Renaissance Europe 1300-1600: Fashion

Arts and Humanities Through the Eras. Editor: Edward I Bleiberg, et al. Volume 4. Detroit: Gale, 2005.

The Regulation of Clothing


The Commercial Revolution that began in Europe around 1000 C.E. rested on a firm foundation of cloth and clothing production. As Europe’s cities increased in population during the High Middle Ages, fabric weaving became a lucrative business, and by the early Renaissance Italy was Europe’s preeminent center of cloth production, exporting fine silks and woolens throughout the continent. The production of cloth—an item for which there was universal need—was the foundation upon which great Renaissance economies relied, and the spinning of fabric produced much of the enormous wealth that allowed the era’s elites to indulge their tastes for art, fine buildings, and sumptuous fashions. The guilds that controlled the milling of wool and the weaving of textiles were usually the most important commercial organizations in Europe’s cities, and they often dominated local politics. In Florence, perhaps as many as a third of the city’s population worked in the woolen industry, and Florentine cloth had a reputation throughout Europe for its fine quality. Spun from English wool, it had captured a place as a luxury commodity of the highest distinction. In the course of the Renaissance the wealth that Florence’s looms produced funded many of the city’s building projects, including the construction of the city’s cathedral. In the 150 years it took to complete the massive edifice, the town’s Arte della Lana, or Wool Guild, controlled the building’s construction, even as it dominated the city’s economy and government.

Labor Problems

The medieval and Renaissance guilds have often been compared to modern trade unions, but in one crucial respect they were vastly different. The goal of modern unions is to better the living standards and wages of workers, while in pre-modern Europe, great masters dominated the guilds and acted to keep costs low. As a result, many guilds were far from harmonious organizations, as journeymen and small producers resented the actions of the great masters who controlled the guilds’ structures. At Florence, for example, the master weavers responsible for the final stages of production of the town’s luxurious woolens sat at the apex of a vast pyramid of woolen workers. Their high-handed tactics frequently angered those who performed simpler, less skilled tasks associated with cloth production. Tensions erupted in the Arte della Lana, sometimes threatening the city’s social fabric. In 1378, for instance, the Ciompi, or the wool carders, revolted against the control over production held by the weaving masters and retailers. The carders did not possess a vote within the guild so they demanded their own guild to represent them against the wealthier weavers and exporters of fabric. Eventually, many of the city’s less-skilled workers or “little people” (popolo minuti) joined the carders in their demands and succeeded in briefly seizing control of the town’s government. Although eventually suppressed, the Revolt of the Ciompi left a legacy of bitter faction and enmity in Florence’s government and cloth industry that persisted in the early fifteenth century.

Luxury Goods

Florence was not alone in its guild tensions, as a demographic crisis had long aggravated problems within Europe’s cities. By 1300, three centuries of unparalleled population growth had outstripped the towns’ ability to provide employment for the thousands of new immigrants who flooded into them each year. This population boom depressed wages and made widespread poverty a fact of life in Renaissance towns. While the numbers of the poor varied widely from place to place, as many as one-third of a town’s population might be impoverished. They survived on occasional day labor, begging, and thievery. The problem of overpopulation encountered a devastating solution between 1347 and 1350 when the bubonic plague decreased the population of many of Europe’s cities by as much as one-half. Repeated outbreaks of the disease throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries effectively prevented population numbers from replenishing. The dramatic falloff in population in the towns initially deflated the demand for the goods produced in cities, but as equilibrium returned to the urban scene the population decline bred inflation. While the Black Death and subsequent plagues often destroyed entire families, those wealthy producers who survived faced relatively less competition than before the epidemic. As a result, the concentration of wealth allowed the great families who had long dominated town governments and the urban economy to achieve even greater dominance. While this dominance fueled urban revolts like the Ciompi, it also inspired a new taste for luxury consumption. In Italy, especially, the cities’ great families embraced fashion as a way to demonstrate their status and standing within urban society.

Fashion: A Feminine Problem

By 1400 the rise of an opulent world of fashion in the Renaissance city was indisputable. This trend did not go unnoticed at the time, and criticisms of the love of luxury were common. In contrast to earlier medieval commentators who had frequently attacked men for their role in sustaining the taste for rich display, the moralists and civic fathers of the Renaissance more often blamed women for the insatiable appetite for sumptuous clothing. In truth, men were just as often guilty of sartorial excess as women, but the notion that fashion was a “women’s disease” was common and had its origins in certain customs and legal practices of Renaissance society. The patrilineal system of inheritance (in which property passed through the father’s line of descendants) made women legal outsiders in the families they joined when they married. While a married woman might produce heirs for her husband’s family, Renaissance law gave her no claim to his wealth upon his death, and even the children she bore her husband belonged, not to her own but to her husband’s lineage. A woman, then, effectively borrowed her status from her husband, and the high mortality rate of the time meant that the identification with her husband’s lineage might be only a temporary one. Widowhood and remarriage thus threatened the stability of the family, as widows might take a new husband and leave their children to be raised by their deceased spouse’s family. Thus many Renaissance men made bequests in their wills to their wives, stipulating incomes and property they might enjoy if they stayed within their adopted families and continued to raise their children. As these practices became ever more fixed in the society of the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the symbolic role of a wife’s clothing and jewelry increased dramatically. Her dress became, in other words, a potent symbol of her husband’s power over her and of her ties to his lineage. From queens to the ranks of humbler women who entered marriages, women adopted the styles of dress favored by their husbands’ families. Those who used their dress, by contrast, to express an individual identity or to satisfy a mere desire for fashionable display could be attacked for defying their husband’s authority.

