Velvet is and was a very expensive fabric consisting of short threads of silk protruding from the face of the fabric giving it a distinctive feel and look. Originally made of silk woven into two sheets at once with the weft running back and forth between the two pieces. It was then cut to produce two pieces of velvet.
A less costly modern alternative to silk velvet is cotton velvet. Panne velvet has a longer pile and is pressed giving it an appearance quite dissimilar to actual velvet in addition to being a completely synthetic fabric.
Early velvets begin appearing in Europe in around the 12th Century, although other napped fabrics were probably made earlier. These early velvets were probably used for furnishings (luxurious bed drapes and coverlets), rather than clothing. During the 14th century armour could be covered in velvet.