A significant shift in culture occurred in France and elsewhere at the beginning of the 18th century, known as the Enlightenment, which valued reason over authority.  In France, the sphere of influence for art, culture and fashion shifted from Versailles to Paris, where the educated bourgeoisie class gained influence and power in salons and cafés.  The new fashions introduced therefore had a greater impact on society, affecting not only royalty and aristocrats, but also middle and even lower classes.  Ironically, the single most important figure to establish Rococo fashions was Louis XV’s mistress Madame Pompadour.  She adored pastel colors and the light, happy style which came to be known as Rococo, and subsequently light stripe and floral patterns became popular.  Towards the end of the period, Marie Antoinette became the leader of French fashion, as did her dressmaker Rose Bertin.  Extreme extravagance was her trademark, which ended up majorly fanning the flames of the French Revolution.


Fashion designers gained even more influence during this era, as people scrambled to be clothed in the latest styles.  Fashion magazines emerged during this era, originally aimed at intelligent readers, but quickly capturing the attention of lower classes with their colorful illustrations and up-to-date fashion news.  Even though the fashion industry was ruined temporarily in France during the Revolution, it flourished in other European countries, especially England.


During this period, a new silhouette for women was developing.  Panniers, or wide hoops worn under the skirt that extended sideways, became a staple.  Extremely wide panniers were worn to formal occasions, while smaller ones were worn in everyday settings.  Waists were tightly constricted by corsets, provided contrasts to the wide skirts.  Plunging necklines also became common.  Skirts usually opened at the front, displaying an underskirt or petticoat.  Pagoda sleeves arose about halfway through the 18th century, which were tight from shoulder to elbow and ended with flared lace and ribbons.  There were a few main types of dresses worn during this period.  The Watteau gown had a loose back which became part of the full skirt and a tight bodice.  The robe à la française also had a tight bodice with a low-cut square neckline, usually with large ribbon bows down the front, wide panniers, and was lavishly trimmed with all manner of lace, ribbon, and flowers.  The robe à l’anglais featured a snug bodice with a full skirt worn without panniers, usually cut a bit longer in the back to form a small train, and often some type of lace kerchief was worn around the neckline.  These gowns were often worn with short, wide-lapeled jackets modeled after men’s redingotes.  Marie Antoinette introduced the chemise à la reine (pictured right), a loose white gown with a colorful silk sash around the waist.  This was considered shocking for women at first, as no corset was worn and the natural figure was apparent.  However, women seized upon this style, using it as a symbol of their increased liberation.

Women’s heels became much daintier with slimmer heels and pretty decorations.  At the beginning of the period, women wore their hair tight to the head, sometimes powdered or topped with lace kerchiefs, a stark contrast to their wide panniers.  However, hair progressively was worn higher and higher until wigs were required.  These towering tresses were elaborately curled and adorned with feathers, flowers, miniature sculptures and figures.  Hair was powdered with wheat meal and flour, which caused outrage among lower classes as the price of bread became dangerously high.


Men generally wore different variations of the habit à la française: a coat, waistcoat, and breeches.  The waistcoat was the most decorative piece, usually lavishly embroidered or displaying patterned fabrics.  Lace jabots were still worn tied around the neck.  Breeches usually stopped at the knee, with white stockings worn underneath and heeled shoes, which usually had large square buckles.  Coats were worn closer to the body and were not as skirt-like as during the Baroque era.  They were also worn more open to showcase the elaborate waistcoats.  Tricorne hats became popular during this period, often edged with braid and decorated with ostrich feathers.  Wigs were usually worn by men, preferably white.  The cadogan style of men’s hair developed and became popular during the period, with horizontal rolls of hair over the ears.  French elites and aristocrats wore particularly lavish clothing and were often referred to as “Macaronis,” as pictured in the caricature on the right.  The lower class loathed their open show of wealth when they themselves dressed in little more than rags. 

