The Italian Renaissance/The Northern Renaissance/Elizabethan Period (1500-1600)

Free «The Italian Renaissance/The Northern Renaissance/Elizabethan Period (1500-1600)» Essay Sample

During the Renaissance, Europe’s interest in the forgotten culture of antiquity was reinvigorated. In architecture, painting, sculpture, and clothing, European creators sought to find proportions, symmetry, and harmony. In medieval Europe, the spiritual was the most important thing, but not the body. Consequently, during the Renaissance, everything changed, and the body received certain value. It should be beautiful as a spirit. Therefore, the clothing of the Renaissance embodies the physicality of the period. All its parts should be in harmony with each other, and they must be proportionate. In their combination, the ideal of balance of the individual parts of the human body should be observed. This paper will examine outstanding characteristics of male and female fashion in England, Italy, and Northern countries during the Renaissance period.

Fashion of the Northern Renaissance

In the XVI-XVII centuries in Northern Europe, society experienced shift from the Gothic medieval culture to the new art based on the ideas of the Reformation (Favier, 1998, p. 22). On the other hand, there was the formation of the bourgeoisie and the emergence of capitalist relations, which later became the basis for the formation of a new Europe with its developed industry and trade as well as free urban culture. Here, the culture of the era of Gothic and therefore, clothes, were kept for a long time.

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In Northern Europe, there was a well-developed production of wool fabrics as well as numerous crafts and manufactories. Active trade in the cities introduced the locals to the most exquisite materials – silk, satin, velvet, and brocade as well as expensive household items. However, Northern Europeans regardless of their social standing preferred to wear clothes made of wool. The cloth was expensive material available to the middle and upper class (Italian and Flemish cloth were especially prized). Len was less popular, and it was used mainly for underwear. Silk was available only the top of society. A distinctive feature of a Dutch costume was a combination of black and white caused by the spread of Calvinism, calling for worldly asceticism and self-restraint in all things (Favier, 1998, p. 23).

In the Netherlands, the influence of Italian and French fashion as well as Germany and Spain was strongly felt. Men wore a jacket – purpe with long Basque, voluminous trousers, and outerwear with a zip at the waist, trimmed with fur. The suit was decorated with lace collar (turndown or hard-starched) and cuffs. A favorite hat at that time was a hat with boxes of various widths. Moreover, as an outerwear, both men and women wore cloaks and capes (Favier, 1998, p. 28).


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It should be noted that women dressed in the European fashion. They wore simultaneously two dresses – Cotto and surcoat. Leaf was placed on a rigid metal base. Over the dress, women dressed jacket, strapped at the waist and a below the belt, was decorated with a stand-up or turndown collar.

An integral part of the bourgeois women’s costume was an apron. The neck and chest were covered by collar or Relena of muslin. Men cut their hair short and wore soft berets, and women had their hair under a headgear – cap. Since the middle of the XVI century, in the Netherlands, the Spanish fashion began having strong influence on the suit. Clothes became more closed, with the domination of dark colors. The noble women began to wear hoops to give volume to their skirts (Favier, 1998, p. 29).

Fashion of the Italian Renaissance

Women’s costume consisted of several dresses – the upper (gammura) and lower (zimmura) dresses with long sleeves (Condra, 2008, p. 91). The Renaissance fashion of Florentine women involved soft natural proportions highlighting the lines of the body or a slight increase in the waistline, where a funnel-shaped skirt, softly and gently flared from the waist to the hips and bottom. Kott was a dress usually cut from the waist with attached bodice and wide pleated skirt. The bodice had a neckline: in front, it was square and in rear part – elongated. Its shape, puff, elegant decorations emphasized the beauty of the entire dress.

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As it was already mentioned, the top dress was called gammura. It consisted of three parts: an elongated free back, the back with folds, and shorter shelves. The sides of gammura were not sewed but only fixed with the belt on the waist. Such a shape allowed draping gammura in different ways. The top dress had short and wide sleeves, under which puffed long sleeves of underwear could be seen. Its shape became slinky with the detachable waistline and heavy pleated skirt made of velvet or brocade. The fabric through, which thin translucent white pleated shirt could be seen, became widespread.

Lush beautiful dresses of the Venetian woman were complemented with artsy shoes at a very high (55 cm) wooden stand. Wooden soles of shoes were decorated with morocco, silk, or embroidered velvet. In addition, as a decoration, lace was used widely. It decorated the collar, gloves, belt, and stockings (Condra, 2008, p. 91). A new kind of complement to the clothes appeared – silk clutch with fur, decorated with ribbons, tassels, and various trinkets. As for the hair, strings of coral and pearls were interwoven in women’s hairstyles. Hair was decorated with special capes and spider veins that could be seen in many paintings by artists of the time.

