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Dress to Impress: Evolution of the Medieval Dress 

Do you remember Princess Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower’s gorgeous gowns in the famous HBO show House of Dragon? Well, it was not a gown; it was a Medieval Dress.

Often referred to as cotehardie by modern-day stylists and historians, medieval kirtle or dress was the main attire of women during the middle ages.

History of Medieval Dress and Kirtle

The Roman Empire impacted dress styles in the early Middle Ages with women wearing draped gowns. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Medieval Kirtle styles began to change toward more fitted garments as women’s dresses evolved to feature a tighter-fitting bodice and a long skirt. Sleeves became thinner and were occasionally embellished with fur or needlework. By the later middle ages, Medieval Dress and kirtle became more intricate and were often adorned with embroidery, beading, and gemstones

What’s the Difference Between a Dress and a Kirtle?  

During the middle ages, medieval kirtle were the most prevalent attires of women.

The kirtle was a tight-fitted sleeveless garment made mostly from linen or wool. Kirtles had very simple designs and comprised a bodice and a skirt. It was worn by all women, irrespective of their social rank and was used as a daily wear attire.

On the contrary, they was a long, loose-fitted gown worn directly over a chemise or smock. It mainly featured long sleeves and was made from extravagant fabrics such as velvet, silk or satin. Unlike kirtles, a medieval dress had a complex design, often featuring intricate adornments and collars. Medieval women typically donned dresses for formal occasions such as weddings and banquets.

However, over the centuries, “kirtle” came to be used more broadly to refer to any type of medieval dress.

Types of Medieval Dress and Kirtles

Like humans, fashion has constantly been evolving. Even in the middle ages, several types of kirtles emerged:

  • Anglo-Saxon (Peplos) – Also known as Peplos, the Anglo-Saxon was a long medieval dress draped around the torso and secured at the shoulders with brooches.
  • The Peplos were typically made from linen or wool and had a very basic structure. It was worn by women mainly in England during the 5th to 11th centuries.
  • Laced Kirtle – This medieval dress was form-fitted and was laced up either at the front or the back with a full skirt. Layers of fabric were tightly laced to form a corset-like look on the bodice of the Laced Kirtle. It had a smoother silhouette and was mostly worn by women during the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe.
  • Buttoned Kirtle – It was a rendition of the Laced Kirtle, but it had buttons on the front of the bodice instead of lacing. The Buttoned Kirtle was a form-fitted full-sleeved dress with a high waistline and a low neckline. The buttons were functional and were mostly made of bone or metal. 
  • Short-Sleeved Kirtle – It was also another variation of the Laced Kirtle, except it had short sleeves. The Short-Sleeved Kirtle was usually worn with lappets (a decorative flap) and was often made of lightweight fabrics such as linen or silk. It was specially designed to be worn by women in 15th-century Europe during the summers.
  • Particular Kirtle – With a more elaborate design and a tighter bodice, the Particular Kittle was a dress worn by women of the nobility. It was primarily crafted from lavish fabrics such as silk or velvet. The Particular Kirtle was often adorned with precious gems and embroidery reflecting the woman’s social status. 
  • Heraldic Gown – It was a type of medieval dress worn by women, mostly during formal occasions such as weddings or medieval banquets. The Heraldic Gown was made from expensive fabrics such as silk or velvet and was frequently adorned with the family crest or coat of arms. The adornments represented loyalty towards a household.

All medieval dresses or kirtles were typically crafted by hand and demanded significant skill and time. Textiles were usually woven on looms, and dresses were stitched together with hand stitching and embroidery. To add structure and longevity, the dresses were frequently layered with linen or silk.

Where can you buy a Medieval Kirtle?

Medieval Kirtles are an excellent choice for adding classic and one-of-a-kind attires to your wardrobe. They provide a distinctive appearance that distinguishes you from the crowd and can be worn for various occasions, from formal events to informal outings. 






The kirtle was a simple, tight-fitted sleeveless garment made of linen or wool and worn as a daily attire by women of all social ranks. On the other hand, the medieval dress was a loose-fitted gown made from extravagant fabrics such as velvet, silk, or satin and worn for formal occasions. The article also highlights medieval dresses and kirtles, including the Anglo-Saxon, Laced Kirtle, Buttoned Kirtle, Short-Sleeved Kirtle, Particular Kirtle, and Heraldic Gown. The dresses were typically handmade and crafted with significant skill and time. Finally, the article suggests places where medieval dresses and kirtles can be purchased to add classic and unique attire to one’s wardrobe.

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