Twelfth Century Changes in Dress

By the twelfth century, artistic and literary evidence indicates that significant changes in political, economic, technological, and social life had begun to affect clothing. After the Roman government of Europe broke down, local rulers administered smaller or larger areas. Charlemagne (768-814), one of the kings of a Germanic tribe called the Franks, came to exercise significant power over much of Western Europe and was crowned emperor by the pope in Rome in 800 c.e. This empire did not long survive Charlemagne.

A feudal society developed in which local lords granted land (fiefs) to subjects who, in turn, provided loyalty, payment, and military support to the lord. These lords or kings built castles where large numbers of people lived and worked. Such centers provided a stage for the display of status, which was often expressed through dress.

As the European economy prospered and courts expanded, the Christian church served as a unifying force with its central authority, the pope, in Rome and local bishops in important cities and towns. When the pope called on the many feudal lords and their soldiers to liberate the Holy Lands from the Muslims, who had taken control of that region, thousands responded. Their reasons for joining the Crusades ranged from genuine religious fervor to opportunities for looting and pillaging. The impact on dress was significant. The crusaders, who continued their warfare for almost 200 years, brought back new fabrics, design motifs, and clothing styles that were adapted for European dress. At the same time, civilian dress incorporated elements of military dress.

While the Crusades increased trade and communication with the Middle East, European traders were rekindling trade with the Far East as well. Marco Polo

(c. 1254-1324) wrote of his adventures as a trader in a book that helped to encourage commerce with the Far East.

In decline over the post-Roman period, urban centers once again became the hubs of production and trade after the feudal period. Technological advances in the production of textiles such as water-powered fulling (finishing) of wool, a horizontal loom at which the worker could sit and use foot treadles and a shuttle, and a spinning wheel that replaced the hand spindle all served to increase the capacity of the growing textile industry. Craftsmen formed guilds that set standards and pay rates. Trade opportunities expanded, and wealth extended beyond the courts and royalty to this newly affluent merchant class.

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