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Did Medieval People Wear Black?



You may have seen me or other historical costume researchers snarking about black clothes in medieval TV and movies. But why are we so grumpy about it? Everyone knows a little black dress is essential for any wardrobe!

Find out about how medieval black clothes were really made, what we know about them, and, maybe just as importantly, what we don’t know.

Guthrie’s excellent blog:

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  1. @Dragonmoon98

    June 9, 2023 at 3:59 pm

    No, Hollywood, the middle ages were not full of people who fit the modern definition of Goth. (I say this as someone who is the modern definition of Goth)

  2. @joirvine1974

    June 18, 2023 at 9:38 am

    As someone who does emersive history sessions and also does a lot of natural dyeing, I am always trying to convince people that early peoples didn't wear jet black, and that other colours are far easier to achieve. As to shows where everything is dark – I can't even watch them as I shout at the tv too much : Its bad enough that their clothes are dark, but why is the grass grey too?

  3. @patricksewtastic9938

    June 23, 2023 at 12:36 am

    I always find information on fabrics and dye interesting. This was excellent information and fun. I always wondered if the colors in shows/movies(especially black) is accurate. The samples are excellent. Thank you.
    Now to skim through your other videos.

  4. @OuryLN

    June 25, 2023 at 9:34 pm

    More nudes!

  5. @forerealz

    June 27, 2023 at 6:28 am

    oshima stumugi from japan is an all natural occuring dye that gets great deep dark blue-blacks, brown-blacks, and even blues and browns, its lightfast and done with mud that has iron content, it does not break down the natural protein fibers as badly as other iron based dyes does over time. i highly suggest looking into it. its something to do with the mud and mordant.

  6. @tctbiz

    July 25, 2023 at 8:24 pm

    I do not have a source, except personal experience. Vinegarroon. vinegar with iron dissolved in it. Turns anything with TANNINS in it blackish. Veg tanned leather will turn coal black with a few applications or the addition of tannin from oak leaves.

  7. @wintyrqueen

    July 26, 2023 at 2:49 pm

    I used to live with some sheep over the back fence, & they were blacker than most of my modern black clothes… different breed? Modern breed?

  8. @vhaelen326

    July 26, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    if the dye reacts with tannins you could just add … more tannins. i know when ebonizing wood (which also works with tannins, not sure of its the exact same substance that causes to wood to turn black etc but it works with tannins) some woods have more tannins then others so some woods turn really JETBLACK while other just turn a dark gray, what you can do is make some nice black tea and gently apply it to the wood before ebonizing it, the added tannins in the tea cause a darker black, now im decently sure medieval people didnt have black tea but they might have had other substances with a high tannin content that you could use to sort of 'pre dye' anything you want to dye

  9. @knutzzl

    July 28, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    Iron + vinegar = black leather die

  10. @OuryLN

    July 31, 2023 at 12:39 am

    Yes! A nudie pic!

  11. @koitsenka

    August 1, 2023 at 11:16 pm

    my grandmother always said that only the germans could do a lightfast black, but then she came out of the swiss amish community before ww1.

    my son has been planning to do some experimentation with iron gall ink. we'll see how that goes.

  12. @Hildalgo8

    August 2, 2023 at 8:41 pm


  13. @macfilms9904

    August 4, 2023 at 9:23 pm

    I think Cistercians wore a black sort of apron (scapular) over their white habits – but that's 12th century & France – and who knows how "black" it was at the beginning. Certainly by the early modern era it was probably super black – but nobles were, as you said, wearing quite a lot of black by the 16th century.

  14. @deborahwilkins3786

    August 16, 2023 at 7:04 pm

    Just found your channel. Love your stuff. I'm a hand spinner and weaver. I mostly dye with modern dyes but have done some experimenting with natural dyes. You can get a reasonably black colour by dyeing your "black" wool with indigo, Or I guess if you are a medieval Englishwoman, with woad. And, as a spinner looking for natural black, I have hand picked the brown, sun-bleached tips off of a "black" fleece. The resulting yarn was the colour of unsweetened baking chocolate and, of course, completely light- and wash-fast. I wouldn't use too much iron sulphate because it is hard on wool.

    Oh, and since you need to scour the dirt and oil out of the wool, and some mordants and dyes help with cleaning or can be added to the rinse waters, why not dye. Especially since the plants are growing around you free, why not.

  15. @vickistone3700

    August 18, 2023 at 5:39 am

    I read the earliest words for black, was really for dark blue

  16. @Orion-lt3zz

    August 24, 2023 at 3:46 am

    How old is the Welsh black sheep breed? It’s almost entirely black.

  17. @asherheart5470

    August 24, 2023 at 11:13 pm

    I know I am very late to the video but if they lived by the sea (ocean whatever the accurate term is) could they have used an ink substance? Maybe like squid ink or something? They may have also used the soot or charcoal from their fires?

  18. @TalesOfAtonement

    September 2, 2023 at 7:32 am

    Thank you for this information. One of the characters in my fantasy setting has a claim to fame for making unnaturally rich dyes through magic, and dresses herself in all black clothing. I'll be sure to utilize this information in her toolkit because I like to have a sort of natural or "alchemic" style of magic that I can justify with just a little whimsy to suspend disbelief.

  19. @janetmackinnon3411

    September 11, 2023 at 11:16 pm

    So interesting! Thank you.