Fashion played a large role in the French Revolution.  Revolutionaries characterized themselves by patriotically wearing the tricolor—red, white, and blue—on rosettes, skirts, breeches, etc.  Since most of the rebellion was accomplished by the lower class, they called themselves sans-culottes, or “without breeches,” as they wore ankle-length trousers of the working class.  This caused knee breeches to become extremely unpopular and even dangerous to wear in France.  Clothing became a matter of life or death; riots and murders could be caused simply because someone was not wearing a tricolor rosette and people wearing extravagant gowns or suits were accused of being aristocrats.


The Rococo era was defined by seemingly contrasting aspects: extravagance and a quest for simplicity, light colors and heavy materials, aristocrats and the bourgeoisie.  This culmination produced a very diverse era in fashion like none ever before.  Although this movement was largely ended with the French Revolution, its ideas and main aspects strongly affected future fashions for decades.


These lovely paper dolls by Tom Tierney show the fashions of the middle/merchant class of the Baroque and Rococo periods.  Styles worn by the nobles and royalty were similar in structure, but much more extravagant and exaggerated.



c. 1650    The woman wears a high-waisted dress with a falling, wide lace collar and turned-back lace cuffs common during the early Baroque era.  The man wears a cavalier-style outfit with a high-waisted jacket, wide lace collar, lace cuffs, and high boots.  Decorative canes became very popular during this period and many men would carry them around as an accessory.



c. 1660    The woman on the left wears the German fashions of the period, with puffed sleeves, a small hooped skirt, and a fur hat.  The woman on the right is dressed in the Scandinavian style, with a brocade palatine or capelet over her shoulders and a white cap.  Both women wear decorative aprons and a “housewife” hanging from their waists.



c. 1670    The woman wears a wide collar trimmed with ermine fur, a muff, a hood, and a velvet mask to keep out the cold.  Her underskirt is trimmed with gold embroidery and her bodice and sleeves are trimmed with ribbons.  The man wears a long coat, breeches with hose underneath, and a wide-brimmed hat with feathers on it.  He also carries a cane.



c. 1690    The man wears Rhinegrave breeches under a long, buttoned coat, a lace jabot, and large boots.  His hair is worn long and free in the style of Louis XIV.  The woman wears a high fontage headdress and the stiff stomacher that returned to fashion in the latter part of the Baroque period.  Her decorative apron, headdress, and sleeves are all lavishly trimmed with lace.



c. 1720    This period was a transition from Baroque to Rococo fashions, and so incorporated styles from both eras.  The man wears a long coat buttons at the middle, knee breeches, hose, and buckled shoes.  His sleeves are loose and cuffed, showing the undershirt underneath.  The woman wears a flowered robe à l’anglais with large cuffs and a lace collar.



c. 1730    Both women wear a robe à la française in the “Watteau” or “flying” style, in which the back hung loose from the bodice.  Small panniers are worn, but only aristocratic women and royalty wore the ridiculously wide panniers.  The woman on the right’s bodice is adorned with ribbon bows down the front and has large cuffed sleeves.  The woman on the left wears a lace cap common during the period.



c. 1750    The woman on the left wears a hooded capuchin cape trimmed with fur and ribbons.  The woman on the right wears a gown with large cuffed sleeves and a fichu around the neck and shoulders.  She also wears a mobcap tied under the chin with a ribbon.



c. 1770    The woman wears a solid colored gown with embroidery at the opening of the overskirt and bodice.  A quilted underskirt is worn underneath.  She also has sleeves flared at the elbow and wears her hair powdered and curled, common during the last part of the Rococo era.  The man wears a brocade silk vest under a long coat lined with silk with large buttonholes down the side, as well as a tricorn hat and buckled shoes.  His hair is also powdered and is tied back with a ribbon.

