The question:

I'd like to know how did people, especially males, used to dress while sleeping in the Middle Ages in Europe.

I suppose the nightwear changes both according to the exact time period and to where in Europe (mostly because of the different climate, but culture might be another factor).

Why I'm wondering about this:

I know something about day dresses because of medieval fairs but at night I can only imagine tunics and maybe some form of underwear? I got told underwear did not exist at the time but I'm not sure Christianity would have allowed people to sleep together with nothing under the tunic.

Were night trousers, such as in modern pajamas, a thing?

A note if too broad:

If differences are really great, the tendencies for the middle-upper class (not poor, not noble) around the end of the Middle Ages period in Christian central and northwestern Europe (Germany, France, England) interest me more.

  • This article appears to have some information, but it makes too broad of strokes for me to be comfortable writing up an answer. If someone wants to try to track down the source material, it might make a good answer. – called2voyage Aug 16 '16 at 13:27
  • 1
    Some medieval illustrations depict monarchs in bed improbably wearing nothing but their crowns. I presume the illustrators put in the crowns to show that they were kings. – MAGolding Mar 9 '18 at 0:19

According to the description of events in medieval chronicles (namely the 14th century), no clothes at all were worn at night in Portugal. People really did sleep naked.

However, coifs might have been worn, though the chronicles do not mention them. This assumption of mine comes from images of the time, which sometimes (do note I say sometimes) show coifs worn by people in bed... even (or maybe especially) when those people were having sexual relations. On the other hand, most of these images are from non-Iberian sources so that the custom of wearing coifs to sleep may or may not have existed in Portugal.

Of course the people mentioned in the chronicles are nobles, with good beds, plenty of blankets and properly heated homes. People of lower standing might have slept with their clothes on for the simple goal of remaining warmer.

The chronicles in question are the ones by Fernão Lopes. I've got them in book (there are plenty of editions around, though they're mostly old and partial). I recall in particular detail a chapter in the chronicle of King Dom Fernando, where a lady is killed by her 'secret husband' on suspicion of adultery. He enters her chamber at night and she gets up from the bed, hurrying to cover her nakedness with a chemise. Note that her nakedness is mentioned as something natural .

This passage is the one quoted by Portuguese historians to attest that medieval people slept naked.

Here's the link to download a pdf of a 19th century copy of the Chronicle of King Dom Fernando.

  • It would be helpful if you could add some links to your answer. What medieval chronicles are you referring to? – otteheng Dec 21 '16 at 15:48
  • It seems to me that your statement about the lower classes should be the answer. "slept with their clothes on for the simple goal of remaining warmer." – axsvl77 Dec 21 '16 at 17:15

There appears to be very little documentary evidence and quite a bit of debate on this. For example, see here.

The general consensus seems to be that they normally wore nothing, except sometimes a night cap. Picture evidence here.

Other commentators argue that they just as often wore a simple gown or smock, as argued here, without picture evidence.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.