The Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500) are best known for the long, flowing tunics, mantles (types of overgarment), cotehardies (short robes), and other garments that covered not only the upper body but much of the legs as well. While women's garments remained long, over the course of time men's tunics and overcoats grew shorter, allowing them to display more and more of their legs. Men generally wore two different garments on their legs, hose and breeches, and the length and fit of these garments changed a great deal between around 1000 and 1400 C.E.
Since the early Middle Ages, European men had worn breeches, loose-fitting trousers that were held at the waist with a belt or a draw-string. These might have a stirrup to secure the hem of the breeches inside a shoe, or they could be loose at the ankle. Like most clothes of the time, these breeches were usually made out of wool. Many men bound these breeches close to their legs with leg bands. As the hemlines of outer garments rose, men sought more attractive ways to display their legs. They followed the emerging fashion of the day in wanting to display the form of the body, and not cloak it in loose fabric. They thus began to wear close-fitting hose that reached to the upper calf or even above the knee. These hose, made from a clingy, bias-cut wool (cut diagonally to the grain of the fabric), were as skin-tight as the fabric would allow and were held in place by a garter, or small belt. Slowly, hose extended further and further up the leg, and breeches diminished in size. By the thirteenth century some breeches were no more than baggy short pants, and hose had been joined together at the waist to form what we think of today as tights.
This transformation in men's legwear, with hose chasing breeches up the leg, was complete by the end of the thirteenth century. Hose were now common and many were made with feet sewn on. In some cases it appears that the foot sections of the hose had leather heels sewn on to the bottom so that shoes were not required. Most hose were made of wool, though very wealthy men might have hose made of silk or velvet.
Hartley, Dorothy. Mediaeval Costume and Life. London, England: B. T. Batsford, 1931.
Hatt, Christine. Clothes of the Medieval World. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 2001.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Ruby, Jennifer. Medieval Times. London, England: B. T. Batsford, 1989.
[ See also Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Leg Bands ; Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Hose and Breeches ]
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