Trousseaux and Dowries

In the mid-fourteenth century the humanist Giovanni Boccaccio concluded his famous collection of tales The Decameron with the story of Griselda, a woman who suffered trials in her marriage similar to those of the Old Testament figure Job. Boccaccio celebrated Griselda’s patient suffering as the highest expression of Christian womanhood, and his story shows the vital role that clothing played in Renaissance marriage and family life. Born of peasant stock, the virtuous Griselda rose to become the wife of a king. At the couple’s marriage, her husband richly adorned her with fine jewels and costly garments, only to take these away from her soon after the wedding guests had departed. In the years that followed, Griselda bore her husband children, but he turned her out of the house to live in poverty. Despite these and other trials, she preserved her honor, lived in acute need, and refused to take a lover to support herself. Her constancy convinced her royal husband of her virtue, and he eventually restored her to an honored position in the family, clothing her again in rich finery. The exchanges that Boccaccio detailed in Griselda’s story were very much a part of Renaissance family life. While no peasant ever rose to become the wife of a king, marriage was, in fact, preceded by a highly complex system of gift exchanges in which clothing and jewelry figured prominently, underscoring a bride’s entrance into a new family and her willingness to live, like Griselda, under the control of her husband. At marriage, for example, a woman received her dowry from her own family as her share of her father’s wealth. These sums, often consisting of cash payments, property, and household items, transferred to her husband to offset the expenses of the new couple’s household. In addition, none but the poorest of families ever sent their daughters off to begin marriage without an opulent trousseau (a set of sumptuous clothes and gifts intended to help the young woman establish her household) that expressed their ability to provide her with a suitable entrance into married life. To match the finery that her own family provided, the groom and his family also presented the future bride with many gifts of clothing, jewels, and luxurious household items that matched and even surpassed those provided by her birth family. These exchanges—of rings, gowns, silver, and gold—thus played a symbolic role in underscoring that a woman was leaving her own lineage, and taking up a new position within her husband’s family. At the same time, family honor hung in the balance of gift-giving, and the exchange of rich goods often became a competition that demarcated each family’s standing in the urban hierarchy. Among the wealthiest families of Italian cities, specially constructed and elaborate caskets known as cassoni carried these items on ceremonial processions that wended through a town’s streets in the days and weeks before a marriage occurred. Thus the exchanges of clothing, jewelry, and household items that occurred in the critical days before a wedding played a vital role in publicizing a family’s wealth and status in cities, and the size of a woman’s dowry, her trousseau, and her husband’s gifts became a matter for local commentary and record.


Such displays of family status were costly and could threaten the financial well being of all but the wealthiest families. Amassing a daughter’s trousseau was an expensive and time-consuming process, and the husband’s counter-gifts of clothing and finery represented a similar effort. By the 1400s, husbands often offset the exorbitant cost associated with celebrating a marriage by renting the elaborate wedding costumes with which they clothed their brides from other families who had recently undergone the same event. Those who actually purchased the gowns might, after the wedding, cut off the gold, silver, pearls, and precious gems affixed to the fabric, or even sell the dresses to other prospective grooms. Only the wealthiest families or the most generous husbands allowed their wives to keep the finery that they provided for the wedding indefinitely, particularly since sumptuary regulations mandated that women put away these lavish clothes several years after marriage and adopt a reserved and matronly style of dress. Such practices made these wedding customs affordable to a broader range of the populace, but the cost of celebrating a couple’s wedding was still considerable. By the early fifteenth century even bourgeois women came to their new homes laden with many changes of clothes, numerous slippers and shoes, a wide selection of hats and jewels, and a variety of purses and accessories. By the fifteenth century a prospective husband might invest as much as one-third of the money he received from a woman’s dowry in wedding gifts of clothing and jewelry, a development that caused, in turn, the price of dowries to rise and inspired some cities like Florence to introduce municipal bonds that allowed the parents of daughters to invest in a publicly funded bond market to amass the sums needed to see their daughters installed in marriage. Out of fear that this rising tide of consumption would make marriage too expensive for all but the wealthiest Italians, many towns tried to limit the values of the gifts that a groom’s family could shower upon a bride, even as they tried to pare down the size of a woman’s dowry and the number of items that might be included in her trousseau. Despite laws passed to outlaw these excesses, the costs of trousseaux and marriage gifts continued to rise. Women’s elaborate consumption of clothing, town authorities feared, discouraged many men from marrying. In Florence and other towns, they introduced new taxes that discriminated against men who had failed to wed by a certain age in an effort to prod them into marriage. At the same time fears of male homosexuality grew in some cities as civic officials suspected that a perceived increase in sodomy resulted from male anxieties about the enormous costs of marriage. And finally, fears of population decline emerged as a result of the debate over women’s fashions. In 1512, for example, the Republic of Venice faced the threat of an attack from the powerful forces of the League of Cambrai. That year in the midst of these troubles the Venetian Senate spent a month debating the cut of women’s clothes and the finery that was permissible on their dresses in order to limit the costs of female fashions. Like civic officials elsewhere, Venice’s town fathers perceived women’s opulent dress as a barrier to marriage. Their line of reasoning ultimately linked the city’s costly fashions with the military crisis, since they credited women’s excesses with lengthening the age at which men might marry and thus with depressing the birth rate and ultimately limiting the number of men who might be recruited to serve in the city’s army and navy.

Moral Attitudes

Prospective husbands and town authorities detested fashion as a costly excess that threatened family and the home front. The attitudes of the friars—members of the Franciscan and Dominican orders within the church—were even more uncompromising, and arose from long-standing interpretations of Christian teaching. In the fifteenth century a distinguished lineage of Franciscan and Dominican preachers, including St. Bernard of Siena and St. John Capistrano, toured Italy denouncing women’s fashions, gaming, prostitution, and Jewish money lending as vain practices that encouraged sexual depravity. In Italian cities the preaching of these figures concluded with huge “bonfires of the vanities” into which men threw their cards, dice, and gaming boards, and women tossed their ruffles and frills. In the wake of these rituals of purification Italy’s towns redoubled their efforts to confine the activities of the Jews, often insisting that Jewish men and women wear some distinguishing sign on their clothing to make their identity plain for all to see. They linked Jewish money lending with luxury consumption, and banished prostitutes from cities in the days and weeks that followed the friars’ preaching missions. In all cases, the prostitutes returned within a few months, but they faced closer scrutiny and limited activity for a time after the friars’ missions. The relationship between Jewish money lending, prostitution, and women’s finery was close in the friars’ perceptions. As they explained in their sermons, women’s seemingly insatiable appetite for fashion encouraged single men to spurn marriage for sodomy or sexual relations with a prostitute, even as it forced the married man to Jewish money lenders to support his wife’s consuming habits. One of the most vicious and extreme outbreaks of these sentiments occurred in Florence at the end of the fifteenth century, as the Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola attracted a following in the city and tried to establish a “Godly” republic. In daily sermons he preached from December 1494 until his downfall and execution in 1498, Savonarola encouraged Florentines to establish a “New Jerusalem” free from the vices of avarice and ostentation. Frequent religious processions and “bonfires of the vanities” popularized the rise of a new holy republic, as many Florentines tried to rid themselves of every hint of immodesty, including their rich finery and games. At the same time, Savonarola’s puritanism remained unpopular with the aristocratic and wealthy element in Florence, who taunted him at his public sermons. Thus while the Dominican developed a significant following in the city, members of the government were not always as enthusiastic about adopting his policies as the law of the town. Excommunicated for his anti-papal views, Savonarola was eventually arrested in Florence, tried, and burnt at the stake for heresy. Although his plans for a “Godly Republic” failed, his extreme puritanical views about the relationship between clothing and morality survived, and religious figures as different as the English Puritans and the Catholic Counter Reformers expressed similar views in the sixteenth century.

