On Being Under the Public Eye

For a 14th century lady or lass about the town or countryside, do not be remiss in paying attention to how you look when you leave your chamber or your home. “Let not your clothing or your hair be in disaray”. As the Menagier de Paris gave advice to his young wife. Yes its a rather loose quote but the giste of it works. He was warning her that going out into public looking slatternly or slovenly would embarras her family and his family and bring her name and value in the public eye down quite a bit. He warned her not to make excuses, just to do it right the first time, to set a good example for other’s to follow.

He warned her secondly to never go out unaccompanied in public, to church or the market, and especially to any private affair; she was to bring a groomsman or a guard. She was to never associate with dishonorable women, or suspect company. It would encite gossip. When out in public she was not to make eye contact, but to look forward and at the ground. She should not speak to anyone on the street on her way to church a sunday, and when she arrived she should find a secluded place to pray near a statue and keep her eyes on the statue or her book of prayer, not on anything else around her; keeping her thoughts on the prayers until the end of the service. “Focus your thoughts on Heaven and pray with your whole heart and in such manner attend mass every day and go to confession often.”  He wanted her to set a good example for those around her, and those also in her employ. Because as the Lady of the house or mannor that was her responsibility.  (I want to know when she had time to do all that praying and being at mass every day and running the household as well. She must have been lucky indeed to be wealthy enough to have servants to do it all for her; and in his entire book he teaches her everything he thinks she needs to know to run his household, for evidently she will be very wealthy when he dies and leaves it all to her.)

Basically; Leaving Religion out of it all be modest in the public eye, not a wonton whore. Many other books gave nearly the same advice in those days, wanting women to know the right way to behave. Goodness, it’s almost as if they thought we were dumber than the cattle in the fields needing even the instructions on how to use the privy correctly.

One should try to keep up with fashions only as far as modesty will allow. Make sure that your clothing does not show any flesh save face and hands. Bare feet being the exception when out in the field, garden or in the river washing. Men, thinking we are the weaker sex and being weak in will when in come to lusting after women are want to blame the woman for her beauty. Be kindly towards the men and keep as much covered unless the heat is too much, and then wear layers that will allow as much modesty as can be expected in the heat of day. If you were a woman back in the days of the early 13th through 14th centuries they wanted you to think that it was your fault that they were dogs in the manger, after all it was Eve that got us all banished from Paradise right?

The first layer is the Chemisette and Hosen. They lay closest to the skin and so keep the dirt and oils off of the finer raiments when you get sweaty from dancing and feasting in the hall or out at a faire. The chemisette is a sleeveless tight fitting under gown fitted in the same manner as the fitted cotehardie, generally spiral laced up the front too keep the breasts from sagging. Think of it as a long slip with a sports bra in the top half, but the sports bra is half again too small. When fitted correctly it holds up the breasts better than any bra on the market…think on that before you drag your feet ladies..I go to an event and look forward to wearing my chemisette every single time. No underwire, no pinching and no sagging; all because it was fitted to me the first time. The Hosen are just like stockings only cut from fabric and are held up with garters. I cheat, and wear mens closed hosen on a belt under the chemisette, only because like a few of the larger ladies, I don’t like the have the thunder thighs rubbing together (if you get my meaning).

The Second layer is the Kirtle or the Fitted Cotehardie, which is a fine garment; that laces or buttens up the front and from the wrists to the elbow closely. Showing the figure of a woman without unclothing her, yet allowing her still the freedom of movement. Mine is a lovely dark royal blue and buttons up the front of the dress and from the wrists to the elbows of each sleeve. It is made from good linen. I love it and have worn it for many years, and gotten good service from it.

Thirdly comes the Surcote, sideless or otherwise, although I preferr an apron as I go about my business in camp or about the household to keep the dirt and dust from my kirtle. Mine is white and I am currently embroidering my device on the front of it like a badge. Maybe one of these days I will create my true heraldic one to wear to court…

For your hair; keep it braided and covered with a veil and wimple. This will keep your head covered modestly and keep you from being sunburned as well. A straw hat will help further that along and keep the sunburn from your face. If a veil and wimple are not to your taste the simple act of brushing and braiding your hair will do, really. At an event if they want high fashion they will just have to wait until final court to see all of us decked out in our pretty finery, or an indoor winter even where the wind, dust and mud won’t get us!

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