Guest Author - Christine MacNeil Sweet
The rebirth that happened in the Renaissance affected all aspects of life from politics to art to education and everything in between. Nothing escaped the change including the styles of clothing worn by the people of the time. Like current day couture fashions, people wore their wealth on their sleeves…and belts…and shirts. You get the idea.
Because of the amount of trade that the Italian’s engaged in in their central location in the Mediterranean, their styles were influenced by a number of other countries, particularly Spain. It also allowed them to purchase and trade in exotic fabrics and trims that became the symbols for the wealthy. Traditionally, colors were dark to set off the jewels and expensive threads sewn in to the cloth. The upper class set the trends, much like today, for changes in styles and shapes that made up the clothing of this time.
The fabrics, most of which were imported like cotton from India, were costly and out of the reach of most of the common class. Although silk was produced locally in city states like Lucca and Florence, it like so many of the more expensive imports, was heavily taxed.
Clothing was made with voluminous amounts of fabric of different brocades, velvets, cottons, and linens. Women wore hoopskirts that became a fashion staple for centuries. The infamous codpiece, the precursor to the “fly” in men’s pants today, was invented during this time period.
In addition to setting the trends in fashion, laws were made by the upper class as to what the lower classes could wear too. This was how the slashing of clothing to show the fabric layers underneath started. In protest of the laws in place that restricted the lower classes from wearing more than one color at a time, they began to slash their clothing to show the colors that they were underneath. It is this technique that most people think of when they envision Renaissance clothing.
Even the clergy were not immune to the changing costuming and hierarchy outlined by the clothing that they wore. One could tell the different levels of the clergy by the colors, fabrics, and types of clothing that were worn by the different members. Even today, the clothing worn by the Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope vary from each other. This made it very easy to differentiate between the different levels within the church – one that endures even today.
Although the fashions have changed considerably in the last five hundred years, Italy still maintains its reputation as one of the high fashion centers of the world. The industry’s love for fine fabrics, exclusive design, and being one of the forerunners of the next fashion trend has endured through the ages.