The medieval tunic was a garment usually simple in style that reached from the shoulders to an area between the hip and the knee. Tunics could have either long or short sleeves.
When pulled over the head, tunics would sit snugly around the neck without the use of lacing or ties. A belt or girdle with a buckle was usually worn around it. When multiple tunics were worn at once, the lower one was often short-sleeved and served as a shirt.
Most tunics were made in one color, although they might have a different colored lining. For people of higher classes, tunics were often dyed or richly embroidered, although the plainer ones were used frequently when layering different types. The most common materials used in tunics were wool and linen and for the wealthier, silk.
History of the Tunic
The name Tunic derives from the Latin tunica, the basic garment worn by both men and women in Ancient Rome (originally based on earlier Greek garments).
Tunics worn by the Celts were documented by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus: “they wear brightly colored, and embroidered shirts, with trousers, called braccae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch.”
The tunic continued to be the basic garment of the Byzantine Romans of both sexes throughout the medieval period, with upper classes people wore other garments atop, and their tunics came down to the ankles.
Types of Tunics
Tunics can be classified flexibly into:
- Doublets: Doublets probably originate from military garments. They appeared in the middle of the 14th century and were worn under outer garments. The cut of a doublet was well-fitted to the body.
- Surcoats: Surcoats were long loose robes put over the head, with sleeves that could be tossed to the back. Usually made of wool with a linen lining, surcoats were used from the 13th century till the early 14th century.
- Jupons: A 14th-century tight tunic or jacket with padding, fastened by buttons or laces all down the front.
- Tabards: An outer tunic cut like a poncho but with the sides closed by stitching or clasps. Heralds wore a version of the tabard with sleeves only covering the outer arms.
Image Gallery: Tunics in Medieval Manuscripts & Art
Books about Medieval Clothing
Medieval Tunics on Amazon
More Medieval Clothing
During the late Middle Ages, tabards (a type of short coat) were used by men all around Europe.
The Hood could be part of a cloak or cape, or worn as a separate form of headgear.
In the 11th century, women wore dresses that were similar to men’s tunics.
Medieval trousers were traditionally worn under a short tunic or with a small cloak and were ankle length.