chapter  15
16 Pages

Rips and Slits: The Torn Garment and the Medieval Self

The late medieval fashion for 'shredded' attire uniquely captured the English imagination. Fashionable men and women displayed themselves in clothing whose edges and surfaces were disrupted in various ways, from slashed openings or slits in the sides, sleeves, leggings, and skirts of garments, to decorative incisions, and jagged or dagged sleeves, hats, scarves, and hems. This type of cutting, slitting, and perforation of garments emerged as early as the twelfth century and grew more elaborate until the mid-seventeenth.2 The discourse around the clothing style,

My gratitude to the American Association of University Women and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for their generous support of this research. 1 Anonymous single stanza thought to be from the fifteenth century, from MS Corpus

Christi College Oxford 274 f. 155. See Thomas Wright ed. (1861), 'Epigrams on the Public Extravagance', in Political Poems and Songs II, London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, p. 252. 2 In England, garments slitted and laced at the sides appeared in the twelfth century, and

some dagging appeared in the thirteenth century, but the heightened use of slashing and dagging grew to popularity in the mid fourteenth century. See Herbert Norris (1999), Medieval Costume and Fashion, Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, pp. 82-3; Stella Mary Newington (1999), Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, Rochester, New York: Boydell Press, pp. 5, 9-13, 103; Frangoise Piponnier and Perrine Mane (1997), Dress in the Middle Ages, trans. Caroline Beamish, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 69, 79, 90; Joachim Bumke (2000), Courtly Culture, trans. Thomas Dunlap, New York: The Overlook Press, p. 146. On regulatory responses to these fashions, see Alan Hunt (1996), Governance

however, seems to have intensified in the course of the virtual revolution of European dress that emerged in and around the 1340s. In this period the rounded, loose, toga-inspired, less emphatically-gendered garments that had been worn for centuries suddenly became tighter and tailored, with fitted sleeves and torsos, conspicuous hip belts and accessories, elongated limbs and pointed hats, dramatically-shortened doublets for men, and finally, the aforementioned penchant for slitted and slashed extremities.3 In response to those changes, chroniclers condemned clothing for being 'dagged & ket, & on every side desslatered' [slashed and cut, and on every side slitted']; sumptuary legislation regulated 'slashings, jagged edges or fripperies' according to gender and social status; and secular literature reported the nuances of'cutted,' 'torn' and 'toslytered' garments.4