Fashions of the Renaissance Period

By V. M. and M. S.

The Renaissance Period started about 1450 CE in Italy and ended about 1600 CE. Hale (1993) notes that it was the first age that the word "European" was used and understood. Hale (1965) observed that the word Renaissance came from the Italian word "renascrere" meaning to be re-born. Many would say it was the age in which intellectual and creative energy was re-born. Wilcox (1948) stated that the Renaissance came to Italy a good 100 years before it even reached north of the Alps. When French Kings Charles VII and Louis XII invaded Italy they were astounded at the elegance they found there. The Renaissance Period was the first era that realized it was a new age in human history. Lesley (1968) stated that it was marked primary by its civilization, not by political organization.

Hale (1993) observed that in the 15th century fashion was re-born and beauty of the human body was discovered once again. The dark, simple fashions of the Middle Ages were replaced with elaborate, detailed dresses as the Renaissance period went on. Bucknell and Hill (1967) stated that much of the fashions of the Renaissance were based on Spanish styles, such as black on white embroidery. As the period went on men's garments became more pleated while women's necklines became lower and lower. Many can look at the fashions of the Renaissance and categorize them with the rulers of the time. Historians can look at a Renaissance dress and label it from the periods of Richard III, Henry VII, or another rulers of the period. Renaissance dress makers considered the human form in two parts-- hips and shoulders. The clothing was made to fit the wearer, yet on the outside it was padded to show the body in a completely different form than the natural one. Lesley (1968) stated that a person's wealth was shown in the jewels sewn in the cloth, fabric, and layers of clothing. Until the Renaissance period, lace was almost never used in dresses. Toward the Later Renaissance, fashion began to reflect mannerism. Sumptuary laws decreed that commoners only to wear clothing of one color. Eubank and Tortora (1989) stated that to circumvent the sumptuary laws, men and women cut open the outer surfaces of their clothes to expose the contrasting color beneath, which was called slashing.

Men's Clothing

The picture on the left is typical men's attire of the Renaissance Period. The picture on the right is a typical man's shoe of the Renaissance Period.
Men in the Renaissance period wore four essential pieces of clothing. First, was the camicia or shirt. It was worn close to the skin as an undergarment. Tortora and Eubank (1989) stated that for upper-class men the camicia was made of silk or soft fine linens. The camicia was never worn alone, for that only symbolized a working man. Baines (1981) observed that lower-class men's camicias were made of heavy coarse linen. A gusset was inserted in the camicia to make it stronger and roomier. From 1440-1500 the camicia was very plain and never embroidered. Bucknell and Hill (1967) observed that throughout most of the 16th century the camicia had cuffs and had black on white Spanish-style embroidery.

Over the camicia was the doublet, which was a close fitted jacket worn with or without sleeves. A longer doublet was worn with a small skirt. Hale (1993) stated that doublets were worn only until the 16th century when the styles became fuller and less form fitting. The top of the doublet stood away from the neck to create a smoother more elegant look. Tortora and Eubank (1989) noted that doublets were very plain until about 1515, when contrasting fabrics were added.

The next piece of dress for the Renaissance man was the hose. Bucknell and Hill (1967) stated that the hose was attached to the doublet and seamed together at the crotch. Until the later part of the 15th century hose were worn by labor workers only. According to Hale (1965) the fabric was woven and worn tight to attain smoothness, yet hampering physical activity. Because of the controlled physical activity many painters show men with the laces of their hose untied and hanging in back.

The outer-most piece of clothing worn by common-men was the jacket. In the later part of the 15th century the jacket was worn over the shoulders and chest then falling in full pleats and belted at the waist. An alternative style was a huke-like jacket. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that early sleeves of jackets had puffs at the shoulders which tapered at wrists. In the middle part of the 16th century the sleeves of the jackets were worn severely tight and tended to cause loss of circulation. Sleeve attachments were worn purely for decoration. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that hanging sleeves were generally non-functional and attached to the jacket. An extra layer worn by lawyers and high political officials only, was a ceremonial robe. Hale (1965) stated that for outdoor weather a fur jacket was worn over the jacket and/or the ceremonial rob. Because of the stiff and tight clothing worn by the men of the early Renaissance period, movement was restrictive and mechanical. By the turn of the 16th century the movement became more natural with removal of padding from jackets. Lesley (1968) observed that yet another thirty years later movement was once again so restricted that it caused men to walk with their hands and arms out in front of the body with their feet turned out. The end of the Renaissance, though, brought a natural movement back again.

