Guest Author - Laura A Zennie
A woman in Renaissance Italy wore vastly different clothing than we do today. It can sometimes be confusing trying to figure out what they wore. Each region also had differences from other regions. Here I will give an overview of what a woman in Renaissance Florence would have worn compared to what we would wear.
The innermost layer was the chemise, or in Italy, it was called the camisia. This was an underdress that would be the equivalent of what we would call a slip. While we would wear a slip to make sure our dress or skirt was not see through, and to keep rough fabrics like wool away from our skin, the purpose in the Renaissance was quite different. They would wear the chemise to keep the richer fabric of their outer garment from touching their skin and getting dirty from body oils and perspiration. The chemise was usually made from linen, and sometimes from silk, though rarely. The quality of the linen depended on the class of the woman wearing it. The upper class and nobility would wear bleached very finely woven linen to show their status and it would be a symbol of their virtue as a wife to have a very white clean chemise. They usually had many of these garments, and they also doubled as a night shift or night dress as we would call them.
The style varied at different periods of the renaissance. Early in the fifteenth century, they were more straight and less voluminous. The sleeves were straight and close fitting, and the neckline was not gathered. In the early to mid sixteenth centuries, the sleeves became very voluminous, and were often seen in the nobility through slashes in the outer sleeves. This was again a display of wealth, letting others view the vast amounts of fabric that one could afford to wear. Some would have embroidery done on the neckline and at the wrist also as a show of their wealth.
Over the chemise, a woman in Italy would wear her gamurra, which was her every day dress. They had these both for home and for visiting and being in public. A simple gamurra was one with a tight bodice to hold the breasts in place. The women in Florence did not wear corsets, as the tight bodice was sufficient to their needs. In pictures of women during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, you can see a gentle rounded front from the bodice. In the middle of the sixteenth century, when Eleanora de Toledo was the wife of the ruler of Florence, her Spanish influence became the dominant look, and stiff corsets were worn that flatten the breast, similar to the Tudor and Elizabethan styles, both of which had a Spanish influence also. A gamurra would lace either in front or on the sides. In many paintings there are no visible laces, as these were under the arms on the sides, although some show front laces. In Eleanora's time they would usually have side back laces that came down at an angle making the back a triangle. The skirt of the gamurra was usually very full and pleated, either with box, knife or cartridge pleats. A gamurra was usually made of wool, the quality dependent on the wealth of the wearer.
The gamurra would sometimes have attached sleeves, and sometimes detachable sleeves that were either sewn or laced in. In this manner, women could change their look by changing their sleeves. They could wear the same gamurra at home or to a gathering, and look completely different by adding or changing sleeves. During the fifteenth century, the sleeves were relatively narrow, and usually only attached at the top of the shoulders, being tight from elbow to wrist, and slashed at the elbow to allow bending the arm. In the sixteenth century the sleeves started getting larger and more voluminous, and were being made of much richer fabrics. Because of this, sumptuary laws were enacted. Many women wore their wealth on their sleeves. Some were richly embroidered and decorated.
When visiting others, or going out in public a woman would wear an outer garment. This came in three different varieties, the giornia, the mantle or manetello, and the cioppa. The mantello, or mantle was just a length of cloth like a cape that could be also worn over the hair if needed, and was a very simple outer garment, usually made of rich fabrics and sometimes bordered in gold thread if the wearer was wealthy. This garment allowed the gamurra to be seen by all. The giornia was a capelike garment with shoulders, but no arms. usually had open sides and an open front, allowing the sleeves to be visible, and sometimes even the front of the gown. Some were closed with a clasp. A cioppa was a dress worn over the gamurra, that was not as tightly fitted in the bodice, as the gamurra was the foundation garment, and it had a full skirt and usually had slashed sleeves. These sleeves would sometimes be extra long, and were meant as ornamentation, not fuction, as the sleeves were not actually worn, but the arms would be put through the slashes and the cioppa sleeves left hanging behind. This again allowed the sleeves of the gamurra to be displayed.
As you can see, women in the Renaissance liked to show off their clothing, as it was their only way of showing off their wealth, or the wealth of their family. There was such extravagance that they even made laws forbidding some displays.