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The Cotehardie and the Western Fashion Revolution

It all began when men began indiscriminately showing off their legs, and women bared their collarbones…

When viewed across its long history, Western fashion is seen as particularly unique for two reasons. The first is a continuous evolution of style that is unlike anything seen in other cultures, with changes in fashion that can often be marked decade by decade. The second is the sharp contrast that has long existed between men and women's formal costume, generally consisting of a short shirt and jacket for men, and a long gown for women.

Yet neither of these things was true throughout either Antiquity or the long centuries of the Early and High Middle Ages. Nor, after centuries of slow evolution and innovation, is it likely that anyone would have expected a single garment to be the birth of modern European fashion. But it should not surprise us today that the history of costume was swept along as the rest of European society and technology was up-ended by the sweeping changes wrought by the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, and the first stirrings of Humanism in the Italian city-states.

At the turn of the 14th century, the simple tunic and dalmatic had formed the basis for male and female costume in Europe for nearly a millennium. While in any given century or location the tunic might be worn longer or shorter, with tighter or looser sleeves, and with or without an additional over-tunic, the basic pattern always remained the same: a loose, relatively unconstructed garment made of straight seams and draped fabric, which was primarily given shape through belting.

  
Left: Buttoned cotehardie onJoan de la Tour, weeper
from the tomb of Edward the III, c 1377-86.
Right: Laced cotehardie on Catherine Beauchamp,
Countess of Warwick, c 1370-1375, St Mary's Church

Lateran Manuscript, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

But in the second quarter of the century, male and female costume began to undergo a rapid and radical evolution. The source of the evolution was simple: tailors began to shape their clothing with curved seams that were meant to emphasize the natural form of the body. This led to a simple yet elegant new style that favored a sleeker, fitted, and youthful silhouette. The most dramatic of these innovations was the cotehardie, which appeared in Western Europe during the mid-fourteenth century.

This new garment evolved either from, or in parallel with, the simpler,buttoned cotte. But while the cotte stilled owed much of its styling to the late-medieval tunic, the cotehardie was the first truly fitted and tailored garment in European fashion. Fitted throughout the torso, the panels of the body required both careful shaping, and either tight lacing, or a long row of buttons down the center front. The sleeves were also tight, with buttons from elbow to the little finger. They were worn long, so that the cuff flared out in a distinctive &quote;tulip&quote; or &quote;trumpet&quote; shape, and covered the back of the hand. Finally, to allow a comfortable, and full, range of motion in such a close-fitting garment, 14th century tailors developed a distinctive new way to set the sleeves - the &quote;grand assiette&quote; armhole.

As with the man's garment, the woman's cotehardie used careful tailoring, rather than just belting or lacing, to give the body of the garment its shape. Fitted throughout the torso, the gown was open from the collar to well below the hips, and was closed down the center front by either lacing or a long row of buttons. From the hips, the gown flared into full skirts that could have either a short train or, in the case of the wealthy, literally pooled on the ground.

Such a complex garment required professional tailoring, and thus became associated with the aristocracy, who ordered cotehardies in everything from simple linen to the most expensive samite and silk brocade. Of course, not everyone had the ideal, long torso and athletic figure that the cotehardie emphasized. But the role of a good tailor is to determine how to build in what God may have left out, and by padding the breast of their cotehardies, wealthy men found a way to give themselves the deep-chested, narrow-waisted figure that the new fashion suggested.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of themen's cotehardiewas its length, or lack thereof. Whereas the old super tunic had ranged over the years from ankle to knee length, the new garment was quite short, just barely reaching the knees. Having now liberated his calves, the fashionable courtier decided to work his way up his thigh - the garment grew ever shorter and more fitted throughout the second half of the 14th century. The shortness of the new garment was noted and condemned by conservative clerics, who complained about the &quote;immodesty of knights and squires, more concerned with the displaying the firm roundness of their calves, than with their duty.&quote;


Images from Lancelot du Lac of cotehardies with contrasting sleeves

Indeed, so obsessed where clerics with the shameful display of men's legs, that more than one writer directly linked France's misfortunes at Poitiers to the &quote;luxurious, lewd and vulpine dress, manner and habits&quote; of her knighthood. Their cries seem to have fallen on deaf ears. By the end of the century, the most fashionable aristocrats were wearing their garments so short that they needed to be pointed directly to their hose. This need for joined hose further altered the silhouette of male costume, and set the stage for the doublet, which slowly replaced the cotehardie in the second quarter of the 15th century.