  20. @oliviahamilton8654

    September 12, 2023 at 10:23 pm

    Love this. I dye yarn for my friends shop and even taking natural dyes out of consideration, a really juicy black is a time intensive and touchy thing to dye in fiber.

    Bonus points for the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat reference.

  21. @orchardhouse9241

    September 21, 2023 at 9:37 pm

    I have tried dyeing some cotton cloth with logwood and then overdyed it with iron, and I got dark blue out of it. Maybe I could get it darker if I overdyed it again, but I want to make things out of that cloth instead of fiddling with it. I think I will try dyeing with other colors. I want to dye with woad, but it is illegal to grow it where I live.
    Now I want to get some wool to dye with. Hmm. Is wool cloth the sort of thing that can be found at thrift stores?

  22. @ayishas4385

    September 23, 2023 at 4:07 am

    ". . . pathetic ceorl that you are" 🤣

  23. @ayishas4385

    September 23, 2023 at 4:20 am

    This is why you get such English phrases as "pitch black," "inky black," "jet black," and "sloe black", to describe things that are extraordinarily black — because most "black" prior to modern chemical dyes were what we would call brown or dark grey. It goes for other colours too: "red fox" "robin redbreast" and "red hair" are all what we would hardly even consider saturated enough to call "orange", let alone red. These changes in the names of colours is mostly in the last 100 years.

    It's curious for me, having grown up in the 90s, to realise that colour chemistry has changed even since then. For instance, most purple was not lightfast when I was a kid, enough that I heard it remarked on a lot — it's one of my early memories of gaining knowledge about colour. Yet it's not a topic of conversation any more — you might get cheap purple clothes that fade, but it's not a given in the same way.

    Btw, love that last "you really should give him a couple of quid" bit. Ha ha! If I had any quid or dollars to spare, I would.

  24. @sablewright8053

    November 4, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    This dude is awesome. He's so smart. I love this ❤. Philip the good duke of burgundy wore black all the time. Lady margaret beaufort countess of richmond and derby wore black as was in her portraits. It signified their wealth.

  25. @kathiarledge9275

    November 23, 2023 at 12:04 am

    I used to wear a lot of black until I was given a white dog.

  26. @omideixis

    December 6, 2023 at 10:00 pm

    my god i always forget about historically incorrect viking jimmy and he always jumpscares me. anyway this is a fantastic video

  27. @edgeeffect

    December 11, 2023 at 10:44 am

    I was wondering if you'd get to The Benedictine Order. 😉

  28. @KaraLoenstrand

    December 15, 2023 at 6:02 pm

    Looked for black sheep as I saw Gotland Sheep last year visiting Gotland and they have black heads. And there are some black sheep like "Krainer Steinschaf" ( Krainer Stonesheep) from the alpes or the "Värmländska skogsfå" Värmlands Forrestsheep). Seems sheeps came in differentccolors, but humans prefered breeding white ones because of easier dying (as you explained). Always really enjoy you videos. Thanks for putting them online.

  29. @marksmadhousemetaphysicalm2938

    December 21, 2023 at 3:39 pm

    I figure black like most dye for clothing was expensive…gold from lead…well…bismuth and a medieval nuclear reactor or ye findest a cyclotron of great power thou alchemist and maketh a magic rock…? 😁 lead into gold…the rus have and those beyond the pillars of Heracles have done such as well…😊😁🤣

  30. @Shade_Dragon

    December 22, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    lamp black was a very high end black dye which wouldve been available to wealthier people (like those with the disposable income to make tapestries of themselves). acorns can also be used to make a deep brown, some would even say black if its saturated enough, and also produces tannins. stuff tended to be left in dye baths for days and agitated to prevent streaking. to get more of a blue black color, i guess one could supplement a black dye recipe with dyers woad? urine was the traditional mordant for fabric. though its easily accessible, its not something i would really want to use in my clothes on purpose. also… i though vitriol was derived from copper?

    you also want to be careful using urine as a mordant, especially if youre dying fabric black… if youre using iron to dye a black color with urine and leave it sitting for long periods, as would generally be required… you might accidentally make your clothing a little bitty bit explosive… this is why silk luggage, especially black silk, kept catching fire in the victorian era.

  31. @Concreteowl

    January 19, 2024 at 12:56 am

    Jesus christ that startled me.

  32. @TimothyCannock

    February 19, 2024 at 8:57 pm

    I have just purchased black leg-wraps (for Viking wear), so I am going to wash them a few times in the hope of fading towards grey or maybe tie-dye them!

  33. @theaverrainecyclemorgansmi5388

    February 20, 2024 at 8:51 pm

    You can get alum from club moss (found in boggy areas, europe/eurasian sources abound).

    A good black can also be obtained by dying wool dark brown with oak galls, and then overdyeing with a really high strength woad vat.

    The thing is that until modern chemical dyes got invented, over/under dyeing was the way everyone got black, but the overdye (woad/indigo) tends to wear away after a while, which is why, in early 19th century novels, poorer people were describe sometimes as wearing "rusty black" – the overdye wore away and the brown underneath started to show. (This even happens in some modern blacks, too, if they're done on the cheap.)

    Also, what you get is not a true black in the modern sense – it's what's called a "visual black" – like the black sheep's wool, we perceive it as black in comparison with the colours around it. That really deep, intense black is pretty much a product of the Industrial Revolution.

  34. @TimothyCannock

    February 21, 2024 at 7:43 pm

    Did people in the Viking era dye leather (from browns to black)? I am thinking about shoes, belts, scabbards, bags.

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