The rise of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his court at Versailles, signaled the dawn of the Classical Baroque era in art, architecture, music, and fashion.  It was defined by natural, curving silhouettes, flowing lines, gold filigree, rich colors, and overall voluptuousness.  Clothing contained an abundance of lace, pearls, ribbons, and gold embroidery, and was refreshingly free from the excessive decoration of the Renaissance.  Fashion changed rapidly:  the growing middle class would copy the styles of the nobles, who would in turn create new fashions to stay more “refined” than the middle class.  Unlike earlier periods, where bodices, sleeves, skirts, jackets, and breeches were made to mix and match, clothing during this period was made as separate and entire matching outfits, often made of the same fabric.  This was referred to as en suite, and was the predecessor for our modern-day “suit.”  Seasonality also began to be widely used, a grateful relief from yearlong, heavy gowns and doublets as worn during the Renaissance.  The most important development of this period was the rise of fashion designers after Louis XIV certified the establishment of a dress-makers guild.  This profession contained both men and women.  The most popular designers were well-pursued by the nobility and even the middle class. 


Women.  Women’s clothing became much less restricting.  Flexible stays replaced hard, tight-fitting corsets.  Flowing lace collars replaced stiff ruffs.  Large farthingales were abandoned and skirts were merely layered or padded at the hips to produce a full, flowing look.  Usually two skirts were worn, the overskirt (manteau) open at the front and usually forming a train or bustle at the back, and an underskirt.  Decorative aprons became popular with the middle classes.  The plunging neckline called the décolletage became common, often accompanied with wide lace collars.  Waistlines were also high during the first part of the period, though long, pointed bodices and stiff stomachers came back during the latter half of the period.  Sleeves were large, gathered at the wrist or elbow and often with turned-back lace cuffs.  They progressively became more and more ruffled and segmented as the period progressed.  Solid-colored silks and brocades were used more often than patterned fabrics, and usually decorations consisted only of lace, tied  or rosetted ribbons, limited embroidery, and simple pearl jewelry.

Women wore their hair in tight curls at the forehead and on both sides of the head, called “heartbreakers,” during the first half of the period.  However, hairstyles progressively became higher (fontage hairstyles).  Lips and cheeks were often rouged, something previously only done by courtesans.  Face patches made of silk and velvet and cut into small shapes became very popular.  Since people believed water was bad for the skin, bathing was not a regular activity.  To cover up body odor, people wore profuse amounts of perfume and carried around scented purses.  Shoes acquired pointed toes and high heels, but women’s shoes were ironically much simpler than men’s.  Jewelry was very simple during this period, consisting of single strings of pearls or diamonds or sometimes a ribbon tied around the neck.

Common fashions during the second half of the period


Men.  During the early half of the Baroque period was when the cavalier style for men emerged (see right image).  It was much less restrained than Renaissance fashions and copied women’s styles of the earlier period with its high waists, wide lace collars, and lace cuffs.  This style also featured knee-high boots, often turned down with lace, wide-brimmed hats with feathers, long, loose hair, pointed beards and moustaches, and capes thrown over one shoulder.  Pantaloon breeches fell to or below the knee and were loose.  These were the kind of fashions you would associate with the “Three Musketeers.” 

Further into the reign of Louis XIV, however, men’s fashions became more extravagant.  Rhinegrave breeches, or long, loose, overly decorated pants ending just below the knee (which really looked like skirts) became popular and were worn with lace ruffles called cannons just below them.  Large collars were replaced with long lace ruffles or jabots at the opening of the neckline.  Square-toed, high-heeled shoes with rosettes replaced boots.  Men curled their hair and grew it past the shoulders or simply wore wigs of the same style.

Before the death of the Sun King, men’s fashions underwent yet another change (see left image).  Breeches became close-fitting and either tied, buttoned, or buckled at the knee, with hose worn underneath.  Long coats with braid-trimmed buttonholes (brandenburgs) and large, folded-over sleeves were worn (think Captain Hook here).  Scarf-like steinkirks replaced the jabot.  This suite was refered to collectively as the Persian style and still serves as the base of a man’s suit–the coat, waistcoat, and breeches.   Wigs became larger and were usually powdered white, still elaborately curled and even longer than before. 