If clerics lamented the amount of leg the men were showing, it was thecotehardie'swide neckline and fitted bust that caused problems for women. A papal legate to the French court, writing in 1376, complained that &quote;so tightly do the women of the court constrain their bosom, that there can be little doubt as to its form, while the breath of their collar is want to distract men to contemplate the fruits found beyond.&quote; In 1388, his concerns were echoed by the chronicler Giovanni de Mussia, who turned his attentions to the cyprianae - an Italian version of the cotehardie that fully revealed the collarbones and was generally worn without even a veil to conceal the neck. Giovanni wrote that the gowns of the ladies in Piacenza would haven quite beautiful, &quote;were their necklines not so great that their breasts always seem want to leave them.&quote; An exaggeration to be sure; just as it is sure that the fashionable ladies of Europe were little concerned with scandalizing Giovanni or his counterparts. Indeed, one wonders if these ladies weren't bemused by just how loquaciously these clerics wrote about their bosoms!

By the 1380s, the cotehardie was contesting with a new garment - the houppelande. Although cut upon new lines, this was return to the old, draped gown, of previous generations. The two garments co-existed, with the one often worn beneath the other. But all of those liberated calves would not covered-up once more. The houppelande was often worn with its skirts slit to show the leg below. Ultimately, over the course of the next century, it also developed several short variations that became particularly popular in the fashion centers of Burgundy and Italy. The cotehardie itself outlived the 14th century, and for men slowly evolved into thedoublet. The cotehardie persisted longest in women's fashion, coming back in and out of style for the first half of the 15th century, before being supplanted by entirely new forms of thehouppelande.

So the 1960s scandal of the mini-skirt was nothing new, it just happened to have begun with medieval men. Likewise, it should now be no surprise why the cotehardie is so popular with modern reenactors. For all of it is alien, in our eyes we can see the birth of our modern aesthetic for a fitted gown and a short top-coat.

 



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Aggie
Ottawa, Illinois USA
 
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I deeply appreciate the Gaston Phebus line.  I wear it frequently (average 2x / wk these days) when pursuing game with longbow, crossbow, spear, javelin and hawk.  I have been wearing elements of the Gaston Phebus line when taking elk, boar, rabbit & squirrel in the last 12 months.  I have recommended the clothing line to a number of fellow medieval hunting enthusiasts.  The Gaston Phebus line has held up to some pretty heavy hunting abuse.  I've been through shoulder high brambles innumerable times that have pulled a few threads, but I remain exceedingly pleased with the performance of the clothing in the field for its intended purpose. Primarily, I wanted you to know how greatly I appreciate the research you put into your products, and the quality of the workmanship.  I regularly put the wool Gaston Phebus full wardrobe through intense field abuse and it has held together better than ANY comparable product I have purchased anywhere in the last 20 years.

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Dear Revival Clothing Last year, you kindly gave me permission to use your models and costumes as references for part of a pastel painting I was working on.  The painting is finally finished, and I thought you might like to see a scan of the end result, which I have titled 'Champion of Warwick'.  I added a few more figures to my original design and I think they have made a nice colourful crowd and added to the atmosphere. I'll be submitting the painting for the annual exhibition of the Society of Equestrian Artists at the Mall Galleries, London, in July, and will also be producing a limited edition of prints of the painting. Many thanks for your kind help.

Mary Herbert
Leicestershire, England

Hi Everybody knows about you guys! You folks are one of the west's authorities on 12th to 15th century garments! You folks are amazing! Customer service extraordinaire! I am telling everyone at knights about you guys! Anyway.....thanks again....we will be doing lots of business together in the future. Cheers!

Cheers Daniel MacMullinAlberta, CA

I received my apron dress yesterday and LOVE LOVE LOVE it!! I will certainly be ordering from you again, and referring my friends as well :)  Thank you for a smooth transaction and a wonderful product. Yay!

