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Things You May Not Know About Renaissance Clothing

Updated on February 28, 2012

Renaissance Clothing

by Wigwam Jones
by Wigwam Jones

Things You May Not Know About Renaissance Clothing

The era of the Renaissance is an exquisite historical period that contains grand wealth, regal etiquette, phenomenal inventors, artists and a lifestyle that was quite accessible for most to obtain and enjoy.  However, this era also had a hauntingly dark side devoured by cruelty, disease, poverty, oppression and disregard for civilian care and leadership.

Massive devastation is what created the Renaissance.  Cities had grown through Europe by the closing of the Medieval Age and a strong balance of middle-class had been established.  The Early Renaissance was arriving and drastic changes were about to occur.

The Bubonic Plague, otherwise known as The Plague or sometimes Black Death, killed half of Europe's population beginning in 1350 until around 1450.  The disease was devastating and extremely contagious, spreading quickly though contact, leaving few to survive.  The only way to escape was to move to other countries, which was only an option for the wealthy.  A deep depression set in with half of the population in Europe left dead, merchants lacked customers and economy suffered.  After The Plague had run its cycle, the cities were repopulated and the Renaissance era began.

Renaissance Clothing Review

History Of Renaissance Clothing

Textile industries in Florence, Italy allowed Renaissance clothing to contribute economically to the rise of the era.  Wealth, as well as social rank was made distinguishable by the garments that were worn.  Renaissance clothing was essentially your public display of your social status.  Even if you were not wealthy, society would accept you if you wore the proper clothing and carried yourself in a refined manner.

The Church condemned people that focused on fashion, accusing them of being guilty of vanity and this label was loosely applied to virtually anyone that wore newer fashions of clothes because they were segregating themselves away from those that were wearing clothes that were out of date.  Preachers felt as though it was quite dangerous that people had the ability to manipulate distinction in society, merely be a garment.  Laws were creating in the early Renaissance to put a control on Renaissance clothing.

Renaissance clothing laws were derived after the Black Plague had subsided and aristocracy was attempting to stabilize their positions in society.  Laws now dictated the regulations in the colors, cuts and materials of clothing of this era.

Meaning was given to Renaissance clothing by color.  Green for love, gray for sorrow, yellow for hostility, red for nobility, black and gray for lower status people and blue for fidelity.  Blue however did represent adulterous wives in certain countries.

Noble ladies quite often were considered trendsetters in Renaissance clothing and their dresses would have elaborate decorations such as fur cloaks and precious jewels.  The poorer society could only attempt to mimic high fashion but never achieve it.

Renaissance Clothing

by Wigwam Jones
by Wigwam Jones

Renaissance Fashion

German and Italian designers both had a great influence over Renaissance clothing and each individual brought their own excitement to fashion.  Clothing was a status symbol and fashion for wealthy people usually meant spending a large portion of your money on clothing in order to retain your place in society.  Although originally, darker colors were previously allocated to the poor, the wealthy were now realizing that such colors would do a better job of showing off their jewels.  The more elaborate the craftsmanship was, the more costly the Renaissance clothing was and thereby established a recognizable reputation of wealth for the person who wore it.

Expensive fabrics consisted of silk, velvet, brocade and cotton.  At the time, cotton was imported from India and heavily taxed making it a quite costly and a premium fabric.  Since clothing retained its value, it could be easily pawned when needed to assist in getting through hard times.

Both men and women usually added ruffs to their neck or a stand up collar and padded buttons also became popular. 

The beret found its invention during this era and they were decorated with embroidery and jewels.  The more decoration on your beret, the better.

The ruling class dominated Renaissance clothing because they were the only ones who could afford high price designers.  It was the commoners however, that invented the “slashing” technique.  A law had been passed allowing the lower class to only be able to wear one color for their whole outfit which was extremely unpopular.  To protest and make themselves more fashionable, they would put together two layers of material and slash the outer layer, allowing the inner layer to show through, adding dimension with the garment.  Over a bit of time, these slashes progressed to be very long vertical slits where the inner layers of fabric were pulled through and sewn.  Slashing became popular on all articles of clothing.

Renaissance Fashion Show

Renaissance Clothing For Women

Renaissance clothing for women was constantly changing and therefore difficult to keep up with if you were not wealthy.  It started out with three pieces including a bodice, underskirt and robe, changed to a one piece and then jumped to five pieces or more.  The later phase included an underskirt, skirt, bodice, vest or over-bodice, hoop and sometimes a small collar.

Most women grew their hair very long and it was maintained in a braid.  At one point of the era, a cap was introduced that looked like a pointed hood.  Later, it became the woman's choice to wear a head piece or not, often determined by age and weather.

Wedding dresses during this time were made from rich brocades and velvet of jewel-tones shades.  People were required to wear their very finest clothing to a wedding.  Brides generally wore their hair down with a circlet of flowers around their head for decoration.

Renaissance Clothing

by Wigwam Jones
by Wigwam Jones

Renaissance Clothing For Men

Renaissance clothing for men also went through many changes.  The initial focus was with rich fabrics that later transitioned to the “square” fashion and ultimately turned into the “barrel” look.  When trying to achieve the square look, shoulders were widened and padding was added.  Bottoms consisted of padded breeches as well as hosiery and even shoes had a square toe.  Wide brimmed hats were often worn to complete the look.

When the look later turned to a barrel style, modifications were made to apply a great amount of padding to the middle part of the vest, to appear as if you were wearing a barrel.  Padding was made from horsehair and the charge was determined by thread count by embroiderers.

Initial hosiery was a sock made from knitted wool or flax that patterns were added to later, very much resembling a man's dress sock of today.

Renaissance clothing had a direct impact on fashion in the world today.  Status symbols are still set by those that can afford the top designers and the lower income class of people still continue to duplicate that look.  Colors have their own meaning and the slashing technique created depth, a practice designers use in abundance in the creation of the their garments  now.  Due to the changing times and symbolism of fashion during the Renaissance era, the world has been given the fashion market of today.


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