Costume and Armour of the Peoples of Arda by Certh

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Costume and Armour of the Peoples of Arda
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Visual interpretation is a most important component for painting three-dimensional, complete images of an invented world. When it comes to the universe created by JRR Tolkien, the task can be difficult, because the reader has to put together bits and pieces about costume that are scattered throughout the Professor’s literary work and personal letters.

 

The most comprehensive, perhaps, mention concerning the dress of the peoples of Middle-earth is found in a letter dated 14 October 1958, where JRR Tolkien answered some enquiries of the then-student Rhona Beare, one of which was, “What clothes did the peoples of Middle-earth wear?”:

I do not know the detail of clothing. I visualize with great clarity and detail scenery and 'natural' objects, but not artefacts. Pauline Baynes drew her inspiration for F. Giles largely from mediaeval MS. drawings – except for the knights (who are a bit 'King-Arthurish') the style seems to fit well enough. Except that males, especially in northern parts such as the Shire, would wear breeches, whether hidden by a cloak or long mantle, or merely accompanied by a tunic.
I have no doubt that in the area envisaged by my story (which is large) the 'dress' of various peoples, Men and others, was much diversified in the Third Age, according to climate, and inherited custom . . . The Rohirrim were not 'mediaeval', in our sense. The styles of the Bayeux Tapestry (made in England) fit them well enough, if one remembers that the kind of tennis-nets [the] soldiers seem to have on are only a clumsy conventional sign for chain-mail of small rings.
The Númenóreans of Gondor were proud, peculiar, and archaic, and I think are best pictured in (say) Egyptian terms.’
      The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Letter#211

 

Throughout the Ages, the articles of clothing common to the peoples of Arda were cloaks (whether hooded or not), hoods, shoes and boots.

 


The Men of Númenor
The only specific mentions of clothing relating to the Númenóreans in JRR Tolkien’s legendariumare of cloaks and tunics:

[A]bout [Erendis] was a green cloak clasped at the throat with a bright jewel . . .’
Then from a wallet under his tunic [Aldarion] took a jewel red like fire . . .’
      
The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Part Two, Chapter II

 

The Númenóreans of Gondor
In keeping with Tolkien’s views that the peoples of Middle-earth would wear fashions like those encountered in our Middle Ages, with the dress of the Númenóreans of Gondor resembling the style of garb of the ancient Egyptians, it is likely that the clothes of the Númenóreans of Gondor would be similar in fashion to some of those worn in the New Kingdom period in Egypt (1470-11th century BC).

Such clothes were robe-like – ‘long, loose, flowing garment[s] with variations achieved by arrangement of the . . . fabric’, ‘ungirded [or] girded with a wide sash’, and in the case of women also ‘skirt[s] and cloak[s] [where] the cloak is knotted in with the skirt’ (Phyllis G Tortora, A Survey of Historic Costume; Mary G Houston, Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes):
                         egyptian clothes

* The transition from Númenórean of Gondor” to “Gondorian with Númenórean blood” seems to have been completed before the Nazgûl returned to Mordor in the year 1975 of the Third Age:

[T]he line of Meneldil son of Anárion failed . . . the blood of the Númenóreans became mingled with that of lesser men. Then the watch upon the walls of Mordor slept, and dark things crept back to Gorgoroth.’
     
The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter II



The Stewards of Gondor
It is mentioned that part of the official attire of the Stewards of Gondor was a white cloak:

[C]irion rose and from his esquire took the white wand of office and the white mantle of the Stewards of Gondor.’
      The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Part Three, Chapter II, section (iii)



The Men of Gondor

‘[Boromir] was cloaked and booted as if for a journey on horseback . . . his cloak was lined with fur . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter II

Many tall men heavily cloaked stood beside [Shadowfax], and behind them in the mist loomed a wall of stone [i.e., the Pelennor Wall].’
      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter I



The Guards of the Citadel of Minas Tirith

‘The Guards of the gate were robed in black, and their helms were . . . high-crowned, with long cheek-guards close-fitting to the face, and above the cheek-guards were set the white wings of sea-birds . . . Upon the black surcoats were embroidered in white a tree blossoming like snow beneath a silver crown and many-pointed stars.’ 
      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter I



The Rangers of Ithilien

‘[The Rangers of Ithilien] were clad in green and brown of varied hues . . . Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter IV



The Men of Rohan

‘[At Harrowdale] Watchmen heavily cloaked paced to and fro.’
      The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter III


Taking into account Professor Tolkien’s comment about breeches and tunics and the styles of the Bayeux Tapestry (made in 1070 AD), it is likely that the Rohirrim would wear fashions similar to those encountered in 11th century England: tunic and breeches and/or hose (cross-gartered or not) for the men; dress with wide sleeves over an underdress with close-fitted sleeves for the women; perhaps robes as ceremonial garb for the King:
bayeux-11th c. 