Sumptuary Legislation

While moral and social reasons prompted Renaissance Italians to regulate dress, sumptuary laws—laws aimed to curtail extravagance in dress—were a common feature of life everywhere in Renaissance Europe. While maintaining a common base in Christian morality, these laws varied from region to region. In France and England, Renaissance sumptuary laws served to reinforce social distinctions and status, with certain items being reserved for the exclusive use of the nobility. In England, a series of Tudor sumptuary laws detailed the kinds of fur, fringes, and cloth that were appropriate for each class. While such regulations eventually spread to Mediterranean Europe, the far greater inspiration for Italian sumptuary regulation lay in the climate of intense competition that existed within the peninsula’s cities. Towns feared that the rivalries in gift-giving and lavish clothes surrounding marriage squandered resources and discouraged men to marry. In Germany, cities and territories also had a long tradition of sumptuary legislation, and they relied on various codes of dress to make obvious distinctions between different categories and classes of people. In particular, Germany’s urban sumptuary laws upheld differences in the patterns of dress among guild masters, journeymen, and apprentices. While in most places sumptuary violations merely resulted in fines, from time to time offenders received more extreme punishments. In 1541, for example, the Protestant reformer John Calvin gained control over the church in the city of Geneva in Switzerland. Among the many moral reforms that Calvin instituted were a stricter prosecution of those who violated the traditional prohibitions against luxury, ostentation, and display. He also tried to curb immodesty by bans on the display of women’s busts. During the almost quarter century that Calvin dominated the city, sumptuary violations resulted in more than 800 arrests and as many as 58 death sentences. The rigor of Geneva’s sumptuary laws was extreme, however. Most Protestants and Catholics differed little in their attitudes toward sumptuary laws, favoring fines rather than death sentences for violations.

Fashion As an Industry


While moralists and city officials perceived ostentation and display as a threat to urban society, a large class of wealthy consumers in Renaissance towns admired fashion for its innovations and its ability to express individual tastes. By the fifteenth century a category of wealthy consumers no longer feared ostentatious dress as a sign of concupiscence, the chief evil the friars had identified in lavish clothes. In medieval and Renaissance terminology concupiscence was any strong desire that might lead one to the even greater sins of avarice and sexual depravity. As wealthy Renaissance men and women shed their fears of ruffles and finery, the fashion market expanded in towns like Florence and Venice. By the fifteenth century a vast number of tailors, seamstresses, accessory producers, furriers, glove makers, cobblers, and leatherworkers produced the daily wear and grand costumes consumed in Italian cities. The clothing industry was by this time as varied and complex as the modern “rag trade” is today, and while most of the men and women who toiled in the industry earned low wages, great and middle ranks of tailors who catered to the whims and demands of the city’s rich became increasingly common. Their presence in a town like Florence—a city lacking a court and a hereditary aristocracy—points to the development of a style-conscious elite who relied on fashion to express their wealth and family position as well as their individual preferences. Honorable men, Florentines frequently repeated, were created out of “cloth and color.” Thus the first glimmers of the modern consumer society can be found in a Renaissance city like Florence, where fashion emerged as an important expression of one’s individual identity.

Silks and Woolens

In Italy, the standard measure for cutting cloth was the braccio, a length that differed from city to city but which usually was about 22 to 26 inches long. In Rome, though, the standard was considerably longer, measuring almost thirty inches. In those towns where the cloth trade was a vital part of the local economy, a bronze measuring stick was often affixed on the exterior of the town hall or on the cloth guilding’s offices, so that merchants might be sure that they were receiving the correct length of material from local suppliers. Shorting on the weights and measures of raw materials used in the construction of clothing was a serious offense. The cost of fine fabric of the type used in the upper classes’ gowns, doublets, and robes fluctuated dramatically, but began at around three florins per braccio for woolens and escalated to twenty florins for the finest silks. Since the grandest men’s robes and women’s gowns might consume up to 20, 30, or even 35 braccio of material, the cost of fabric used in these garments was enormous. A family of four, for example, could live in Renaissance Florence at a minimal standard in the fifteenth century for sixty or seventy florins annually. Many gowns and robes of the period thus consumed in fabric alone far more than most people’s annual incomes. Cloth was expensive for a number of reasons. First, the weaving of wool or silk was a time-intensive project. It required more than 25 steps to produce a length of woolen cloth and nine steps to produce a similar length of silk. Wool had first to be carded and spun into yarn before it was woven, bleached, and stretched. The dying of most fabric occurred after it had been formed into cloth and subjected to more than twenty separate production steps. The cost of dyes varied enormously, with red being the favored color for men’s clothing of the time. A wide array of red dyes was available, and the discriminating consumer could distinguish quite easily between those colors that were expensive and cheaper hues. Other colors favored by Renaissance elites included black, purple, and a deep blue violet. Although the weaving of wool was labor- and time-intensive, the industry’s returns were far less than those in silk production. Because of the great profits generated by the silk industry, the weaving of this fabric eventually out-paced the production of woolens in Renaissance Italy in many cities. Florence and Venice gave important tax incentives to spur the production of silk, realizing the important revenue that might be generated from the industry. By the mid-fifteenth century Florence’s government encouraged the planting of mulberry trees throughout Tuscany, from which the precious cocoons that provided silk’s raw material might be grown. Silk required only nine steps to produce, but the finer thread necessitated a complex, time-consuming weaving process. It might take up to six months to weave a length of luxury silk suitable for making two gowns. Beyond the higher returns of silk production, other factors made it a desirable industry for cities. The higher incomes of the silk weavers made them generally more satisfied and less contentious than wool weavers, and the bigger profits from silk allowed a city to tax it more lucratively than wool. In Italy, the production of many different kinds of luxury silks became popular. These included an array of velvets, taffetas, damasks, and cloth of gold. This last kind of fabric had gold or silver threads woven into them in a number of stunning patterns that caught the light. Sumptuary laws enacted throughout Europe restricted its use; in England regulations permitted it only for nobles of the highest rank, and in Renaissance Italy it could only be used on women’s sleeves. At twenty florins per braccio it was the highest priced fabric of the age.