Laurie Magen

Just received my order (hat, hose, and belt). Everything arrived quickly and exactly as described. You have proven that it IS possible to combine top notch living history items with modern customer service. Thank you!

HZ

I received my low medieval boots on Saturday afternoon and wanted to tell you how thoroughly satisfied I am with them. Finally I have shoes that look terrific with my Fourteenth Century harness and that I am not afraid to fight in. I have already taken them to my local shoe repair shop, where they confirmed that once I wore out the soles, they could easily repair them. The quality of these shoes is everything that I would expect to see from your firm, and I am putting your new riding boots on my Christmas wish list. Thank you for offering this fine product.

Arthur A. Donadio Attorney at Law

I have ordered several items from your online store, and have to say that I have been impressed beyond expectation. The quality of your products and the speed of service make it an absolute joy to bring my business to your door. I heard about you through a friends reference. When I opened your web page, I knew almost instantly that I would be spending quite a bit of money here, and happily so. Thanks for all the great products, and once again, thank your for your strict professionalism. It has been a profound experience to patronize your shop and will recommend you to all my acquaintances.

Jeff Anderson
(SKA Baron Sir Tryggvar Halfdan)

Riverdale, UT

Everything is awesome The 14th century silk ensemble rocks (silk cotte, chauses, and hood; medieval shirt, braes, belt with bars, and belt pouch) -- I think you've hit a very accessible and pleasing balance between price point and workmanship. I've never had a complete outfit medieval outfit before, and this is by no means a bad way to start. Tell Greg he was right -- once you've gone 1300s, it's hard to go back (to the 16th or 21st centuries). I was a little worried about how bright the silk chauses were going to be, based on your photos. I was thrilled with the actual item -- the colors are intense, vivid, but not eye-pokingly bright. The braes + chauses combo is so insanely comfortable, I want to wear it around the house (plus shirt, of course) -- except there's no one for whom to look good and pose. :P The 15th century ensemble is equally awesome (brocade doublet, 15th cen shirt, cotton joined hose, chaperone). The fit of the shirt in particular is really pleasing. I think I look great in it. Had to get a little used to the hose, and still figuring out the crotch + inseam / codpiece and how to get comfortable. I love the chaperone. Ever since Brian (from Darkwood Armory) and Greg each showed me how to wear chaperones and Greg stuck one on my head, I've wanted one. Now I have one, and in an awesome color (burgundy). I could also prance around the house in it, but I'll refrain -- I'll prance around in front of my friends, instead! The fit of the pourpoint is exactly everything I thought it would be -- and it rocks. Can't wait to adapt and point my leg harness to it.

Cheers,
Dakao Do

Here is my Burgundian Nobleman outfit. My reason for choosing your fine products is that you do clothing for the upper classes.

A happy customer,
Michael Bannerman

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hi, I am in Brisbane Australia and I recently received a pair of your black medieval ankle boots and they are awesome indeed…very comfortable and nicely handcrafted. hank you. And once again “Love the boots”

Regards,
Russell Sky

Brisbane, Australia

The Pourpoint is the answer for supporting Leg Harness.I have the Revival pourpoint.. and I can say without reservation that it is the best, most comfortable,most stable arrangement for holding up leg harness I have ever used, and I have used them all. In 22 years of armoured combat I have never had a harness more comfortable and high performing than I do now.. all due to the Revival Arming Pourpoint. The key is to have the pourpoint.. **very** tight, the sides of the garment opening should **just** meet when snugged very tight on the hips.. and if you are conventionally shaped this will mean that the garment *won't* meet over the chest. This is the proper fit IMO, ( this has the added benefit of girdling in your extra padding and providing a more svelte profile ) Also you must reinforce the points with leather or fabric patches to ensure the points don't tear out in vigorous combat. The point placement is perfect for me.. and if you are wearing the proper size they should be ok for most. There must be one point over the rotation point of the side of the hip.. right at the insertion of the hip joint. The other point should be at the center point of the leg harness. I strongly endorse this product. Revival clothing has the answer.