*
The simplistic design of the Bayeux Tapestry can eliminate the finer details seen in manuscript drawings of the same period, hence Professor Tolkien’s note with his using the soldiers’ armour as an example:

                                                      tennis-nets

 


The Beornings
Of the dress of the Beornings there is a single mention, in which tunics are worn:

[Beorn] was clothed in a tunic of wool down to his knees . . .’
      The Hobbit, Chapter VII



The Men of Laketown
Even though there is no textual reference to the costume of the inhabitants of Laketown, Tolkien’s own art provides clues, showing men from Laketown wearing clothes of the tunic-and- calf-length -breeches type:
                                                   




The Easterlings
There is only one specific mention of clothing relating to the Easterlings in JRR Tolkien’s legendarium, and according to it Easterling men wore robes:

‘[The Easterling’s] scarlet robes were tattered . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter IV



Elves

‘[Eärendil] walked in the deserted ways of Tirion, and the dust upon his raiment and his shoes was a dust of diamonds.’
     The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 24

‘[Glorfindel’s] cloak streamed behind him, and his hood was thrown back . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter XII

[Legolas] had no boots, but wore only light shoes, as he always did . . .’
       The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter III

Her [i.e., Nimrodel’s] mantle white was hemmed with gold,/Her shoes of silver-grey.’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VI

For each [of the Fellowship] [the Elves of Lothlórien] had provided a hood and cloak . . .’
     
The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VIII


Hair-nets were worn by Elven women on occasion:

‘Above [Arwen’s] brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter I


Jackets were also worn by Elves:

[The Nine Walkers] were well furnished by Elrond with thick warm clothes, and they had jackets and cloaks lined with fur.’
     
The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter III


One of Tolkien’s drawings for The Silmarillion shows Beleg Cúthalion in jacket, tunic, breeches, stockings (or hose) and soft shoes:
              



Dwarves

[I] have got a spare hood and cloak in my luggage.’ [said Dwalin]
      The Hobbit, Chapter II


‘There was no sound but the sound of their own feet: the dull stump of Gimli’s dwarf-boots . . .’
     
The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter IV


There is a mention of stockings in The Hobbit when the Trolls are debating whether they should roast, mince or sit on the Dwarves:

‘ “The one with the yellow stockings,” said Bert.’        
      The Hobbit, Chapter II


And as with the Men of Laketown, there are drawing s of Dwarves done by Tolkien which show them wearing stockings, loose breeches, jackets, boots and hoods :

                                            

 

 
Hobbits
Hobbits wore tunics, breeches, waistcoats, jackets, hose; cloaks and hoods when travelling; and on occasion, shoes:

[T]he golden buttons shone on [Bilbo’s] embroidered silk waistcoat. They could all see him standing, waving one hand in the air, the other was in his trouser-pocket.’
       The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter I

When [the Hobbits] reached the bottom it was so chill that they halted and got out cloaks and hoods . . .’

[Sam] looked round helplessly, as if he expected to find his cloak, jacket, and breeches, and other hobbit-garments lying somewhere to hand.’
       The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter VIII

[F]rodo put over the top his old weather-stained breeches, tunic, and jacket.’
       The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter III


Sam . . . went over anxiously in his mind all the things that he had stowed in [his pack] . . . flint and tinder; woollen hose . . .’
       The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter IV


The Hobbits of . . . the Eastfarthing . . . wore dwarf-boots in muddy weather.’
     
