In today’s modern world, nobody would have grown up without ever owning a pair of the blue jeans. Pair up your blue jeans with a designer blouse for the glamorous look or with a t-shirt for an everyday get-up. In the medieval times, they also have this stable, basic get-up which they could either dress up or down – and this is the tunic, which is the most basic medieval costume.
This legendary medieval costume, the tunic, derived its name from the Latin word “tunica” worn in the ancient Rome. The Romans however, originally got the idea of this outfit form the earlier Greek costumes. In today’s terminology, the tunic is your big baggy t-shirt.
The original tunics worn by the Romans soldiers were simply two pieces of identical rectangular cloth sewn together, but leaving provisions for the arms and the head. Later, people learned to make tunics with sleeves especially in the colder regions of Europe such as Britain and Germany where similar clothes were already used by the locals.
The style, design, simplicity or complexity of this medieval costume indicated the social status of the wearer in the Roman society. Let’s just say that the more ornate your tunic is the higher is your social status. People who led a more sedentary life had longer tunics, while those who are doing manual labor such as soldiers, slaves and horse-back riders had their tunic just above the knee to give them freedom of movement. For formal occasions, tunics were worn under a toga.
Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the popularity of the tunic as an everyday medieval costume continued to spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. It was usually worn over underclothes, which for men, basically consisted of drawers or ankle-length pants, undershirts and hose.
On the other hand, the ladies wore “kirtles” or tunics worn up to the ankles. These tunics were worn after the undershirts. When they went out of their homes, the ladies wore a more elaborate and shorter kirtle over their tunics. This is truly an interesting fashion era that will have present day designers a field day with all the tunics that they have to create. All women had to wear at least one tunic. The downside of this is of course the weight of all these layers of medieval costume restricted women to move as fast and as carefree as women of today do.
Tunics were usually made of wool and linen but the aristocrats and those who can afford it had silk tunics or had it trimmed with silk. The tunic became the foundation clothing of people for the next hundreds of years, until they were replaced by the modern day clothing that we now have.
Tunics in the early middle ages had embroidery. This was probably the precedent for the elaborately embroidered tunics used today by religious persons such as priests, clergies, monks, nun and the like during religious rites such as the mass and similar events.
From the Middle Ages and onwards, the tunic has evolved into several variations of styles, lengths, width and fitness. Despite its evolution, one thing remains. This medieval costume never went out of style from the time it was discovered until now.