A well dressed lady of the 14th century would wear at least two layers, most often 3 or even more depending on the occasion or weather.
Another great overview of layers has been Written by Tasha Kelly at cottesimple.com and can be found here.
The Under Dress-
In the 14th century the best way to stay fresh in the 14th century was to have the proper undergarments. The underdress would be worn next to the skin ans was meant to absorb sweat and body oils and help protect the subsequent layers from odors. This layer was often white linen which was known to wick moisture away. It would be changed and washed frequently and laid out in the sun to bleach out bacteria and odors.
Please note that the fitted kirtle is the foundation layer for all classes, and when the nobility is in domestic or agricultural scenes doing actual things, they can be depicted in the fitted kirtle with simple fitted sleeves. It would be the equivalent of a leggings and tee shirt in the modern world.
Most commonly It is a tailored full length garment with full length sleeves with buttons or lacings on the lower arms. The front is often laced up the center.
Kirtles were most commonly made of wool, often with small amounts of silk used as facings or as structure behind lacings or button holes.
A fitted garment has a lot of pressure on the seams- most buttons would not hold up to pressure needed for the shaping of the body that these garments provided. Towards the end of the century many regions forgo using buttons on the surcotte, using either hidden means of fastening, or a pullover style (while still being fitted), indicating a support is being provided by other means.
This means that the job of support is totally up to the kirtle or in some cases the underdress. Many wardrobe accounts call out doubled (lined with the same fabric) or another sturdy fabric as a lining. Many of the extent finds and artwork show that the kirtle remained a laced supportive garment for long after the time period of this study.
See the 14th century time line pages for more in depth knowledge of the varying shaping and styles the kirtles and surcottes went though!
A Demonstration of how to achieve different types of kirtle support! (Coming sooninsh?)
The surcotte was the most popular fashion layer, It would be used to show off your wealth and status, and for warmth. This would have used fancy silk, patterned wools, embroidery, metal buttons, etc… The best that an individual could afford. This garment was almost always lined, often with fur for winter garments or silk for summer garments.
Often this garment has various types of sleeve treatments- hanging sleeves, tippets, long exaggerated flowing to the ground sleeves, large angel wings, and bagged sleeves just to name a few. Many were popular for only a short while before moving on the next style.
Due to the types of fabrics used, and decorative elements the surcotte would be difficult to be supportive. It’s very hard to imagine a fur lined garment being supportive. So would be a just a touch bigger than the supportive kirtle underneath.
Starting around 1330 this was a fitted garment, and would be worn by the upper class until the early 1400’s when the Houppelande over took this style. The Timeline pages will go over the changes and regional differences of the fitted surcotte during the time period.
Another form of the surcotte is the Sideless Surcotte, and As it says it didn’t have sides, or sleeves. This garment would show off the fitted kirtle along with fancy belts of the wearer. Like the typical surcotte this garment would have used the best fabrics. It was often both lined and trimmed with fur and had large buttons or Bezants down the front. Towards the end of this period of study it became a more ceremonial garment.
See more on Sideless Surcottes here!
The Houppelande is another fashion layer similar to the Surcotte, in the fact that it would be created out of the best materials, and worn over a supportive Kirtle. The houppelande however was excessive in it’s use of fabric. It would traditionally be made out of many gores running from neck/shoulders to to the hem, and most often fully lined with expensive furs, creating an abundant display of wealth. It is not a fitted garment, instead it’s is contained by a belt just under the wearer bust. Most often it has long angel wing sleeves that trail on the ground, but we also do see large bag sleeves, and the less extravagant strait sleeves.
This garment evolved from the 13th century robe like garment called a Gardecorps. It was often called a Gowne in England and a Houppelande in France.
The first mention of this garment is in the 1350’s but it didn’t become very popular until the last quarter of the century. By the early 1400’s this garment became so extravagant that only the wealthiest of noble women could afford it, and we start to see a wider visual gap between the social classes. Around 1430 the houppelande morphs into a gown that is more fitted and with slimmer sleeves now referred as a Burgundian gown.
For more info on Houppelandes see this page
The Cloak or Mantle-
Cloaks and mantles were often used as a garment to add warmth or to better show of wealth. Often made of the same fabrics of the surcotte and lined with fur. As the century progressed the houppelande would overtake the use of the mantle as a fashion garment, but it would remain popular for ceremonially purposes or for common folks.