The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, Concerning Hobbits


“I’m awfully sorry,” said Bilbo, “but I have come without my hat . . .” ’
      
The Hobbit, Chapter II

[Bilbo] was drenched from hair to boots . . .’
      The Hobbit, Chapter VIII



Wizards
Wizards wore robes, cloaks and boots:

‘[Gandalf] had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak . . . and immense black boots.’
      The Hobbit, Chapter I

I looked then and saw that [Saruman’s] robes, which had seemed white, were not so . . .’
       The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter I

[Gandalf’s] snowy hair flew free in the wind, his white robes shone dazzling in the sun.’
       The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter VI



Orcs
The legwear of Orcs, as evidenced by the clothes Sam found to dress Frodo in after his being captured in Mordor, was breeches:

‘There were long hairy breeches of some unclean beast-fell . . .’
      The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter I

Sam put his ragged orc-cloak under his master’s head . . . ‘
      The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter III



* It is worth noting that the noun “robe” (plural “robes”) is defined as “a long, loose outer garment reaching to the ankles” (cf. www.oxforddictionaries.com), indicating articles of clothing ranging from those sleeveless and as uncomplicated as cloaks to those sleeved and as complicated as dresses:

Are these magic cloaks? . . . They are Elvish robes certainly . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VIII

‘[G]leaming white was [Gandalf’s] robe . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter V

‘Slender and tall
[Éowyn] was in her white robe girt with silver . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter VI



Taking into account Professor Tolkien’s comment concerning the illustrations of Pauline Baynes and men’s clothes, it can be deduced that the basic attire for most of the peoples of Middle-earth was tunics and breeches for the men, and dresses of simple cut for the women. The diversity in garb, according to climate and custom, might include the width of the sleeves of both tunic and dress, the shape of the neckline, the length and fit of the breeches, the length and shape of the dress’s sleeves, the wearing or not of veils and their style, the wearing of robes.
           gilesofham

 


Throughout the Ages, Men, Elves, Dwarves and Orcs predominantly wore ring-mail over leather tunics, and helmets.

Men of the First Age and Númenóreans

For Túrin put on again the Helm of Hador . . .’
      The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 8

[Isildur’s] mail, helm, shield and great sword (but nothing else) had been found on the bank not far above the Gladden Fields . . .’
      The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Part 3, Chapter I



Men of Gondor

[Forlong was] mail-clad and black-helmed . . .’
      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter I

[Hirgon] was clad as a rider with a cloak of dark green over a coat of fine mail; on the front of his helm was wrought a small silver star.’          The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter III

[Denethor] stood up and cast open his long black cloak, and behold! he was clad in mail beneath . . .’
[A]nd with [Gandalf] went the Prince of Dol Amroth in his shining mail.’
      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter IV


Prince Imrahil also wears vambraces:

‘And he held the bright-burnished vambrace that was upon his arm before her cold lips . . .’
      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter IV

 

The Rangers of the North

[The Rangers of the North] were clad in cloaks of dark grey, and their hoods were cast now over helm and head.’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter II



The Rohirrim

[The Rohirrim’s] burnished shirts of mail hung down upon their knees.’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter II

[Gimli] chose [from Théoden’s armoury] a cap of iron and leather that fitted well upon his round head . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter IV



The Easterlings
Unlike other Men, the Easterlings wore scale- armour :

[The Easterling’s] corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter IV

 


Elves

[Fëanor] made tall helms with plumes of red.’
      The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 7

[M]any Noldor, mail-clad and armed, stepped forward out of the darkness . . .’
      The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Part 1, Chapter I

‘Tall Elves of Doriath they were, grey-clad, and cloaked over their mail.’
      The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Part 1, Chapter II

[The Elf-wardens of Celeborn and Galadriel’s talan] were tall and clad in grey mail . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter VII

[The sons of Elrond were] clad alike in bright mail . . .’
      The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter II



Dwarves
Dwarves in the First Age wore scale-mail, as evidenced by Gimli’s song of Durin’s days as King:

‘And metal wrought like fishes’ mail . . .’     
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter IV


Apart from ring-mail, the armour of Dwarves in the Third Age consisted metal hose, iron helmets and iron- shod shoes:

Each one of [Dáin’s] folk was clad in a hauberk of steel mail that hung to his knees, and his legs were covered with hose of a fine and flexible metal mesh . . . Their caps were of iron and they were shod with iron . . .’
      The Hobbit, Chapter XVII

Gimli the dwarf alone wore openly a short shirt of steel-rings . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter III

