Fashionand Culture in Italy — The Impact of the Renaissance on Women andMen Fashion
TheRenaissance is perhaps one of the significant historical eras thatshaped the modernity that the contemporary society enjoys. Asdocumented by Newman(2012) theRenaissance describes a period in the European history lying betweenthe 14thCentury and 17thCentury, which is also regarded as the intermediate era between theMiddle Ages and the Modern history. It was essentially a time ofcultural movement that started during the late Medieval period inItaly before spreading to the rest of European countries. Theintellectual underpinnings of the Renaissance was the invention ofanother version of humanism that was catalyzed by rediscoveries ofthe Greek philosophies, for instance, Protagoras’ that asserted manwas the center and measure of all things in the Universe. This newapproach paved the way for a new thinking that was manifested inpolitics, literature, science, architecture, and art. Some of thenotable examples that characterized these developments include oilpainting and improved knowledge of making concrete structures. It isalso noteworthy that the Renaissance also ushered in the invention ofthe metal movable types, yet many of such developments were notevenly experienced in the vast European continent (Laver,2013).Moreover, the Renaissance spanned the emergence of Latin and otherforms of literature, characterized by the start of learning based onthe classical materials that borrowed heavily from Petrarch,complemented by different forms of educational reforms in line withthe emerging humanity version. Asfar as politics is concerned, the Renaissance triggered the emergenceand development of the conventions and traditions of diplomacy.Besides, in science, the developments paved the way for increasedreliance on inductive reasoning and observation-based methodologies.
Despitevarious developments that characterized the era, it is particularlyperceived as a historical period with marked artistic developmentssuch as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci‘s polymaths (Ribeiro,2012).Such an observation creates the allowance to question whether otherelements of cultural development such as fashion might have beenoverlooked. This paper discusses that although the period might bebest known for an assortment of developments in art indeed, it wasalso marked by a myriad of events in the fashion that can be seen tohave significantly evolved from the Renaissance era.
ABrief Look at the Medieval Fashion
Inexamining how the Renaissance transformed the fashion in Italy, it isfirst imperative to examine the developments in the Medieval era.Such an approach is poised to establish a focal point by which acomparison between these two periods can be made.
Alook at fashion during the Medieval era reveals some form ofdynamism. However, on the overall, the developments during this eracan be seen to be less vibrant than the succeeding Renaissance era.For instance, as Hollander(2013) accounts, fora significant part of the Medieval period, the women clothingtypically comprised of simple long dresses that were cut loose to fitdifferent body sizes, including the expectant women, and these werealso designed such that they could be fastened at the shoulders andchest using brooches. The number, location, and design of the pinsvaried with class, region, and ethnic communities across Europe. Thecost of clothing was particularly expensive to all the classes thatneeded them, and the developments in fashion were relatively slow.
However,the slow pace does not mean there might have been no significantprogression in fashion at all. If only, the period between 12thand 14thcentury, evidenced tumultuous developments that, for example, weremarked by the transition from loose-cut dress to tight fittinggarments, lowered necklines, and incorporation of curvingsilhouettes. This new Medieval fashion design incorporated laces thatwere fastened to give a tightly fitting shape with girdled hips andtapering waist appearance. Hollander(2013)reviews this fashion as a little misplaced because it frequentlyexposed female chest, yet it also distorted the actual stature of awoman body. Another significant development in fashion was the opensurcoat, which was essentially a cloth comprising of a skirt trailingon the ground, and open bodice. This development had taken the marketby storm so that by the close of the 13thcentury, the surcoat was still more popular even as the gown replacedother common garments. Such common garments in the Middle Age includegown, girdle, cape, hose, smock, bonnet, hood, and girdle.Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that many of these pieces were madeusing specific fabrics and colors, including silk, fur and linen, yetwomen from affluent classes wore more expensive materials anddecorations. In addition, the most wealthy women would also wear wideskirts (Hollander,2013).Ornaments such as silver and gold fillets defined the fashion of theruling class.
Theevolution of fashion also saw increased forms of decoration, forinstance, using the girdle, which also happened to be a popularornament during the time. According to Rublack(2013),this piece of cloth was worn in a manner that gave it a sashappearance and was fastened using the ornamental buckles. Men wouldhang wallets from the girdle. However, over time, the wallets wouldbe hidden under the tunics. Embroidery would also be applied asfinishing to these clothes. The super-tunic that characterized the11thcentury fashion continued to be worn by men across the Middle Age.However, it is worth noting that there were some forms of evolutionin the designs of these tunics. The first design comprised of a backpanel extending from the shoulder to the calf. The two pieces werejoined together at the waistline, meeting a slit up at the fronts.The opening at the neck was enlarged to allow it to be put on overthe neck and even from the feet, and this style did not require theuse of a belt. The second style of tunic comprised of folds placedbetween the ankles and the knees. The sleeves were long and extendedbeyond the hands. The third style of design was a loose-cut piece,but with shorter sleeves that only extended up to the elbow. Thisdesign also incorporated a buckled belt, but this was optional. Thefourth design was a ganache, in which the knee and shoulders were cutwide to allow the fabric to fit and give an appearance resemblingcape-like sleeves. The last design was sleeveless, but was worn witha belt (Laver,2013).
