The collections

Dress in the time of Emperor Charlemagne

Eginhard (770, † 840), in his work “ Charlemagne life ", Describes the clothing of the king of the Franks as follows:"The king's ordinary costume was that of his fathers, the habit of the Franks; he wore a linen shirt and slippers on his skin; over it was a tight tunic with a silk belt and socks; bandages surrounded her legs, sandals enclosed her feet, and in winter an otter skin leotard guaranteed her chest and shoulders against the cold ...

... He was always covered with the saye of the Wenetes and carried a sword whose hilt and harness were gold or silver; sometimes he wore one enriched with precious stones, but it was never except on very great feast days, or when he gave audience to ambassadors of other nations. Foreign clothes, however rich they were, he despised and did not allow people to put them on. Only twice, in the stays he made in Rome, first at the prayer of Pope Adrian, then at the urging of Leo, successor of this pontiff, did he consent to take the long tunic, the chlamys and the Roman shoe. . On great solemnities he showed himself with a gold-embroidered leotard, sandals adorned with precious stones, a saye retained by a gold clip, and a diadem all shining with gold and precious stones, but the rest of the time his clothes differed little from those of ordinary people ” (From

In general, the costume of the Carolingians results from two influences, one Germanic, the other Gallo-Roman. The main fabrics used are:

• flax imported from Mediterranean countries;
• hemp, the culture of which was strongly developed under Charlemagne because its fiber allows the design of fabric, but also of cordage;
• marten, ermine, dormouse and weasel furs;
• sheets of different fineness and different tones, from the most prestigious manufacturers in Arras, Limoges, Friesland and Flanders;
• coarser woolens;
• silks imported from Byzantium, Persia and Sicily.

Clothing is made in state workshops, which must deliver a certain number of fabrics or clothing. It is essentially the work of women. Flax is grown on rich, recently cleared land. The fibers are detached by the retting technique, which consists of immersing the plant in water for several days. The wool is taken from adult sheep, shearing being carried out in May after the animals have been washed. After being threshed, the wool is carded, then combed and spun using a spindle or distaff. The threads are then put into skeins unwound on spools and bobbins for weaving. The main plants used for dyeing are madder for red, gaude for yellow, indigo for blue, gall nut and walnut roots for black, various varieties of plants (ferns, plantain, leaves nettle) for green.

Silk is imported. In 552, two Nestorian monks brought back to Emperor Justinian bombyx eggs hidden in their pilgrim's staff. The technique of silk production then spread to Europe and the Byzantine Empire.

Civilian costume

The man

The man wears two shirts, tightened at the waist with a belt with an ornate buckle. The undershirt, called a "camisia", is usually linen. The top shirt, mid-length, fitted and with more or less long sleeves, is called "gonelle". The peasants, for their part, keep wearing the simple Gallo-Roman “colobus” without sleeves. The legs are covered on the one hand by the “breeches”, on the other hand by the “breeches”. The breeches are long and narrow, often brightly colored; the breeches cover the lower legs and part of the breeches, as they can go up to mid-thigh. Tied ribbons, also colored or embroidered, fix these breeches on the legs. Gonelles, breeches and hose are cut from more or less luxurious fabrics and are more or less embroidered according to the social status of the individual who wears them.

The hair is cut short and the beard is usually shaved. Headwear is rare. The peasant covers his head with a felt hat. Nobles can gird their hair with a band tied behind their head.

The shoes are cut from leather. They completely enclose the foot and are attached to the ankle or calf with straps. High boots called "heuses", going up to the knees and held in place with laces, are worn by travelers, soldiers and then nobles.


The women wear two tunics. The “camisia”, the underside tunic, generally has long, narrow sleeves. The top tunic has shorter, possibly flared sleeves. It can be richly decorated with embroidery and braid arranged around the collar, at the bottom of the garment and, vertically, on the front. It is tightened at the waist or under the breasts, by a long, more or less ornate belt. Over this, the women drape themselves in a long scarf, the “palla”, which can be pulled back over the head to cover the hair.

The hair is worn long and neat, disentangled using a metal, bone or ivory comb. They are left free in young girls, but married women tie them up in a bun, braids or twist. The hairstyles are held by long pins, sometimes ornate, and they are decorated with ribbons.

Women readily adorn themselves with jewelry, such as earrings, bracelets and necklaces in amber, colored glass beads or gold. They wear little or no make-up, because the church condemns this practice, which is considered luxurious. Optionally, the cheeks are made up, the red color being obtained from madder powder.

The coats

Men and women who travel wear the "cope", a circular coat open in front, fitted with a hood. The "chasuble", of the same shape, is not split on the front and the wearer, to use his arms, must raise the sides of the coat on his forearms.

The Gallo-Roman “rhéno”, an animal skin coat for which the fur is on the outside, is still worn. It is held by a large bronze clip. The Gallic "saie", a short coat worn over the shoulders and closed at the front with a fibula, is also still used.


The newborn is wrapped in a linen or hemp cloth over which there is a crossed swaddle on the front. The whole thing, called the "jersey", is held in place by strips of linen or hemp which are crossed from the shoulders to the ankles. The head is covered by a "beguinet", especially in winter.
Around the age of one, the child takes his first steps. He takes off the jersey and puts on a long, loose dress with sleeves and slit at the sides.
Around 7 years old, the costume becomes that of the adult.

Military costume

To protect himself, the Carolingian soldier wears a "broigne", a corselet of coarse canvas on which reinforcements or metal rings are sewn. Split from the bottom to the crotch, the broigne goes down to the knees and wraps around the thighs using thongs. The "bamberges", metal leggings, cover the calves. A large leather cuff protects the right forearm and helps ward off blows.

The helmet is conical in shape. The shield is round, made of wood covered with painted metal. The armament consists of a sword, a lance and a bow.

The religious costume

All clergymen are tonsured.
The two main garments of priests and bishops are "dawn" and "dalmatic". The dawn is a long, narrow-sleeved tunic that goes down to the feet. A flat belt tightens it at the waist. It is adorned with embroidered facings, claves and purple when intended for a bishop. The dalmatic is looser in shape, with flared sleeves. Above this, the monk wears a "chasuble" adorned with large embroidery on the collar and on its lower edge.
Various accessories are associated with these garments: the “stole”, a long scarf, cut in white linen and fringed at the ends, is worn by priests and bishops during the office. “The amice”, a piece of white linen or hemp, covers the neck and shoulders.

As for the monks, they wear a woolen tunic and a "sweater", a loose hooded coat and wide sleeves.


• Delphine Pinasa, Costumes, Modes and manners of being, REMPART, Desclée de Brouwer, 1992.
• Pierre Riché, Danièle Alexandre-Bidon, Childhood in the Middle Ages, Seuil, BNF.
• Pierre Riché, Daily life in the Carolingian Empire, Hachette, 1979.

Video: Charlemagne part 5 - Louis the Pious: The last Monarch of the Carolingian empire. (October 2021).