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Is There Any Difference Between A Tabard And A Surcoat? (Find Out)

Is There Any Difference Between A Tabard And A Surcoat? (Find Out)

When fighting on the medieval battlefield or participating in tournaments, knights wore unique outer garments with an armorial display. This display helped people to identify a knight by his armor when he was wearing his great helm in the chaos of the medieval battlefield.

There are many different terms for the type of clothing worn over the body in medieval Europe. The most common, and perhaps the most famous, are the tabard and surcoat.

A tabard is a sleeveless outer garment worn by men in the Middle Ages. It typically had a hole in the center of the head and was open at the sides. On the other hand, a surcoat is a long tunic worn over armor. It usually extended to the knees or lower and had sleeves.

The main difference between a tabard and a surcoat is that a tabard is sleeveless, while a surcoat has sleeves. Tabards were often decorated with heraldic designs, while surcoats were usually left undecorated.

Let’s discuss these two garments in detail.

Tabard

A tabard is a piece of clothing worn over the upper body and arms.

A tabard typically has a hole in the center for the head and flared panels on either side. They were initially worn by knights over their armor to protect them from the elements and to display their coat of arms.

Today, tabards are still worn by some members of the armed forces, as well as by police and security personnel.

They are also popular among reenactors and historical European martial arts enthusiasts. A tabard is an excellent option if you’re looking to add a touch of authenticity to your costume or outfit or want a stylish and practical garment.

Surcoat

A surcoat is a piece of clothing that was worn over armor in the Middle Ages. It served both a practical and a symbolic purpose.

Practically, it provided an extra layer of protection against the elements. Symbolically, it displayed the wearer’s coat of arms, identifying them on the battlefield.

An image of a knight wearing a Christian surcoat.
A Knight Wearing a Christian Surcoat

Surcoats were typically made from a heavy fabric such as wool or linen and were often lined with fur. They were fastened at the front with either laces or buttons and usually came down to the knees or lower.

In the later Middle Ages, surcoats became more elaborate, with longer lengths and more intricate designs. Today, surcoats are still worn by some military members, and they have also become popular among reenactors and medieval enthusiasts.

What’s The Difference Between A Tabard And A Surcoat?

Tabards and surcoats are both medieval garments with few differences between them.

  • The tabard is more of a plain fabric garment (the same as a tunic), whereas the surcoat is made of fur or leather and has decorative elements.
  • The surcoat can be worn over another piece of clothing, like a tunic or shirt. A tabard cannot be worn over another piece of clothing.
  • Both surcoats and tabards were used to identify knights and other nobility, but surcoats were more likely to be worn in battle, while tabards were more likely to be worn for ceremonial purposes.
  • Surcoats were heavier and more eye-catching than tabards, while tabards were more functional and less flashy.
  • A tabard did not have a hole for the head and was typically shorter than a surcoat.

Let me summarize these details in tabular form.

TabardSurcoat
Plain fabricFur or leather
Cannot be worn over other clothUsually worn over a shirt
Functional outfitFlashy and decorative
Ceremonial wear Worn in battles
Tabard vs. Surcoat

How Do You Make A Simple Tabard?

A tabard is a sleeveless garment worn over the torso and typically has a slit up the center so that it can be put on easily.

Tabards are often used as part of a uniform and can be decorated with various designs or colors. Making a tabard is relatively simple and only requires a few materials.

  • First, you will need to measure your chest circumference and cut a piece of fabric to size. If you use a rectangular fabric, you must fold it in half and then sew the sides together.
  • Next, cut a slit up the tabard’s center, careful not to cut through the seam.
  • Finally, hem the edges of the tabard to finish it off. You can easily make your own tabard with just a few simple steps.
Here is a short video clip about medieval clothing

What Does Tabard Mean In Old English?

The tabard, in Old English, was initially referred to as a loose garment worn over the head and shoulders.

Tabards were typically fastened at the waist with a belt or girdle and had wide sleeves. In later periods, they became shorter and were frequently worn over armor.

Tabards were often brightly colored or emblazoned with heraldic devices, making them easily visible on the battlefield. They were also used to identify knights and other nobility during tournaments and other public events.

Today, the word “tabard” is still used to refer to a loose outer garment, although it is no longer associated with medieval clothing. They are now more commonly seen as part of a uniform, particularly in the armed forces, where they are worn over Kevlar vests or other armor.

Which Medieval Officers Would Wear A Tabard?

Tabards were commonly worn by knights, heralds, and other officers of the court.

Tabards were a type of clothing worn in the medieval period. They were sleeveless garments that were typically worn over armor.

Tabards were often brightly colored and decorated with heraldic designs. They were also used to identify a person’s status or profession. Some tabards even had special compartments for holding documents or other items.

In the modern day, tabards are still worn by some officials, such as police officers and firefighters. However, they are no longer used for armor and are now more likely to be made from synthetic materials.

A formal shirt and shoes
Classic Clothes and Brown Leather Shoes

What Is The Point Of A Surcoat?

A surcoat is worn over the armor to protect it from the elements and to identify the wearer’s allegiance. It is typically made from a sturdy fabric such as wool or leather and may be decorated with the crest or colors of the wearer’s clan or house.

In medieval Europe, surcoats were often sleeveless or had very short sleeves so that they would not interfere with the wearing of armor. The surcoat was also sometimes used as camouflage, blending in with the background so the wearer could surprise an enemy.

Surcoats are mostly worn for ceremonial occasions or as a historical reenactment.

Final Thoughts

  • You can find a lot of fundamental differences between a tabard and a surcoat.
  • A surcoat is a type of outer garment that was worn in the Middle Ages over armor. It was usually sleeveless and had a large hole in the center of the head.
  • A tabard is also a type of outer garment worn in the Middle Ages, but it did not have a hole for the head and was typically shorter than a surcoat.
  • The surcoat was often decorated with the coat of arms of the wearer.
  • Tabards were also decorated with the wearer’s coat of arms, but they were more commonly seen as a type of heraldic display.
  • The surcoat and tabard were both used to identify knights and other nobility, but surcoats were used more often in battle, while tabards were used more often as ceremonial clothing.

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