The curious lack of evidence for 6th century Kentish Anglo-Saxon chemise
I’m currently researching 6th century Kentish Anglo-Saxon women’s clothing with a huge focus on what Penelope Walton Rogers refers to as Dress Style III and Dress Style IV.
Dress Style III(a in the picture) is described as “a garment with a vertical front opening clasped by two brooches, one at the throat the other centre-chest, and worn with a buckled belt.” For ease of reference I’m referring to this at “the tunic”.
And Dress Style IV(b and c in the picture) is described as “the same as Dress Style III but with the addition of a front-opening coat or jacket on top. The coat/jacket was fastened by a pair of crossways bow brooches, either at the waist or immediately below, the jacket being worn outside the belt. The women used both imported and Kentish-made brooches to fasten these garments and bordered the front edges of the jacket with their Jutish-style tablet weaves.” In some sources this is refered to as a “Frankish coat” and since that’s simpler I think I’ll stick to that as shorthand.
See.. now here’s where I admit to what I suppose is a modern bias.
When I first look at these Kentish fashions my first thought was that the tunic HAD to have some kind of chemise under it. In fact I accepted it as so much of a fact I didn’t think to question it until I’d spent MONTHS looking into Kentish fashions. So here I am.. months later, finally questioning my assumption.
“The evidence” at this point is a skim of quite a few articles/books and a careful review of “Early Anglo-Saxon costume and textiles from Saltwood Tunnel, Kent” by Penelope Walton Rogers and a half-way-done careful review of the clothing evidence from “Buckland Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Dover Excavations 1994” by Keith Parfitt and Trevor Anderson.
The evidence so far is made up of wisps of fibers which have been found on the fronts/backs of the metal items in the graves (Button Brooches, Rectangular Brooches, belt buckles, pins, etc). I do mean wisps. In some cases the “fibers” boil down to 3-4 mm of fibers which are so tiny the weave cannot even be determined. So far I have not seen a single reference to any type of dye testing results on ANY of the fibers(wool, linen, hemp).
The evidence so far points to the fact that the “Frankish Coat” is made of wool. With probably 90% being a diamond twill.. and so far one example which is described as “‘matted fabric’ possibly deliberately soft-finished.” which sounds to me like a fulled wool. It also points to the front closure being edged with possibly flax or hemp tablet weaving. (Which, as an aside, SQUEEE TABLET WEAVING!!)
The evidence so far points to the fact that the “tunic” is made of fine probably tabby linen. I’ve also found some delicious information about button loop closures on these tunics (I’ll write more on that when I actually try making some). At this point the evidence does not point to any tablet weaving on this garment.
What the evidence does NOT show is any hint that there might be another garment UNDER the tunic.
Which got me to thinking.
Point the first: No one in any of the sources I’ve looked at have hinted at a chemise layer.. I just assumed it was there.
Point the second: In all cases that I’ve seen so far the tunic layer has been described as fine linen.. BUT there’s been no hint about dyes used.
Point the third: Common held belief is that it is very rare to see instances of dyed linen in medieval clothing.
Counter-Point the first: Let’s say there *is* a chemise layer. Right now all the evidence consists of scraps of a fiber adhered to metal bits. It’s possible that they didn’t wear a metal bit between the tunic layer and the chemise layer or between the chemise layer and their skin.. so there wouldn’t be any fiber preserved to hint at this chemise layer. This is still waiting on more research.. I do know of several examples of bracelets.. and I haven’t yet looked into the fiber evidence on the bracelets to see if those lend any more information to the picture.
So.. what if the thing that I’ve identified as the “tunic” is really the tunic/chemise. What if it’s white.. and has 3 fixation points down the front.
Honestly I can’t imagine wearing a tunic which is only closed at three places and having bare flesh underneath. I’ve worn button-down shirts.. and gap-osis is epic when you have a button every two inches.. let alone what happens when you have a total of three fixation points (two brooches and a belt). That said.. from a practicality perspective, especially when considering how to facilitate breast-feeding.. having no chemise in the way would seem really convenient.
So.. well I guess at this point I’m going to make a new tunic.. split it down the front.. add the spiffy button loops and try wearing it to see how that works out. Maybe my bias is unjustified. We’ll see.
I am going to stray from the evidence a bit.. I have a nice hank of gold linen set aside which I want to use for the tunic.. so I’m going to do that instead of using plain white.