Guest Author - Deborah Watson-Novacek
Most Renaissance women aspired to have beautiful white teeth, voluptuous bodies and beautiful clothing. How do their beauty routines differ from those of today?
White Teeth in the Renaissance
As is the case in modern times, women of the Renaissance period worked hard at keeping their teeth sparkling white. They used many concoctions to achieve this result.
One recipe called for the mixing of pumice stone, brick and coal into a paste that the woman then used to brush, or rub, her teeth with. Missing an ingredient? Substitute crushed bone!
Even Nostradamus, a self-proclaimed prophet of the times, wrote a book on beauty secrets for the times. His tooth whitening, breath freshening formula is as follows:
"Take three drams each of crystal, flint, white marble, glass and calcined rock salt, two drams each of cuttlefish bone and calcined sea-snail shells, half a dram each of fragmented pearls, two drams of bright riverbed stones (which form little white pebbles), one scruple of amber and twenty-two grains of musk, and grind them down thoroughly on a painter's marble slab. Rub the teeth with [the resultant powder] frequently and gently rub with a little rose honey any places where the gums have receded.In a few days you will see the flesh grow back, and the teeth clearly get whiter."
As you might expect, constant use of this formula was a guarantee that the woman's enamel would be ground off her teeth. If you lived in England, however, there was a quick solution. During the reign of Elizabeth I it actually became fashionable to pain one's teeth black! How did this come to be? Well, Elizabeth was known to like sweets which ultimately caused her teeth to decay and turn black. If you wanted to look fashionable and prosperous, painting your teeth black showed that you were able to afford enough sweets to destroy your teeth.
The Female Form in the Renaissance
During the Renaissance period, women were prized for their "natural" bodies. Unlike women of today who are often expected and pressured to be very thin in order to be deemed beautiful, women of the Renaissance were considered ideal if they were more voluptuous. The plumper their figures, the sexier they were considered!
Renaissance Women's Clothing
Women of the Renaissance era clothed themselves differently dependent upon their wealth and social standing.
Servants & Lower Caste
During the Renaissance, clothing for servants and members of the lower classes were only loosely fitted to provide ease of movement while doing daily chores.
Outer garments were traditionally high-waisted, commonly known today as an "empire waist." The dress length was shorter than popular with the higher class, dropping down to the ankles rather than sweeping the floor. Sleeves were close fitting, again to make doing chores easier.
Under the outer dress, women generally wore a chemise - a type of free-flowing undergown generally of low quality linen. Additionally, women of this caste wore caps of some type, usually made of linen.
Wealthy & High Society
In contrast to the clothing worn by women of the lower classes, wealthy high-society women wore dresses that could in no way be considered functional. The outer dresses of worn by these women were typically created from fine fabrics such as silks, brocades and velvets. Their dresses were further embellished with elaborate embroidery, precious jewels, beautiful laces and even fur trims.
Skirts were both long and voluminous, supported by hoops made of wire or wicker. Necklines were quite low and often trimmed with ruffles and lace. Sleeves were generally puffed out and adorned with ribbons and laces. Dress color was often dark-colored or deeply jewel-toned. It was felt that these palettes served to better emphasize the decorations of the dress.
High class women wore much more elaborate undergarments than did their lower class sisters. Rather than a chemise, these woman often wore both corsets and pantaloons beneath their dresses. These garments, as well as their chemises if worn, were generally made of silk or other expensive fabric.