Several readers have asked for information concerning Celtic clothing during the Medieval and Renaissance Periods. In this article I will attempt to shed some light on what was worn by people in Ireland and Scotland during this time.
Let me begin by saying that as the Renaissance advanced through Europe and into the British Isles, so did fashion. The more well to do a person was, the more their clothing reflected the styles popularized on the continent, but more slowly. Especially Ireland, but also Scotland, was considered the remote reaches of the Tudor Empire. Si it is to be expected that ideas arrived there more slowly and the same id true of fashion. Clothing of the nobility in Ireland and Scotland was essentially the same as in the Courts of Europe, only the changes in styles arrived later.
One item of clothing which remained essentially unchanged throughout the Medieval and Renaissance Periods in Ireland and Scotland is the Leine. Pronounced lay-na, this is an all purpose garment worn by men and women, with minor differences noted between the sexes. Similar to what in Europe was called a chemise, the leine is what today would be considered a very large, very long shirt.
The leine was worn to a length generally between mid thigh and mid calf, but could be as long as ankle length. It was frequently shortened by wearing a belt over it, at the waist, and then bloused out over the belt.
The leine was usually made of woven linen. So much fabric was used in the construction of a leine - sometimes as much as 15 yards - that the amount of cloth permitted was legislated during the reign of King Henry VIII. The body of the leine was heavily pleated and the sleeves hung down to knee length.
The amount of fabric used was a sign of wealth and social standing, as was the color. The preferred color was yellow, from saffron dye, for those who could afford it. The color was also legislated at the same time and yellow was outlawed. The addition of fancy embroidery or jewels was also made illegal. These laws were enacted, to little avail, in an attempt to control the lives and habits of the Irish people.
Men tended to wear the neck open, to show off their muscled chests. Women wore either a rounded neckline or kept it closed to the neck. There is some evidence that the latter style was preferred for unmarried women.
Even if other items of clothing were worn, the leine was always worn. Women might add a gown over it, men might add pants or a coat, but the leine was always underneath.