nice to work with.

All of the pieces have a small double folded hem overcast down then the seams are overcast together. This gives a neat strong finish that washes and wears well. The neckline of the shirt is edged with a strip of straight (not bias) cut linen used in a manner similar to modern bias binding. This seems to have been the popular method of finishing such an edge. It is better than modern bias binding because it does not stretch. (Textiles and Clothing)

There are very few surviving shirts from the medieval period. This is an inconvenience, but only a minor one as surviving shirts from the 4th century to the 17th century are all made to basically the same pattern. The pattern pieces are all rectangles and the pattern can be cut from a minimum of fabric with no waste. No waste is important when you have to spin and weave the fabric from scratch. The basic idea is one long rectangle, which goes over the shoulders for the body, two rectangles for sleeves and one small square for each underarm gusset and, if you need more fullness in the hem and have enough fabric, then you can add triangular gores to the sides and/or centre front and back. The Arras shirt was made of fine linen. The Bocksten kirtle is a wool outer tunic but the pattern is basically the same.

The shirts depicted in fourteenth century illuminations were generally hip to thigh length, with or without side splits, with a round, V or keyhole neckline. The sleeves were wrist length with no gathering or cuffs to be seen.

This shirt has a round neckline and side splits. Its shorter length requires no tucking up under the cote. Gores are not necessary for movement and would only add bulk under the fitted cote.

Shirt NeckShirt Sleeve

There are no surviving brais from this period that I know of. This pattern has been reconstructed from looking at period illuminations. It is simply a rectangle of fabric folded in half with the long edge sewn together from each end most of the way to the middle. The unsewn gap becomes the waist and the legs go out through the ends of the tube. If you start with a large piece of linen you will get quite long legs with the sloped hemline you see in 13th century pictures. A smaller piece of cloth leads to shorter legs and less bagginess at the seat. This is the style I have made. The waist is rolled and tucked around a girdle which sits at hip level and the legs are tucked into the hose. The result is effective and comfortable and it eliminates entirely the problem of splitting the crotch seam. It is however less visually appealing than a nice butt in modern tights.



Hose were generally made of wool. Wool is warm and has the stretch needed for this garment. Hose of this period were often made of tabby woven wool (Textiles and Clothing, p190) but at other times twill was more popular, which makes more sense since it is thicker and stretchier. These hose are made of a nice tabby weave wool-blend remnant I found. One survey I have seen of hose colour in illuminations suggests that about 11% of were blue. This was the third most common colour after red and black. (

I used matching silk thread again. The seams were backstitched then the edges were turned away from the seam and sewn down with a running stitch. This is the technique found in the hose excavated from Baynard’s Castle in London and dated to the late 14th century (Textiles and Clothing). I have used this finish a few times and found it quite successful. It is less bulky and therefore more comfortable than more intensive edge finishes. The tops of the hose have a double folded hem which is less common than the single fold hem often used to finish wool but a bit neater and stronger in an area that gets tugged on every time the hose are put on. The “button” that the hose points tie around is a scrap of leftover wool sewn into the point at the top of the hose.

The pattern used for these hose was based on the pattern used for the London hose. Hose of a similar pattern have also been found at Herjolfsnes, Greenland and also date to the 14th century (Herjolfsnes 92 and 93, The London hose were knee high and this pattern has made a lot of pairs of very useful ladies’ hose in Aneala. To make men’s hose I have simply extended the top of the pattern to cover the thigh. From past experience I have found it is necessary to make them a bit longer than you think they need to be and to leave the top quite a bit less pointed than you think it should be. Tying it up is enough to stretch the fabric into a point. Cutting too much point allows the back of the hose to droop too much uncovering the back of the thigh and looking a bit saggy. Like most hose, they are cut on the bias, which provides a better fit but does waste fabric.

The cotehardie was a fashion revolution. For the first time anyone could remember overgarments were cut from more than the minimum number of pieces and the pieces were not all rectangular. Garments were not simply tight, as they had been a century before, they actually fitted. Instead of simply covering the body they were starting to emphasise its shape, and for men, they were getting shorter.


This cotehardie is made from wool cloth. There are a number of surviving pieces of wool cloth from late 14th century London. The vast majority are tabby woven. They usually have a z spun warp and an s spun weft though almost a quarter had an s spun warp and weft as this piece does. It has about 12 threads per cm, which is about average for wool cloth of this period. It is not heavily napped but would still be an example of an average broadcloth. (Textiles and Clothing).

Green was a common colour at this time. The best greens were produced by overdying yellow from weld (or any number of other plants) with blue from woad or indigo. (Textiles and Clothing & nha-Jandria, 1993)

The pieces were stitched together with matching silk thread again.

The facings are linen of a similar weave to that used for the undergarments but this time dyed. In this case the cote will not be washed anywhere near as often as the underwear so the dye is much less impractical. Black was a difficult colour to produce and may have required combining several dyes. Starting with naturally dark wool would also have helped. (Dyestuffs) Green and black were chosen because they are Nathan’s heraldic colours.

