Exploration One: Reniassance Dress - Europe 1450-1650

The renaissance in Europe during the 15th-16th century was an awakening of culture and knowledge. Starting in Florence it didn’t take long for the styles and trends to spiral out from Italy. A lot of ‘what was fashion’ was influenced by what the royal families liked to wear. This made Italy’s economy, rely highly on the garment industry.

One of my favorite paintings of all time

Most of the lush textiles, famous to this time, came from Italy. King Henry VIII was probably the most famous renaissance male model of the time, as he wore some of the most luxurious clothing in history. Including intensely vivid embroidery featuring depictions of flowers, leaves, animals, insects and other patterns. They added in different precious metals, including gold and silver, into the weave. It was a time of luxurious extravagance, yet they retained their fantastical belief in miracles, god, and myth. The combination of wealth, and faith, created a wonderful reality to be in for the few lucky men, and women of the upper class. Embroidery became a deep and passionate art form, which some people devoted their life to.


Italy: Italy was a fashion and art plethora of the time. Most of the textiles trade went straight to Italy and out, from there, across Europe. The medici family ruled as one of the biggest powers of the country. Veneitian fashion was elegant and sophisticated, with a true appreciation for the female form.

Germany: loved to exaggerate their slashed and detachable sleeves. The sizes of the puffs expanded and contracted throughout the renaissance.

Spain: grew in power, as a result a lot of Spains growing power, and christian faith, fashion lost many of their bright colors. They were slow with their fashions and tastes, their evolution included the smoothing out and sharpening of the dresses shape. Note: The spanish farthingale is the underskirt structure, which set’s a dress

England: Had two generations of ‘poster children’ during this era, between King Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I, they were some pretty well dressed royals.

King Henry VII

A common look for the renaissance man back then, was a flat cap, popularly in red, and blue, and black and other earthly tones. They wore a tight fitting coat, ending at the top of the neck. People in general wore enlarged and intense detachable puffed sleeves with slashes in them. Allowing the undershirt to peek through the slashes. A cape or fur jacket wasn’t uncommon, and was clipped to the wearer at the shoulders. This made it easier to remove.As in many cultures, the male’s genitals were exaggerated significantly, this was called a codpiece, and was even used as a fanny pouch purse for a long time. The size of these grew until the mid 1500’s, and then eventually vanished from society around 1600. Men wore puffed shorts, sometimes slashed, and typically ending just above the knee with tights. A popular trend was multicolored tights. King Henry XII models a famous silhouette from the early renaissance, a blocky, masculine, and stable form.


Women were expected to wear a corset, bodice, a headdress, with long extensive gowns. Slashed, or detachable skirts, and sleeves were one of the most prevalent features of the renaissance. Many venetian women aspired to have blonde hair, and some even used urine, and other chemicals to try to color it so. The shapes of the dresses changed throughout this period, from finely draped, to cut and formed.

This portrait of young Elizabeth of France, is a great example of the excessive use of lace, and slashes in the puffs of her sleeves. Note the pearls dripping across her bodice.

Pearls were one of the favorite jewels of the time. It was the ultimate status symbol and was used everywhere. High class women were dripping in jewels, from embellishments in their dresses, to their hair, to their jewelry, and even crushed up into luxurious face cream.

Ruffs were another large characteristic of the style of this time, ruffs around the neck, sleeve, shoulder, wrist, it was a way to show off some beautiful lace work. Lace exploded across europe and was prized.

was another one of the ultimate status symbols, fox, ermine.

Headwear consisted of anything ranging from a crown covering hat, hood or headdress. A popular one to note, is the ‘french hood’, a rounded bonnet like cap, which can be seen commonly in portraits of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth, her daughter, was much more experimental with her fashion, and lead the renaissance proudly into the Elizabethan phase.


Coming out of the medieval era, at the beginning of the renaissance, sleeves were long and flowing, folding was a large part of high fashion. Slowly, with Spaniard influence, dresses eventually became boxier, and more masculine, and slowly, towards the turn of the 16th century, they started to become more feminine, in the way they flowed, and the colors which were chosen.

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth the firsts reign, had a considerable impact on fashion, and clothing became more important than ever. She had a collection of the most beautiful crowned jewelry, and wore some of the most expensive outfits in the world back then. Things were so much more precious back then, as each piece of an elaborate outfit, such as hers, would be ‘the best of the best’. Ostrich feathers from Africa, pearls, handmade lace (by the yard), gold thread, ermine, furs, etc. everything was imported from across the world, just for her.


In these days, children dressed like adults, and would probably have close to the same tastes as her mother. Many wealthy families would give their children red coral necklaces, to protect them from illness and the evil eye. Children’s clothing was made to be a little more ‘indestructible’, so to speak, as children have always been slightly messy creatures. Depending on the rank of the mother, the cloth used in the children’s dress would probably be of a slightly lower grade, because children are always growing so much.