Imagine living in a society where your social and economic rank determined the type of clothing you could wear. Quite frankly, I would not have survived in a society that dictated what I can or cannot wear. I would feel suppressed, as if someone was taking away my freedom. I strongly believe that what we wear defines us more than we think. In other words, fashion is an expression of who we are as an individual. However, this was not the case during the medieval period.
The clothing in medieval Europe was dictated by the Pyramid of Power or a feudal system. Fashion during the medieval period was not just only about clothing, rather it dealt with economic and social implications or rank within the society. In medieval Europe fashion was dominated and strongly influenced by the King and Queen of that particular era. Several Sumptuary laws were passed to restrict lower class citizens and peasants from acquiring specific types of clothing. Only the wealthy were able to dress in luxurious and fashionable clothing.
Wealthy people often wore gold pearls and precious stones that were embroidered onto the clothing. Only royalty, during the medieval period, were allowed to wear clothes of gold and purple silk. Male clothing in medieval Europe mainly consisted of tunics or jackets, stockings (hose), breeches, and surcoats. Female clothing consisted of tunics made of silk for the wealthy and kirtles made of wool or undyed linen for the middle class. In Richard II, luxury was not of much importance; rather the clothing was unpretentious.
However, one would still be able to tell an individual’s rank from the way he or she dressed. During Richard II I noticed that King Richard II was the only individual who wore a loose white silk tunic embroidered with gold ornamental bands by the neck line, which I found very peculiar. In medieval Europe, people often associated brighter colored clothing made of expensive materials (silk) as signs of greater wealth because of the production time and scarcity of the products.
The nobles or barons in the play wore dull tunics or jackets with long stockings (hoses), which were the same color as the breeches. In Richard II, the women’s dresses had long trains and long hanging sleeves, which were embroidered or fringed. In Richard II the hairstyle of the Queen was very simple; it consisted of a small crown and plaited hair that was decorated with gold ornaments. Plaiting and adding ornaments gave the hair a fuller look and also increased the length.
When the Queen first came out during the play, initially, I thought she was a commoner or a peasant because of the simplicity of her outfit. I was truly flabbergasted by how bland and dull her costume was. I was expecting the Queen’s clothing to be very vibrant and excessive— Burgundian dress, wheel farthingale, ruff, and a crown shaped headdress with a veil—instead it was a dull colored tunic, which was worn over a shirt, that completely covered the ankles. The lacing of her gown gave an illusion of a longer waist.
Unfortunately, there were only three women in the entire play, which made it difficult for me to fully understand the women’s style in medieval Europe. Richard II strongly portrayed what might have been the daily life and fashion style during medieval Europe. I, personally, think the luxurious aspect of the medieval period was downplayed throughout the entire play. It was shown to be simpler than it may have been during medieval times. Even though the jewelry was simple, Richard II showed a more realistic and interactive aspect of fashion in medieval Europe.