Medieval mode made by monks

April 24, 1991|By N.Y. Times

NEW YORK -- Sometimes there's just nothing fabulous and new to report. But there's always the fabulous and old, like the medieval fashions in illuminated manuscripts on exhibit through May 26 at the Morgan Library in Manhattan.

Ever wonder why medieval men took to wearing codpieces? Well, because their little tunics, like miniskirts really, kept flying up and embarrassing them in public, that's why. Or when clothes began to accentuate, rather than hide, differences between the sexes? Around 1340, when the loose-fitting clothing worn for centuries was replaced by short costumes for men and dresses with daring decolletage for women.

It's all documented in a small, witty exhibition, "Reflections on an Obsession: Fashions in Illuminated Manuscripts," a series of illustrated pages from medieval books brought together by Roger Wieck, an associate curator of the library, at 36th Street and Madison Avenue. In the 14th century they had manuscripts instead of Vogue and Esquire.

"The first thing you have to realize is that the men here are the ones in the miniskirts," Wieck said last week.

There are also paunchy guys standing around holding clubs. "For some reason, executioners were always dressed in the absolute latest fashions," Wieck added.

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