Although the Baroque period was perhaps not as extravagant in the amount of decoration used as during the Renaissance, it was just as lavish in its display of wealth.  Fine ribbon and lace replaced copious amounts of jewels.  Elegant embroidery replaced methods such as slashing and puffing.  Rich silks replaced highly decorated fabrics.  These patterns would continue into the following Rococo period.

1650-1800.  The eras of Baroque and Rococo in fashion, art, music, and culture.  Their main similarity: practically defined and definitely dominated by the French court centered at Versailles.

Both eras shared their obsession with bright colors, lavish elegance, lots of gold, and all things French.  The French court, and more notably the Bourbon monarchs (Louis XIV to Louis XVI), practically dictated fashions of Western Europe during much of the 17th century and the entirety of the 18th.  France was able to take center stage of popular culture because England was wracked by civil war and Italy’s days of Renaissance glory were over and the country’s influence was fading quickly.  France became the center for lace-making and silk and brocade manufacturing and its many goods were in high demand in other European countries.  Even European newspapers would publish the latest fashions from France.  Little did anyone know that France would remain the fashion icon for hundreds of years to come.

These fashions did not only influence Western Europe.  This age was the zenith of European colonialism, especially in the Americas.  With the English, French, and Dutch in North America, Spain and Portugal in South America, and France and Spain in the Caribbean, European styles were running rampant throughout the Western Hemisphere.  There were also many European colonies in Africa, Asia, and Australia.  France could legitimately say that they controlled popular fashion all over the world, from that comparatively small, yet huge and lavish palace known as Versailles.

It’s amazing to think the French Revolution didn’t occur sooner.  The ridiculous separation from the lavish wealth of the aristocrats and royalty and the devastating poverty of the lower and even some of the middle class was obvious to all involved.  The wealthy perhaps didn’t realize the enormity of poverty around them, or simply chose to ignore it.  Either way, the seeds of the Revolution were planted during the reign of the Sun King and simmered under the surface for over a century before boiling over in the bloody events that changed history forever.  And the court at Versailles, as well as the excess the population there displayed with their clothes, became the symbol of the tyranny the rebels fought against.

And just in case the first painting of Versailles didn’t impress you enough, here is the groundplan of the palace and the surrounding gardens.  That little rectagularish building towards the right?  Yes, that is the palace with over 700 rooms in it.  Lets you know just how expansive the grounds are surrounding it.  If you want to see more images, this site has a lot of amazing, beautiful images of the palace.

As usual in the world of fashion, people with an abundance of influence, control, and power tend to set the current trends and styles.  This has always been true since the dawn of time.  The only difference that back in the Olden Days the monarchs set these trends, while now it is usually celebrities.

English: Tudor Rose as a Royal Badge of Englan...

Although numerous monarchs influenced Renaissance fashion, the Tudor monarchs of England had perhaps the most important impact on Western European fashions of the 16th century.  And out of these monarchs, the most influential were Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Henry the VIII was, during the younger part of his life, active and reportedly handsome, extremely vain, and a symbol for all things manly.  The Venetian ambassador described him in 1515 (when Henry would have been 24) as this: “His majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short,…his throught being rather long and thick.”  He also had a wide girth and large proportions that he enjoyed accenting with doublets stuffed at the shoulders, duckbill shoes, and codpieces.  He was also never lacking in an abundance of fur and jewels to showcase his wealth.  He reportedly spent 16,000 ducats on clothing annually, which would be about $3,140,000 today.  He was also described as being “the best-dressed sovereign in the world: his robes [were] the richest and most superb that [could] be imagined: and he [put] on new clothes every Holyday.”