Bilbo had a corslet of mithril-rings that Thorin gave him.’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter IV

   

Orcs

[A] huge orc-chieftain, almost man-high, clad in black mail from head to foot, leaped into the chamber . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter V


Aside from ring-mail, Orcs also wore shoes reinforced with iron and nails, and iron-and-leather helmets:

‘Every now and again the pursuers found things that had been dropped or cast away . . . a heavy iron-nailed shoe . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter II

[W]hat could even a Ranger see except a confused trail of orc-feet? . . . the trampling of the iron-shod shoes . . .’
      The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter III

Over the [leather] tunic went a coat of stout ring-mail . . . a black cap with iron rim, and iron hoops covered with leather upon which the Evil Eye was painted in red above the beaklike nose-guard.’
      The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter I



The Valar
Of the armour of the Valar, only that of Ulmo is mentioned – scale- armour :

[Ulmo] was clad in a gleaming coat, close-fitted as the mail of a mighty fish . . .’
      The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Part 1, Chapter I

[U]lmo . . . [was] robed to the middle in mail like the scales of blue and silver fishes . . .’
      The History of Middle-earth: The Book of Lost Tales Part 2 , Chapter VI


*
It is worth noting, as seen from the passages cited above, that Professor Tolkien used the terms “mail”, “hauberk”, corslet”, “coat of mail”, “ring-mail” and their variations interchangeably; and that when he intended to refer to any other kind of armour that was not ring-mail, he described it sufficiently so as to make the distinction evident.

Prince Imrahil’s wearing vambraces may be seen as a sign of plate-armour existing in Middle-earth, yet, historically, vambraces (and greaves) were also made of hardened leather, worn over ring-mail:

[T]he mail-shirt . . . was replaced by complete plate armour only after a transition period in which coats of mail, partly composed of plates of iron or of leather, were used.’
      Auguste Demmin, An Illustrated History of Arms and Armour

Thus, if Imrahil’s highly polished arm-guards were of metal, they would only represent odd pieces and not part of a complete plate-armour.

Tolkien’s use of the word “panoply” may also be seen as a sign that plate-armour existed in Middle-earth, as the term’s definition – “a complete suit of armour” (cf. www.oxforddictionaries.com) – might evoke a mental image of knights in full plate-armour.
As a linguist, however, JRR Tolkien was aware of and used the original definition of the term – “the entire equipment of a warrior” (cf. www.collinsdictionary.com), from the Greek word “πανοπλία (panoplia)”, a compound of the Ancient Greek words “πq8;ν (pan=all) + p5;πλον (oplon=arms/armour)” (cf. el.wiktionary.org):

‘In panoply of ancient kings, in chainéd rings he armoured him . . .’
      The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter I

‘Then [Ar-Pharazôn] did on his panoply and his crown . . .’
      The Silmarillion, Akallabêth


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Selected Glossary
(adapted from A Survey of Historic Costume, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Costume, The Dictionary of Fashion History)

- Breeches
Men’s outer garment covering the hips and legs, usually close-fitting but occasionally more loose, reaching to the knee or below it.

- Garter
Strip of cloth wrapped closely around the lower leg up to the knee, worn over the hose or alone.

- Hose

Close-fitting outer garment reaching up to the knee or thigh, with or without feet.

- Stocking
Close-fitting covering for the foot and leg.

- Tunic
Men’s outer garment with or without sleeves, usually knee-length and girded at the waist.


 

Sources

JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit
JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion
JRR Tolkien, The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
JRR Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth
JRR Tolkien, Farmer Giles of Ham
JRR Tolkien, Letters
Pictures by JRR Tolkien
Wayne G Hammond & Christina Scull, JRR Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator
Mary G Houston, Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes
Auguste Demmin, An Illustrated History of Arms and Armour
Phyllis G Tortora, A Survey of Historic Costume
Doreen Yarwood, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Costume
Valerie Cumming et al., The Dictionary of Fashion History
Bayeux
Tapestry
Old English Hexateuch
Cædmon Manuscript
New Minster
Liber Vitae
Ricemarch Psalter
Maciejowski Bible
Codex Manesse
Cantigas de Santa Maria

www.collinsdictionary.com
www.oxforddictionaries.com
www.wiktionary.org




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