How Much Clothing Should I Have?

I commonly portray a craftsman living in the late 12th century who takes up arms when advantageous, originally from Norman Sicily but now settled in Antioch. Such a person would have some means, but far and away from the knightly or noble classes. In the last couple of years I have arrived at a concept for an amount of clothing which I think is appropriate for such a person. That is two changes of woolens, and two sets of undergarments for each set of woolens. In total that is four pairs of braes, four undertunics, two pair hosen, and two supertunics.

I have a couple pieces of evidence to support this idea of a minimal amount of clothing. The first is the evaluation of consumption of wool in Woven Into the Earth by Else Ostergard. “We hear from Iceland in the eighteenth century that a human being needs at least five kilograms of wool for clothing a year.”, this paraphrased from Island. Politikens Danmarks Historie by Thorsteinsson, B. 1985. Ostergard goes on to weigh extant garments and account for loss over the centuries, coming to an estimate of an entire set of clothing including outer and inner layers, hood, and cloak at eight to ten kilograms. The weight of these garments does not include the wastage created during the spinning, weaving, and sewing processes, but it can give us an idea of annual production, about half of a Greenlandic panoply annually.

The climate in Italy and the Latin East would naturally reduce the amount of wool clothing from what is suggested by Ostergard. Rather than using the same amount of wool per year as in the far north, I think the percentage of a costume replaced every year is the more applicable figure; roughly half a woolen outfit every year. These garments would be so heavy-duty that they would last several years, but after that they would surely require considerable repairs.

Another argument for this amount of woolens is the need. For people who are just a step above subsistence farming, spending the hundreds of hours required to make unnecessary garments for use inside the household instead of, for instance, selling the surplus or spending the time on other tasks seems far fetched. Having a constant rotation of “new” and “old” garments allows for work to continue while the other set is being washed or repaired. For those truly desperate, more than one set of clothing could seem like an extravagance, but that is not the situation of my portrayal.

A final justification for the number of changes of clothing which would be appropriate is ecclesiastic in nature, in fact the Rule of St. Benedict. This is a 7th century document which was adhered to and augmented to the present day. Chapter 55 of the Rule specifically speaks about the clothing to be worn by the Brothers: “We believe, however, that in ordinary places the following dress is sufficient for each monk: a tunic, a cowl (thick and woolly for winter, thin or worn for summer), a scapular for work, stockings and shoes to cover the feet…Let those who receive new clothes always give back the old ones at once, to be put away in the wardrobe for the poor. For it is sufficient if a monk has two tunics and two cowls, to allow for night wear and for the washing of these garments; more than that is superfluity and should be taken away. Let them return their stockings also and anything else that is old when they receive new ones.” Now I do not do a monastic portrayal, but if this was the standard for the ecclesiastic order at the same time as my portrayal, my reasoning cannot be completely defunct.

I believe these three reasons certainly support someone of the standing I portray having two sets of woolens, with the opportunity for three. This would be especially appropriate when the oldest have been repeatedly patched and worn to the point where the owner could consider re-selling or donating the clothing, or the material re-purposed for other domestic applications.

The next question is the linens. I have chosen the number of two changes of linens for every change of woolens for reasons that were just derided by the Rule of St. Benedict. During the day I am rather active, working around encampments, practicing crafts or martial activities, and walking around in the sun. Having a second change of linens means that I can practice some basic level of hygiene and change out my undertunic after washing for dinner or other formal occasions. With a day of airing out or even rinsing with water, the undertunic may be swapped back and I can remain relatively fresh for several days before switching to the second set of clothing. As for period justification, I have none. Our predecessors seem to be fairly tight-lipped about their wear of undergarments. Barring new evidence, I can only hope that my attempt at the mindset of a historical person is somewhat close to the truth.

If anyone else has information or thoughts on the subject, I love to discuss this sort of thing. The next several weeks will be spent building ensemble from the ground up, beginning with braes!

Østergård Else. Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland. Aarhus Univ. Press, 2009.

“St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries.” Translated by Leonard J Doyle, Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg, 22 Sept. 2015, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/50040/50040-h/50040-h.html.

2 thoughts on “How Much Clothing Should I Have?

  1. I find your reasoning sound for the men, but am intrigued to learn more for a female since their hygiene needs would vary slightly depending upon their level of monetary means and work they may be doing

    Like

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