- The dress in barbarian Europe was most likely a combination of traditional Germanic clothing and imported Roman fashions. Clothing was relatively uniform throughout the Roman and post-Roman world, although there was variation in style and fabric across Europe. There was also some variation, especially in quality, between the peasantry and upper classes; the latter were obviously able to afford higher quality clothing and often adorned themselves with jewelry. In general, though, clothing was simple and functional and was adapted to the prevailing climate, with people in colder regions wearing warmer, heavier clothing.As with many things, the Roman historian and moralist Tacitus (c. 56-c. 120) provides a useful description of the clothing of pre-migration Germans. Although Tacitus's Germania must be treated carefully since its praise of the Germans is often simply a means of veiled criticism, its treatment of dress seems relatively accurate, especially when the information it gives is compared with what is known of some later barbarian practices. Tacitus notes that the Germans wear a cloak fastened with a clasp, and the wealthiest wear a close-fitting garment underneath that is "tight and exhibits each limb" (115) (in other words, trousers, never worn by the Romans). They also wear the skins of animals, which are carefully chosen and include, among others, the skins of spotted beasts. He says that they wear animal skins, a practice disdained in Roman society, because they cannot acquire other material through trade. Women, according to Tacitus, dress in the same fashion as men, except that they wear linen garments embroidered in purple and do not extend the garment into sleeves, leaving the lower arm bare.Under the influence of their contact with Rome, various barbarian peoples wore more loose-fitting and flowing clothes along with their furs and tight-fitting garments. The peasants, whose fashions changed little throughout the Middle Ages, wore heavy shoes, often of wood, a leather belt, and a simple, short tunic with narrow sleeves. The wealthier classes wore more elaborate and expensive versions of this basic outfit, and Carolingian princes and possibly other nobles changed their clothes every Saturday. Perhaps the best-known literary depiction of barbarian dress is Einhard's description of Charlemagne's clothing. He notes that the great king wore "a linen shirt and linen breeches, and above these a tunic fringed with silk" (77). Charlemagne covered his legs with hose and wore shoes on his feet. He also wore an otter or ermine coat to protect against the cold and covered everything with a blue cloak. Einhard explains that this was traditional Frankish dress, which differed little from that of the common people. A similar outfit was given to King Harold the Dane by Louis the Pious and included white gloves, a cloak set with a pin, and a tunic with straight sleeves and jewels.The standard dress of men during much of the early Middle Ages, therefore, included a tunic that reached to the knees and could be gathered with a belt. More than one tunic was often worn, with the sleeves of the undertunic extending the full length of the arm and the sleeves of the outer tunic extending only part way down the arm. The Franks and other barbarian folk wrapped their legs with hose or pants, and they wore shoes of wood or boots of leather to cover their feet. A full-length cloak covered their clothes; the cloak was open in the front and held together by a brooch. The primary fabrics were linen and wool, but silk was popular with those who could afford it. The garments were also trimmed with embroidery. In the cold weather, a coat of animal fur was worn, with the fur side turned inward to insulate better and to keep from appearing too animal-like. Women's dress was similar. They too wore tunics, but covered theirs with a full-length gown, which was either held up by chains or open in front to make walking easier. They also wore necklaces, rings, bracelets, brooches, and jewels with their clothing. By the Carolingian era, women generally wore long veils, but, as they had earlier, they wore their hair long and braided, laced with gold thread or ribbon.Even though a standard form of dress existed throughout most of the early Middle Ages, there was some variety among peoples. As Einhard again demonstrates, there were differences in fashion preferences between various peoples. Indeed, he notes that Charlemagne hated foreign clothing, but wore it twice out of his respect for Popes Hadrian and Leo III. On two occasions in Rome, Charlemagne wore Roman dress, including local styles of shoes and tunic and the Greek chlamys. The great king also wore more elaborate clothes on feast days and other occasions of state that included embroidered clothes and shoes along with a bejeweled sword.See alsoAnimals; Carolingian Dynasty; Charlemagne; Einhard; Franks; Hadrian I, Pope; Jewelry and Gems; Leo III, Pope; WomenBibliography♦ Einhard and Notker the Stammerer. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1981.♦ Riché, Pierre. Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. Trans. Jo Ann McNamara. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.♦ Tacitus, Cornelius. Agricola and Germany. Trans. Anthony R. Birley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.♦ Veyne, Paul. A History of Private Life. Vol. 1, From Pagan Rome to Byzantium. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.
Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.