Footwear was a big part of the men's fashion. Bucknell and Hill (1967) reported that in the beginning of the Renaissance Period the shoes were long, pointed, and generally worn for indoor use only. Leather clogs with wooden soles were worn for outdoor weather. Aston (1968) stated that in 1485 shoes became less pointed and more rounded. Most were calf length, form-fitting, and laced up the sides. At the turn of the century men's shoes became broader or duck billed with ribbons tied across the top of the foot. Baines (1981) stated that toward the end of the period the footwear became more natural and slipper-like (p.176). Shoe-makers used slashing and pricking to give the shoe a better fit. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that at the end of the Renaissance Period the most popular mode of footwear was the footed hose.

Hats, hair styles, and accessories were the last essential pieces that finished off the man's costume. At the beginning of the Renaissance Period younger men wore their hair long from ears to shoulders, while older men wore their hair shorter and sometimes shaved. Aston (1968) stated that along with the hair styles, the early Renaissance brought turban-like hats that were worn with a white coif beneath. As well as hair styles and hats, accessories were a big part of the early Renaissance Period. Eubank and Tortora (1989) reported that men of the early Renaissance wore narrow belts, carried small purses and daggers. They wore finger rings on the joints of their first and second fingers only.

In the middle Renaissance, men started to wear cleanly shaved beards and mustaches, something never seen in the Renaissance before. Turban-like hats were replaced with beret-like crowns with upturned brims. The berets were made with thick cloth, felt, beaver, or velvet. As an accessory, the men in the middle Renaissance carried walking sticks with their berets resting on top. Hair styles of the late Renaissance Period were very short, even for young men. Hair below the chin was rarely or never seen. The hats of the late Renaissance Period were very elaborate. Bucknell and Hill (1967) reported that black caps were worn with ostrich feathers, brooches, and jewels. As an accessory men of the late Renaissance Period wore huge jeweled rings over gauntlet gloves.

Women's Clothing

The picture at the left is the typical woman's dress of the Renaissance Period. The picture on the right is a typical woman's shoe of the Renaissance Period.
Eubank and Tortora (1989) stated that women's outerwear during the 15th century did not noticeably change until 1440. From the years 1440-1500, dresses, worn over the chemise or camicia, were worn in either a one or two piece garment. The one piece was a cut from shoulder to hem, with the top cut similarly to men's jacket styles and were smooth fitting with yoke-like construction over the shoulder, full pleats or gathers over the bustline and were usually belted. Bucknell and Hill (1967) reported that two piece styles consisted of a bodice and fully gathered skirt with a similar construction to one piece styles and were closed by lacing up the front or the side. There were many different variations on the styles of women's outer dresses. During the early Renaissance, the necklines varied in cut and height. Aston (1968) stated that in the mid 1400s, necklines were rounded with a usually high cut. With the end of the century came lower necklines with a more squared cut or a deep v-neck cut held together by lacing and showed the upper part of the chemise. Eubank and Tortora (1989) reported that another style that arose were two layer dresses which consisted of an underdress and over that an outer dress. The underdress was one piece with the bodice and skirt fully joined with a close fit to the body. The underdress was often visible at parts of the outer dress, whether it be the neckline, sleeves and/or under the arm. The outer dress was sleeveless with seams at the shoulders and an open arm to display the underdress. Baines (1981) noted that the sleeves that were shown were two piece, puffed out at the top or with a close fit and were cut to reveal the camicia, while some dresses had hanging sleeves for decoration. One variation on the outer dress was the Venetian dress which was not as heavy as most other outer dresses but was made with a more rigid fabric. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted throughout the 16th century the outer dress remained similar to the dresses of the 15th century with a few variations. The outer dress was made wider and with more fullness. The necklines had more of a wider and more square shape and cut lower to reveal more of the camicia. The sleeves became wider, with more fullness. Baines (1981) stated that most sleeves were puffed out at the top and had a close fit from above the elbow to the wrist. The sleeves became more elaborate and decorated with the elaborate puffs and decorative slashes. The waistlines of the outer dresses were designed straight across at the beginning of the 16th century, but towards the end of the century, the waistlines acquired a more v-shaped cut in the front and straight across cut in the back adapted from Spanish styles. Eubank and Tortora (1989) reported that Venetian outer dresses acquired a more u-shaped cut in the front of the waistlines with a straight cut in the back. Women's outer garment styles kept the same basic idea throughout the Renaissance, with slight alterations throughout the years. Little changes in necklines, waistlines, sleeves and such help identify the dress to the different time periods and different rulers. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted that with the change of rulers came a change in what was considered fashionable depending on what the Queen or King wore.