Clothing Producers

Renaissance men and women usually purchased their cloth directly from producers in the cities before taking these materials to a tailor to be sewn. In many European cities tailors had their own guilds that defined training requirements and set prices for garments. In other towns, those who produced clothing worked in many guilds, depending upon which kind of clothing they produced. In Florence, for instance, some tailors and seamstresses had originally belonged to the city’s luxury retail guild before moving into the silk guild. Over time, however, only the producers of the most luxurious garments like male doublets (an elaborate vest worn under a man’s robes) maintained their affiliation in these guilds. Eventually most Florentine tailors worked within the guild of secondhand clothiers, men and women who bought up the linens and clothing of the deceased in order to resell them. This guild organized the first “ready-to-wear” marketplace within Florence, and its members also sold silk hats, purses, gloves, and a variety of other fashion accessories. Most of the tailors who belonged to this group ranked among the middle level of artisans in the city, while the most successful had considerable fortunes. Generally, tailors earned only modest incomes in spite of their high level of skills, although the status of the profession increased during the fifteenth century. Female tailors earned less than their male counterparts since they generally served less distinguished clients. The greatest tailors—admittedly a small circle within the guild—moved easily within the cultivated palaces of the time and sometimes became trusted confidantes of their most important clients. Most of these artisans, though, spent their days in less rarefied surroundings.

Suppliers and Craftspeople

Besides tailors, a complex web of craftspeople also served the clothing industry in all cities. Milliners, cobblers, hosiers, purse makers, furriers, and goldsmiths were just a few of the many categories of artisans who produced clothing and accessories. The labor market was highly stratified, with the makers of slippers falling under different regulations than those who produced shoes or clogs. The guilds carefully monitored the activities of each, ensuring that one group did not stray into another’s territory. In addition, the guilds supervised with minute detail just exactly how much each kind of artisan might charge for its work, and they defined the kinds of materials each was to use in production. Beret makers, for instance, were distinguished from those who made hats out of wool or silk, while those who made clasps and buckles were further separated from those who produced buttons. While a tailor might be responsible for the final sewing of a garment, he sewed the final gown or doublet only after extensive work had been done on the materials by embroiderers, furriers, or goldsmiths. Beyond work performed by guildsmen, a variety of other clothiers worked outside these structures, producing lace, veils, scarves, and other items that were part of a complete dressing ensemble. Many of those producers who worked outside the guilds were independent vendors who crowded into a city’s back alleys or sold their wares by going door to door. They were usually female, with reputations for being aggressive salespeople. At Florence, these women vendors were notorious for their brash manners and for encouraging the women to whom they sold to buy more than they needed.

Sewing at Home

More sewing was done at home—even in the houses of the very wealthiest families—than in modern times. Some seamstresses did not sew but merely cut material for clothes that could then be sewn by women in the home, thus keeping the costs of daily dress down. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the popularity of underwear was on the rise, and the records and letters of great families show that it was the mistress of the household’s job to see that her husband, children, and servants had the proper undergarments. To do so, even many of the wealthiest women usually visited a linen retailer to purchase a bolt of the cloth before she and her daughters set to sewing the chemises, undergarments, and nightcaps for the household. Even high-ranking women acquired skill with the needle and thread, and great families with a daughter in a convent frequently sent her sewing projects to fill the day. Although nuns only wore plain habits, many of them spent their time sewing for others. Lace- and purse making as well as embroidery were crafts that were frequently practiced in the Renaissance convent.


As in modern times, Renaissance urban life required different kinds of clothes, depending on the occasion. The men who governed Florence, Venice, and other cities dressed in a dignified, yet magnificent style when in public or conducting affairs of state. Advice books written by humanists counseled men to have their clothes made of the finest fabrics and grand materials in order to prolong their wear and to reflect favorably on their family and city. They cautioned women, on the other hand, to be restrained in choosing clothes to wear at home, although the wives of great men dressed in grand splendor when accompanying their husbands at public occasions. There were many such events annually in Florence and other important Renaissance cities. Florence, for example, celebrated at least twenty important feast days each year, in addition to weddings and those affairs demanded by public offices. In this last category, royal visits, the arrival of ambassadors, and state banquets called for those who held urban office and their wives to don their finest clothes. In Italy, most great families kept a logbook that recorded their major purchases, and these included entries for cloth and dress accessories as well as notes about when a tailor had been hired to complete an outfit. These records show that the greatest merchant families of the Renaissance paid endless amounts of attention to their dress throughout the year as the cycle of public festivities and state occasions demanded a steady influx of new garments for public life.


Generally, the enormous costs of the wealthy’s garments resulted from the high price of materials. The clothes of kings, nobles, and merchant princes consumed an inordinate amount of costly silks, velvets, and woolens, and they were generally bulkier than those worn by society’s lower orders. Servants and slaves wore clothes that were shorter and made over patterns that consumed relatively little material. By contrast, the huge, bulky folds of men’s robes and women’s skirts represented wealth and often slowed the steps of the wealthy to a crawl, lending dignity to the important person’s gait. Stories abounded of women who appeared to be weighted down under the dresses they wore on important occasions, and in at least one case a young Renaissance bride had to be carried to her wedding because her dress was too heavy to walk in. The expenditures of Renaissance patricians and merchants differed widely across the spectrum of the upper classes. Prosperous, but not enormously wealthy merchant families spent more each year on clothing than the annual salaries of many venerable professions, including accountants, university professors, and tax collectors. Above this, the inventories conducted at death from some of the wealthiest members of the Renaissance urban elite show that as much as one-third to forty percent of a family’s wealth might be invested in clothing.

Yet nowhere in the cities were expenditures comparable to the enormous amounts spent on clothing in Renaissance courts. The records of these courts indicate an enormous increase in clothing costs during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1502, Pope Alexander VI married his illegitimate daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, to Alfonso I, duke of Ferrara. She came to Ferrara with a total of more than 80 gowns, 200 day dresses, 22 headdresses, 20 robes and cloaks, 50 pairs of shoes, and more than 30 pairs of slippers. One of her dresses alone was worth the princely sum of 15,000 ducats. Her jewelry collection included almost 2,000 pearls and 300 gemstones, and in addition, she packed in her trunks another 2,500 yards of precious satins, silks, gold cloth, and velvet to be made into dresses at a later date. To transport her luggage from Rome to Ferrara her father the pope had to have a number of wagons specially constructed, and more than 150 mules were necessary to pull this caravan. Lucrezia Borgia was certainly an extraordinary case, yet as the Medici family in Florence rose to become dukes in the sixteenth century, they, too, emulated such expenditures. Duke Lorenzo de Medici’s personal clothing expenses for the year 1515 alone totaled more than 5,100 florins, a truly unbelievable sum when one considers that many respectable professions had incomes of less than 100 florins annually.


