Renaissance period – Clothing styles

renaissance clothing

The English renaissance period (spanning the 16th and 17th centuries), a continuation of the Italian Renaissance movement (starting from the 14th century) is considered a very important time period in world history because it marked a transition from the dark ages to a modern period with growing emphasis and interest in science, art, and literature. 

Italian renaissance started a cultural movement all over Europe. The word renaissance means ‘a renewed interest in something’ and true to this word, during this period there was a renewed interest in art, architecture, literature, and scientific activities based on reasoning and this led to great change in every sphere of life – intellectual, social, scientific and political. As for fashion, it is said that modern fashion as we know it today, started during this period. 

Renaissance Period and Fashion

The Renaissance period fashion in England was largely influenced by the two Tudor monarchs of the period, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Both the monarchs spent lavishly on their clothes. The nobles, who copied everything the royals did, wore ostentatious clothes made of silk, satin, velvet, and brocade. Their dresses, especially that of women were very elaborate and cumbersome to wear. The clothes restricted their movements and they needed servants’ help to dress. 

Noble women’s clothing in Renaissance Era

renaissance period clothing styles
Noble woman in renaissance period

The gowns worn by women had a tight-fitting bodice and a full skirt that gave the appearance of an hourglass figure (the classic Renaissance silhouette) with wide shoulders tapering to a tiny waist and then flaring into a voluminous skirt. The long poufy sleeves maybe detached. 

The women wore a shift, a loose linen smock, and stockings that reached their knees as the first layer of clothing. On top of it, petticoats or underskirts were added to make the gowns look voluminous and also protect the wearer from cold. Over this, an Overskirt was worn which was open in the front to reveal the underskirt or the petticoat. Underpinnings such as bum rolls or farthingales were sometimes added to keep the skirts looking rounded and full. The skirt of the gown was ankle length to show off their high-heeled shoes.

The neckline was low, square or round and wide. The waistline of gowns was very low  – tapered, and v-shaped waistlines were in fashion in the late renaissance period.

Large round sleeves were in fashion. Elaborate sleeves were usually separate from the gown and were laced or tied in place. Sometimes, the color and fabric of the sleeves were different from that of the gown. The following sleeves were popular

Finestrella sleeves – This was a voluminous sleeve with two layers of fabric- the outer fabric had horizontal slits through which you can see the fabric layer under it.

Funnel sleeves – There sleeves were fitted at the upper arm and then had a round shape gathering around the wrist

Leg of Mutton sleeves – This sleeve had a round puffed top and a narrow portion beneath.

Gigot sleeve – These sleeves were puffed at the shoulder.

As everyday clothing, boned bodice made of leather and whalebone boning was popular. This was worn over a long sleeved shift/chemise in off white color.

Noble men’s clothing in the renaissance period

renaissance clothing
Noble man of Renaissance period

The men wore a shirt similar to the dress shirts of today but the collar and cuffs of the shirt were made of lace. Over the shirt, they wore a doublet, a fitted top. The doublet was waist length and sometimes shorter in the back than front. Some patterns of doublets had short skirts. The shirts and doublets had full sleeves.

On top of the doublet, they wore a jacket called Jerkin. In the place of trousers, they wore a knee-length hose which was often poufy. The hose was joined to the doublet with laces. Under the hose, a Hosen was worn. They also wore a codpiece, often padded and made of various materials.

Ordinary men/women’s clothing in the Renaissance Period – subject to sumptuary statutes

Both King Henry VIII and later Queen Elizabeth I passed sumptuary law which restricted colors and clothes by class. During the Renaissance period, Purple silk and sable fur were reserved only for monarchs and their families. In the class segregated society it was punishable if people did not dress according to their class and gender.

If you are making clothes to enact the clothing of renaissance era you have to be careful about the rules of the period. Make sure that the fabrics for Renaissance clothing are those which were available in the period. 

Plain 100% natural materials like wool, linen, raw silk, woven cottons, and leather were used to make clothes and accessories. Earthtones like browns, greens, rust colors were used. There were many restrictions in place for people in different stations in life with regard to the fabrics they can use, and the color of the clothing etc.

