Byzantine Child's Tunic with Hood

Byzantine Child's Tunic with Hood

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Byzantine Clothing

The Byzantine Empire began in a.d. 330, when Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to a city that became known as Constantinople, or Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul). Constantine I was impressed by the city's strategic location, notably its command of the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black seas. The Byzantine Empire's thriving commercial trade led to immense wealth, its trade routes extending from Scandinavia and Russia to Armenia and Ethiopia. In a.d. 364, Emperor Valentinian I divided the Roman Empire into two parts&mdasheast and west&mdashwith two emperors, to facilitate the management of the vast territory. East and west, however, differed greatly, the eastern portion having a larger population and greater wealth. After the fall of Rome in the fifth century at the hands of the Germanic Goths, the eastern Byzantine Empire ruled alone. This empire lasted for over 1,100 years&mdashuntil 1453, the year of the death of Emperor Constantine XI and the fall of the empire to the Ottoman Turks.

During this era, costume attained a richness of color, fabric, and ornament that far exceeded the greatest days of Rome. The Byzantine culture was a complex blending of east and west. Included within Byzantine fashions are not only those styles worn in the city of Byzantium after it became the capital of the Roman Empire, but also clothing worn in regions that fell under its influence, such as Italy, Greece, and Russia. Until the sixth century, the Roman influence was still strong, with draped styles predominating the cut of dress. The tunica (a universally worn loosely draped garment of undyed wool or linen), the dalmatic (a wide-sleeved over-robe of cotton, linen, or wool for the commoners, and silk for the wealthy), and the stola (a high-belted woman's garment constructed from a folded rectangle) were the basic foundations of Byzantine style. The dalmatica evolved from knee-length in the early part of the empire (sixth to tenth centuries) to floor-length (tenth to thirteenth centuries), finally resembling a Turkish caftan in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. From the beginning, the fabrics and colors used were strongly influenced by Persian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Arabian sources. As time passed, these eastern styles of costume began to assert themselves in the form of trousers, footwear, head coverings and, above all, decoration and jewelry.

Most of our knowledge of Byzantine fashions comes from surviving mosaics and sculptures. Clothing artifacts reveal remarkably intricate, elaborate brocaded fabrics with jeweled surfaces. These brocaded fabrics gave a new stiffness and luminosity to garments&mdasha departure from the soft wool and linen that characterized Roman drapery. The Emperor Justinian introduced the manufacture of silk to Constantinople in the sixth century. Silk fabric allowed for the use of brilliant colors&mdashjewel-like reds, blues, yellows, greens, and gold (the privilege of wearing purple was limited to emperors and empresses by law). A uniquely Byzantine article worn at court was the tablion (sometimes called a claims), an ornamental jewel-encrusted, rectangular piece of fabric inset on men's and women's cloaks. The tablion identified the wearer as a member of the royal house or court dignitary. Another unusual garment was the Persian-derived maniakis, a separate collar of gold-embroidered, jewel-encrusted fabric.

Byzantine dress typically covered the arms and legs, sleeves extending to the wrists. After the eighth century, the lorum was introduced&mdasha long scarf that was draped around the body, reminiscent of the Roman toga that it had replaced. The lorum was generally made of silk or gold cloth and was heavily jeweled, indicating the wearer's status. Men of means draped themselves in a rich dalmatic with a tablion placed on the left front edge. Women wore a stola (palla) over their long tunicas, using one end of the garment as a head covering. Both men and women fastened their mantles on the right shoulder with an ornate jeweled clasp called a fibula. The camisia, an undergarment made of linen or silk, was worn beneath the tunica, protecting the rich fabrics of the outer garments from body oils and perspiration. The long tunica evolved into the gunna (gown). In the latter centuries of Byzantine rule, a short shirt with long dolman-style sleeves, called a juppe, was worn over long tunicas.

Elaborately designed jewelry was a hallmark of the Byzantine era. Pearls were plentiful and used lavishly with diamonds and other precious gems eventually, colored glass beads and tiny mirrors were added to decorative embroideries. Women enveloped their hair in a coif of silk or net worked with pearls. A favorite motif in jewelry and fabrics was pairs of birds (see pages 26 and 39). Sandals, standard footwear in Roman days, were still worn, but soft ankle-high boots&mdashcalcei&mdashwere the preferred footwear of the wealthy. The boots were generally made of soft, brightly colored leather, often embroidered and jeweled, and had long, pointed toes.