Renaissance families lavished the greatest care on the creation of gowns for a bride’s wedding and the garments that were part of her trousseau. Two ceremonies—one of betrothal, the other of the formal wedding—marked the couple’s entrance into married life. The betrothal usually took place some months or years before the actual wedding. At this ceremony, the couple exchanged the words of consent (“I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife”) that established marriage. The church’s teachings dictated, however, that unions be sexually consummated before they were legally binding, and consummation occurred at a distinctly later date, that is, after the formal exchange of marriage vows at the wedding. During the intervening period, both the bride and groom’s family completed the financial exchanges necessary for the marriage to occur. In this period, a great deal of effort went into the creation of the bride’s gown for the wedding feast as well as the items that made up her trousseau. During these months the groom also prepared for the coming celebrations by seeing to the creation of the bride’s “counter-trousseau,” that is, the gifts of clothing, jewelry, and items that he was to offer his bride at the time of the wedding. Of all the preparations, families of brides showered the greatest attention on the actual creation of the wedding gown itself. Sisters, mothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles all weighed in with their opinions about the dress, but in most cases the father of the bride took the active role in determining what kind of dress his daughter wore and in choosing its fabric and decorations. While no Renaissance merchant’s daughter ever approached the level of luxury accorded a royal princess, the costs of these gowns was nevertheless enormous, with prosperous, but not wealthy merchants sometimes spending several hundred florins on the gown itself. Pearls and other gems frequently decorated these dresses that grew more complex and magnificent the further up the social ladder one went.


While preachers and civic officials castigated women throughout the Renaissance for their costly wardrobes, the evidence suggests that men lavished just as much attention on their clothes as women did. The life of a public figure in the Renaissance required careful dressing to project the right image. The preparation of outfits worn at civic events consumed a family’s time and money. In fifteenth century Florence, great families might spend as much as forty percent of their wealth on clothing. These upper-class styles favored bulk and ostentatious display, and a complex web of suppliers served this clientele. Tailors and seamstresses represented just one segment of those involved in the clothing industry, as many small suppliers churned out the accessories, trims, buttons, and other items needed for dress. Guilds mostly controlled workers in these professions, but small independent suppliers sometimes carved out niches in the trade in certain accessories, much to the guilds’ chagrin. Tailors themselves were among the middle ranks of a town’s artisans, less prosperous than goldsmiths and other master craftsmen. While their status was lower than those in the great trades, the fondness of Renaissance men and women for clothing helped to boost their position within the urban hierarchy. The greatest of these figures, those who clothed great merchant princes like the Medici and Strozzi families at Florence, mingled with elites and sometimes became trusted figures within great Renaissance households.

Early Renaissance Styles

Regional Variations

Urban and courtly clothing differed greatly from region to region throughout the Renaissance, with the styles favored in England vastly different from those of southern France or Italy. One factor that sustained this regional variation was the numerous sumptuary laws enacted in various European cities and states. Whereas a law in one place might forbid an item to be used in dressing, another place might allow it, and the highly specific laws designed to contain fashion’s excesses frequently inspired new styles. Florentine law, for instance, forbade the use of embroidery and decoration on women’s clothing for many decades, except at the sleeves. Thus sleeves were often one of the most complex parts of women’s outfits, and Florentine tailors began to create detachable sleeves that might be adapted for wear on several different gowns. While tailors often devised cleverly ingenuous fashion solutions to circumvent the letter of the law, they had to be careful in doing so since tailors and seamstresses who violated sumptuary legislation were liable for the same fines that might be levied on a woman or man who wore an offending style. Thus both those who bought and those who created clothing set their minds to creating fashion that might be accommodated within the law’s restrictions. Towns, for instance, frequently prohibited the sewing of dresses and robes with stripes made out of pieced cloth since these fashions wasted material. But if a regulation forbade vertical stripes, tailors might create similar daring effects by running the pieced materials horizontally or by demanding that weavers produce new fabric to achieve similar effects. In this way the repertory of fashion continued to be enlarged despite the seemingly draconian regulations designed to contain it. At the same time the ingenuity of tailors and consumers sustained an ongoing climate of restriction throughout the Renaissance as civic and state “fashion police” kept abreast of the latest styles. The result produced a constant flow of fashion regulations, with a town like Florence producing eighty revisions of its laws governing fashion between roughly 1300 and 1500. As a group, these laws form part of the largest body of legislation to survive from the Renaissance, with thousands of such laws surviving from a region like Germany alone.

Courtly Styles

While fashion tended to differ greatly throughout Europe, certain international patterns influenced the courtly styles favored in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For most of the fourteenth century clothing fashions emanated from the royal court in France to be adopted by nobles in England and other Northern European regions. In this period, patterns of dress in Germany, Italy, and Spain, however, continued to evidence strong regional variations. Men in the fourteenth-century French court adopted a close-fitting padded garment known as the jupon, which they wore beneath elaborate robes. The popularity of the jupon spread to many regions throughout the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, inspiring the later fashion of the doublet, a fitted vestcoat that became a highly decorated expression of status. The fourteenth century witnessed the development of new more elastic hosiery fabrics, and men laced these new hose to ever shorter, tighter jupons. Outer robes grew ever shorter to show off the line of a man’s legs, leaving a man’s buttocks, thighs, and groin relatively exposed under the thin hosiery’s material to the dismay of moralists. The clothing styles favored by both French men and women made extensive use of buttons as a sign of wealth and status, with close-fitting, many buttoned sleeves becoming a favorite fashion of women. An innovation of the mid-fourteenth century was the growing tendency for women’s bodices to be sewn separately from their skirts, a fashion that opened up new possibilities for decorating each along different lines. At the same time necklines plunged deeper and sleeves grew longer. The dominant style of shoe at the French court, the poulaine, was a long pointed-toe construction. The poulaine was particularly well-suited to Northern European styles of dancing known as the bassedanse as it elegantly extended the line of the foot.


