(is more complicated than you’d think)
I was revising a scene in an Edward Red Mage novel the other day (when am I not?). Suddenly, I realized that although it might make perfect sense to me for Eddie to choose his headwear to use as an emergency tourniquet, if a reader’s never seen a medieval hood before, they might be a bit confused. So I decided to give a bit of a primer on the clothing worn by men in my fictional world (clothes worn by women and elves would be at least two more posts).
To begin with, it’s mainly based on European clothing from the late 14th and early 15th Centuries. I happily take liberties with “authenticity” on occasion —I’m writing fantasy, not historical fiction—but all in all, I like to describe clothes that make sense within my culture. Jeans and a T-shirt, or even pants with pockets, would not exist. Zippers are, as they say, right out. As are elastic waistbands, though I’m sure Edward would appreciate them.
So, on to dressing my wizard: You have to start with underwear. Yes, there were underpants in the middle ages, and yes, they exist in my books. Some are basically a linen “diaper” on a drawstring (ancient tighty-whities); others are more like a sort of baggy-seated mid-thigh length pants, also with a drawstring. I refer to these as “breeches” and “slops,” respectively. I envision Eddie as preferring the latter. Yep, he’s a boxer guy. Now you know. Whether you wanted to or not. Underwear also includes a shirt, which would be loose, long-sleeved, and made of either linen or silk, depending on your budget. Eddie’s are linen. In Cloak of Obscurity, the fact that Eddie’s cousin can afford to loan him a silk shirt is a cause for great envy and resentment. Men also wear socks, which would be hand knit from wool, or, if you are very rich, silk. I doubt Eddie’s ever seen a silk sock at the time the series opens.
Shirts, socks, and underpants are the only parts of his wardrobe that Eddie would have more than two or three of, and would change every day. He’d also sleep in them, unless, of course, he was too drunk to get undressed before passing out (or he was spending the night with another “fixer-upper” of a fallen woman, in which case . . . ). But these being underwear, he wouldn’t go out in public in just them. He wouldn’t leave the house without a “coat,” which, to modern eyes, would look a lot like a dress. The length of a coat varies from floor length to just barely butt length, depending on the age and vanity of the wearer. Eddie, being young and socially awkward, wears his at about mid-thigh, long enough to cover his slops, but not so long as to make him look like an old fart. They also vary in design. Some are form-fitted and fasten with buttons. Those are fashionable with young men, and Eddie does have a couple of them, but considering his fondness for beer (and bread, and sausage, and fried food, and pretty much anything he can eat/drink), they aren’t a very practical choice. His favorite coat is one that’s loose cut, with long, loose, decorative sleeves. He wears it until it’s too filthy to stand.
With the coat he’d wear “hose,” which are more like leggings (being footless) than pantyhose (which are of the Devil). Medieval-style hose are cut on the bias from woven fabric, and are two separate legs, sometimes in two different colors, hanging from a drawstring. Please bear in mind that men’s clothes medievally, and in my novels as well, were and are a lot more colorful than modern men’s wear—if you can afford to buy dyed fabric. Eddie wastes a lot of money on things like clothes in multiple colors, with dangling ornamented sleeves and metal buttons. What can I say, he’s as tacky as I am. He also blows a vast sum, at the beginning of Cloak, on a pair of knee-high button up leather boots. These are definitely a more fantasy than historic item. This is where I do my “I’m the author, nyah-nyah!” dance. I like fantasy boots. Besides, they’re a plot point.
Outerwear consists of cloaks and hoods. The “cloak of obscurity” mentioned in the first book was a floor length (well, on Eddie it was mid-calf, because he’s unusually tall) cloak of gray wool with the hood attached. Later in the series, he wears a bright royal blue cloak, and a separate hood. Medieval hoods were highly ornamental, and I love them. I have one I made for myself, which has a little cape that goes out just across my shoulders, and a long tail of fabric coming off the tip of the actual hood, ending in a tassel. The tail is wrapped around my head to hold the hood in place while I wear it. I figure Eddie could use the tail of his hood as a tourniquet, but I’m not explaining why just yet. Wait until my fourth book comes out.
(If you’re more of a visual person, and these descriptions still make no sense, just Google 14th / 15th Century Medieval Manuscripts. In amongst the homocidal rabbits, confused whales, and knights dueling with snails, you’ll see noblemen dressed in the fashions I’ve described.)