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Women's dress lexicon from fourteenth-century England

Traci Leigh Austin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


An understanding of textiles—and their aesthetic, cultural, historical, and psychological dimensions—is an essential part of the study of culture. Items of dress reflect the ways in which we have defined and determined the personal, social, and cultural roles we play. Likewise, we “read” the textile products used by others to establish a sense of their personal, social, and cultural identities. Thus dress is part of a cultural communication or sign system, providing clues to changes and continuities in individuals, social groups, and cultures. For those reading medieval English literature, it is important to visualize and understand the costume descriptions in a meaningful way, for costume is one of the major conveyors of social and cultural information and commentary. By drawing upon what research has been done within the fields of archaeology, literary studies, and historical costume and combining it with methods and research from the field of linguistics, we can reach a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of the communication system that was fourteenth-century women's dress. This understanding will only come with a coordinated and comprehensive analysis of the individual meanings of the words that comprise it and the physical and social features that help create those meanings. By identifying the lexicon and determining the features of the words that make up that lexicon, we will be better able to understand how dress was used in literature to construct characters and narrative texts—and how dress influenced the individuals and social contexts that the literature reflects.

Subject Area

Literature|Middle Ages|Linguistics|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Austin, Traci Leigh, "Women's dress lexicon from fourteenth-century England" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3102562.