Medieval Clothing: Trousers / Pants. History, types and Products.

Medieval trousers were traditionally worn under a short tunic or with a small cloak and were usually ankle length. If the trousers were loose, the excess material was bunched around the waist and “hung in folds around the legs”. Narrow trousers were cometimes accompanied by garters or leggings.

Pieces of fabric were attached to the trousers in order to form belt loops from which to hold the piece in place, at the waist, by a belt.

Trousers of various designs were worn throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, especially by men.

The historic root of the word trousers comes from the Scottish word trews.

History of the Trousers

There is some evidence of trousers being worn in the Upper Paleolithic, but they probably originated in Central Asia, worn from the waist to the ankles and covering both legs separately (as opposed to robes, skirts and dresses). Woolen trousers have been found in Turpan, western China, dating from the 13th and the 10th century BC and likely made for horseback riding.

Trousers entered recorded history in the 6th century BC, on the rock carvings and artworks of Persepolis.  Romans disdained trousers as the mark of barbarians (although they later began using them in the north as they provided greater warmth).

In the Middle Ages, trousers were worn under long tunics. Trousers in this period varied in length and were often closed at the cuff or even had attached foot coverings. Among upper-class males, by the 8th century there is evidence of the wearing in Europe of two layers of trousers.

Types of Trousers

Trousers can be classified flexibly into:

  • Brais: Worn in the early Middle Ages, brais varied in length and were often closed at the cuff.
  • Drawers: An under layer trouser worn by upper-class males in the late 16th century.
  • Breeches: Trousers made of wool or linen and worn over drawers, common in the 10th century.
  • Tights or Hose: Skin-tight trousers worn by the most fashionable elites in the 14th century.

Image Gallery: Trousers in Medieval Manuscripts & Art

Detail of a man with a thresher, Psalter, The 'Shaftesbury Psalter'.
Detail of a man with a thresher, Psalter, The 'Shaftesbury Psalter'. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Trousers worn in the Bib. Mazarine MS.348 Breviary, dated 1275-1299, France.
Trousers worn in the Bib. Mazarine MS.348 Breviary, dated 1275-1299, France. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.
Trousers worn in the Douai BM MS.173 Psautier à l'usage de la collégiale Saint-Pierre de Lille, dated 1251-130, France.
Trousers worn in the Douai BM MS.173 Psautier à l'usage de la collégiale Saint-Pierre de Lille, dated 1251-130, France. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.

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Medieval Trousers on Amazon

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