The Byzantine empire made two important contributions to western fashion. In the third century, its weavers began using shuttles to produce patterned fabrics. Later, in the sixth century, Emperor Justinian initiated the raising of silkworms from the cocoon. Under his aegis, silkworm eggs and seeds of the mulberry bush, concealed in hollow bamboo staffs, were brought into Byzantium by two Persian monks. The Byzantine mode of dressing became more and more sumptuous until the fall of the empire its influence is evident throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods of European fashion. In addition, it provided the foundation for the liturgical costume of both the eastern and western Christian churches, particularly those of Russia.

Emperor Constantine and his mother, Helena

Emperor Constantine I, the founder of the Byzantine been gathered from surviving sculptures. The intricate empire (ruled a.D. 324-337), is shown here with his geometric patterns that embellish their garments are mother, Helena. Information about their costumes has typical of the Byzantine era.

According to legend, Constantine I (at left) dreamed that an angel told him to go to battle under the Christian cross to achieve a victory. The emperor followed the angel's advice and was victorious, his success leading to his founding the Byzantine empire.

Constantine's mantle and tunica were depicted in bright primary colors in Byzantine art, the angel's (at right) in pastel tones. The mantle is fastened in typical style over the right shoulder with a jeweled clasp. Constantine wears decorated slip-on shoes.

Fourth-century Early Left: The woman wears a long-sleeved tunica under a short-sleeved stola for everyday wear at home. The belted waist gives a blousy effect. Right: The man wears a long-sleeved light-colored tunica and dark wool

cloak, fastened at his right shoulder. Both have multicolored geometric embroidered trim on their garments, she at the neck, sleeves, and waist, he at the sleeves.

Fourth-century Byzantine Wc Left: The woman is wearing a brightly colored long stola decorated with gold embroidery over a long-sleeved tunica. Her palla, falling from a diadem, would have been constructed of sheer linen or silk.

A civil official, wears a short, light-colored tunica with multicolored embroidery. His mantle of dark material has a decorative tablion. He wears light-col-ored stockings and brightly colored soft leather boots.

The father and son depicted here wear short linen camisias. Left: The boy's camisia was probably his "dress-up" wear the vertical stripe appears on matching stockings. Right: The father's light-colored camisia is worn for work, doubling as an undergarment when he dresses up in an over-tunica. His boots&mdashcalcei&mdashare made of soft leather. When working in the fields, he probably dispensed with stockings.

1970s Dresses

The 60s mini shift dress, jumper dress, drop waist dress, sheath dresses, and tunic dress were still hot items in the early 󈨊s. Sleeveless jumper dresses were worn over short or long sleeve shirts with high knee socks and tights to stay somewhat warm in winter. The mod style was still in vogue, too, with contrasting white collars and simple trims. Mod colors such as lime green, hot pink, orange, and red were summer classics. Pastels in spring and earth tones in fall/winter rounded out the collection.

1970 jumper dresses over turtleneck shirts 73 mod mini dresses 1973 shift dresses

Drop waist shift dresses and button front sheath dresses gave a nod back to the 󈧘s flapper era. This time, they were made of synthetic knits which opened the doors to light pastels, saturated earthy colors, textured tweeds, bright florals, and geometric prints. Polyester double knits and jacquard knit dresses were stiff enough to withstand wrinkles and staining. It was the perfect material for the age of low-maintenance practicality over comfort (poly knits are HOT!).

1973 shirtwaist, drop waist, sailor theme mini dresses 1973 mod dresses 70s white belts and collars

For women who were tired of freezing their legs off in the name of fashion, there were slightly longer knee-length dresses with high necklines and an A-line, pleated, or straight skirt. Many had oversized collars and some started to sport hippie prints in yellow, green, and orange flowers and paisley swirls. Many dresses in the early 󈨊s still featured mod colorblocking or solid colors with contrasting buttons. Vertical stripes, plaids, gigman checks, and polka dots were also favorite cotton house dress prints.

