Chaucer’s prologue to the Prioress is generally concerned with her appearance. The clothes worn would have been black. She wore a headdress which is what would have been expected of a Nun ‘Ful semely hir wimpul pinched was’ However, the fact that it is pleated shows how she is succumbing to the fashion of displaying her forehead. To follow fashion trends of the time is not what would have been expected of a Nun. Her cloak was neatly made which is perhaps supposed to be representative of her respectability. Accessories are also very revealing of her character.
‘Full fetis was hir cloke’ Chaucer explains her rosary – as string of beads used in reciting prayers. ‘A peire of bedes, guaded al with grene’. Rosaries are typically black and the green of the Prioress’ would have been very decroative. In terms of clothing and accessories, she seems to generally conform to what is expected of her, however she does so with a twist. As well as the rosary she decorated herself with a ‘brooch of gold ful sheene’. Chaucer is describing it as being bright and shining. The words on it read ‘Amore vincit omnia’. The words are translated to mean ‘love conquers all things’. The broach is more symbolic of a romantic heroine than a religious figure. Chaucer is using the broach to show how the Prioress is a romantic character. She uses accessories to draw attention to herself. Perhaps she lacks confidence as she yearns to be perceived as attractive. Nuns would normally make their own clothes but the neatness of hers suggests that they have been tailored.
Through the clothes of the Wife of Bath, Chaucer shows how she conforms to popular medieval life; noisy assertive and robust. The clothing worn by her is by no means inconspicuous, but was bold and very revealing of her character. Her business is involved with the trade of cloth. She ‘passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt’. which are rich and important Flemish cloth-weaving cities. This reference would suggest that she has knowledge and experience of the trade. Chaucer speaks of her ‘coverchiefs’ which were headdresses made of cloth, arranged on wire frames and used for covering the head or neck. Those worn by her were ‘full fine weren of ground’ (of finest texture).
‘Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed’. This would have been quite a striking image and could be perceived as reflecting her bold image. Perhaps the scarlet colour could be an attempt to make others perceive her as sexy and attractive. They were ‘ful streite yteyd’-stretched tightly over the leg. Chaucer also makes references of the horse she rode in order to create a clearer picture of the Wife of Bath. She rode ‘upon an amblere’ which allowed her to ride along in untroubled comfort, ‘easily she sat’. Riding a horse came naturally to her and she could dominate the horse. Perhaps this was because she had been on pilgrimages before. It is likely that, as it says in the opening sentence of the General Prologue, that probably the reason for going on the pilgrimage was often an excuse for indulging a love of adventure and uninterrupted gossip.
As with the Prioress’s tale, the Knight’s clothing is spoken at the end of his prologue. In contrast to the other two pilgrims mentioned, the knight pays little attention to his clothing. However, the lack of attention he pays to his clothing is revealing in itself. The Knight is dressed in a tunic made of thick cloth. Such a material is serviceable rather than rich, ‘Of fustian he wered a gipon’ this shows that on the pilgrimage he was not dressed to impress anyone. His ‘gipon’ was ‘bismotered with his habergeon’. The fact that he was still wearing his chain mail over the tunic suggests he had only just come back from a battle, but was still willing to go ahead with the pilgrimage.