By contrast the styles worn in the early Renaissance cities were distinctly more practical and egalitarian. The vast artistic legacy of the period has left us with a great wealth of depictions of contemporary urban dress. During the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, a tradition of sumptuary legislation gave Italian fashions a distinctly republican flavor that downplayed extravagance in favor of a restrained use of ornament and clothes that had relatively simple lines. This style of dress expressed an egalitarian consciousness that was common in the cities among artisans and merchants, and which frequently had an anti-aristocratic edge. Even patricians—nobles who lived within the cities—usually adopted this reserved pattern of early Renaissance dress. Male artisans clothed themselves in simple belted tunics and hose that had soles at the feet, while the civic officials of the Renaissance city wore bulky gowns and robes with rolled hoods. Generally, these garments were not decorated, although the quality of the cloth distinguished upper classes from those of the poorer classes. Women of the time wore woolen gowns or long-sleeved day shifts that covered the body from head to toe. Over these, the working woman wore an apron to protect her garments from soiling. Since all clothing was expensive, workingclass women patched their garments or remade them into new styles. Both the skirts of the upper and working classes contained a large amount of material at the front, and the depictions of women in Renaissance paintings often feature them holding these shocks of material artfully to one side. The extra material served the purpose of allowing working women to use the same clothes during pregnancy and upper-class women to disguise whether they were pregnant or not at any given time. Upper-class women seldom showed themselves on the streets of a Renaissance city. Instead they hid themselves from the “prying” eyes of common people and only appeared at events among members of their own class. Thus while the ceremonial outfits of these women were often ostentatious and highly decorated, they were not for public display. One fashion innovation readily adopted by upper-class Renaissance women was the wearing of chopines, a form of tall platform shoe first introduced in Venice. Made of cork, wood, or leather, the chopines’ platforms could be as high as 18 to 24 inches. Since sumptuary legislation often prohibited women from wearing long trains that consumed inordinate amounts of cloth, the chopines’ extreme elevation permitted women to consume more fabric in their dresses while also allowing them to avoid the effects of mud puddles and garbage in the street. The custom was controversial, and as the style spread among wealthy women in Italy and Spain it prompted increasing criticism. In Venice, moralists attacked it as a custom similar to the Chinese binding of feet, and in Spain, royal officials and priests claimed that the chopines’ enormous platform soles would destroy the country’s cork oak forests. Others charged that prostitutes had introduced the style, and in some cities laws limited the wearing of chopines to women of that profession. Civic officials contended that the hobbling gait such shoes produced was better suited as a sign of “distinction” to these women than it was to those from respectable families.

Growing Splendor

As Italians developed their more severe fifteenth-century public styles, the lavish life of the court of Burgundy dominated court dress in Northern Europe. Officially a French territory, the duchy’s counts began a meteoric rise to European prominence at the end of the fifteenth century by conducting astute marriage alliances and military conquests. The troubles of the Hundred Years’ War had diverted the attention of their feudal overlords, the kings of France, who were powerless to prevent the duchy’s increasingly enviable position. By the early fifteenth century Burgundy had captured a large area of European territory, including much of northern France, the Netherlands or Low Countries (modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland), and Lorraine. Enriched by the Flemish cities’ cloth industry, the dukes of Burgundy developed the most brilliant court in Europe, noted for its music, dance, poetry, and fashion. At Burgundy, the fashion for many elegant styles reached new, often eccentric extremes, with high-pointed and multi-peaked headdresses becoming common for women. The elongated poulaines, the pointed shoe that was French in origin, reached new fashionable excesses, as their toe peaks sometimes had to be tied to men’s knees. Like fifteenth-century Italians, Burgundy’s courtiers favored sumptuous reds, from which we take the modern term “Burgundy” to describe the color’s deeply tinged shades. Gowns at the Burgundian court and among the Flemish burghers who fueled the territory’s prosperity were richly decorated and fashioned from brocade, damask, and other luxuriously patterned fabrics. Cloth of gold, too, was widely used at court as well as elaborate jewelry. Men’s styles continued to creep northward, so that the jupons or doublets of the period now only rarely covered a man’s buttocks. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, long-standing legend alleges, Burgundy may have also played a role in the development of one of the Renaissance’s most puzzling fashions. After Swiss and German mercenaries defeated the duchy’s forces at Nancy in 1477, they stormed the duke’s tents, which had been hastily left behind in the retreat. The soldiers tore the rich fabrics and tapestries that they found there and tied them through the slashes and holes that had been made in their clothes during the preceding battle. Returning home, this penchant for slashing and slitting clothing was said to have spread in Germany and Switzerland before becoming one of the fashion rages throughout Europe after 1500. While a fascinating tale, the rage for slashing clothes and decorating them with richly contrasting fabrics probably did not arise from a single source. Yet the elaborate display, sumptuous fabrics, and oddly exaggerated styles that were typical of Burgundian taste seem to have captivated the imaginations of wealthy Europeans everywhere as the fifteenth century came to a close. In Italy, where the public dress of wealthy merchants had often been restrained in the city republics, a new trend of purely luxurious consumption became popular. In Florence and other wealthy cities, a taste for elaborate, detachable, and merely decorative sleeves, ornate headdresses, casually unlaced bodices, and a number of other purely decorative items like berets and caps for men swept through wealthy urban society. The once reigning ethos that stressed dignified restraint as a way to create an aura of magnificence now disappeared in favor of patterns of dressing that emphasized the ability of the wealthy merchant class to rise above merely utilitarian considerations. In this way the clothing of the wealthy, but non-aristocratic Italians resembled more closely patterns of court dress popular at the same time in European principalities.