1970 simple short dresses- pleats or sheath 1973 paisley house dress 1973 plaid and gingham house dresses

By 1973, dresses were looking more like 󈧬s and 󈧶s swing dresses, with full skirts and button down blouse tops. With a button-down or zip up front, these classic dresses could be stepped into for quick dressing in the morning. A matching buckle belt, slide belt or tie belt nipped in the waist for an hourglass shape. The above-the-knee length made them easy to move in and a little bit sexy, as in the sexy housewife look frequently portrayed in 󈨊s movies.

1974 shirtwaist dress with tie belt in Quiana knit 1973 fit and flare dresses with large collars

The 40s style won the revival game for the remainder of the 70s. Simple one-piece dresses with a tie for a belt, cap sleeves and swingy skirt or the two piece tunic blouse worn over a matching skirt with a tie belt made up most 1970s casual dresses. Many came in the button up shirtwaist style with long bishop sleeves and matching slide belt. Necklines were quite modest. Pussy bow neckties, small slits, mandarin collars, and large fold-out collars added variety to the modest dress tops.

1977 A-line dresses with belt or tie 1977 tunic dresses for teens 1978 two-piece tunic dresses with belts

In the final years, the drawstring neck and waistline along with a hemline that dropped a few inches below the knee loosened up dresses even more. The look was light, airy, and romantic without a hint of masculine tailoring. This is where the 70s boho dress fashion revival started.

1978 sheer floral tie string waist dresses

All people in medieval society tended to wear different styles of medieval shoes, medieval shoes were often made of leather but as more materials became available medieval shoe design became more advanced. Read more about the Medieval Shoes >>

Moorish clothing reflected the basic dress sense of Eastern Arabs and Berbers of North Africa during their time in Europe Read more about the Moorish Clothing >>


A linen chemise was the common foundation of all women’s dress, with only the quality of the fabric distinguishing an aristocrat from a peasant. This basic undergarment extended well below the knee, and had sleeves extending past the elbow the neckline, probably drawn together with a drawstring, might be low and wide, mirroring the low necklines seen on the next layer of the costume, the côte-hardie (English kirtle, Italian cotta) (Boucher 198). Continuing a trend beginning in the mid-1300s, the côte-hardie was tightly fitted through the bodice, whether lacing in the front, at one or both sides, or at the center back. The sleeves too were usually fitted, lacing at the wrist. The skirt of the côte-hardie was as full as the bodice was tight it could be constructed with gores inserted at the sides and at the center back and front (Fransen, Østergärd, Nørgaard, Nordtorp-Madson). As in the 1300s, women in this decade could layer one côte-hardie over another, in which case the upper côte-hardie often had elbow-length sleeves to reveal the longer sleeve of the one below.

Many sources, such as the scene depicting Reason leading five women into the author Christine de Pizan’s allegorical city of women (Fig. 1) show a fashionable flourish to this style: a strip of fabric hanging from the back of the sleeve of the upper côte-hardie, called a tippet (Van Buren and Wieck 318). Tippets could be just a few inches long, or they could extend the full length of the garment, trailing behind the wearer as she walked and fluttering with every gesture. Côte-hardies were typically made of wool, in a wide range of quality and cost, from undyed homespun to the smoothest, softest products of Flemish mills, dyed and finished in Italy. Silk, made in Italy or Spain, was accessible only to the very rich. Woven fabrics that blended silk with wool were more affordable (Piponnier and Mane 88). Linen was used to line the côte-hardie and reinforce its tight fit. The lining of a woman’s côte-hardie is revealed in the right wing of Rogier van der Weyden’s mid-fifteenth-century Saint Columba Altarpiece, now in the Alte Pinachotek in Munich.

Fig. 1 - Master of the Cité des Dames. "Reason Leads Five Sibyls into the City of Ladies," Cité des Dames by Christine de Pizan, 1400-1410. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 607 (fol. 31v). Source: BNF Gallica

The next layer of a woman’s costume was determined by her wealth and social status. If she was able to participate in fashion, she would wear a houppelande rather than a traditional mantle or cape as her outer garment. Van Buren and Wieck define the houppelande as “a full outer garment worn by men and women” (307). Although the garment could look very different depending on its materials and decoration, most houppelandes had high necklines and long sleeves. Some buttoned partly down the front (Fig. 2) while others had side or back closures. Women’s houppelandes were always full-length to emphasize luxury, they were sometimes made extra-long, puddling around a woman’s feet in front and extending into a train in back. The sleeves of the houppelande, in this decade, were most often in the bombard style, narrow at the shoulder and opening into a wide funnel that could extend the length of the garment. So fashionable were these sleeves that côte-hardies too were made with bombards. The extravagance of the style was decried by Christine de Pizan:

“And isn’t it a great outrage, even a silly thing, that which a grown tailor in Paris told the other day, that he had made for an ordinary lady living in the Gâtinois a côte-hardie into which he put five Paris ells of large-measured Brussels cloth, which trails a good three quarters (of an ell) on the ground, and into its bombard sleeves, which hang all the way to the feet?” (Pizan 159).

