Ladies too would be dressed for practicality and for rank – due to the needs of their role. Milady may well be wearing over long gown, Venetian silks and sporting elegant jewelry. All the ladies would wear shifts (a linen under-dress), a close fitting kirtle and a gown. Little is known about medieval undergarments as they were so rarely pictured, but a few small examples lead us to believe that linen brasier type tops with knickers were likely under the shift. And then hats – the most common type in England in the late 15th Century appears to be the Truncated Henin – a type of upturned flowerpot style with veil – sometimes supporting high wires holding veils of different designs. Further afield there were also full henins (the tall pointy hats of mythology), turban types and skull caps in distant Italy. The modern interpreter has to take note of what was likely in your chosen geographical area, if you wish to create an impression close to reality..
The men would have clothes suitable to their rank. Silks and fine wools for the nobles, courser fabrics for the workers. Most men would have braies (underpants), shirt, hose (skin-tight leg-coverings), cote pour point (like a waistcoat, to hold up the hose), doublet (tight jacket), and cote (coat). Cloaks would only be worn for travelling as they are difficult to work in – so many men may have the more practical tunic (loose garment) for doing hard-laboured tasks. Belts would pull in the fullness of the outer garment (not hold up the hose) and may have a pouch or knife upon them. And all men would wear a hat for most of the time.
Linen – particularly undyed – was used for body garments, head-cloths and some outer practical garments such as the man at arm’s ‘Jack’. Here, it would be layered up to 16 times to provide a protective item that could protect a man against considerable force. Linen washes easily, is hard wearing, and can be sun-bleached to be beautifully white: a symbol of purity. It is hard to create from the original plant though, requiring much manipulation of the fibres before a thread can be used to weave. DeMowbray’s Retinue doesn't go so far as to make our own linen – although we have been known to spin raw wool and felt or weave fabrics on occasion.
Boots and Shoes were mostly of leather (except for high status individuals) these would be hard-wearing ‘turn-shoes’ where the sole was stitched to the chosen upper, then turned inside out. They could be protected a little by wearing ‘pattens’ – a sort of wooden soled over-shoe, held on with straps. This kept the shoes a little further out of the mud or wet, or protected from hard surfaces. They are slippery to wear in the wet though, and are unlikely to have been worn indoors.
And Milady and some of her guests are also known to sport silks from the wilds of the Mediterranean and the East – with figured velvets created on damask looms in distant Italy. These would have been the most expensive items many local Englanders had ever seen. And if you catch the retinue in the cool of autumn or within a castle, the furs from their own estates make warm garments and bedclothes alike. Essential for keeping out the cold.
We use 100% wool and linen fabrics, just as they would have done in the 15th Century. England being an exceptionally good climate for wool, it was one of our major exports to the continent, and most garments visible would have been made of it. It is warm, breathes, and wool not too heavily washed or dyed also has some waterproof qualities, due to the lanolin remaining in the fibres. So although we won’t be standing out in the rain unnecessarily, the odd shower won’t hurt us too badly. Wool also takes natural dyes very well – so the colours seen in many pictures are indeed achievable.
There are very few actual garments remaining from the 15th Century, and even fewer in England, therefore most of our items are based on pictorial research. We aim to get as close as we can to the look and feel of the cloth: the cut, the shaping and the fabrics are in the spirit of the people we represent. Most of us have full time jobs so time is always of the essence – and that means that we don’t have the hours available to hand-sew every item. But every visible stitch is done by hand, so the public will only see what has been for real.