Peasant Clothing

Historians are best informed about the patterns of dressing that predominated in Europe’s cities and courts. The rich artistic legacy as well as the many inventories that survive from these quarters of society have left us with rich testimony of the vital importance that clothing played among the nobility and wealthy elites in the continent’s cities. Surprisingly less is known about the ways in which peasant society dressed. In the nineteenth century, those that were interested in the history of costume often turned to the countryside and found certain regional or peasant patterns of dress. They reasoned that these were “traditional” costumes that had existed from many centuries. In truth, the terms “fashion” or “costume” to describe the clothing of peasants in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance is inappropriate, and although there were regional variations in traditional Europe, the clothing of the peasantry seems everywhere to have displayed more similarities than differences. One of the most distinctive differences between city and country in the Renaissance, in fact, was in clothing. While in the city one could witness a great variegation in the ways in which people dressed—with patricians and great merchants adopting clothing that displayed their status and wealth—the clothing of peasants was primarily functional. In the countryside men and women rarely had more than two or three changes of clothing, and styles altered relatively slowly over time. The difference between rural and urban dress is all the more surprising when we bear in mind that many in the countryside possessed significant financial resources. Not all peasants were, after all, poor, although many did live at the subsistence level. Whereas powerful urban elites and aristocrats came in the course of the Renaissance to adorn themselves with costly fabrics, gold jewelry, and other precious materials, life in the countryside admitted no such extravagances. The gold that a peasant earned as a result of selling his goods at market very often went into hiding—that is, it was hoarded as a hedge against future crises—rather than spent on finery. Those peasants that were better off still circulated goods, clothing, and other valuable items at the marriages of their sons and daughters, although on a far less grand scale than in the countryside. Daily wear for rural peasants at the beginning of the Renaissance seems to have showed a considerable similarity across European regions. In the fourteenth century long tunics were still popular for both men and women. By the sixteenth century, simple, ankle length skirts for women had replaced the medieval tunic. Over this peasant women often worn an apron. For men, hose or leggings were donned separately for each leg, while a simple jerkin was worn as outerwear over the torso. By this time, underwear of rough linen had become the rule, even in the countryside. The fabric used for peasant clothes was either homespun, or was purchased cheaply in urban markets. Fabrics constructed from hemp and beaten tree bark were used in regions where the wool trade was undeveloped. Elsewhere coarse, rather than finely spun wool and roughly woven linens were common materials as well. The clothing of the more than 90 percent of peasants was considerably more monochromatic than in the cities, too. Grey, black, white, ivory, and brown were favored over other more brilliantly colored cloth, although rural dress was not without color. Those reared in the cities would have been readily able to distinguish the costly dyes used to give color to the clothes of the wealthy in the cities from the cheaper dyes worn in the countryside. Although leather-soled shoes came into use in Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, wooden clogs and wooden-soled shoes were more popular among peasants than in the city. If peasant outfits were generally constructed from rougher materials, they were not necessarily less comfortable than those worn by courtly and urban elites. Wool provided warmth, a consideration in the cold and damp climate of Europe, and if the character of peasant clothing was more roughly hewn than in aristocratic or merchant societies, it may have all the same been even more comfortable. Peasants did not wear corsets or farthingales, two of the more uncomfortable and constricting garments of the age. Nor were starched collars, known as ruffs, an item of country dress throughout the Renaissance.

High and Late Renaissance Fashion

Court Fashion

During the first half of the sixteenth century most courts throughout Europe adopted successive waves of styles in both male and female dress. Around 1500, a taste for German styles became evident, but fashions that were Italian in origin soon superseded them. As a result of these trends, courtly dress tended to shake off many older regional styles and instead become more international in appearance. Similar changes re-fashioned the dress of bourgeois urban society as well, so that by the mid-sixteenth century the clothes of the most urbane city dwellers in Flanders appeared roughly similar to Italians of the time. This internationalization of style, though, held only in courtly and upper-class urban societies, and even there, an elite foreigner might be embarrassed by the cut of his clothes when he visited another country. Peasant dress and the styles of most artisans and the urban proletariat still continued to differ greatly from region to region. One factor that helped establish the new international styles at court was aristocratic marriage alliances. A case in point is the rise of the farthingale throughout sixteenth-century Europe. Farthingales were broad hoop skirts that extended the lines of women’s hips through a contraption made of wood, hoops, and rope. The style originated in Castile in Iberia (modern-day Spain and Portugal), but spread throughout Europe as the ambitious marriage policy of the Castilian dynasty sent its princesses to other countries. Catherine of Aragon was the first to wear the skirt in England, and at about the same time it appeared in France at the court of Francis I (r. 1515-1547). In both places attacks on the farthingale were common, and moralists charged that it so deformed and accentuated a woman’s childbearing parts that it was impossible to tell whether a woman who wore it was pregnant or not, and thus it might promote sexual depravity. Despite such attacks the style continued to make headway in court circles, and by the second half of the sixteenth century its perceived dangers had by and large been dismissed. It became a favorite of Elizabeth I (r. 1559-1603), and was worn widely throughout her court in England, as well as in France, Germany, and Italy.

Attitude Toward the Body

The farthingale excited public opinion by distorting the body’s contours, a trend that affected many sixteenth-century styles, particularly those popular in aristocratic circles up to 1550. Clothes of this period remade the human form by pushing, squeezing, pulling, or in some other way exaggerating the body. Among the fashion accessories of the age, the corset was an important innovation worn by both men and women. For men, these tight-fitting, whale-boned undergarments shaped the upper body for the form-fitting doublets popular at the time. For women, they were used at first to flatten the bust, and somewhat later in the century to taper the body toward the waist so that women’s torsos took on a the shape of an inverted funnel. Another item of dress that came to be greatly elaborated and increasingly important at the time was the codpiece, an accessory that had originally been developed to hide men’s crotches as doublet hemlines rose in the later Middle Ages. By the mid-sixteenth century, however, the codpiece took on a heightened importance as an expression of male virility. It was enlarged and frequently covered with decorative touches, including sequins, striped fabric, and other ornaments. Reaching its height of decoration around 1550, the codpiece soon became more restrained, but not after exciting considerable commentary from sixteenth-century preachers and moralists. Codpieces, like farthingales, point to some of the underlying attitudes about style in the first half of the sixteenth century. Unlike the free-flowing, relatively unconstrained robes of the later Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the stylish man and woman of this period perceived the body as badly in need of enhancement. The human form required discipline and had to be transformed into what it was not in order to appear stylish. Similarities exist between these attitudes and the roughly contemporaneous Mannerist movement among artists. Mannerist painters, in both Italy and Northern Europe, promoted a “stylish style” notable for its artificiality, elongation, and distortion. Similarly, the clothes that were popular in elite society at this time distended and constricted the human body, making some body parts appear larger, longer, or smaller than they were in reality. In these distortions the stylistic mentality of the first half of the sixteenth century proclaimed a taste for the exotic and the exaggeratedly elegant.