Brian McIlmoyle A.I. IMAF
Principal Instructor AEMMA

Toronto, Canada

Hi folks I just wanted to let you all know that the parcel came today....two days before the event! We are so excited and pleased....you made our day! The courtesy and professionalism shown by you csr's, shipping department and management team, far outshine many companies I have dealt with in the past....I am in awe of you guys! People wonder why I shop online......we'll, they wouldn't if they knew the type of people we meet and become friends with. Many thanks, and everyone in our city will be in fits of envy when they see us fight and feast this weekend. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We will be doing much business in the future, and everyone in our club will be, as well! Cheers

Sir Daniel Wallace MacMullinThd., Esq.
Alberta, Canada

Dear folks at Revival Clothing Awesome! I received my shipment today...on my birthday!  Took less than 3 days...thank you. I'm very happy, I love everything.  Now I'm ready for the Selohar gatherings.  Now I must buy more. Thanks

Todd Sullivan
Sandy Creek, NY

I received the new linen gambeson, and it fits wonderfully. There is no restriction of movement, and it's much lighter then my old cotton gambeson. I absolutely love it. It looks fantastic also! You guys are a true artists.

Have a great day,
Tom Pfister

Des Plaines, Illinois, USA

Hi, I just received your linen gambeson and it fits like a glove and the gloves fit as well. The quality and speed of my order was very impressive. I am extremely satisfied. Thank you all so much.

All the best,
Peter C.

British Columbia, Canada

I received my Linen Gambeson last Friday and I could not be more pleased ... It is a beautiful piece in it`s own right and will function perfectly - it seems to fit like a glove - plenty of room for movement , yet form fitting under the armor - And the sleeves are long enough! Once again I am impressed with your courtesy and professionalism ... Thanks again and all the best for the new year!

Tim Mathews
St. Paul, MN

Saw you guys at Pennsic and was impressed. I love the look of the 14th century and you guys capture it well.

Joe Farley
Alabama, USA

It just arrived today :) All I have to say is, wow, that is a gambeson! It fits perfectly...and it has that solid feel to it that definitely reminds me of the fact that often they were worn as the only armor. Thanks again!

Robert Zamoida
The Historical Martial Study Society
Waldorf, MD

Hi Nicole, I am touched by outpouring of support from so many folks in the WMA community. Thanks so much for your generous donation. It will be much used and appreciated by all of us in our training group here.I will be sure to send you some pictures of us training with your gambesons when they arrive!

Thanks again,
CW3 Jeffrey Larson

82nd Airborne”
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I just wanted to let you know that I received my order and everything is beautiful!  Very nice workmanship and quality of fabrics!  I'll be all set for my trip to the summer faire at Camlann Medieval village.  I already had full wardrobes for renaissance faires and pirate events, but didn't have anything correct for the 1376 setting at Camlann and these pieces will work beautifully.  Thank you so much.

Ragan Zessin

Recently my wife ordered for me the green wool hood/chaperone.  WE both love it.  It fits and looks great!  I am a BIG guy at 6' 5" tall and it looks appropriate.  It was a pleasure to deal to do business with you and we will order again.  I am definitely interested in upcoming 15 century clothing and  I am hoping you will offer them in bigger sizes.(nudge nudge wink wink;) I have attached a pic of me at the Bristol Ren Faire so you can see your work in action. Thanks again,

Randy Cieszynski
Bourbonnais, Illinois, USA

Just a quick word to say a very big thank you for: your very prompt and efficient dispatch of orders, the quality and look of your products, and for being there. After 21 years of 17th/18th century re-enactment in the UK & Europe I wasn't sure how easy it would be to re-equip myself for the mid 14th century out here in New Zealand. You've made it immeasurably easier and it's been a real pleasure doing business with you. I look forward to making further purchases over the coming months & years.

Mark Godwin

I tested my new linen gambeson yesterday in combat. Your design is perfect for sword fighting. The garment provides a good fit, yet provides complete mobility of the shoulders. I also received many compliments on its aesthetic and period qualities. I especially like the breathability of the linen fabric. Thank you for offering such a fine product.

Steven
San Francisco, CA

What a brilliant site this is! The hat is actually for my wife - we do intend to go to the biennial medieval fair in Dinan, France and use the hat for its intended purpose. We went 4 years ago and resolved to return but wearing medieval costume.

