Hose – To Split or not to Split.


The Companye reference for joined hose. Detail of an altarpiece by artist Hans Memling showing the decapitation of St John the Baptist.

…that is the question!

Continuing our series on re-enactorisms (see the previous article on bevors) we thought we would share with you some work we have been doing on Split Hose. Within the Companye we have decided to tighten up on some basic assessments and split hose have been one area of study.

Medieval trousers were known as hoses/hosen and all illustrations show them as tight fitting to the leg – the first image above is from an altarpiece by Hans Memling and illustrates wonderfully what our living historians should be aiming for in fit and silhouette. if it helps with understanding then consider the look a bit like modern female Jeggings or Ron Hill Tracksters! As well as civilian fashion, those living historians and HEMA practitioners doing experimental archaeology in harness also find this garment makes sense from a practicality purpose, as excess material can impede the function of the leg armour.

Achieving this look is actually a harder ask than the reader might think. The Companye has an annual award (The Captain Tight Pants Award) for the individual with the best looking hose as we want to encourage the correct 15th C look and body silhouette. The medieval industry actually produced many different types of wool, many of which are hard to acquire today (as they are no longer mass produced), and to leverage the natural stretchiness of the wool they were cut on the bias, and generally tailored to the wearer – labour to alter these being cheaper than most would credit. They were held up by an upper body garment such as a doublet (a pourpoint being considered essentially a sleeveless doublet) so the two together form a single overall item – rather like a tight fitting baby grow.

If the hose are not fitted correctly, they can tear. Due to the nature of the hobby, many living history suppliers who produce hose cater for a mass market. If they make them too tight they cannot sell off the peg and may tear – often in the crotch area, but if they leave them baggy then the actual look of the hosen is arguably not quite what we see in contemporary art.

Some re-enactors choose to use split hose to get around the exploding crotch issue. Separate leg hose, known as chausses did exist from the early medieval period (12th C) and persist into the 15th Century, and wear worn over underwear known as braies.


Figure A – Chausses. NOT 15th Century. Note still tight to the leg.

However, we must be careful to look at the style and context. There are marked differences between these items as we move across the centuries. This should not be surprising as if one considers just the 20th Century then items such as 1930’s plus fours, 1970’s flares and 1980’s Miami Vice drainpipe’s are all ‘trousers’. Yet many re-enactors mix and match with impunity across the medieval era which is an even wider time period.   This is the classic feedback loop re-enactorism, whereby something becomes the accepted standard without further investigation.

As before, we will not single out any particular re-enactor/living historian or group – rather we will use a general example to illustrate our point.

baggy braies

This is NOT the look that 15th C living historians should be aiming for. Even if it is in black and white photography…

So what should split hose look like? And when should they be worn?

Well the first commentary is context. Many historians note that fashion changes three times across the 15th Century and it depends on your target event on what is the best fit. Secondly, it is noted that there are far more illustrations of joined hose by the middle of the 15th Century, and split hose are shown far more for labourers or lower class use.

Where split hose are used, there are noticeable differences in 15th C hose from the earlier Chausses (Figure A above) and even 14th C examples (Figure B below).

luttrell salter

Figure B – 14th C hose from the Luttrell Psalter (c.1325 -35)

As late as 1440 there is some evidence for hose rising to a tied single point as this example from the hours of Catherine of Cleves shows below (The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is an ornately illuminated manuscript in the Gothic art style, produced in about 1440 by the anonymous Dutch artist known as the Master of Catherine of Cleves)


c1440 AD. From the Hours of Catherine if Cleves.

However as we move further through the century these single point hose appear to cease and be replaced by either fully joined hose, or hose which are now covering the hips and buttocks, and very little of the underwear is showing.

Excellent mid 15th century examples may be seen in ‘Martyrdom of St Erasmus’ by Dieric Bouts (c. 1458),  and the illumination by Robinet Testard. (Master of Charles of Angoulême, fl 1475–1523) showing miners (very much working class).

This also makes sense if one considers the changes as well to underwear which have become smaller accordingly.

(The photos above are from the excellent Historic Enterprises site (Gwen has granted permission for these to be used in our kit guide) 

One argument presented around campfires is that split hose are for combatant knights. The author has found only one illustration which might meet this argument and is mid 15th. This is in a detail on a Fresco from 1452 – 1466 by Piero dell Francesca, the Victory of Heracleus, Arezzo. The points on the upper arms of the doublet would perhaps indicate this is an arming doublet for arm harness?

Nevertheless, the hose are almost complete and cover much of the buttocks. I have found no evidence for the Stanley Matthews look sported by some undertaking higher status men at arms portrayals.


WRONG! Too baggy; too much underwear on display. Quite the inverse of  the Hans Memling look at the start of the article.

Right Hose

Acceptable – little of the underwear is showing, the hose cover the hips and buttocks. Multiple points to waisted doublet, closing together at the crotch. Interpretation by Historic Enterprises.

To our thinking, if you are wealthy enough to afford or have been issued armour; then you are unlikely to be wearing earlier period hose. At the very least if being worn by men at arms then if they are split they should be tailored, and showing no more underwear than on the Francesca Fresco.  By the tail end of the fifteenth century, all knights and esquires should be portrayed in joined hose.

As ever, we are open to new information so if you have some more images or thinking to share do please get in touch, or leave a comment on the box below. In the absence of a blue box and a glamorous assistant then we will never ever 100% know for sure, but we believe that this represents a reasoned argument and a standard the Companye should be aiming for.

  1. #1 by Nkerstens@hotmail.com on January 7, 2018 - 8:42 am

    Nice article, thank you, more people should read and implement this.

    Looking at the spread of fashion over western Europe and the UK over time, it appears that the UK is always a few years behind with fashion either coming from germany or Italy. I assume that in the UK we see the split hose for a longer time than for example in Burgundy, did you find any evidence for that during your research?

    Kind regards,


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