Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Renaissance Clothing Defined

Recently, I became interested in Renaissance clothing. However, I suffered some confusion about what exactly makes an article of clothing “Renaissance.” For example, the Renaissance Fair (or Faire) that I was familiar with seemed centered around England. Yet, the Renaissance was from Italy, so what country does the clothing come from? Also, if I wanted to look up pictures of the clothing, or purchase clothing, then what time period should I research? This brief post includes general information I have found about these matters.

From what I have learned so far, when people talk about Renaissance clothing they are generally referring to the clothing worn by Europeans during the Renaissance Period. The Renaissance Period took place from roughly the mid-1300s through the 1500s, depending on the country. In England, the Renaissance lasted until around the mid-1600s. This historical period, which started in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, was characterized by a “humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning.”[1] Perhaps, however, it is inaccurate to refer to the Renaissance as a “period.” In the words of historian Will Durant, “The Renaissance was not a period in time but a mode of life and thought moving from Italy through Europe with the course of commerce, war, and ideas.”[2] Renaissance clothes certainly fit into the definition of the Renaissance as “a mode of life and thought.”

During the Renaissance, clothing was much more than a physical covering for the body. It was also symbolic. Clothing was used to establish social status and reinforce the hierarchy of upper class royalty and nobles over lower class commoners. Upper class nobility were able to afford the latest fashions and most expensive materials. The lower classes mimicked upper class styles. In Germany, when lower class styles became too similar to upper class styles, laws were passed to limit the types of clothes lower classes were allowed to wear.[3]

Obviously, a wide range of clothing styles can be classified as belonging to the Renaissance. The time period covered is several centuries long. Styles varied from country to country. Italy, Germany, France, and England all had their regional differences. Plus, styles, material, and color varied according to the social status of the wearer.

Today, people dress in Renaissance clothing for a variety of reason. Perhaps it is Halloween or a costume party. Another common activity is visiting one of the Renaissance Faires which take place during the summer months. Although visitors to faires can wear anything they please, faire workers wear clothing that is “typical of the late Elizabethan period.”[4] This period occurred in the later part of the Renaissance during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in England, 1558 – 1603.

Various Renaissance reenactment groups and activities also provide ample opportunity for modern people to dress up in Renaissance clothes. It is a good idea to check with the requirements of these groups because what constitutes suitable clothing may vary. For example, the Society of Creative Anachronism, Inc. prefers participants “wear an attempt at pre-17th century clothing.”[5] According to this definition, clothing prior to the Renaissance would be acceptable as well.

In conclusion, the term “Renaissance clothing” refers to clothes in a wide range of styles, colors, and materials as worn across Europe from the mid-1300s through the 1500s.



[1] Answers Corporation. 2008. Renaissance. [Online Database]: (http://www.answers.com/topic/renaissance). [24 November 2008].

[2] Will Durant. The Renaissance (The Story of Civilization V). (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953), 69.

[3] DenverFabrics.com. Renaissance Costumes – Fabric. [Online article]: (http://www.denverfabrics.com/pages/static/renaissance/renaissance-costumes.htm). [24 November 2008].

[4] JMV. 1999. Renaissance Faire Overview. [Online article]: (http://www.renfaire.com/General/faire.html). [24 November 2008].

[5] Society for Creative Anachronism. Events. [Online FAQs]: (http://www.sca.org/docs/pdf/scafaq.pdf ). [24 November 2008].

2 comments:

DeAnna said...

This is a very interesting and informative blog. I have always LOVED renaissance clothing. I created TheCastleCloset.com while reading Ken Follett's amazing book, "The Pillars of the Earth." Seeing the clothing styles while reading the stories of that period made the book really come alive for me. Although I would not care to live during that period I would like to throw out all of my contemporary clothing and just wear the exquisite clothes from that time. Oh, what fun that would be!

Beverly said...

great post... It's very informative, I have learned a lot. Thanks

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