November 03, 2015

All Dressed Up in Chaucer

I woke up at 3:33. Which doesn't mean much of anything, but I'm surprised by how often numbers in my life line up. Or that I notice when they do. The 11:11's. The 12:34's. So excuse the molasses-like slowness of my fingers on the keyboard. It's early, and I'm up and about to write about Chaucer. I could be in college!

But I'm not. I'm in my office, delighted by the fact that people out in never-land are taking this journey through Chaucer with me. If you're new to the concept, here are some of the previous posts:

Today, I thought I'd write about fashion in the time of Chaucer. I chose this topic totally on a whim, because I adore fashion—and I end up spending quite a lot of time thinking about how people dress. I had no idea that when I poked around, I'd find that the 14th century was considered the start of recognizable "fashion."

Why? Draped garments and straight (I suppose "no nonsense") seams began to be replaced by clothing that more obviously fit the human form through the use of laces, buttons, and curved seams. Buttons date back to 2,000 (or more) years BCE. (I read something that said as early as there was clothing there were buttons.) But as fasteners for clothing, they weren't used in Europe until the 13th century.

Pause for a moment. Can you imagine people's excitement. I'll bet there was an idiom. "That's the coolest thing since the invention of the button!" Oh, but you know people and how they get. There was probably consternation. Buttons are the devil's work!

Ha. I said that without any concept that I was correct. I just found that "according to the church, the gates of hell were opened and buttons were censured for both sexes." Even currently (apparently) buttons are "frowned upon" by the Amish and zippers and Velcros are a no-no. (A friend of mine who grew up in the 60s said she couldn't wear a dress with a zipper down the front to school because it was considered too risque.)

But I digress.

There is much about what Chaucer wore when he went to court of Richard II. Both men and women embraced high-collars and a slew of jewels. Women wore fancy hair styles. Hats were popular, as was embroidery. Fancy dress meant decorated and bejeweled clothing.

I'm jumping from bed to bed here, because I just found something that said both men and women in the upper and lower classes slept naked. Why? Because pajamas were not invented until the 16th century. Although poorer classes might wear their undergarments for warmth and married women might wear theirs for piety.

"Piety" means the quality of being religious or reverent. Always important for those married women.

Chaucer uses the description of the different characters' clothing to point out their status. Wow. That sounded frighteningly like something I might have written for a term paper. For instance, friars at the time were generally beggars who were supposed to be modest, who—like Blanche duBois, I suppose—got by on the kindness of strangers. Chaucer's friar hangs with the rich folk so that he can wear expensive attire.

I wanted to put in quotes from Chaucer directly—but I left my book in the car, and I'm too cold (and lazy) to go outside and retrieve it. If you have any favorite clothing quotes, please post them. 

And let me know how you're progressing. I'm, quite honestly, savoring the book. It's making me six kinds of happy. Reading the title in public is a definite conversation starter. Most people have brushed up against Chaucer at one point or another.


P.S. Picture at the top of the page is obviously a different type of button. Long-time readers will recall that eight (or so) years ago, I would host writing contests and reward players with buttons!


Jim Scovill said...

Finally a tale of:
Flesshy delices
Destreined and bounde
Servage and subjeccion
Scantnesse of clothinge
Delices of luxurye

baddoggerel said...

I finished it -- the translated version, anyway -- which I probably would never have even picked up if not for your exemplary guidance.

Jim Scovill said...

Came across the word QUEINTISE (cunning) yesterday which lead to a lot of bad middle English jokes streaming throughy mind.

Jim Scovill said...

and then I added a wee dram of caffeine to the mix and set off cascades of free associations. The only sensible idea so far is another option for the fund raiser: T-shirts with the phrase "I love cute queintise queintes"

Jim Scovill said...

Have to ask what you thought of the tale of Sir Thopas?