Friday, 10 May 2013

Making Medieval Braies - Underware for Men

Research on period underwear is by its nature hindered in the lack of good information. Underwear is of course generally hidden or not mentioned so visual and written sources are scarce. There is however some little evidence as to what was worn. Glimpses in manuscript pages and paintings have led to a small area of costuming scholarship. Most of the usual costuming books will have a small section devoted to underpinnings, most of it open to interpretation. (Hartley, p 32; Houston p 51, 53, 80)

A number of SCA members have examined the question and come up with descriptions of period underwear. (Asplund, d'Anjou, Eustace) The details of construction vary and seem to be based largely on conjecture and convenience. It is not my intent to examine closely the question as to the actual construction of medieval braies. Rather I wish to concentrate on a simple general pattern that can be modified to give the appearance associated with various times.

The common form of men's underclothing during most of our period is some version of the braies, that is, short pants made of soft cloth worn under a tunic or stuffed into leggings. Some authors have suggested the use of a loincloth also. The issue of loincloth versus braies is muddied by the fact that braies are often very baggy and the visual evidence is hard to interpret. The reaper on the far right below is obviously depicted with a cloth wrapped around his loins but the traditional loincloth is a narrow band tied around the waist with the remainder brought from the back through the legs and tucked into the front. This does not seem to be the case in the picture. Rather the reaper may be wearing braies with the legs tucked up in the back as shown in the picture on the left. The mountebank seems also to be wearing a loincloth, but this may be a misinterpretation of braies with the legs tucked into the hose as in the figure on the far left.

The style of braies proposed in this paper will serve from at least the 12th century on. The style around the 13th century is usually depicted as a loose pair of pants with knee length legs and a roll of cloth or a casing around the waist. (Asplund, D'Anjou, Eustace) A cord or belt is cinched around the waist to hold it on. The points of hosen and sometimes purses were tied to this belt. The roll at the waist is formed from extra material cut above the waistline, the coulisse. This can be seen both rolled and unrolled in the picture below from the Maciejowski Bible. The waistline was low hanging from the iliac crest and passing below the navel. It has been suggested that the design of the waistline helps to prevent the waist tie from cutting into the hips and waist. (Asplund, d'Anjou)

Maciejowski Bible
ca 1250

13th Cent


Bef. 1328

By the 14th century the legs had begun to shorten. As hose lengthened and became attached to a doublet instead of the braies, the braies got briefer. Finally with the introduction of joined hosen in the 15th century the braies were eliminated or reduced to a minimum. (Asplund, Eustace)

The plan below is for a pair of braies with the tie inside a casing at the waist. Slits are provided for tying the points of hosen or pouches to the waist cord. Extra length is added to the top so that the braies can be pulled up and then rolled down to give the right drape and form the coulisse roll.

14th Century
Catalonia, The Love

Hours of
of Cleves

1490 Toledo Museum

The plan below is for a general pair of braies with a waist cord set in a casing. The waist cord is accessible at two side slits for tying the points of hosen or similar garb. Before beginning the construction of the braies make the following measurements and decisions:

Tie a belt or string around your waist at the iliac crest to mark the waistline. Measure from the waist in front, through the crouch, and up to the waist in back. Measure so that it is not too tight but not too loose. Divide this measurement by two. This is the crotch length.
Measure the length around the hips at their widest point. This is the hip measurement.
Determine the size of the gusset. About 7 inches on a side seems to work well, but you may want more or less bagginess. Measure the diagonal of the gusset not including the 1/2 to 5/8" seam allowance. This is the gusset diagonal measurement.
Measure the length from midcrotch along the inseam to just above the knee. This is the inseam measurement.
Measure the length around the thigh at the widest point. This is the thigh measurement.
Decide the size of the casing around the waist depending on the kind of tie you intend to use.
Decide how you wish to finish the ends of the legs and where they should reach down to on the legs. (See below for more info.)
The picture below shows the general plan for the braies. Determine the dimensions thusly:

A. This is at a minimum the thigh measurement or �� of the hip measurement, whichever is greater. It is recommended that this be more than the minimum for comfort and extra bagginess.