Although women were criticized more for their fashions than men, voluminous houppelandes with bombard sleeves were worn by both sexes (Piponnier and Mane 77-79). The edges of women’s sleeves, however, were generally not decorated with dagging, defined as “ornamental shapes of cloth cut or inserted in the hem of a garment” (Van Buren and Wieck 302). One of the hallmarks of this decade in men’s fashion, dagging added appreciably to the cost of a garment. Inventories and other documents suggest that garments made for women generally cost less, and that women spent less on their clothing than men (Pipponier and Mane 77).

Some expenses were obligatory, dictated by the requirements of rank. A queen, princess, or aristocrat at court would need a ceremonial wardrobe as well as a fashionable one. Court ceremonies preserved garments that dated back a century or more, such as the sideless surcôte (Fig. 1) and the ermine-lined trained cape. Following a custom that dated back to the 1300s, high-ranking court officials were also expected to make regular gifts called liveries to the members of their household. Liveries could take the form of lengths of cloth or finished garments and had the effect of dressing a lady’s attendants and servants in her chosen colors and styles (Piponnier and Mane 133-135). In 1401, to celebrate the birth of her daughter Catherine, Isabeau de Bavière, the Queen of France, gave all the ladies of her household a livery of blue wool (Evans 39). Two years later, she gave the women who worked in the royal nursery houppelandes of gray wool (Evans 54).

Fig. 2 - Master of the Cité des Dames. "Christine de Pizan presents a collection of her works to the Queen of France, Isabeau de Bavière," The Book of the Queen by Christine de Pizan, ca. 1410-1414. Parchment. London: British Library, Harley MS 4431. Source: British Library

Women’s most important accessories were headdresses, which were of two main types, the bourrelet and the wired veil. Both had a common foundation in the hairstyle called “a pair of temples,” because the hair was piled into two cones over the temples to form a horned shape (Van Buren and Wieck 317-318). Fine silk hairnets, pins, and caps variously called coifs (Van Buren and Wieck 302) or howves (Van Buren 308) held the hair in place. A woman could top her hairstyle with a bourrelet, a circular roll of fabric that would settle into the horned shape, held in place by pins and wires, or she could drape a fine linen veil over a structure of wire or whalebone (Evans 56). These alternative styles can be seen in figure 2. Both had the desired effect of enlarging the apparent size of the head, an effect heightened by severely plucking the eyebrows and hairline. The bourrelet could complement a woman’s complexion with colorful fabric further decorated with embroidery, studded with jewels, or trimmed with feathers or fur. The simpler wired veil, on the other hand, drew attention to delicate facial features and fashionable pallor. Although these elaborate headdresses attracted criticism from the first of the century’s religious reformers, they continued to grow in size during the decade (Van Buren and Wieck 110).

The court of France remained the center of fashion for both men and women. Christine de Pizan complained that French fashions changed too fast, as opposed to more stable Italian fashions (Scott 132). In 1401 the city of Bologna sought to curb women’s consumption of luxury fabrics and pursuit of the latest trends, like bombard sleeves. Women would have to register garments made of silk velvet and silk brocaded with gold and silver and pay a fee for the right to continue wearing them. In just two days, 210 garments were registered by 131 women. The law limited the width of sleeves to four feet, and their length could not extend past the wearer’s hand. The wives and daughters of knights and of lawyers and doctors were allowed to have wider sleeves, however (Scott 125). Critics of fashion argued that it led to wasteful expenditure and encouraged sinful vanity, while sumptuary laws suggest that there was widespread anxiety about wealth in the hands of “ordinary” middle class commoners, those without professional status, who were seen as a threat to the traditional social order (Piponnier and Mane 86).

