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Women's Clothing in 15th Century Florence

by Vangelista di Antonio Dellaluna

Women's clothing during this period was in general free-form and flowing, but heavy! Follow below for how to "read" portraits.

Paolo Uccello, Birth of the Virgin, Detail, 1435. Florentine school.

A servant girl in what is typical for the period -- a high waist, unstructured bodice, gathered skirt, and close-fitting sleeves. It would be worn over an underdress called a "chemise" or "camicia". Note the length of this garment -- it doesn't look like it'd hinder the girl's movement much. You'll also want to check out her coif -- a close linen cap she wears over her head, leaving her long hair free flowing behind her. The sleeves, incidentally, don't reveal closure details, but a typical way of handling it would be laces. A similar treatment probably closes the gown in back or down the side seams -- since we don't see any kind of lacings on the front.

As to undergarments, you'll notice that the skirt is very free-flowing -- there are no hoops or other stiff underskirts under here. The bodice reveals a good bosom, so there probably isn't a formal corset under it, either.

 

ucello_red_dress_birth_virgin_1435_detail.jpg

Paolo Uccello, Birth of the Virgin, detail, 1435. Florentine school.

All kinds of things to talk about here. First, note the two dresses. An underdress closing at the lower arm with buttons is worn beneath a heavier outer dress with slit sleeves. The underdress looks like it's trimmed in dark fur at the wrists and neckline (the black band there), and its skirt can be seen beneath the folds of the outer dress; its sleeves presumably use a set-back seam, so the buttons attach conveniently. The outer dress is built very similarly to men's garments of the period, with a pleated front and back, and pleated full sleeves. The sleeves are slit in front, so that pretty red undersleeve can show through, but they fall to the floor. The camicia is not visible here, without the poofs through the seams one sees in later periods. This would without a doubt be a fairly heavy outfit to wear. To offset that heaviness, note the model's hair -- a simple braid worn around the head, and no visible jewelry or veiling. (The outer dress would be held on by way of a belt. The buckle was worn in back.)

Do notice that the lower hem on the underdress is cut high enough to walk around in. The outer dress is much longer, and the woman is only holding up that one.

 

Fra Filippo Lippi, Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement, 1440. Florentine school.

Here we see the same basic outfit as in the well-dressed lady in Ucello's portrait detail, with an underdress and overdress, with some interesting differences. We get a far better view of the lady's underdress, seeing here that it is black with lighter embroidery (perhaps metallic). Its edges cannot be seen, nor closure details, but it looks fairly close-fitting. The trim is also not visible. The outer dress is also pleated in front, and probably in back, in the standard way men's garments of the period are. The sleeve is cut in much the same fashion as well, with the wide, circular opening that shows off the inner sleeve. The outer sleeve's edges do not appear to be gathered into a cuff, and probably hang down. All available edges are trimmed in a narrow band of pale fur. The jewelry consists of a brooch, pinned high up on the left shoulder almost at the collarbone, and a close-fitting necklace with no visible pendant.

The hat is more elaborate than one generally sees of the period, but like just about every headdress, reveals the hairline. The hat almost looks like a hennin, with a structured headpiece covered by a filmy silken veil. Also, note that the model is holding her skirt up to her belly. This is something you will see frequently in the period. I speak from experience -- it really does help you walk in these outfits, and it does give you that fashionable "kind of pregnant" Renaissance silhouette.

Fra Filippo Lippi (Italian, Florentine, born about 1406, died 1469) Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889 (89.15.19). Copyright 20002002 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Benozzo Gozzoli, The School of Tagaste, Detail, 1464. Florentine school.

This is a detail of one of the only women in the painting. While the woman is clearly meant to be a saint of some kind, possibly Mary the mother of Christ, her costume bears many resemblances to contemporary fashion. She seems to be pointing out the youth to her right, perhaps a divine signal of encouragement.

She wears a dress that is very familiar to students of Tuscan fashion, with a roomy outer dress with 3/4 length sleeves over a more fitted inner dress. The trim on the outer dress is made of the same fabric as the inner dress, which itself is decorated in a darker blue trim near the hem. Note how much longer the outer dress is than the inner one. Also note the veil and how it is arranged (though this is likely to be anachronistic to the period), and that gorgeous belt, which looks like it's got gemstones set into it. Also note the v-back neckline of the outer dress.

Detail of Triumph of May -- 
Belt

Francesco del Cossa, belt detail from Triumph of May, 1466-1470. Florentine school.

This is a detail from the "Triumph of May" series of frescoes, located in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. I'm including it because it's really a cool detail of a belt. This is worn by a young-looking female model. Fancy belts are mentioned in several sources, namely "Dress in Renaissance Italy". One will note that one does not see a pouch or anything else dangling from the belt, but that could well be because the young lady in question is part of what amounts to a fantasy painting.

 

st_lucy_del_cossa_1470.jpg

Francesco del Cossa, Portrait of St. Lucy,, 1470. Florentine school.

An interesting portrait. Lucy is shown in a very striking overdress, open in the front, apparently at least down to the thighs. The overdress closes in front by way of a red ribbon-like belt similar to the ties on the sleeves. The overdress is trimmed interestingly as well, with a golden trim along all edges, including the "little windows" of the sleeve openings.

The underdress is of a sturdy scarlet material, with the openings in the forearm that one comes to expect in the late 15th century. Note that the wrists are tied only halfway up the forearm, and that the opening goes past the elbow. There's no WAY this sleeve can tie together -- there has to be that gap. The ties go through what appear to be 3 or 4 pairs of holes or top-sewn rings in a spiral-lacing pattern, with the length of the cord coming out at the wrist and just hanging free.

I haven't seen this form of collar before. It may be an extension of the head-dress, or it may be a very big camicia collar. Either way, it's unusual. The head-dress itself is very similar to what one sees in the "Triumph" frescoes, with a simple coif and tape arrangement keeping the hair out of the way.

Note that one can see the barest rim of white at the wrists, above the red dress' sleeves, and above the bodice.

 

Women's Garb, Page 3

Men's Garb, Page 1

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This page last updated: July 10, 2009
All text copyright Vangelista di Antonio Dellaluna, except where otherwise noted. You may use anything you find here for any nonprofit purpose, but please give credit where credit is due.
Images are presented here only as research aids.