B. This is the crotch length minus �� of the gusset diagonal plus 5 inches plus the width of the casing.

C. This is the length of the gusset's side excluding the seam allowance.

D. This is the inseam measurement to the knees.

E. This is the extra length needed to finish off the legs. (See below)

1. Obtain a rectangle of the cloth with a width equal to two times A plus two 5/8" seam allowances, and a length equal to B + C + D + E + one seam allowance. Fold it in half along the width as shown in the plan.
2. Cut along the fold up to the length B from the end.
3. Cut slits for the ties from hosen or similar uses. These can be placed back from the front seam as you wish. The plan shows them halfway back around the waist.
4. Cut out the gusset from the same cloth.
5. As shown below, hem the slits in the front and sides. Fold over the edge at the waist 1/4 " toward the outside (right side) and then fold over the entire casing toward the outside leaving a small gap between the slits and the waistline edge.

6. Sew the casing hem and the small gap with a zigzag or buttonhole stitch.
7. Sew in the gusset. Use a fell seam for extra strength.
8. Sew the front seam from the gusset to the casing.
9. Sew down the inseam of each leg.
10. Finish the legs as described below.
11. Run a cord or tape through the casing.

Finishing the Legs:
The legs are done according to the style of the braies. Some options are:

The legs are hemmed straight at the ends some distance below the knees. The inside seam is left open up to the knee and hemmed. Dimension E depends on the length of leg you want.
The legs end in either one or two dags. The dags can serve as points that attach to the waist tie thereby lifting the ends up out of the way. If you wish to use the points in this way, add extra bagginess to the legs so that it is easy to turn them up the leg. If you have two dags on each leg, one at the inseam and the other opposite, you can tie them up above the knee to shorten the braies. In that case measure the circumference around your leg above the knee. Two times the dimension E plus 1/2 A then should be a couple of inches more than that leg circumference. This ensures that the dags are long enough to tie securely.
The legs extend to the ankles. This converts the braies to a form of breeches, i.e. pants. One can narrow the legs to the ankle but remember to leave them wide enough to fit over the heels of your foot when you pull them on.
The ends are finished as casings with ties running through. Then the braies can be tied above or below the knee.
If you are making the short renaissance braies then the dimension D is very short and there is no E. The braies should be cut short and tighter to fit under the hose.
Wearing the Braies:

To wear the braies pull them on and tie the waist cord so that it hangs low from the hips. If you wish, you can create loops at the side slits for ease of attachment of points on hosen or the legs of the braies. You can also attach pouches and other useful implements to the ties. To create the loops use this method:

Put on the braies and tie the waist cord loosely. Remember the waist should run low, hanging from the iliac crest. Pull out a loop of the cord from a side slit. Knot it off to form a loop hanging from the slit. Retie the waist if necessary and create a loop at the other side slit in the same way. The braies will hang low with lots of room. Pull up the waistband until the braies fit comfortably at the crotch and attach any points of hosen etc. to the ties at the side slits. Roll the material down over the waist cord so that the waist line is back low around the hips. This creates the roll of material at the waist and the folds shown in period images.

1) Hartley, Dorothy; "Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It"; Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 2003; ISBN 0-486-42985-7
2) Houston, Mary G.; "Medieval Costume in England and France, The 13th, 14th, and 15th Centuries"; Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1996; ISBN 0-486-29060-3
3) D'Anjou, Maîtresse Aénor; "12th and 13th Century Braies"; as of 2-9-2008
4) Willett, c & Cunnington, Phillis; "The History of Underclothes";Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1992
5) Eustace, Emrys; "Sherts, Trewes, & Hose .i. : A Survey of Medieval Underwear"; as of 2-9-2008
6) Eustace, Emrys; "Sherts, Trewes, & Hose .iij. : Chosen Hosen"; as of 2-9-2008
7) Asplund, Randy; "Chausses and Braies: Garments for the Medieval Leg"; as of 2-9-2008

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