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Women's Fashions of the Renaissance Era

Women's Fashions of the Renaissance Era

Renaissance Fashion is marked by voluminous clothing worn in an abundance of layers (one reaction to the cooling temperatures of the Little Ice Age, especially in Northern Europe and the British Isles). Contrasting fabrics, slashes, embroidery, applied trims, and other forms of surface ornamentation became prominent.


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Anastasia Romanova

Anastasia Romanova

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Cosmetics in the Renaissance Era included powders made from white lead, mercury, and vermilion (derived from cinnabar). Women in this era highly valued pallor. Pale ivory skin was highly desired so women who didn’t have that naturally used white lead powder to achieve it. Cheeks also remained fair but needed to give off a bit of a glow. Mercury was sometimes added to the white lead powder and rubbed into the cheek area in order to achieve the necessary effect. Some Renaissance women also used white lead powder, laced with mercury, to accent their bust lines.

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Source: The Beauty Biz
Anastasia Romanova

Anastasia Romanova

140 Knowledge Cards 

The highly toxic lead and mercury would eat the skin away, causing ruptures and scarring, which the Renaissance women would cover with heavy layers of the same dangerous powders. As the result, many died due to lead or mercury poisoning.


If the costume was often determined by Spanish fashion, we mustn't forget that it was been modified by fashions coming from different countries: the grandeur of Burgundy's court played a part in the clothing wealth ; the German fashions were introduced by Teutonic Knights. The main characteristic of Spanish fashion was its great austerity that one found in all parts of the society. But that severity wasn't so important for the other countries.

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The clothing during that period spoke much about the social standing of the wearer. One could largely distinguish between aristocracy or nobility and the lower-downs. [...] It is believed that during the Renaissance, clothes wore such an important treasure that those belonging to the upper classes of nobility and aristocracy would spend all their earnings on what they wore. The women finely decorated their dresses. Typical Renaissance clothing was not just limited to England, which was ruled by Queen Elizabeth, but its influence spread to other European countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Flanders, and Poland.

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Although originally, darker colors were previously allocated to the poor, the wealthy were now realizing that such colors would do a better job of showing off their jewels. The more elaborate the craftsmanship was, the more costly the Renaissance clothing was and thereby established a recognizable reputation of wealth for the person who wore it. Expensive fabrics consisted of silk, velvet, brocade and cotton. At the time, cotton was imported from India and heavily taxed making it a quite costly and a premium fabric. Since clothing retained its value, it could be easily pawned when needed to assist in getting through hard times.

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Because the Renaissance era encompasses approximately 150 years of history, its fashions changed dramatically from beginning to end. At the dawn of the Renaissance in 1450, clothing styles were influenced by Medieval and Gothic designs, as well as the Italian Renaissance movement in art. Women's fashions assumed a more natural appearance from their Gothic predecessors. [...] After the turn of the 15th century, Renaissance fashions began to follow German styles. The simple, natural styles of the early period were replaced with horizontal, massive styles. [...] Women's gowns became voluminous, with skirts heavily pleated and supported underneath by hoops made of wire or wicker and held together with ribbons or tapes. [...] By the end of the Renaissance in 1600, fashion had reached a zenith under the Elizabethan period.

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During the Renaissance, clothing for servants and members of the lower classes were only loosely fitted to provide ease of movement while doing daily chores. Outer garments were traditionally high-waisted, commonly known today as an "empire waist." The dress length was shorter than popular with the higher class, dropping down to the ankles rather than sweeping the floor. Sleeves were close fitting, again to make doing chores easier. [...] In contrast to the clothing worn by women of the lower classes, wealthy high-society women wore dresses that could in no way be considered functional. [...] Skirts were both long and voluminous, supported by hoops made of wire or wicker. Necklines were quite low and often trimmed with ruffles and lace. Sleeves were generally puffed out and adorned with ribbons and laces.

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The most important jewelry item from the Renaissance was the pendant. It replaced the Medieval brooch as being the most common jewel and was worn on a necklace, long gold chain, fixed to the dress or on a chain worn on the girdle. The pendants were often designed to be seen from both sides with their enameled backs equally impressive as their jewel encrusted fronts. From the late 15th century functional pendants like tooth and ear-pick pendants are encountered as well.

Article: Renaissance Jewelry
Source: Antique Jewelry Universit...
Anastasia Romanova

Anastasia Romanova

140 Knowledge Cards 

Pendants depicting Biblical scenes and mythological subjects became popular. Pendants featuring the initials of the wearer or their loved one were so personal, they were often destroyed after the death of the wearer.


There were several iterations of fashion trends that produced a wide spectrum of Renaissance clothing. The beginning of the 16th century was marked by a strong German influence. This meant many bright colors and slashing as a form of decoration. The most common materials used were velvet, satin, and cloth of gold. Red was also a popular color although worn only by nobility. With the marriage of Mary Tudor to King Philip of Spain in 1554, fashion suddenly changed. The colorful and flamboyant clothes of earlier years gave way to Spanish fashions. This style of dress was more tightly fitted and often black. The Spanish influence on Renaissance clothing continued throughout the century. The ruff, the farthingale, bombasting (padding), and tiny waist lines gave a stiff, rigid and proud appearance to wearers, in contrast to the more flowing lines that had gone before.

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In the first half of the sixteenth century, the garments softly focus in a volumetric effect emphasized by the low junction between the sleeves and the dress and by the generous necklines; the marked waistline of women's camore (dresses) […] put an end to the Gothic verticality of the figure, showing instead a clear emphasis on a more mature fullness and imposing breadth. The harmonious feminine beauty of the Renaissance is exemplified by the full hair, tight bodices, and ample skirts, suggesting large and eternal hips.

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All over Europe, luxury and art were being fused and the notion of beauty became an obsession. Women were ready to do anything to be beautiful and their influence ion both fashion and society began to develop. The demand for beauty was so high that as early as 1582, a beauty book was written buy Jean Liebaut, a Parisian doctor, titled L'Embellissement et Ornement de Corps Humaine (The Improvement and Bezutification of the Human Body). Also, hugh-society women had exclusive clubs where new fashion and beauty products were previewed. This can be likened to the current Trunk Shows and Pre-collection Shows organized by luxury brands like Fendi and Burberry.

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