Tabards were a type of short coat commonly worn by European men during the late Middle Ages. The garment could be sleeveless or have short sleeves or shoulder pieces. The Oxford English Dictionary first records the word in English in 1450, while tabards are frequently represented on tomb effigies and monumental brasses of the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
Although tabards were usually work clothes (worn by peasants, monks, and foot-soldiers), some belonging to knights and worn over their armor was emblazoned on the front and back with a coat of arms.
Tabards were distinguished from surcoats by being open-sided and shorter. They could be worn with or without a belt.
History of the Tabard
Originally, tabards (from the French tabarde) were humble outer garments made generally without sleeves. Later, a tabard normally comprised four textile panels (two large panels hanging down the wearer’s front and back, and two smaller panels hanging over his arms as shoulder-pieces or open “sleeves”). These panels were usually emblazoned with the same coat of arms.
With the development of plate armor and the decline in shields, tabards became an important means of battlefield identification.
By the end of the 16th century, tabards were almost exclusively associated with officers of arms.