Tony C.
Rutland, United Kingdom

I purchased a full wardrobe from Revival Clothing and have recieved nothing but praise for my garb. I am new to the SCA and my major concern is chivalric fighting. But my tunic ensemble is great for court and feast and the revelry that generally follows.

Chris B.
Bishop, Texas, USA

The tippets and barbette arrive in record time! I was able to use the barbettes to show a lady who despaired of ever keeping a veil on how to use 2 barbettes (one around the face, and one around at high forehead level) to fasten a veil so it needed no fussing all day long. I got two just for this purpose, as gifts to her. (And, when asked where I got the gown I was wearing, the back laced dark green raw silk, I of course gave y'all the credit. several people piped up that your goods are really first quality. So -- fame to you!) Again, my thanks.

Pat M.
San Diego, CA

Dribbel just received his black ankle boots today and he adores them to the point of being a little creepy! Thanks so much for the speedy service. I was expecting them to arrive later in the week.

Lynn D.
Grand Rapids, MI

The order has arrived and I am impressed by the quality of your goods. The shoes and silk chauses were also of a perfect fit. I have taken the liberty of advising your clothing line to a colleague of mine: Jan Braem, also council member of the Hallebardiers.

Yours Sincerely,
Dr. Stefan Sette
Council Member Hallebardiers

Saint-Michael Guild Bruges since 1444

To all involved at Revival Clothing, I recently purchased a pair of your ankle boots and I'm quite pleased with them. They are comfortable and very well made. I even use them for every day use. In this instance I dislike to use the term "replica" or "reproduction" because they are in fact NOT such things. In the middle ages and the renaissance period, the material used was known to them. The difference being the tools used to make your product and the era of time we are now in. Back then clothing was usually made for the person purchasing the garment and it would not have mattered to the average person of those time periods in how their clothing were made, weather by hand or machine. Hence the Renaissance, then the industrial revolution, to modern day, and beyond. It is good to know that people are still interested in the "old" fashions and not letting them be forgotten.

Leon Majors
Victorville, CA USA

I tested my new linen gambeson yesterday in combat. Your design is perfect for sword fighting. The garment provides a good fit, yet provides complete mobility of the shoulders. I also received many compliments on its aesthetic and period qualities. I especially like the breathability of the linen fabric. Thank you for offering such a fine product.

Steven
San Francisco, CA

I just received the linen gambeson and have had a chance to try it on.  Wow.   It’s basically perfect in every way!   It fits really well, and the long sleeves don’t bother me at all, nor do they get in the way of my 15th century gauntlets.  This gambeson has exceptional mobility and it breathes so well I can wear it for quite a while without discomfort.  I’m in love with it.

Mike Edelson
Brooklyn, New York USA

The gambeson is working beautifully. I've practiced and fought in it many times now and I am very impressed with the mobility and comfort of the garment. It's going to be an ideal foundation for my future armour purchases: I plan to build a 13th-14th century harness around it.

Sean Hayes
Maestro d'armi

Northwest Fencing Academy
Eugene, OR

Greetings!  The gambeson just arrived today and it fits really nicely, especially considering that it's "off the rack." Sir Brian's recommendation told me I had found a good choice, and the special sale price helped with my decision too. Thanks!

Steve Gaddis (Master Sir Khaalid, SCA)
Sparks, Nevada, USA

Hello! My package just arrived safely. Am LOVING the dark green bliaut. The color is jaw dropping. First bought one 2 years ago.In case anyone asks, the silk does dye nicely (with professional silk dye - Jacquard brand was used) - turned the teal into a jewel tone blue, with no problems. Thought best to let you know.

Best Regards,
Christina B.

Seattle, WA

Thank you very much for sending my Linen Gambeson. It is an extremely good fit - I'm very impressed and would recommend it to anyone. Also impressed with the rapid service!

Richard Taylor
Walkerburn, Peeblesshire, Great Britain

I've just received my surcoat in the mail today--it is so much better that I expected, and I really expected high-quality stuff, so this is AWESOME. I'm very happy with it; it is really beautifully made and fits me very nicely. Thanks again!