ALook at the Renaissance Fashion
Alook at the Renaissance fashion presents it as particularly vibrantkind. Indeed, in the contrast, the Renaissance ushered in variousdevelopments in fashion. For instance, Hooper(2013)observes that during the era, the Italian men wore four pieces ofclothing that were considered essential. The first piece of clothingwas the Camicia, which would be worn as an undergarment. The menbelonging to the upper social class would wear camicia made of softlinens or silk, while those in the lower class wore camicia made upof heavy and coarse linen. A gusset would be inserted under thecamicia to make the garment stronger and comfortable. In the initialstages, the camicia did not have any embroidery on them — it onlybecame popular in the later fashion developments. The camicia wouldbe worn with cuffs and the embroidery consisted of the black andwhite strips. More often than not, the camicia would not be wornalone and, if it did, it signified one was at work. The camicia wouldbe covered with the doublet, which was essentially a closely fittingjacket. Some of the doublets had sleeves while others lacked thesleeves. Those with long sizes would be worn with small skirts.
Anothercommon piece of clothing was the hose. This piece of garment would beworn as an attachment to the doublet, seamed with the crotch. In theinitial stages, only the laborers wore the hose. The hose was wovento be worn tightly in order to attain a sense of smoothness, but thiswould only hamper physical activities. The jacket was the most commonouter clothing that would be worn by the common people. Later, in the15 century, jackets would be worn over chests and shoulders, and thenallowed to fall in pleats that created the allowance for beltingacross the waistline. The huke-like jackets were an alternativefashion style. Moreover, as Ribeiro(2012) observes,nearly all the jacket sleeves were made up of puffs with taperingappearance at the wrists, yet the sleeves were designed to fittightly so that they even obstructed the blood circulation of thewearers. The sleeves were worn only for the purpose of decoration.Some jackets were also designed with non-functional hanging sleeves.In some instances, such as during the cold weather conditions, itwould be common for people to wear fur jackets over these jackets, inthe same way that robes would be typically worn during ceremonies.Considering the tight and stiff fashion that was worn by the menduring the early phases of the Renaissance periods, their movementwas particularly mechanical and restrictive. In the later stagephases of Renaissance, in the mid 16thcentury, various design improvements were made, including theexclusion of the padding to make the movement relatively free(Ribeiro,2012).
TheRenaissance fashion did not exclude the footwear and this wasparticularly crucial for men. In the early phases of the Renaissanceperiod, men would wear shoes that were long and sharply pointed. Evenso, these would be used for the indoor use only. Leather clogs, madewith wooden soles, would be worn in the outdoor weather conditions.As the fashion progressed, changes were made on the shoes, makingthem rounder and less pointed. Most of them were made in calf-lengthsize and would be laced on the sides. In the subsequent century, theshoes were made broader and billed with ribbons that would befastened at the foot top. Additionally, in the later periods offashion development, the trend also changed to include slipper-likeshoes. The designers also went ahead to make shoes with pricking andslashing appearance to improve its fitting and beauty (Bauer,2013).
Thelast piece of fashion was the hairstyle and the related accessories.In the early phases of Renaissance, young men would wear long hairthat rolls it over ears to the shoulders. On the other hand, men worehair that was relatively short and even shaven. Besides the hairstyles, men also wore hats with a coif beneath. Accessories were alsoa crucial part of the Renaissance fashion. Men also wore narrowbelts, and carried daggers and purses with them. Finger rings wereworn on the first two fingers only. Later, in the middle ofRenaissance periods, the fashion changed so that men started to wearmustaches and beards. This had never before been experienced in theRenaissance period. It was also the time that Beret-like crownsreplaced the Turban crowns. The crowns were made of velvet, felt,beaver, or thick cloth. The walking stick was considered as theaccessory for men in the middle phases of the Renaissance period.Short hairstyles still dominated, however. The styles that embracedhairstyles below the chin were replaced while the hats that were wornduring the period were particularly elaborate. In some cases, ostrichfeathers, jewels, and brooches were incorporated into the black caps.Huge rings would also be worn over the gauntlet gloves (Ribeiro,2012).