Subsequently, his styles became fashionable throughout the Western European empires.  Methods, such as slashing & puffing and stuffing sleeves & shoulders, that enlarged the figure became wildly popular during his reign and remained even after his death.  Even women’s clothing exhibited more fur and larger sleeves.

His six wives also made some considerable contributions.  Katherine of Aragon from Spain introduced the Spanish farthingale to England.  Anne Boleyn made French fashions of crescent caps/French hoods and tight, square-necked bodices popular in royal courts (although not French herself, she spent a few years there serving as maid of honor to Queen Claude and lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Marguerite).  Anne of Cleves introduced Flemish styles the English court, including leg-of-mutton sleeves.

King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s only son and heir, continued in the fashions of his father.  However, he used those styles to attempt to hide is small, slight figure rather than to accentuate his manly features as his father did.  All though the rule of Lady Jane Grey lasted only nine days, she did manage to bring more high-necked, Spanish-style surcoat gowns into style.  Queen Mary was not particularly popular, so did not have much influence on fashions of the time, although she was reported as wearing very ostentatious, bejeweled clothing.

And now we come to Elizabeth I.  She was very fond of clothing, so much so that when she died she had over 3,000 gowns and headpieces in her wardrobe.  Although she was never considered a great beauty, her style was widely admired and mimicked.  She was a tiny woman–small-breasted and small-waisted.  consequently, fashions accented a silhouette of a long, flat, narrow torso.  Even men wore corsets to try to make their bodies fit this mode.  Her pale complexion and high forehead caused women to wear even more white powder/paste on their faces than before and pluck their foreheads and eyebrows (Elizabeth actually died from lead poisoning from the lead that was in the white makeup she used to cover her smallpox scars).  She also loved elaborate clothing just as much, if not more, than her father.  Her outfits were always lavished with jewels, embroidery, ribbons, and lace.  Her particular favorites were pearls, representing her image as the “Virgin Queen.”  The below painting is her “Rainbow Portrait” and depicts the color and embellishments always decorating her gowns and headdresses.

This next portrait is her “Armada Portrait,” painted shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  It portrays the styles she made fashionable, including the ruff, wasp waist, and leg-of-mutton sleeves, as well as her love of pearls.

Queen Elizabeth was one of the most loved monarchs of all time, and her influence in the realm of fashion is a good example of her influence over people, as well as their devotion to her.

Once again I shall make a glossary of clothing terms, this time from the Renaissance.  Some of the terms I defined for Medieval clothing were also used during the Renaissance and I will most likely use some of those terms in current posts, so their definitions can be found here.

basquine — boned bodice made of whalebone and leather, gave the appearance of wider shoulders tapering to a tiny waist (women)

beret— thin, loose hats that usually tilted towards one side of the head

Renaissance beret

bombasting — stuffing for trunk hose, peascod-belly, and leg-of-mutton sleeves, composed of rags, flock, and other materials

bourrelet — wider version of the farthingale adapted in France, more cylindrical in shape rather than conical (women)

bum roll/bolster — roll of padding tied around the hip line to hold the skirt out from the body, less restrictive than the farthingale (women)

camicia — undershirt usually made of white linen (men)

canions — upper stocks worn from the doublet to the knee (men)

chopines — shoes that elevated the wearer, eventually developed into high heels

crescent cap — circular/heart-shaped cap worn towards the back of the head with a velvet veil covering the rest of the hair

codpiece — padded triangle of fabric worn laced to the front of the trunk hose over the groin (men)

copotain — high bell-shaped hat

doublet — man’s bodice

duckbill shoes/scarpines/ox-mouth shoe — large, wide, square-toed shoes often decorated with jewels or slashes (men)

enseigne — disc-shaped hat ornament, usually extremely detailed with jewels/carvings (men)

farthingale — topmost petticoat, hooped to give shape to the skirt (women)

finestrella sleeves — sleeves where the outer fabric was slit horizontally and the sleeves of the undergarment were pulled through (women)

