5th-6th Century Kentish Costume

When studying the graves of females in the Kent area, it appears the majority of finds do not fit into the standard 'Anglo-Saxon' dress model. Therefore we need to look to alternative ideas.

The main differences are the position of the brooches which are placed centrally on the chest and also appear near the hip. Making the 'tube' dress model unlikely. Beads tend to be found near the centre of the chest in a vertical line. Remains of head fillets with gold remains may also be found.

These differences and the close cultural connections with Frankish sources, as demonstrated by other art & artefactual finds, lead us to look to costume of the areas occupied by the Franks and Jutes.

From these areas it can be postulated that a costume consisting of a sleeved undertunic similar to the one used by Anglo Saxon women could be worn. This could be covered by a sleeved, coat like garment fastened by the brooches at the centre. The fillet suggests a head covering of some kind and the lack of earrings, as found on the continent, suggests this may have been a veil of some kind covering the ears.

The beads are situated in a rather strange position it seems. The explanation put forward by others has been that they are hung from a string vertically, from a brooch. I, and others do not feel this is a particularly practical or likely fashion, even given that fashion can be very odd !!

I would suggest that the beads were either attached to a pin as seen in later period illustrations on the continent or attached to the vertical edge of the tunic.

I assume that no evidence of a pin inside the beads has been found, which would suggest if a pin was to be accepted as a possibility, the pin material has degraded in all cases without trace.

There are several possible ways and reasons for attaching beads vertically onto the garment..

The beads could either be sewn or incorporated into a tablet woven band either at the edge or as part of the central design. The method to achieve this is simply to thread the beads onto the weft thread and insert as required.

The reasons to do this could be as simple decoration, or they could be more practical representing a button type fastening on the central closing garment, the opposite side could quite easily incorporate buttonholes into the tablet woven braid.

So what then of the brooches, if indeed beads fastened the garment ? Centrally placed brooches are found on Anglo Saxon dress and in both cases could represent the brooch used to secure the cloak when worn or may simply be decorative.

The brooches found at the hips may have been only worn in death, as has been suggested or may have been used to secure items to the dress or to position the outer coat garment in the open position if required. Having now made and worn a costume based on the above, I found the brooches at the hip to both useful and decorative, they did not present a practical problem as has been suggested by some sources.



Nicole's page on Frankish costume

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