Flanders 15th century

Jan van Eyck, Crucifixion, 1425-1430
Unusual Crucifixion with a naked Christ.  The two thieves wear
different drawers, the thief on the left wears a garment similar
to the Crivelli San Rocco which looks as though it might be
a combination of wrapped fabric with a fitted ?sewn piece.  
The thief on the right wears drawers cut like loose trousers
and rolled above the knees.
'Stella' notes the class difference of the more "upperclass"
thief on  the left and the older fashioned "lowerclass"
drawers on the thief  on the right.  I believe she correctly
interprets this class distinction,  which would have been
apparent to van Eyck's audience, as a comment on the
universality of crime and on the universality of Christ;s
sacrifice as well 08-15-01)

A Few Notes on Men's Underclothes
Return to the Library
Return to the Hall
Best places to look for underwear: Crucifixion scenes, martyrdom scenes (especially St. Sebastian), scenes of peasants and workmen and battle scenes.  After the mid-14th century underwear is shown much more often than before because of the shortening of men’s clothes.
    In crucifixion scenes, Jesus will almost always be shown with a piece of cloth wrapped around his loins.  This probably does not reflect a garment worn anywhere at any time.  In the extra-Biblical literature of the Middle Ages, e.g. Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend), the crucifixion was minutely imagined.  After Jesus’ garments were stripped, it was reported that his Mother, Mary, took off her veil and wrapped it around him for the sake of decency.
    When I describe or refer to images, I try to use a simple set of terms to describe the garments.  These terms are not always the terms by which the items known in their own times and places. 

DRAWERS is a word that refers to the garment worn next to the skin which is intended to cover the genitals.  Pre 1500 these are usually referred to as breccae , (most inventories of garments and  descriptions of clothing were in Latin rather than the vernacular of the country, and breccae is  the Latin word for undergarments borrowed by the Romans from barbarians.)  By 1500 in Italy they are usually called mutande, and in England they are drawers by mid 15th c.

HOSE refers to two separate leg coverings.  They are usually fastened to a belt or to a pourpoint.  Hose is the usual English word, hosen is the plural.  In Italian they are calze and calze or calse in Spanish.

I use
BREECHES to refer to a garment with co-joined legs that also covers the lower trunk. In the 15th century, breeches normally have a codpiece – either triangular or rectangular – closed by points.  Early breeches were held up by points to a pourpoint or to a belt.  Breeches begin to be seen in the 15th century in Italy, but probably didn’t gain widespread acceptance until somewhat later in the rest of Europe.  As time went by they developed into pant/trousers which were again worn with hose. 

     I prefer the term Breeches to other terms because men’s lower body outer garments were known by this term at least from the 16th century onward – until trousers or pants took over as the preferred term in this century. 

     When a little boy (about age 5) was taken out of his petticoats and put into men’s garments for the first time he was said to have been breeched. Many Americans from the Southern states often refer to trousers as ‘
britches’ which many English English-speakers maintain is the correct pronunciation of this word.  (note also, the Dutch word for trousers is still broeks)

POURPOINT is a garment that starts as underclothes and gradually becomes acceptable as a primary garment.  It is worn over the shirt and us used to hold up hose or breeches by means of ties called points.  Pourpoint means “For points”.  Its probable origin is as military arming coat.  Other terms for this garment are: Jupon (England & France) Gippon (England); Farsetto (Italy) Doublet (England & France).  Jacks and Jackets (England and France) are hard to distinguish from each other and from the generic pourpoint.
Undergarments: Men
Go to page 2 of this Article
This page last updated 02/12/02
Dirk Bouts, Martyrdom of St. Elmo, ?1460s
St Elmo's loins are swathed with a cloth, but the spit-turner on the right shows a good view of hose and points.  His drawers are clearly seen, but from the quantity of fabric visible, he must wear loose ones - unless what seems to be drawers is actually the tail of his shirt