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Renaissance Costume And Dress - 1483-1558

( Originally Published 1926 )



"Clothes, from the King's mantle downward, are emblematic, not of want only, but of a manifold cunning victory over want." "Saylor Resartus."

The later years of the fifteenth century show a great change in the mode of living, due, as was stated in the preceding chapter, to the invention of gunpowder, which changed the mode of warfare, and to printing, which meant a spread of education, through the multiplication of books. Before the latter invention, all books were printed and illuminated by hand, and it is to these illustrations that we owe much of our knowledge of the costume of the Middle Ages.

People began to read and to question, they had hew hopes and desires, and in England and France a national literature was developing. The Reformation in England had broken the power of the Church and given a new form of religion. Scientific research was beginning, and art had its patrons and followers, especially in Italy, where Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Andrea del Sarto were changing the method of painting from that of the artists of the preceding century. Mediaevalism was dying out, and the spirit of the Renaissance was taking its place. "The very trend of clothes showed something vaguely different, something which shows, however, that the foundations of the world were being shaken—so shaken that men and women coming out of the gloom of the fourteenth century through the half-light of the fifteenth saw the first signs of a new day, the first show of spring, and, with a perversity or an eagerness to meet the coming day, they began to change their clothes."'

About 1483 Charles VIII, the son of Louis XI of France, made a warlike expedition into Italy. The French were much astonished and captivated by the modes and manners of the Italians, and they in their turn greatly admired the manners of the French. There was an exchange of manufactured products and an interchange of fashions. The Italians adopted French styles, which were much more sombre than their own, and the French began wearing the bright colors of the Italians.

The women of Italy were wearing their hair parted and covered with a jewelled net or caul, and this fashion was almost immediately adopted by the Frenchwomen. This meant the death of the hennin; the women declared it horrible and left it off of their own will. For nearly two hundred years it had held its place in France in spite of the fight waged against it by all men-especially those of the Church.

The silhouette was changing; before this period dress had followed the lines of the figure, clinging to it rather than extending it at any point. The high hennins, flowing sleeves, and long, pointed draperies of the preceding centuries had made for the pyramidal or the rectangular shape, but now the low, flat head-gear, the extended shoulder, and the distended skirt developed a silhouette shaped like an hour-glass, the contracted waist being emphasized by the wide shoulders and the full skirt.

Materials-Very elaborate materials were in vogue. Velvets from Genoa and Spain, with beautiful designs, some raised on gold and silk grounds, some of velvet on velvet; brocades with wonderful patterns, variations of the pineapple and the Tudor rose; gold, silver, and silks imported from Italy, fine cloth manufactured in Bourges, and linen imported from Holland.

Color also played its part. The following description of a costume gives some idea of its use: "That portion of the dress which covered the chest was of black velvet embroidered in the upper part, and of gold tissue as far as the waist. The outer dress was of blue velvet embroidered in gold and lined and bordered with crimson velvet. The edge of the sleeves was the same. The veil was white and transparent, the belt green and sparkling with gold ornaments. That part of the underdress which was visible below was violet; the shoes were black."' With this costume was still worn the sugar-loaf hennin, with a broad band of embroidered black velvet bordering the front, and the frontlet or loop of black velvet coming over the forehead.

Anne of Brittany formed a court of the women of wealth and position in the country, and had a great influence on style. Dresses became shorter in the skirt, because she had a beautiful leg and foot and wished to show them.

Women's Dress.—Very little change was shown for a while from the costume described in the preceding chapter, except that the front of the low bodice was laced like a peasant blouse in some cases, and the skirts were opened to the hip and laced in the same manner. The velvet girdle was embroidered with mottoes and heraldic design, and long cuffs which fell over the hands were added to the sleeves.The bodice was still tight-fitting and highly ornamented, but the sleeves were fuller, especially at the shoulder-line, some being made of a series of puffs and straight bands which were held together by ribbons over the puffs at shoulder and elbow; these were the forerunners of the slashed sleeves. A gorget or linen collar, plain or plaited, filled in the open neck and reached as high as the collar-bones, and a silk scarf wound around the waist and finished by a rosette had taken the place of the girdle.

