Anglo-Saxon clothes – women

Anglo-Saxon woman in traditional dress
Anglo-Saxon woman in traditional dress.
5th to 7th centuries

Women wore an under-dress of linen or wool with long sleeves and a draw-string neck. Sleeves were fastened with clasps for wealthier women, or drawn together with braid or string for poorer women.
The outer dress was a tube of material, rather like a pinafore, and often called a ‘peplos’. A pair of shoulder-brooches or clasps held this onto the under-dress. A belt was worn, from which various accessories were hung. There is some linguistic evidence that shawls were worn, as well as cloaks, which were fastened either centrally or to the right shoulder with a brooch. Shoes were as for men, and woollen socks were probably worn. Rings, bracelets and beaded necklaces were popular.

7th to 9th centuries

Shoulder-brooches and wrist-clasps went out of fashion, and the sleeves of the over-dress now came to just below elbow-length on the arms and calf-length around the legs. The under-dress was cut longer than the over-dress. Veils held on by headbands or fillets became more popular as Christianity spread. Centrally-fastened cloaks replaced the earlier styles, often reaching to the knee and sometimes with a hood.

10th to 11th centuries

The under-dress was now often pleated or folded, while the sleeves of the over-dress tended to flare towards the wrist. Dresses were edged with tablet-weave, and head-dresses became larger, covering the head and neck and hanging over the shoulders. They were held in place with pins. Belt accessories became far less popular, while a slight pointing of the shoes became more fashionable. Cloaks were now rectangular with a hole cut out for the head, and held in place with a belt.

Children seem to have worn very much the same style of clothing as adults, but in smaller sizes.

Making clothes was women’s work, and spinning and weaving were among the main activities of women in the Anglo-Saxon period. It has been estimated that about eight miles of hand-spun thread were needed to make a tunic.

The loom in general use in Anglo-Saxon England was the warp-weighted upright wooden loom, leaned against a wall either outside, or in weaving houses where several women together could work and socialize at the same time.