Women's undergarments were also important in the Renaissance when it came to being fashionable and distinguishing status and social class as with other, more visible fashions, such as outer dresses, head dress and footwear. Tortora and Eubank noted that the main women's undergarments was the chemise, or as it was also called, camicia or underobe. The role of the chemise was to form the shape of the dress and in the later years was shown at the neckline and sleeves of the dress, and therefore had to be decorated and fashionable. The chemise was worn under the dress and over the corset or corselet and petticoat. Tortora and Eubank stated that before the end of the 15th century, the chemise was rarely seen, except to work in field in hot weather or in the privacy of the wearer's own home. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted that the collar of the underobe was worn as if it were the collar for the over dress. The chemise was made of linen and the quality of the linen depended on status and social class. Baines (1981) noted that the chemise was cut full length, from the shoulder to the hemline of the skirt, along with the cut of the outer dress. The sleeves were usually cut long, to the wrist or the end of the sleeve of the outer dress. Tortora and Eubank (1989) noted that some sleeves were cut in "raglan style," with seams from below the arm at front and back to the neck instead of being set into the armhole.

During the end of the 15th century, part of the neckline of the chemise was shown at the neckline of the outer dress, fine embroidery, bindings, smocking or edgings were added to the visible part of the chemise. During the 16th century the chemise was cut high above the neckline of the outer dress, sometimes just high enough to see a small border. This was often embroidered or decorated another way, it evened formed a small ruffle on some dresses. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted that around 1470 the chemise was replaced in favor of a petticoat which defined the shape of the skirt of the outer dress.

In 1485, corselets became popular, which was a closefitting undergarment of a one piece girdle and brassiere tightened with laces worn the squeeze the woman's waist to give her a more curvy figure. Near 1550, corsets, made with stronger material and reinforced with stays, replaced the corselets. Stockings were also important under garments and very fashionable during the Renaissance with a variety of colors, embroidery and garters. Wilcox (1948) observed the stockings were made of silk, worsted (wool), crewel (wool), linen, jersey and sewn cloth, depending on status and social class. Royalty wore mostly silk, and the lower classes wore uncomfortable wool. In the winter, warm bed stockings were worn, most likely made of wool or other warm fabric. Stockings came in many colors, some popular were red, orange, purple, green, white, russet, tawny, and black, which was the most popular. Some stockings were sewn with embroidery in many colors, including silver and gold. Women wore stockings similar to men, gathered around the knee or attached to undergarments. Shorter stockings were laced to "trunk hose" or "drawers." Lesley (1968) noted that some stockings were held up by garters which were made of ribbon, some with jewels, and some women even wore bracelets to match their garters. Fashions of the Renaissance were very complicated and elaborate and undergarments, even though rarely seen, were no exception.

Women's hair and head dresses were the most elaborate, ever-changing and time consuming parts of women's fashions in the Renaissance. Baines (1981) noted that women spent hours plucking hair from their foreheads and side of their face to achieve a high forehead, which was considered fashionable during the Renaissance. They pulled the remaining hair into a tight bun or braid and then covered their heads with some kind of head dress, depending on what was fashionable, which went from to turbans to veils and was always elaborately decorated with jewels, embroidery and rich fabrics. In the later Renaissance, Venetian women would arrange their hair into twin buns that resembled horns at the front of their head. Sometimes these horns would be up to half a foot, and with the combined height of hair and shoes, women could appear to be up to a foot and a half taller than they really were. What was considered fashionable for women's hair and head dress changed considerably many times throughout the Renaissance. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted that around 1440, women plucked the hair from their forehead to achieve a high smooth and fashionable forehead. Their hair was then brushed back and tightly coiled then kept in place by a fillet, which is a narrow band worn around the head to keep hair in place, worn on the back of the head. Then the sides and back of the hair was kept in place by a decorated templer which was fastened to the fillet. On top of the templer was placed a padded roll, called a coronet, which curved down to the center of the forehead. Around 1470, that same style was still popular, and a small black loop was attached to the coronet and laid on top of the forehead. Around 1485, the sides of the hair were plucked and a "small, fez-shaped hat" was worn on the back of the head, revealing ears and side of hair. The veil was made of stiff material and supported on the back of the head with wires which secure veil to hair and also came forward to form a small loop on the forehead.