White dresses trimmed with colored fringe, and black veils, as well as those made of bright colors, were in vogue. Some of the women went so far as to adopt the draperies of the Greeks, modernized to suit the times. During the reign of Louis XII the upper skirt was worn shorter, and was held up in front to show the underskirt; both were decorated at the bottom.

In the last years of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance brides wore red or scarlet on their wedding-day, but Anne of Brittany seems to have changed this fashion, as the gown worn on her marriage-day was of white satin, and her hair was simply arranged, without ornamentation of any kind.' All the queens of France had worn white when in mourning, but she instituted a new order by putting on a black gown at the death of her husband. A white silk cord held it in place at the waist, and a similar cord twisted in the form of a true-lovers' knot, or figure eight, was added to her coat of arms to show her grief at the loss of her beloved husband.

Head-dress.—A great change had come about in the style of head-dresses. Women went to the other extreme and began wearing a flat, pointed hood, fashioned of black silk, stiffened to form a slanting peak at the centre and sloping to the side of the forehead, where it fell straight down to the shoulder or lower; the edge was embroidered with gold or pearls to stiffen it. Under this was a close-fitting cap of white or a color, which showed above the forehead, and over the black silk was a stole of stiffened material, also jewelled.

A more common example of this head-covering was made of black cloth cut nearly square, with the sides slit up so that it would hang better over the shoulders. It was worn over a coif of white linen or black material, and the front was often turned back from the forehead and pinned, and was sometimes ornamented with a band of gold embroidery. Metal-tipped tags hung at each side of the hood and were used to tie back the sides; later the hoods were made up with the sides fastened back.

The more ordinary head-dress of white linen stiffly starched and worn over a coif which concealed the hair and fitted tightly around the face was the forerunner of the linen head-dresses worn by the nuns of the present day. Ladies of rank wore the hair parted in the centre and drawn up at the back, where it was fastened close to the head under the cap. Young girls wore their hair hanging.

Shoes.—The long, pointed poulaines had gone the way of the hennin, and slippers were being made of velvet or satin, fitting the shape of the foot, with quite wide, rounded toes. Over these were worn pattens when going out-of-doors. Stockings were still made of several pieces of material sewed together, and garters were either fastened by a buckle or tied, and were ornamented with mottoes or initials.

Men's Dress.—The dress of the men shows the transition from the long, flowing draperies that were worn in the fifteenth century to the broadened silhouette of the sixteenth century. We find much the same influence as with the dress of the women. That part of the costume which shows the greatest change was probably the sleeves; they were broadened at the shoulder and held out the collar of velvet or fur, which was found on the outer garment or overcoat. The plaited skirt of the tunic in the earlier part of the century had become much fuller and reached to the knee or below, forming a sort of petticoat.

The upper part of this garment fitted to the body and was cut low in the neck and very often edged with velvet, and had sleeves which reached to the wrists. Under this garment was worn a white linen shirt, ornamented with fine gathers and embroidered with fancy stitches. This was gathered into the neck by a ribbon and eventually became the ruff of the next century. The shirt had long, full sleeves, which showed at the wrist when the sleeves of the outer garments became larger at the hand, and sometimes at the elbow when the upper sleeve was loose and hollowed out at that point. Later the waist of the tunic was cut open and formed a turnover collar, and the opening was filled in with a stomacher, the forerunner of the pourpoint, or vest, made of very elaborate materials, such as brocades and cloth of gold. This was sometimes laced across the shirt, and some-times fastened in the back. It came to the waist and the hose were attached to it.

The hose or tights began to be decorated with puffs of different material at the top, and later developed into the garment called trunks. With this costume was worn elaborately embroidered gloves, which had been a part of a gentleman's wardrobe for some time.

Flat caps made of felt, velvet, and fur had taken the place of the pointed ones so long in vogue. They had a round crown, often full like our tams, and a brim which rolled back all the way around. This was cut in slashes and decorated by a jewel, or the slashes were held together by means of a cord which was laced into them. The trimming was a single white feather or a bunch of colored plumes. This style of hat was extremely artistic and becoming, and is often used by the modern designer of hats for young women and girls.

The hair was curled and cut at the nape of the neck, and sometimes with the "dandies" or "exquisites" it reached to the shoulder; the face was clean-shaven.

Shoes.—The poulaine had been banished, and a wide, flat shoe made of cloth, velvet, silk, or leather, and without a heel, had taken its place. It was little more than a sole with a slashed toe, and was held in place with a string around the ankle or instep. An English proclamation of 1465 limiting the length of the beaks of the shoes to two inches probably led to this new fashion in footwear. Boots with high tops were beginning to make their appearance.

The sixteenth century naturally means the Tudor period in England, and in France the reigns of Francis I and II and the influence of the Medici, through Catherine, the queen of Henry II. English life had become as gay as the life in France, and shows, revels, and masquerades were the order of the day. Merchants were making large amounts of money, and had a great deal of power in politics, and society was changing in many ways.

In France the court of Francis I had been influenced by the art of Italy; Francis, being a patron of the arts, invited many of the Italian artists, Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Sarto among them, to visit him. It was also during his reign that the chateau of Blois was built. He was very extravagant and spent large sums on entertainments and dress. Michel Suriano, the Venetian ambassador, gives an account of the way in which the money was spent. He states that "His Majesty expends 300,000 crowns on himself and his Court, of which 70,000 are for the Queen." Women were almost as extravagant as the men.

Large sums were spent in hunting, on balls, masquerades, and other diversions. There were often as many as 1,200 horses in the stables, besides all the mules, carts, and litters that were there for the pleasure of the guests. The court was a "rendezvous for the pursuit of pleasure"; ladies con-versed with the men at the daily receptions. They no longer drew apart with the queen. This meant a change in the status of the women. They became more coquettish in their dress and manners and gained an amount of political power they had not had before, "even to the appointing of generals and captains." Francis was very generous and often furnished the wardrobes of both the men and women of the court. Brantome states that some were so valuable "that it was a great fortune."

Women's Dress.—A changed silhouette was developing; during the first half of the century a number of details were decidedly different. The waist lengthened to a point in front, and was made on a stiff corset which drew in the waistline unnaturally the neck was cut square and filled in with a collarette of openwork embroidery or with lace, which had just been invented in Italy. The sleeves were narrow to the wrist, where they were rather ornately trimmed with lace or fur.

The "vertugadine," or crinoline, was introduced from Spain by Queen Claude, wife of Francis I, about 1530.' Skirts were very full and were stretched over a wide, stiff petticoat, mounted on hoops of iron, wood, or whalebone. A band of coarse linen supported the wire and lifted them up around the waist. These hoops were so large that the cousin of the Duke of Montmorency saved his life by hiding him under her hoop. Many edicts were passed prohibiting the wearing of crinoline, but they did no good; the women insisted upon wearing it in spite of the inconvenience.

The surcoat had developed into a tight waist, the flowing sleeves of which often reached to the floor and were edged with fur; the skirt opened in front to the waistline, showing the skirt of the gown, which was elaborately decorated. The coat was made of satin, velvet, cloth of gold, or silver tissue embroidered, and was sometimes lined with fur or had fur bands at the edge. Around the waist was worn a jewelled girdle, and a long chain called a "cordelier" was twisted into the girdle and fell to the feet. There seems to be very little change for the first fifty years of the century, except that the inner sleeves broadened out on the shoulder and became slashed or made of stripes of two colors, and the outside sleeves were often made entirely of fur cut out to show the under-sleeve. Women also carried muffs, called in France "countenances."

Head-dress.—Velvet head-coverings were still worn; the front had lost some of its peak, and the hair had taken the place of the tight linen band that had been worn under it. The velvet hung down the back, reaching nearly to the waist, and was embroidered with jewels. The veil was still worn in France, but evidently only for ornament, as it hung down the back. Later a flat cap like a saucer, and a graceful turban which was covered with a network of pearls, took the place of the velvet head-coverings. The hair was curled and worn longer and was fastened up at the back with wire hairpins, an English invention, the first being imported in 1545. Before this a flexible wooden pin or skewer had been used to hold the hair in place. La Belle Ferroniere invented the head-dress which bore her name. This was a skull-cap of splendidly embroidered velvet or satin, with a narrow ribbon or chain crossing the forehead, in the centre of which was hung a jewel or ferronier. The ribbon tied in a bow at the side.

Shoes.—The style of foot-gear had not changed. Slippers with broad toes, .made of velvet, silk, and satin, slashed and puffed and embroidered with gold and jewels, were still the fashion, and some even had high heels, a fashion brought from Spain.

Jewels.—This was a time of great extravagance in jewels. Both the men and women wore necklaces of diamonds, rubies, and pearls, broad collars of gold, which were set with precious stones, brooches, rings, garters, and girdles, stomachers, and a band down the front of the skirt, embroidered and set with precious stones; even the edges of the slashes were ornamented, and whole gowns were embroidered and set with pearls and other jewels.

Men's Dress.—We may get some idea of the gorgeousness of the costume worn by the men from the description of the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I on the Field of the Cloth of Gold: "Never was there such a display of silks, satins, velvets, cloth of gold and silver, feathers, laces, and jewels. The two monarchs and their Courts seemed to vie with each other in magnificence."' Henry .VIII wore a garment of cloth of gold over a jacket of rose-colored velvet, a collar of rubies and pearls, set in alternate rows; the rich order of Saint George hung from a ribbon around his neck; his boots were of yellow leather; and the whole costume was crowned by a black velvet hat with a white feather, and a broad band of rubies, emeralds, and pearls mixed with diamonds on the rolled-up brim.

There seems to be little difference in the style of dress of England and France at that time, both countries borrowing some of their fashions from Spain and Italy. From the numerous portraits of Henry VIII we get a very good idea of this dress, and it has also been preserved in the "beef-eater's" costume worn by the guards of the Tower of London. The tunic or doublet was slashed and reached nearly to the knee. It still had a V-shaped opening, which was filled in with a close-fitting vest cut in a square, a linen shirt, either plain or plaited, filled it in and reached to the neck. This shirt eventually ended in a small ruffle or ruff, which had been invented by a Spanish woman to hide a wen on her neck. A similar ruff finished the sleeve at the wrist.

The trunks had become very full and were slashed and puffed, and were joined to the stockings or hose with jewelled bands or ribbons tied in large bows, when the full doublet was not worn. The outer garment worn with this costume was of velvet, or cloth of gold, very full and reaching to the knees; it usually had a turnover collar of fur, which gave great breadth to the shoulders, and the wide sleeves were terminated at the elbow with broad bands of fur. One inventory mentions several pairs of sleeves that were apparently laced on, as they "have twelve pair of agletes of gold." A similar coat made of lighter-weight materials was worn in the house and even in the ballroom.

Foot-gear.—Henry VIII probably introduced silk stockings into England. Challamel says that the first worn in France was in 1559 by Henry II at the wedding of Marguerite of France, and Planche states that they were generally supposed to be unknown in England before the middle of the sixteenth century, and that a pair of long Spanish hose of silk were given as a present to Edward VI. In an inventory of Henry VIII the king is mentioned as having several airs of silk hose, one short pair of black silk and gold woven together; six pairs of black silk hose, knit at an earlier date, and satin and velvet hose are mentioned. The shoes show little change.

Head-gear.—The hair was cut short for almost the first time in history. There is a story that Francis I was wounded on his face and allowed his whiskers to grow to hide the scar, and this set the style for all men to wear beards, whiskers, and moustaches. Flat hats with tam-o'-shanter crowns were usually of black or colored velvet, and ornamented with a white feather or a bunch of colored plumes. They were worn tipped on one side.

Sumptuary Laws.—To counteract some of the extravagance of the day and also to keep up the system of caste, sumptuary laws were passed in England, forbidding all persons not of the royal family to wear "fur of the black genet"; persons under the rank of viscount could not wear sable, and no person under the degree of Knight of the Garter could wear crimson or blue velvet, or embroidered apparel, brooched or guarded with goldsmith's work, except the sons and heirs of barons and knights, who were permitted to use crimson velvet and tinsel in their doublets.'

Probably these laws were no more efficacious than those of the earlier centuries, but they give us some idea of the extravagance of the time. Clinch says that the sixteenth century stands out in history of costume in England as being the most extravagant and the most magnificent, and that Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth were "the most gorgeously clad sovereigns England has ever known."



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