Stripping the Maiden

I first wrote this post for my lovely friend and fellow historical romance writer, Collette Cameron.

When I first read a medieval romance, I had no idea what some of the period words meant and had to work them out or get a vague idea. Most historical romance readers are well steeped in their favorite genres and know exactly what the writer is talking about when they say "chemise" or "bliaut". But for those of you who, like me, had to take a wild guess, let me strip my medieval characters for you.

So, Beatrice wears a bliaut in the opening of the book.

The bliaut was worn from about the eleventh century through the thirteenth and refers to an over garment with a full skirt, pleated or puckered under the bust to fit tightly over the abdomen and featuring long sleeves. The sleeves are really the most distinguishing feature, fitting tightly to the elbow before widening at the wrist, sometimes all the way to the floor.


And just look how beautifully this has been translated into modern wedding dresses.

Over her bliaut, she would have worn a girdle and the richness of these were dependent on the wealth and status of the family.

Now, girdles have lost a lot on their modern translation. See what I mean?

For most of the book she dresses as a man in braies, chausses and a tunic.

Braies were a sort of medieval underpants, but poorer laborers would have worn them on their own.

Chausses, kind of, went over the top. When I look at the chausses, I'm relieved they wore the braies underneath.


And the tunic I think we all get. But it was going through a bit of a transition at this time, in that it was getting longer and longer and the wealthy were wearing it with hose underneath.

Beatrice doesn’t wear one, but over this tunic came a surcoat and this would be the showpiece of the outfit, like the one in the picture.

Fabrics used most commonly were wool, ranging in quality and texture depending on class. Linen and hemp were commonly used in the lower classes. Silk became more popular with the wealthy following the crusades as did damasks, velvets and satins, and samite (a heavy silk-like fabric often woven with silver and gold.) The rich could afford to use fur as embellishment and leather was used for shoes, belts, gloves and armor.

And there you have it, Beatrice dressed and undressed for you.