Fig. 3 - Master of the Couronnement de la Vierge. "Solomon Receiving the Queen of Sheba," Grande Bible historiale, ca. 1395-1401. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF MS fr. 159 (fol. 289v). Source: BnF Gallica

Fig. 4 - Giovanni Boccaccio (Italian, 1313-1375). "The Woman Named Venus Adored by her Lovers," Des cleres et nobles femmes, ca. 1401-1500. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 12420 (fol. 15). Source: BNF Gallica

Roman Female Dress

Roman women also wore tunica in much the same fashion as the men. There were two types, both adapted from Greek fashion. One, the peplos was made from two rectangular pieces of cloth partially sewn together on both sides with the open sections at the top folded down in the front and back. It was pulled over the head and fastened with two large pins, forming a sleeveless dress. A belt was then tied over or under the folds.

The more common tunic worn by women was similar to the Greek chiton. This sleeved garment was made from two wide pieces of cloth sewn together near the top. This garment was pulled over the head and fastened with several pins or buttons to form a dress with various styles and fits. A belt could be worn under the breasts, at the waist, or at the hips. Any tunics could be made of various colors and fabric types depending on social status and wealth.

Married women were required to wear the loose, toga equivelant, stola. This long sleeveless tunic was strapped at the shoulder, gathered in and girdled at the waist with the garment extending to the feet. In addition, the pulla was a sort of shawl to throw over the whole figure, and to be worn out of doors. Fashion of the various times also indicated how much make-up, jewelry and perfume would be worn. Suffice to say that such adornments were as popular in the ancient world as in any time.

Men's Clothing

As in the previous centuries, two styles of dress existed side-by-side for men: a short (knee-length) costume deriving from a melding of the everyday dress of the later Roman Empire and the short tunics worn by the invading barbarians, and a long (ankle-length) costume descended from the clothing of the Roman upper classes and influenced by Byzantine dress.

Underclothes consisted of an inner tunic (French chainse) or shirt with long, tight sleeves, and drawers or braies, usually of linen. Tailored cloth leggings, called chausses or hose, made as separate garments for each leg were often worn with the tunic. Striped hose were popular.

During this period, beginning with the middle and upper classes, hose became longer and more fitting, and they reached above the knees. Previously, they were looser and worn with drawers that ranged from knee- to ankle-length. The new type of hose was worn with drawers that reached the knees or above, and they were wide enough at the top to allow the drawers to be tucked into them. They were held up in place by being attached to the girdle of the drawers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best material for a cloak?

The best material for a cloak depends on what you want or who you want to dress up as. Wealthy nobles and royals favored luxurious textiles with gold and fur trim for their cloaks while the poorer folks used cheaper materials.

What was a medieval cloak made out of?

There are many types of fabric used in the medieval times when it came to making a warm, sturdy cloak. Softer fabrics that were finely woven tend to be more expensive. A range of textiles were created in varying weights and quality and available to those who could afford them. Some of the materials used during that time that could be found in a typical cloak included wool, linen, velvet, hemp, cotton, silk, fur, and leather.

Lombard League

During this time, several of the German clergy had taken up the cause of Pope Alexander. Despite this unrest at home, Barbarossa again formed a large army and crossed the mountains into Italy. Here, he met the united forces of the Lombard League, an alliance of northern Italian cities fighting in support of the pope. After winning several victories, Barbarossa requested that Henry the Lion join him with reinforcements. Hoping to increase his power through the possible defeat of his uncle, Henry refused to come south.

On May 29, 1176, Barbarossa and a detachment of his army were badly defeated at Legnano, with the emperor believed killed in the fighting. With his hold over Lombardy broken, Barbarossa made peace with Alexander at Venice on July 24, 1177. Recognizing Alexander as pope, his excommunication was lifted and he was reinstated into the Church. With peace declared, the emperor and his army marched north. Arriving in Germany, Barbarossa found Henry the Lion in open rebellion of his authority. Invading Saxony and Bavaria, Barbarossa captured Henry's lands and forced him into exile.

2 comments on &ldquo Coptic children’s garb &rdquo

Coptic tunics usually had the decoration woven into the ground fabric, not embroidered.

You are quite right!
However, there are a small number of embroidered Coptic tunics. I particularly find the embroidered tunic of the Kharga Oasis (Dush) to be very striking. It has Nikes on it!

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