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The main types of men’s clothing were camicia, stockings, doublet, simara, and ropa (Condra, 2008, p. 90). Camicia was a shirt often made of thin white cloth with length to mid-thigh. It was worn tucked into pants. Gentle shoulder line, large volume of the bodice, and long sleeves allowed passing the fabric through the cuts of the shirt sleeveless and upper garment in the form of lush puffs. The neck was a broad oval or square shape decorated with lace and fabric prongs on the edge.

The doublet was an upper body clothing, short, with length to the waist and hips, buttoned or laced. The doublet was slinky on the chest line, waist, hips, and it had a cutting basque as well as diversely executed neck: a high stand-up collar, deep V-neck, or oval insert (Condra, 2008, p. 98).

Stockings-pants were made of elastic fabric and tight-fitting legs. Both halves of them were combined by a codpiece. Stockings-pants were connected to doublet through the holes by means of laces. For a long time, the fashion miparti was popular: one leg was smooth, the other – striped. Later, Italians began to wear short pants with length to mid-thigh or higher (Condra, 2008, p. 100).

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Male costume complements comfortable soft leather shoes with wide noses (‘bear paw’). Hats had very diverse forms – low hats, berets, and fezzes (Condra, 2008, p. 100). Dress length was determined by age and social position of Florentine society. After the conquest of Florence by Spain, the Italian fashion was influenced by Spaniards. The cult of luxury, wealth, and splendor of Venice became a characteristic feature of this period.

Fashion of the Elizabethan Period

From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the history of costume in England followed the path shared with all European countries. In the XVI century, when in all countries national awareness intensified and the states received the political and economic independence, the English aristocracy and bourgeoisie defended the right to national self-determination in a suit. The impact of the German fashion has not stopped, along with the direct imitation. However, the suit became independent. English character in a suit began to manifest itself from the XIII century (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 56).

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The tendency to maintain traditions in a suit was typical for the British fashion. In England, a change of clothes went slower than in Europe. The difference of the English costume from the costumes of other European nations was in greater freedom, lesser tightness of clothes, and the originality of some minor details. High-quality and comfortable clothing distinguished England from other countries, although it was subject to the influence of fashion in France and Spain: massive and square in proportion, the prevalence of worsted fabrics, fairly sharp boundary bourgeoisie and aristocracy costumes (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 55).

The bourgeois, distinguished by prudence and thrift, were modest in dress and a choice of colors and textures of fabrics. The robes of women of England differed little from the pan-European fashion. Great diversity of women’s head dressing shows the examples of a national invention. Special passion for the large, wing-shaped sleeveless dress was embodied in the portraits of royal women. The grandeur of the sleeves in men’s and women’s dress was the priority of the British fashion. The sleeves also defined a common massiveness and square in a suit of the first half of the XVI century (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 54).

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The characteristic feature of both male and female costume was the cutter with a variety of size and shape, but always respective for the same cuffs. It must be said that the British especially excelled in invention form cutter. Instead of a number of fabric folds, the cutter was made of a set of fabric in three to four floors and it could be filled with lace. At the end of the XVI century, collar appeared in a typical English dress – small at first and then, in the XVII century, large and flattened on the shoulders (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 56).

The male costume consisted of purpuena-coat, made usually from the rich material, embroidered, and decorated with slots, under which a contrasting color lining was seen. In the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, pants were wide, inciting to fantastic proportions. Short puffed pants were usual outfit during the reign of Elizabeth. Long stockings fitted snugly to the leg. In the city, the citizens wore shoes, when riding – boots without heels (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 56).

Further, short pants were supplemented with narrow knee-length pants that were worn with cloth or filament stockings fastened below the knee by complex garters. Hats and caps were the subject of special attention and diversity. They particularly manifested individual taste of the owner. Swords, rapiers, walking sticks, perfumed and embroidered gloves, jewelry, including earrings and necklaces, complemented the suits of British dandies. The surface of the garment was decorated with embroidery, appliqué, combination sewn cords, braid, slits, and draped puffs, and so on (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 56).

In the XVII century in England and then in France, there appeared ‘guardian of virtue’ (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006, p. 57). It was an artificial construct, encircling the waist as flat wheel. Technically, it was achieved by putting on a quilted cushion under the skirt of dresses and fabric fixed in a special way, located on the waist. However, even contemporaries could not call this shape beautiful.

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When studying the general characteristics of the Renaissance, certain patterns in the forms of the investigated countries costume can be distinguished. The dominance of a particular style, preference for certain fabrics and colors, compositional structure suit are directly linked with a powerful blossom of culture and art of the era. The interest in man, nature, beauty, everything that man of the Middle Ages lacked, were the determining factors in shaping the tastes and styles of the Renaissance man. The costume of the Renaissance was the exact opposite of the costume of the Middle Ages. In the suit, as well as in art forms, there was a revival of ancient traditions, the cult of the mind, and the body cult. The rise of culture and art also had an enormous impact on its formation. Humanism penetrated all spheres of human interest, and it defined the costume features, appearance, and lifestyle. Anthropocentrism, humanism, human exaltation almost on a level with God were the fundamental features of the human way of thinking of the Renaissance.

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