Fashion Shifts

Around 1550, aristocratic styles shifted in court circles throughout Europe rather quickly to favor new influences from Spain. German fashions had given birth to a craze for slashing fabric and for making exotic cuts that allowed the undergarments to show through. Italy’s contribution to court style had consisted in the elegant juxtaposition of costly materials. The cut of Spanish clothes, however, was altogether different. Often restrained and given to long lines, Spanish tailoring was widely admired for its excellent fit, which closely followed the lines of the upper body. While Spanish court women favored the farthingale (known in Spain as the verdugado) and the elaborate ruffed collar for formal occasions, they also chose clothes that were more severe and restrained than those that had been common in courtly circles in the first half of the sixteenth century. Both men’s and women’s choices of colors were more limited, favoring deep reds, greens, and black, rather than the bright colors of the earlier period. Indeed a taste for black often became synonymous with the notion of “Spanish style,” although the court originally adopted this color in large part because of the protracted period of mourning that Philip II (r. 1556-1598) observed after the death of his first wife, Maria of Portugal, in 1545. Philip II’s marriage to Mary I of England in 1554 helped to establish the Spanish style in England, and Spain’s dominance in the international arena during the second half of the sixteenth century ensured that its court fashions were imitated almost everywhere in Europe. Besides the high starched ruff at the neckline of men’s and women’s clothes, the use of a limited color palette, and an emphasis on restrained, yet grand tailoring, another fashionable innovation associated with the Spanish Habsburgs and their noble courtiers was the hooded cape.

Elizabethan and the Early Stuart Court

By the end of the century the surviving records of the court of Elizabeth I provide us with a unique glimpse of how the monarch and her court dressed. Elizabeth had a reputation for thriftiness, but she spared little on her dress and that of her court. A number of her portraits show the care she obviously put into choosing her wardrobe. In fact, these portraits are usually far more detailed and accurate representations of her costume than they are of the monarch herself. Following the sixteenth-century court custom, an artist only hastily sketched Elizabeth’s image, but took her clothes back to the studio to faithfully copy every element of their finery. As a young monarch, Elizabeth was not known for the quality of the clothes she wore, although as she matured she developed an inimitable style. She favored the drum farthingale and the high starched ruff that developed in imitation of Spanish court dress. Her clothes were heavily embroidered and beautifully produced. Fragments from at least one of Elizabeth’s outfits survive, a heavily embroidered jacket and other items she presented to Sir Roger Wodehouse of Norfolk after spending an evening in his house during 1578. This custom was common since clothing had a recognized worth, and Elizabeth’s courtiers often used items of dress to settle their debts. The Norfolk outfit shows that she was a small person, and it is richly embroidered with silver and gold sequins. During the 1570s and 1580s Elizabeth favored many-colored gowns, and in her old age her style grew only slightly more restrained. While the finery of the Elizabethan court was considerable, Elizabeth frequently reused embroidered finery, gems, and adapted them into the succeeding years’ styles. Still, estimates of Elizabeth’s dress collection alleged that she may have had as many as 3,000 gowns made while queen, and that 500 of these were still in her wardrobe near the time of her death. These were apparently left to Queen Anne, wife of her successor James I, who had many of them refashioned for her own use. James I generally increased the splendor of dress at English court in the first years of his reign. Where Elizabeth had spent around £10,000 a year to clothe herself and ranking members of her court in the last years of her reign, the first years of James’ ascendancy saw a fourfold increase in the cost of court clothing. Thereafter James’ enormous expenditures on court finery grew, reaching a high point of £66,000 during 1612. At the time the humble profession of a wool spinner earned less than £6 annually, and a London craftsman less than £20 per year. Those that James appointed to the post of Master of the Wardrobes continually tried to introduce greater economy into the court’s clothing, but with few long-term effects. Graft and corruption significantly inflated the costs that James’ court paid for its wardrobe. But even when this is taken into account, the finery must have been striking. James’ level of expenditure was enormous, particularly so when one considers that England was, by European standards, a relatively poor country at the time.

Common People

Throughout the Renaissance, fashion had been largely a game in which only aristocrats and wealthy city dwellers might participate due to the exorbitant cost of handwoven cloth. The vast majority of society—from craftsmen, to the urban proletariat and peasantry—remained largely unconcerned about the cut of their clothes. Hand-me-downs were a common fact of life, and patching or remaking clothes to suit new circumstances was an everyday event for most people. Fashion played no role in these societies. Toward the very end of the sixteenth century evidence points to the growth of consumption among broader segments of the population. Still, it was to be at least another century before a majority of the population developed the kind of fashion consciousness that wealthy merchants and nobles evidenced during the Renaissance. A key invention in this development was William Lee’s perfection of a knitting machine in 1589. Lee, a clergyman in London, applied for a royal patent for his efforts, but Elizabeth I denied his request because she feared the invention would put large numbers of people out of work. The Renaissance’s technological base thus continued to prove too rudimentary to provide luxury goods like finely woven or knitted cloth to the majority of the population. Without automation, the lavish display typical of upper-class clothing continued to have the whiff of immorality and luxury for vast portions of the population. Upper-class innovations in dress had long been criticized for its excess and senseless patterns of change, and as the Renaissance approached its conclusion, fashion’s critics continued to charge that the ever-changing bazaar of style deformed the body and made it into an object of rampant sexual desire. Critics also blamed fashion’s constant patterns of change for contributing to the squandering of family and state resources. Even so, a barely perceptible but undeniable change in attitude during the sixteenth century made comfort and luxury more acceptable in the eyes of the general population, an attitude that solidified with the emergence of a consumer society in Europe around 1700. In 1530, the humanist moral philosopher Desiderius Erasmus wrote a little tract entitled On Good Manners, to teach civility to young male students. Much of Erasmus’ advice seems strikingly modern, while other parts express the traditional attitudes of his age. Erasmus counseled his readers on how to stand, sit, walk, and even blow one’s nose. But when he considered dress, he cautioned young men from thinking too much about their clothes. Instead they should ensure they were clean and tidily presented. Erasmus further advised his readers to avoid innovations at all costs: “Slashed garments are for fools; embroidered and multicolored ones for idiots and apes.” In his opinion, fashion was an affectation of the rich which did little more than flaunt magnificence and bring before the eyes of the less fortunate their own wretchedness. As a result, its offspring were jealousy and hatred. Within a generation or two after Erasmus wrote, Jesuit missionaries made their way to the New World and the Far East. In their letters and journals some of these figures noted the absence of changing styles of dress among the Indians and the Japanese. Fashion, long attacked and criticized throughout the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, had thus entered into the warp of the European mentality. It was to remain there as an important part of the economy and as a symbol of cultural vitality, imagination, and decadence until modern times.