Medieval Clothing: Tunic. History of the tunic, uses and cloak styles.

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

Medieval tunics in the SB Bamberg Msc.Bibl. 140 Bamberger Apokalypse, dated 1010, Richenau, Germany.
Medieval tunics in the SB Bamberg Msc.Bibl. 140 Bamberger Apokalypse, dated 1010, Richenau, Germany. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.
Medieval Clothing: Cloaks and Tunics in the Stuttgart Psalter, dated 801-850, Paris, France.
Medieval Clothing: Cloaks and Tunics in the Stuttgart Psalter, dated 801-850, Paris, France. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.
Medieval Cloakes and Tunicsin the Cambridge MS R.17.1 Eadwine Psalter, dated 1150, Canterbury, England.
Medieval Cloakes and Tunics in the Cambridge MS R.17.1 Eadwine Psalter, dated 1150, Canterbury, England. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.

Books about Medieval Clothing

Medieval Tunics on Amazon

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Medieval Clothing: Tabard

Medieval Tabard

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