Rivkah M.
US Military Personnel stationed in Naples, Italy

I am just starting in the SCA. Your products are by far the most reasonably priced and authentic looking. The web site is great!

Chris Brook
Henderson, TX

LOVED the shoes.  Danced in them all night, no insoles, no problem.  Never been able to do that before with period shoes.

Aggie
Ottawa, Illinois USA

Dear Revival Clothing, Thank you for the pleasant conversation earlier. I most certainly will recommend your clothing to our friends. We received many compliments about how well we were attired. In addition the clothing was very comfortable, and the linen makes very comfy pajamas, as they wick away moisture at night. I would have to say that I favor this clothing the most out off the extensive collection of outfits I own. I cannot thank you enough for making us look so good.

Eric and Tabatha Blacksmith
AKA Wolfgang von Bremen and Juliana MacPhearson
Baron and Baroness of Glymm Mere, An Tir

Foundation garments like the gambeson are critical to the comfort and functionality of the complete harness. Particularly in the joust where even minor problems with how the harness fits and functions will affect the rider's ability to function safely and at the best of his or her ability. The Revival Gambeson performed flawlessly.

Callum Forbes
Order of the Boar

Greetings - we always appreciate knowing all is well.  So I want to say my lovely dress arrived Saturday .....  07/07/07

Very happy,
Barbara Fleig

I just received the 12th century prick spurs yesterday.  The prick spurs themselves are so historically accurate it is unbeliveable!  I just wanted to drop you a line of thanks for offering such a great product that no other internet site can match!  Now I know that I will be ready for next years Ren-Faire! The great thing about your website and the products that you offer is that there are few people in the world that deal strictly with Medieval period clothing.  As a knight in training-you have my blessings! Keep up the good work!

Thanks, Erik Fiske
Poughkeepsie, NY USA

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I found my clothes waiting for me when I came home on leave from Afghanistan, and I have to say I was stunned! I can't tell you how fantastic I feel! Everything fits, everything looks superb, and for the first time I'll be going to events in something historically accurate. If anyone reads this, just stop reading and go buy something here! You cannot go wrong! Nothing short of the energy death of the universe will prevent anyone from enjoying these clothes AND getting a good deal in the process!

SGT John Steinke
Company A
3rd Battalion
141st Infantry

I am writing to comment upon my first Pennsic with my new Revival Clothing Gambeson. When I first received the garment, I was concerned that in the heat of Pennsic Battle that I would overheat in such a heavy and thick garment. Being from Canada my friends and me all commented that the gambeson had the weight of a winter coat. Normally not the sorts of things that we wear on a hot August day. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the gambeson was very comfortable at all times that I wore it. It was so comfortable even on a hot day that I wore it after fighting to walk about the merchant area before I showered and dressed for the evening. The best test was on the last Friday of Pennsic. It was the day of field battles and I had to fight in six battles that day. I later learned that the temperature was around 100 F (38 C). I found the garment comfortable and I never noticed its weight in the heat or during my fighting. The garment allowed me a full degree of motion. Truly, it is a wonderful garment. The only problem I did have was removing it from the cuff of the sleeve was sometimes hard due to swelling of my arms from the heat. Fortunately, this was a minor problem.

Andrew Lowry
SCA THL Richard Larmer

Finally a pair of reasonably priced, period appropriate shoes!! Footwear is the hardest thing to find when costuming oneself; it can be very frustrating to have to resort to hiking boots or whatever to finish a costume. I was so happy to open the box from revival and find these very cool shoes that will provide a supreme finishing touch to my costume. By the way, during my presentations to grade four kids, they have asked to see my footwear! Thanks loads!

Katy Gillett

I want to thank you for such prompt service, and tell you how glad I was to find you. I am new to the WMA world, and initially only wanted to find protective garments for use in longsword bouting. I did a thread search on Sword Forum International, and your company was recommended frequently there. As I browsed your site, I was amazed to find that I could not only obtain the protection, but period correct protection! Unfortunately for my woefully thin wallet, my search has now transformed into a quest to eventually outfit both my son and I with period kit. I look forward to a long and fun relationship.

Marty
York, PA