The compromise, therefore, was to girdle long skirts when needed, reducing them in length when work was the order of the day. The manner, or rather manners, in which they did this likely varied from woman to woman, town to town, etc., resulting in a mixture of methods shown in contemporary artwork.
What's interesting (at least to me) is that belts were not that commonly depicted. When the dress is hiked up, it was fashionable, it appears, to conceal the girdle. There's a possibility, therefore, that belts with buckles were not used by a fair number of women. Instead, ropes, sashes, or strips of cloth could have done the work and saved the expense of an actual belt.
When I'm planning on doing a good deal of walking or carrying, I try to pack a belt in order to girdle my skirt. For me, the girdling is symbolic, just as it appears to be in manuscript illumination. Essentially, by reducing my skirt length, I've freed up my hands, and I'm visually stating, "I'm ready to work."
I thought it would be fun to share a few how-to instructions for creating similar girdling as some of the examples from early 15th century France. I did photo instructions for some of the more common ones I've come across.
The Simple Girdle
|BL MS Harley 4431, The Book of the Queen, fol. 183|
The Spare Tire
|Arsenal MS 5070, reserve, The Decameron, fol.84|
The girdles need to be really tight, and it was tricky to get the lower girdle covered. With continued practice, I think it would be easier to figure out how much skirt to pull out between them to more easily get the desired effect.
|BnF MS Latin 7907 A, The Comedies of Terence, fol. 42|
The Hand Warmer
|BnF MS Latin 7907 A, The Comedies of Terence, fol. 8|
|BL MS Harley 4431, The Book of the Queen, fol. 124|
The Sheet Fold
|Arsenal MS 5070, reserve, The Decameron, fol. 333|
For version one, I grabbed my skirt close to the bottom, but not too close. I pulled it up and tucked in into the top of the belt. The biggest trick here is to have your belt tight enough and to tuck enough in so that the weight of the skirt hanging down the front doesn't dislodge the whole thing.
I also located the version below that exposes the whole belt. Note also that the woman in red, whose dress style is not a working class style, has gone for The Spare Tire, as she is also involved in moving the body, and needs use of her hands.
|Arsenal MS 5070, reserve, The Decameron, fol. 176|
The Houppelande Hike
|BL MS Harley 4431, The Book of the Queen, fol. 126|
The Flood Wader
|BnF MS French 598, De claris mulieribus, fol. 12|