Anglo-Saxon dress

Anglo-Saxon dress refers to the variety of Early medieval European dress, or clothing, worn by the Anglo-Saxons from the time of their migration to Great Britain in the 5th century until the beginning of the Norman Conquest, when Norman fashions from the Continent began to have a major influence in England.


Anglo-Saxon clothing usually utilized only three types of fabric. Wool was a coarse material which was used for most garments. Lower class people, such as slaves (theow) and poorer peasants (gebur) could only use wool for their garments, even garments worn against the skin. Linen, harvested from the flax plant, was a finer material which was used for garments that were worn close to the skin by better-off peasants (kotsetlas and geneatas) and those above them in the social hierarchy. Silk was an extremely expensive material, and it was used only by the very rich, and then only for trim and decoration.

Men’s fashion

The primary garment consisted of a knee-length woolen tunic. For the poorer theow, this would be the only clothing worn, although some may have been given woolen trousers and shoes to wear. Gebur would be able to afford woolen trousers and leather shoes, and would also carry a knife (called a seax), which signified their freedom in the eyes of medieval Anglo-Saxon society. A linen undertunic (worn under the outer woolen tunic) and linen braies (reaching to the ankle or knee) would be worn by richer peasants and nobility, along with woolen hose which would be held up by garters or decorative embroidery around the top. During the 11th century, the length of the braies decreased and the length of the hose increased, eventually resulting in a garment which somewhat resembled modern shorts. Geneatas and thegns would often have cross-gartering on their hose, along with leather turnshoes. Over the tunic, a cloak would be worn, which was held together by a brooch or, later on, a ring (functional buttons not being invented until the 13th century). The Phrygian cap was the main style of headcovering worn by men, although hoods would also be worn.

Women’s fashion

The main garment for a woman was a woollen gown of ankle length. Occasionally two gowns were worn, with the inner gown having longer, tighter sleeves, and the outer one having shorter, looser sleeves. Under this might be worn a linen underdress. A mantle might be worn over the outer dress, along with a cloak. Like men, free women would also carry a seax as a sign of their freedom. After the introduction of Christianity, all women (except for very young girls and occasionally slaves) would wear some kind of headcovering, usually a draped couvrechef called a headrail, the ancestor of the later wimple.


Anglo-Saxon embroidery was regarded as among the best. The most famous example of Anglo-Saxon embroidery is the Bayeux Tapestry. Although it was commissioned by a Norman (most likely Odo of Bayeux), the Bayeux Tapestry shows many hallmarks of Anglo-Saxon embroidery techniques, pointing to the likely use of Anglo-Saxon embroiderers in its construction.

See also


Further reading

  • Brooke, Iris (2000). English Costume from the Early Middle Ages through the Sixteenth Century. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-41238-5
  • Owen-Crocker, Gale R., Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, revised edition, Boydell Press, 2004, ISBN 1-8438-3081-7
  • Quennell, Marjorie and C. H. B. (1927). Everyday Life in Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman Times. New York: The Knickerbocker Press.
  • Regia Anglorum Members Handbook: Saxon Dress. (January 2007).

Search another word or see headrailon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature