What Was So Special About the Costumes of the Italian Early Renaissance
Italy is the country to mark the beginning of the Renaissance, the epoch of humanism proclaiming a human released from strict religious values, exploring the universe, independent creative individuality, and human dignity. Antiquity became a role model for Florentine humanists, who reached to recover its images in daily life. It made an impact on the costume whereas the Italian culture saved the elements of a medieval knightly ideal at the same time. Harmony of the proportions, entirely different picture of a human, the pursuit for highlighting the human individuality in the costume – all of this became a uniquely modern in comparison to the highly regulated costume of the Medieval Ages. It is hard to state the only one distinctive attire of the Early Italian Renaissance. But rather simple is to follow the tendencies of the certain costume forms of that time as the selection of dress was made according to the amount of money, fashion, range, and the government policy.
Back to the Medieval Ages, Italy belonged to the most civilized and developed countries among Europe, where the antiquity traditions remained its actuality; and what is more, Italy understood and realized its historical significance. Works of art here fell under the influence of antiquity. Florence was a place where faith in the recovery of such an unforgettable time prevailed at the highest level. The city was considered not only the center of the cultural and social life of the country; people saw it to have economic prosperity, mainly caused by the production of fabrics and fashion items. Thus, it was a supportive environment for a foundation of the new style of the Renaissance. A unique feature of it is that it did not expose the human body and its separate parts as the ancient culture; it did not highlight them similar to a natural-oriented Gothics, but instead became able to understand it as individual integrity within the plastic arts. With the whole individuality inherent in this fashion, it could create an ideal type of clothes for female and male of the Renaissance, followed as a model by all of the segments of society. The general humanistic idea with its exploration of the human finds its reflection in a moderate emphasizing of the main body parts. The new fashion rejected from the past everything that did not respond to its harmonic description of symmetry and moderation, and also it managed to avoid extravagant details of the previous time’s fashion. Italian fashion rejected the unnatural position of a belt, sometimes put on a too low level of the thigh, and some time at the very high level over the waistline; it turned down the long pointed shoes, pointed low-cut dresses, elongated sleeves, and finally, the big top hats. Instead, Renaissance fashion established the new norms in compliance with that time ideas. Moreover, it had dictated the exact beauty standards existing till nowadays.
The first notable peculiarity of the Early Renaissance costume was the social status reflected in it. People supposed to wear the clothes following their position in society. In response to the Renaissance social laws, people of the lowest classes could not wear the most expensive fabrics. That was made with the aim of every social class to demonstrate the advantages and weak points of their place in society. Fashion tendencies influenced Italian art, and the dresses inspired them. A Survey of Historic Costume states, “Renaissance painters depict many of these luxurious fabrics so realistically that one can identify them as satins, cut velvets, plain velvets, or brocades, simply by looking at the pictures” (Tortora and Eubank 183).
Furthermore, throughout the epoch of the Renaissance, Italy had been falling under the influence of the particular countries trying to impose their cultural norms. However, their efforts were not successful, and the country managed to save its unique peculiarities. According to Carl Kohler, “still, in spite of foreign influence, it preserved its peculiar national character and was distinguished from German dress by far more lavish adornment and by the richness of the material used” (Kohler). When it comes to the exact features of the costume of females and males, it possessed both similar and distinctive elements. The female costume included a couple of dresses. They were richly decorated and had a lot of details such as embroidery, expensive lace, fur, and precious stones, which also emphasized the high position of those who wear similar outfits.
The dress highlighted the body and volume; the bodice and the skirt must be in harmonic proportion. Moreover, it must respect the balance of individual parts of the human body. The bodice of the dress was laced with a small oval neckline. Additionally, the wealth of the lady was witnessed by the sleeve of the dress, which was narrow and had a cut initially on the elbows, and then in the armhole, exposing the underwear. Lower white linen, because at that time white fabrics were considered one of the most expensive. At the same time, the Italian male suit was hardly influenced by military armor, as the merchants and artisans were the leading public force in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This costume was more voluminous than in other European countries. Similar to other countries, officials and representatives of some professions such as doctors and lawyers wore long clothes. The peculiarity of the Italian costume was reflected in the fact that the clothes had cuts along the constructive lines (armholes, elbows, on the chest) through which they let out a white linen undershirt, which created a special decorative effect (Tortora and Eubank 188). Harmonious proportions and constructive sections of Italian clothing will be borrowed by the tailors of other countries in the late fifteenth – first half of the sixteenth century.
In conclusion, the costumes of the Early Italian Renaissance possessed its unique features according to the fashion models of that time. The Renaissance, in general, had its particular ideology that put a human in the center of the society and proclaimed the beauty of the human’s body and soul. Female and male costumes reflected its main ideas in many details and the way of creating it. A remarkable feature was that the type of clothes depended on the social status of people. However, the primary aim was to highlight some parts of the body, although not to expose them. Thus, the female and male costume was extraordinary according to its initial idea of emphasizing the beauty of the human body, which had been dictated by the Early Renaissance norms.
Kohler, Carl. “Italian 14Th And 15Th Century Fashion History.” History of Costume and Fashion, 2017, www.world4.eu/italian-14th-century-clothing/. Accessed 14 Sept. 2017.
Tortora, Phyllis, and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume. New York: Fairchild Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
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