Volume 14 of Medieval Clothing and Textiles, edited by Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, published by Boydell Press, spans the topics of textiles, dress, fashion and the fashion for body hair. This volume is the latest in the excellent series Medieval Clothing and Textiles and includes six important essays on the subject of clothing and textiles. The essays in this volume offer a wide chronological and geographical scope. We begin with the sixth century and end with the sixteenth. Geographical locations spanning Italy, Denmark, France and England are covered. In addition, the essays in the volume are valuable because of the different disciplinary approaches that are utilized; art historical, archaeological, historical, literary and linguistic approaches all have their place in this volume.
Furthermore, the volume possesses valuable sections for prospective and current researchers of medieval clothing and textiles. Useful and well-presented illustrations are present in the majority of the essays in this volume. Deserving of special mention are the transcriptions of particular sources used by the authors and helpful terminological glossaries in the essays. In Olga Magola's essay, "Multicultural Clothing in Sixth Century Ravenna," we find a transcription and translation of the charter the essay is based on in Appendix 1.1 (27-35). There are translations of French literary sources in Monica L. Wright's essay on the "The Bliaut: An Examination of the Evidence in French Literary Sources"(64-75). Glossaries of textile loanwords borrowed from Italian translated into Anglo Norman and Middle English, and of textile loanwords borrowed from Anglo-Norman and Middle English into Italian are present in Meggan Tidderman's essay, "Lexical Exchange with Italian in the Textile and Wool Trades in the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Centuries" (122-140). Finally, Karen Margrethe Høskuldsson's essay "Hidden in Plain Black: The Secrets of the French Hood" offers in Appendix 6.1 (170-177) a reconstruction of the French Hood. The volume ends with a useful overview of three recent books of interest on medieval clothing and textiles as well as pointing the reader towards the contents of previous volumes in the series.
The first essay by Olga Magola, "Multicultural Clothing in Sixth-Century Ravenna," makes an important study of the textiles in a settlement or donation charter registered in the Gesta Municipalia of Ravenna in 564. As she states, her focus is on the non-gender-specific dress of the multi-ethnic city of Ravenna, to explore whether the clothing terms in the charter reveal intercultural relations in its society. Her detailed analysis of garments, jewelry, accessories and bedclothes as well as discussions of ethnicity, clothing, and the socioeconomic context of the costumes, reveal interesting points regarding the circulation and production of material culture after the devastation of the Gothic wars (535-554) and evidence that the charter seems to reflect the urban elite costume of Ravenna.
The second essay by Anne Hedeager Krag, "Byzantine and Oriental Silks in Denmark, 800-1200," produces interesting work on Danish silks, and as the author notes, "brings together Danish silks up to 1200 for the first time" (37) but also includes new scientific evidence on the colours of the silks and suggests the ways in which silks reached Denmark through trade routes and mercantile connections. In addition, her essay focuses on the silks found in the royal burial of Odense and others from graves and reliquaries. Her work notes the importance of commercial routes in the trade and exchange of silks through Byzantium and Russia and includes detailed discussions of the iconography of some of the surviving silks including eagle and peacock motifs. Her conclusion is that secular and ecclesiastical rulers needed luxury silk textiles "to confirm their status and power both internally and externally" (60).
Monica L. Wright's essay, "The Bliaut: An Examination of the Evidence in French Literary Sources" examines an elusive term used for a piece of clothing. She notes the way in which the term itself appears in an abrupt manner and that the term is rather ambiguous, belonging to male and female dress.In her extensive examination of French literary sources, she asks the question "What is it?" (79) and concludes that the term Bliaut was applied to many types of clothing and fabrics. She comes to the decisive answer that by using literary evidence 'the statues at Chartres are not, in fact wearing Bliauts.'
With the fourth essay in the volume, we take a different turn, towards human hair. John Block Friedman's essay, "Eyebrows, Hairlines and 'Hairs Less in Sight': Female Depilation in Late Medieval Europe," argues that by the end of the Middle Ages misogynistic scientific writing made female hair a danger, and the prominence of body hair was a marker of social status. Thus, a plethora of people to remove that hair appeared, and produced the arched plucked eyebrows and high hairlines so characteristic of late medieval portraiture and miniatures. The essay provides interesting and important insights into the negative associations of female body hair as presented in contemporary texts as well as the practical ways by which women sought to remove the hair.
Another important issue is tackled in the fifth essay in the volume by Megan Tidderman, "Lexical Exchange with Italian in the Textile and Wool Trades in the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Centuries." Her essay notes that given the prominence of Italians in the English textile trade in the later Middle Ages, both in the importation of luxury silks for English consumers, and in their exportation of good grades of English wool, there was a rich borrowing of words from the textile trade. Her detailed work on language shows the interconnected commercial world and the commercial importance of textiles given the amount of textile loanwords into English and Italian.
The final essay in the volume is by Karen Margrethe Høskuldsson, "Hidden in Plain Black. The Secrets of the French Hood." In this essay the author reveals the differences in the French Hood over time and location, in particular during the sixteenth century. Great detail is given to the physical layouts and properties of the French hood in this essay. Interesting points are made regarding the way in which particular variations (for example the inclusion of the bongrace 'with blinkers') were often worn in portraiture, related to mourning.
While it would have been helpful to have had a fuller preface that drew out the common themes in the essays and brought them together, or related the essays to wider movements in material culture studies, this is another extremely successful volume of Medieval Clothing and Textiles and will remain a useful resource for researchers of textiles of all periods and places long past its 2018 publication date.