Livery vests, an interpritation - Part 1 - by Alex Kay

Man holding the lords horse, wearing his livery, from the Beauchamp Pageant

Medieval Livery Vests.

There are many types of livery vest to which can be copied from manuscript, many people seem to opt for a livery coat, which has short sleeves, these appear to be less common in historical evidence that the more economical vest. The purpose of the project was to capture a variety of livery vest types, and to be able to illustrate some options and assumptions used to produce these popular medieval designs.

A number of livery vests where identified, some of these are from English references such as The Beauchamp Pageant, others from illustrations from the continent. 

Men serving food in armour with arming doublets, note they are not wearing any torso armour, put have placed their livery vest over their doublet, to serve

The first type to be made was a very simple design, which involves a low cut sleeve opening, something that appears to be very popular on these vests, however not very popular with the modern reenactors. The majority of variations appear to be in the types of skirts that are available. There appears to be little uniformity in the skirt types. Illustrations of men wearing the same livery colours are frequently shown with different skirt patterns.

So we should start with the simplest. This one from the Beauchamp Pageant has no indication of a front opening, nor side opening and has a plain but flared skirt. The arm holes /openings are tight around the arm, and the garment is trimmed around the arm holes. Less commonly illustrated the garment has Warwicks ragged staff across the front. It is worth noting that this is not a man who is armed for war, who is wearing this garment, this appears to be more aligned to service than a military garment. In fact, it is very rare to see livery coats being illustrated during battle scenes, this leaves an interesting question, however not for this document. 


Man serving food in full plate harness with curiass removed and livery vest placed upon him

So the first problem to be addressed was how do you wear this garment, it appears to have no way to get into it. Well it was then when we questioned why do all the garments that we associate with medieval outer layers, have to have an opening, why not a pullover? so would a woolen livery vest work if it was to be pulled over the head, after all wool has stretch on the bias which is why hose work, and without a front opening requiring buttons or hooks and eyes, the manufacturing of the garment is speed up significantly. Now this is purely one interpretation of a vest as with these images there is no clear front or side opening shown, however these are an option, and the objective if these are to be used will be to conceal the opening as much as possible, by use of hook and eyes that give the appearance of the seam being faultless.

So to the pattern, the top of the garment is designed to be relatively tight fitting, and should hug the torso, shape which is controlled by the doublet. This is a common theme, all body garments but coats should be tight to the torso. The waist should follow exactly the same shape as per the doublet, an excellent guide is of course the COSG men’s guide which talks about the waist of doublets and their position dependent upon the shape of the wearer.

The arm holes of the vest are where one of the big differences can be seen. Some are quite wide, with a tight arm hole around each arm, others are cut deep to only leave a small strip of material that rises from the waist over the shoulders. This is the area where we can personalise the torso section of our livery vests. The arm holes of the livery’s are normally shown with a edge, or a tape that defines the boundary of the garment, this is especially useful if your doublet is of a similar colour to that of the livery. For this we have used linen tape which is sewn over the edge, removing the need (if the wool is well felted) to finish or turn back the edge.  Note that none of the livery vests have been lined, as far as I know there is no evidence for lining, for specifically livery vests.  


Skirt Pattern No.1

The 1st pattern for the skirt is to simply measure the seam length at the waist and then transpose the same length to equate to 1/4 of circle, i.e. 90 degrees. This then can be drawn as the inside of the pattern, we have to decide the length of the skirt, which looking at manuscript should just show the lower part of the cod-piece. So the measurement for dimension 'b' from your medieval waist to about 1" down from the top of your cod-piece should provide the right length to be convincing when compared to most manuscripts.  

The simple pattern for the vest, note the round neck hole at the front and the V neck at the rear, and the quarter skirt pannel
The pattern is cut from wool (we used Melton 100% wool for this trial)
The line marked on the fabric was to monitor 1 Yard of fabric, as can be seen 1 Yard of modern width 60" fabric is more than anple.
The resulting livery vest being worn over a simple doublet.
Livery vest of the Royal Household of Richard III
The back of the same livery as above
The author wearing the livery of RIII at Sudeley Castle, a Black Knight Historical Event.
Hand finishing of the seams (especially as the garment is unlined) really finished them off..

Segmented Skirt, Pattern No. 2

Colin Perry of the Wingfield Household wearing the new livery vest

The next skirt type is what I have referred to as a segmented skirt, and this would mislead you into thinking that there are lots of little panels sewn together, however that is not the case. the process for making this type of skirt for the vest is to do exactly as pattern no1. however, about every 1.5" you sew a reverse in the seam, so in other words, you fold the cloth back on itself and then sewn the fold so that it is permanently set. This is performed every 1.5" on the waist seam to the bottom hem, which forces each segment to take the shape that matches the manuscript, and gives the nice tubular look. When you attach the skirt to the body, at the waist, if the skirt diameter no longer matches the waist dimeter due to the losses in the reversed seams, then simply cut an additional panel and expand the skirt to suit, sewing on the inside. I believe this to be by far the most effective and easy to make skirt of all three, although obviously there is more sewing to be done. 

Notice the pattern is exactly the same however the skirt will be segmented by sewing
A skirt section cut, note this one was done longer than a single quarter pannel
20mm linen tape was sewn over the bottom edge
The construction method for the segmenting of the skirt
sewing the fold back on a edge of a segment
The segment folds being sewn viewed from the inside of the garment
The same viewed from the outside of the garment
A completed pannel
The complete skirt ready to join to the body of the garment
The Completed Garment

We hope people find this useful, and are inspired to try constructing this kind of livery, they are very common, and it would be nice to re-dress the balance of the number of liveries worn at events. 

Alex Kay