flat cap — flat hat with soft crown and moderately broad brim (men)

funnel sleeves — sleeves that were fitted at the upper arm and ballooned out, fitted tightly around wrist

gorget— neck ornament

Kennel or Gable Headdress

jerkin— short velvet or leather jacket, usually sleeveless (men)

kennel/gable headdress — pentagonal piece worn over the top of the head with veil/bag cap of dark velvet attached to the back and covering hair (women)

leg-of-mutton sleeves — puffed sleeves that extended the entire length of the arm

neck wisk — a falling ruff that was open at the front, resembling a collar

nether stocks — trunks worn under breeches, long enough so that the bottoms could be seen (men)

pantofles — wooden platforms attached to the sole of the shoe with pieces of fabric to protect them from rain, snow, and mud

peascod-belly doublet — doublet rounded at the abdomen to give the appearance of a filled-out belly (men)

points — resembled shoelaces, used to attach trunk hose to doublets or sleeves to doublets or bodices (lacing/trussing)

pokes — apron-like pockets tied to the doublet (men)

ruff — starched (often with different colors) and wired collar pleated into ruffles, could be made of lace or jeweled, usually had matching cuffs

shoe rose — decoration usually made of lace or jewels that was worn at the front of the shoe

slashing and puffing — slits cut in a garment with fabric from the undergarment pulled through to form puffs

stomacher — stiffened triangular piece worn at the front of the bodice, reaching from neckline to lower abdomen (women)

supportasse — frames of silk-colored wire pinned underneath the ruff to keep it in place

trunk hose/pumpkin hose — ballonish-looking breeches that extended from the end of the doublet to about mid-thigh (men)

Venetians— full breeches that reached the knee

Wings on the Shoulders

verdingale/farthingale frill — stiff wheel of fabric, often pleated, worn between the bodice and the skirt (women)

wasp waist — deep V-shaped waistline that extended over the skirt

wings — rolled fabric worn vertically around each shoulder, between the sleeve and the bodice

wisk/Medici collar — fan-shaped pleated collar, stiffened with wire and open at the front

zipone — buttoned tunic that reached the knee worn over the doublet (men)

zornea — cape with wide sleeves, belted at the waist (men)

In about 1450, when the printing press was invented, a new era was ushered in, an era of quickly circulating information that allowed for new inventions, new styles, and new discoveries: the Renaissance.  This colorful era began respectively in Florence, Italy, but soon spread to the rest of Europe and music, art, and literature flourished.  The subsequent fashions that came with this were still deeply influenced by late medieval fashions, but they also had a personality of their own.  Sometimes these fashions in England are referred to as Tudor or Elizabethan fashions because they were heavily influenced by the English monarchs, especially Elizabeth I.  Just as Italy began as the center of the arts, so it began as the center of new fashions.  As the middle class expanded, fashion became an important pastime to them as well as the nobility.  Fashions around Europe also became more unified as transportation and communication improved (again, thanks to the printing press) and costume ideas and materials were able to spread throughout the area. 

Some of the styles that endured throughout the Renaissance included slashing**, where the outer clothing was cut in slits and the underclothing slightly pulled through, the ruff, a circular collar of starched and pleated fabric (these continued to get larger and more elaborate as the era progressed), and detachable sleeves, which allowed for a more affordable method of changing one’s outfit.  Fans also became very popular accessories (especially in the court of Elizabeth I) after Columbus brought the first feather fan to Queen Isabella from the Americas.  They were mostly more for decoration than for practical use and were decorated with jewels and made of ivory and expensive feathers.  Catherine de Medici made the folding fan popular which was usually attached by small chains or ribbons to the girdle.  Handkerchiefs also became important in signifying wealth and power.  Sumptuary laws were passed prohibiting the lower class from using them.  They became increasingly decorative, edged with lace and embroidered exquisitely.  Lace and perfume made their first appearances during the Renaissance.