According to the Sumptuary statute the clothing restrictions for the period included –

  • Purple silk and sable fur: Reserved strictly for the Queen, King, and their family members.
  • Velvet: The colors crimson and scarlet being reserved for only the highest nobility: dukes, marquises, and earls.
  • Tinseled cloth: Cloth that was woven with strands of gold and silver, that is, tinsel, was reserved for the nobility including viscounts and barons.
  • Gold, silver, or pearl embroidery: Reserved for dukes, marquises, earls (including the children of all three), viscounts, barons, and Knights of the Garter.
  • Lynx and civet cat fur: Restricted to the above ranks, and including the wives of men who can dispend  100 by the year.
  • Enameled buttons, chains, etc.: Restricted to the above nobility, and including wives of barons’ sons, and wives of knights.
  • Silk, satin, and damask: Reserved for the above, and including knights’ daughters.

Taken from this website :

The lower-class women wore dresses made of linen, wool, or sheepskin. Their dresses were easy to wear and practical, providing them with more freedom of movement. The pattern of the dresses was almost similar to all the classes, but the lower class women wore a looser corset or none at all. The lower-class men dressed for utility and wore only hoses and shirts.

The children were considered as young adults and were dressed similarly to their parents. Both boys and girls through their toddlerhood till the age of 3 to 5, wore biggin’s hat and a shift. Then they started to dress like adults. Boys started wearing hose around the age of seven.

Common clothing terms of the Renaissance period

Bumrolls : The bum roll was a roll of fabric (padded) tied around the hip to keep the skirt stand apart from the body.

Breeches : Knee length trousers for men

Capes and cloaks : The capes were used as an outer wrap by wealthy men. They were made of brocaded silk or embroidered or lined with fur. The cape often reached the hip or the small of the back. The full-length cloaks were worn over the capes especially while traveling. 

Codpiece : A triangular piece of material added to the crotch area of breeches.

Chemise :This refers to a shift or shirt, or chemise worn by both men and women( Camicia : Italian word) as a foundation garment

Canions : Tight tubular knee length clothing that is worn under the hose – it shows from the hem of the hose to the knee (Men’s clothing)

Doublet: A tight fitting vest. It is buttoned in the front.

Farthingale : The farthingale was a hoop skirt made of fabric and strengthened or stiffened by materials like cane, whalebone, etc.

Galligaskins : Loose trousers

Gorgets : Gorget is a single piece of plate armor hanging from the neck and covering the throat and chest. Sometimes these gorgets were elaborately decorated.

Hosen : Form fitting socks worn by all men under their breeches/hose/canions.

Jerkin: This is a loose fitting vest, usually sleeveless. It was made of leather or velvet and usually worn over the doublet. (Men’s garment)

Mantle : This was a fashionable small cloak or shawl wrapped around the shoulders. It could be made of a flowy fabric or fur .

Partlet : A blouse with a standing open collar (usually with ruffles that imitate the ruff).

Ruff : This is a detachable ruffled circular and stiff collar first introduced by Catherine de’ Medici, the Queen-consort and regent of France. This was developed from the gathers at necklines. At first, bodice/shirt necklines were low but gradually it gave way to a higher neckline. A drawstring was used to gather the neckline. The ruffle formed by the drawstring later became elaborate and became the ruff.

Slops : A type of loose breeches reaching below the knees that look like rounded hose. Some of the slops had pieces of fabric hanging on the outer surface creating a pretty pattern of slashes and cutouts revealing the fabric underneath. 

Head coverings
Biggins/Coif : A close fitting cap with shaped sides- it may have ties under the chin.
Flat /cap Muffin cap : These are floppy caps with a band around the forehead. They usually tilted to one side of the head.
Kennel/gable headdress : This is a pentagon shaped headdress kept on top of the head – this has an attached covering for hair in the back made of velvet

Snood : This refers to a hairnet covering the hair.

Read more on Renaissance period and the clothing styles prevalent during this period :

Italian renaissance:

Clothing in the Renaissance Period:

Dressing like you are in the Renaissance period :

Related posts : Fashion in style popular today ; Evolution of fashion.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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