The seams should have been sewn with running stitch. There were actually sewn by machine as I have a life and you can’t see them anyway. Machine sewn seams are also stronger, which is important, as Nathan can be rough with his clothes.

The seams are finished by folding the allowances to one side and oversewing them. This is the strongest of the seam finishes used at this time.

The neckline and buttonhole edges were faced with a strip of linen. Silk was also commonly used for this purpose in period.

Cote Neck

The bottom hem is turned only once. This is less bulky in this thick fabric and the oversewing holding the hem up is sufficient to control ravelling in this fabric. This was the hem finish usually used for wool in this period.

The buttons are made from the same wool fabric, cut into small circles with the edges gathered and turned into the centre of the ball. As in the surviving examples they are close together and stitched to the very edge of the cote.
London, second quarter of 14th century (similar examples from late 14th century are less well preserved and did not copy well,) Textiles and Clothing, pp166, 168, 159


The buttonholes are also closer to the edge than you would expect in a modern garment. To prevent them tearing through, the buttonhole edges are reinforced with tablet weaving in black wool. All of these construction techniques are described in Textiles and Clothing.

This garment evolved towards the middle of the fourteenth century, as the older tunic became more fitted and shorter. By around 1350 it was figure hugging from shoulder to thigh. This tight fit meant that the cote could no longer be pulled over the head. Instead it had to be fastened, possibly with lacing, or, if you could afford it, with a row of small buttons down the centre front.

The length of this garment varied with the wearer’s modesty from knee length to mid thigh to crotch length. Its hem was often decorated with dagging (decorative shapes cut into the hem). Scallops, large zig zags and wavy points were popular. Later fantastic leaf shapes were tried, as decoration became more and more ornate.

The sleeves of these cote hardies were usually fitted, although they were occasionally fuller around the upper arm. The sleeves could be full length occasionally extending over the hand. They could also stop just above the elbow to reveal the sleeve underneath.

Cote Sleeve

The neckline, when not covered with the hood, was usually round.

There are some cotes surviving from this period. Their patterns vary considerably, from similar to the tunics of the past (and the current shirts) to the pourpoint of Charles de Blois which is quite radical in its cut. My pattern falls between the two. It is based on Herjolfsnes 63 from Greenland. Greenland is some distance from England but at this time fashions were similar throughout Europe, as can be seen in the pictures at the beginning of this documentation.

It is made in eight panels, with a set in sleeve, which has a small gore at the top to fit the armhole. It is buttoned down the front and up the sleeves to the elbow as seen in contemporary illustrations. I left off the collar the Greenland tunic had as this is not common. I also had a seam from top to bottom of the sleeve rather than around the elbow, as seen in Herjolfsnes no. 33.



Hoods were the most common form of headwear for men in the fourteenth century throughout Western Europe. They are warm, keep the rain off, and provide an area for fashionable display. This hood is made from the same wool as the cote and lined with the same black linen used for facings in the cote and sewn with the same silk thread. Again, the seams were sewn by machine. The lining is understitched by hand to stop it turning out around the face or peeking out through the dagging.
It was quite fashionable to contrast the colour of hood and cote, however there are a number of examples where they match perfectly. While many hoods appear unlined, a contrasting lining to the hood was occasionally seen.

The pattern used for this hood is based on the extant 14th century hoods found in London. These hoods have gores inserted over the shoulder to widen the bottom of the hood and they had liripipes (now missing, so of uncertain length). The liripipes shown in contemporary illuminations vary from non-existent to knee length or even longer. Two of the three were tightly buttoned under the chin. This style was usually worn by women. Men’s hoods usually pulled over the head at this time as Nathan’s does.

The bottom edge of the hood is decorated with the latest craze – dagging. A variety of dag shapes can be found in the second half of the fourteenth century. “Crenellated” dagging like this is quite common, as the pictures on the first page show.


The brais girdle is tablet-woven from leftover green and black wool in a simple double face pattern. This is far more comfortable than a piece of rope. A simple ring has been attached to one end as a buckle. This is less bulky than tying the girdle.

The hose points are lucet-corded from green and black silk thread with small gold decorative aglets attached to the ends.

The shoes are based on extant examples described in Shoes and Pattens and were made by a friend.


The Age of Plantagenet and Valois, Kenneth Fowler (1980) Ferndale Editions, London
Dyestuffs, Compleat Anachronist 41, Gwennis Nha-Jandria (1993)
Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, Stella Mary Newton (2002) Boydell Press, Woodbridge
Manuscript Painting at the Court of France, Francois Avril (1978) George Braziller, New York
Medieval Panorama, Robert Bartlett (ed) (2001) Thames and Hudson, London
Shoes and Pattens, Franci Grew & Margrethe de Neergaard (2002) Museum of London, London
Textiles and Clothing, Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard & Kay Staniland (2001) Museum of London, London