Thewomen fashion did not register any change until mid of 15thcentury. In the beginning phases, dresses that would be worn over thecamicia or the chemise would be worn as two-piece or single-piecegarment. One piece had a cut from the hem to the shoulders. The topcut shared a resemblance with that of the males’ jackets. Thesewere smooth fitting and possessed a yoke-like constriction at theneck area. The two-piece styles comprised of a skirt and bodice,which had a design that resembled the single-piece style. These cutswould be closed using the lacing on the front side. The outer dressesconsisted of an array of styles. In the early Renaissance, theirnecklines had varied weights, as well as cuts. The V-lower cuts wereintroduced in the middle stages of the Renaissance. These would bebound by the lacing, creating the allowance for the chemise upperparts to be exposed. Another fashion trend that characterized the period was the layered dresses, which were also referred to as theunder-dress. This fashion comprised of a single piece bodice and theskirt joined at the waist. The under-dress was visible, regardless ofwhether it was at the underarm, neckline, or sleeves. Some of theclothes had hanging sleeves for the purpose of decoration, whileothers cut so that the camicia could be seen. Venetia dress was analternative fashion. This was relatively light, but with a rigidfabric. For the rest of the Renaissance period, the trending fashionof the outer dresses remained the same, only incorporating a fewvariations (Laver, 2013).
Forinstance, according to Hooper (2013),the outer dress’ waistlines gave a V-shape cut at the front. Later,this would acquire a U-shaped cut. The clothes that the royalfamilies wore had a significant impact on the women fashion trends.The women undergarments were also crucial to the fashion trend. Thechemise was the most common undergarment. It was also referred to asthe under-robe or the camicia. The camicia would be designed suchthat it formed cloth shape. In this regard, one of the requirementswas that it was to be made fashionable, as well. The chemise would beworn under the dress, as well as over the corselet. In most part ofthe Renaissance period, it was rare to see the chemise in public. Thecorselets had been popular in 1845. This was close fitting to givewomen a curvy figure (Hooper, 2013).
Inretrospect, the evolution of the world can be seen to have beenaccompanied by various changes. These changes have not only been feltin the world of science and technology, but also fashion. A sharptransition is discernable starting with the Renaissance period untilthe modern era. Undoubtedly, this proves that fashion trend isparticularly dynamic, a pace that was set during the Renaissance. Theperiod can be considered as an era with many changes in the fashionindustry. Elaborate features, as well as the expensive jewelry andfabrics, were only some of the notable and significant elements ofthe time. These changes happened to be positive in many cases.Considering that most garments were padded, the movement and walkingwere difficult. Decorations became elaborative and this was the caseeven until the Elizabeth age. Dressing was a subject of social class.Globalization of Europe saw the world converge to a common fashion.People of the Renaissance dressed for occasions. People dressofficially for official duties and casually when away from theofficial events (Hooper,2013).
Inconclusion, the purpose of this paper has been to examine the impactof the Renaissance period on fashion in Italy. It has been motivatedby the observation that the era is particularlyconceived as an era with marked artistic developments, an observationcreates the allowance to question whether other elements of culturaldevelopment such as fashion might have been overlooked.Thispaper has successfully discussed that although the period might bebest known for an assortment of developments in art, it was alsomarked by a myriad of developments in a fashion that progressiveacross the Renaissance era. Inexamining how the Renaissance transformed the fashion in Italy, thediscussion first examined the developments in the Medieval era, anapproach that set a focal point by which a comparison between thesetwo era fashions can be made. The review showed that Medieval fashionhad some form of dynamism. Nevertheless, on the overall, thedevelopments during this era can be seen to be less vibrant than theRenaissance. For instance, the tunic remained popular starting fromthe 11thcentury to close of 13thcentury. In the contrast, the Renaissance ushered in variousdevelopments in fashion. For instance, during the Renaissance period,Italian men wore four pieces of clothing that were consideredessential. The first piece of clothing was the Camicia. The menbelonging to the upper social class would wear camicia made of softlinens or silk, while those in the lower class wore camicia made upof heavy and coarse linen. Other fashion styles included the use ofjackets and shirts. Therefore, such an observation creates theallowance to infer that the people of Renaissance era can be seen tobe more dynamic than those in the Medieval era.
Bauer,S. (2013).The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantineto the First Crusade. New York: W. W. Norton
Hollander,A. (2013). "The Modernization of Fashion". DesignQuarterly. 154:27–33.
Hooper,W. (2013). "The Tudor Sumptuary Laws". TheEnglish Historical Review.30:433–449.
Laver,J. (2013). "Fashion, Art, and Beauty". The MetropolitanMuseum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 26(3): 117–128.
Newman,P. (2012). Daily Life in the Middle Ages. McFarland.
Ribeiro,A. (2012). FacingBeauty: Painted Women & Cosmetic Art.New Haven and London: Yale University Press
Rublack,U.(2013). Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe. NewYork: Oxford University Press