Close to the turn of the century, women wore what was called the gable or kennel head dress. These were very elaborate head dresses, consisting of many different parts to complete the style. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that the hair was center parted, and fell loosely down the back, and a white under cap was worn directly over the hair and was tied under the chin. Pinned to the under cap was a stiffened tight fitting cap, or coif, with the front and the lappets, or loose flaps, were covered with black material. The front edge of the coif was decorated and rigid with use of metal. Pinned to the coif was placed a semi-circular black hood, decorated around the front, that was like a veil, covering the top of the chest and back. In 1530, hair was no longer revealed, but secured to and hidden by a padded and embroidered band, attached to the coif and formed a turban-like hood. The ends of the embroidered band of the hood were then looped and pinned on top of the head on one side and twisted and secured to the back of the top of the dress while the other side remained loose. Tortora and Eubank (1989) noted that around 1550, hair was revealed again, with a center part, gentle waves and the sides at the top were fashionably puffed out over pads to give a flat top to the head. A French hood was worn and secured with ribbons under the chin. A billement was also worn, which was an elaborate head piece that sloped forward onto the cheek from the back of the head. Women's hair and head dress during the Renaissance most likely were as influential in determining status and social class and being fashionable as the outer dress. Thus women spent a lot of time doing up their hair and arranging their head dress and most probably took great joy in creating their elaborate styles. We can see through the writings and paintings of the Renaissance that women found their hair and head dress to be very important. Without it, we would not be able to identify fashions of the Renaissance so easily.

Along with all the other fashions, women's footwear was not neglected. There were many extravagant designs and trends. Wilcox (1948) noted that women had a restriction put on the width of their toes if they wanted to buy shoes that fit. These shoes were limited to six inches in width and even in some northern countries (France, England and Germany) the shoes were cut with a square shape in the toe. Wilcox (1948) reported that styles of the shoes were generally associated with the reign of Henry VIII and Francois I, from whom some shoe styles originated. Shoes were made out of wood in the platform and leather in the slipper. The shoes were very extravagant as was the rest of the outfit. The platform could add height to the wearer and came in a height of up to 13 inches and jeweled ornaments adorned the leather. Some slippers had slashes over the toe which were filled with taffeta. Chopines were high wooden platforms, almost like small stilts, which were originally designed to protect feet from sand and mud and were very popular. They came from the Orient and were commonly worn by Venetian women who traveled in gondolas. Although very fashionable, these high shoes were never actually seen in public, as they were covered by the long skirts the women wore. Wilcox (1948) noted a reason chopines were especially popular in France, Italy and Spain was because of Anne of Brittany, wife of two French kings who wore chopines to conceal a slight lameness. Like most other Renaissance shoes, chopines were artfully made of wood and elaborately decorated with painted and gilded motifs, some were encrusted with mother of pearl and other stones, some covered in leather or velvet. From the many platforms of the Renaissance came the idea of the modern heel. The cork wedge was the first form of heel placed between leather sole and upper slipper. Wilcox (1948) noted that a slipper with a real heel evolved but retained the sole of the clog. During this period the gracefully curved heel became known as the French or Louis XV heel. The change from platforms to heels changed the whole idea of shoemaking. Walking became considered and art with wearing heeled shoes and a hoop skirt moving forward and backward. Hemlines were hiked up to the ankles and thus the costly foot attire was shown off to the public. Like the under garments the women wore, even though not seen until later years, footwear was as elaborate and as fashionable as the dresses the women wore to go with them.

The Renaissance Period caused fashion to change forever. It was a period that set the stage for years to come. Elaborate details, along with colorful fabrics and expensive jewels were just a few elements of the Renaissance fashion. Beauty and the idea of vogue looks were more important than the health of those who wore them. Because of the excessive padding in most of the garments, people's movements were restricted and walking was a difficultly. People went to any length to outdo each other in their garments. As the period went on the decorative details got more and more elaborate leading up to the Elizabethan Age. The Italian Renaissance influenced all the countries around them. Many countries copied the Renaissance "look", because of the elegance and beauty of the clothing. The fashions of the Italian Renaissance were so influential that, when Italy was conquered by Spain, France, and Austria, the fashions in Europe changed and were never the same. The fashions of the Renaissance Period were truly in a league of their own.


This webpage was created by V. M. and M. S. on 3/22/98 for History and Thought of Western Man. Rich East High School.

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