At the beginning of the Renaissance, clothing started to become rounder and fuller.  Women’s clothing began with high waistlines, square necklines, and finestrella sleeves.  However, waists continually lowered until they became extremely low, tapered, and v-shaped by the end of Elizabeth’s reign.  Sleeves became rounder and had to be stuffed.  Necklines remained square, though in the second half of the period they were often risen to the neck to accommodate the ruff.  The farthingale was perhaps the biggest contribution of the Renaissance.  When first used, is was conical in shape with wire hoops graduated in size (often called a “Spanish farthingale”).  However, by the end of the era it had widened into a conical barrel shape (“French farthingale”).  The increasing size of the farthingale needed a lot of material to furnish it, and laws were passed to try to curtail their use (these laws were very much ignored).  Skirts also became shorter so they might show pretty high-heeled shoes and even glimpses of stockings.  Needless to say, during the entire Renaissance the desired female figure was shifting to a silhouette of wide shoulders, a long, narrow waist, a flat chest, and full hips, which was mostly modeled after the slight but ever so influential figure of Elizabeth I.  Another interesting phenomena with women’s fashions was that women would pluck their foreheads and sometimes entire eyebrows to have the appearance of a high forehead, and therefore intelligence, which was so worshipped during the Renaissance.


Fashions progressive chronologically, the first image with fashions typical of the early Renaissance in Italy, with high waists and finestrella sleeves.  Second image of fashions towards the middle of the Renaissance, influenced mostly by the Tudor court, with a square neckline, funnel sleeves, and a conical Spanish farthingale.  Last image of fashions by the end of Elizabeth’s reign, with leg-of-mutton sleeves, long v-shaped waistline, ruff, and barrel-shaped French farthingale.


Men’s clothing began with accentuating the shoulders and chest.  They wore tunics and doublets reaching the knee, belted at the waist and stuffed in the chest and upper sleeves.  Usually jerkins, often fur-lined, were worn over.  Flat, wide hats were worn.  Shirts were cut full and gathered at the wrists and necks.  However, by the end of the period, short, pumpkin-shaped trunk hose were worn with tight hose to show off a man’s legs and men began wearing corsets to slim the torso.  They also acquired the v-shaped waistline as women did.  Peascod-belly doublets became popular, as well as leg-of-mutton sleeves, short capes, and more vertical caps often decorated with feathers.  Ruffs and matching cuffs were essential.


The first image is of men’s fashions towards the middlish of the Renaissance (before this men’s fashions had stayed the same as late Medieval fashions), with padded shoulders, jerkin, knee-length tunic, flat cap, and duckbill shoes.  Second image from later Renaissance, with leg-of-mutton sleeves, short cape, short trunk hose, ruff, and v-shaped waistline of doublet.

The occupation of a tailor became much more prestigious as nobles and even middle-class would hire personal tailors to create their day-to-day wardrobes.  Tailor guilds and businesses spread and increased in power and many tailors created their own shops.  The less successful tailors traveled around and worked for people who lived in the country and thus farther away from established tailor shops.  Second-hand clothing was also a successful market as it was in the Middle Ages.  Since clothing was so expensive due to the elaborate decorations required to be fashionable, many people, especially those of the middle class, had to resell clothing already worn to second-hand shops to regain enough money to buy new clothes.

Overall, Renaissance fashions were characterized with a new scale of opulence and extravagance never quite reached in the Middle Ages.  Jewels, pearls, gold, lace, and techniques such as slashing and puffing were used unscrupulously.  Jewelry became very important during this time period to denote wealth and position.  Fashions truly reflected the love of art, discovery, and new inventions that defined the Renaissance.

**Note:  all terms in italics will be defined in my next post

Laver’s Law

In my research I came across this theory developed by James Laver and thought I would share it.  It is very interesting to think about, both in a modern context and historically.  Theorists also developed the principles of fashion and dressing: the Hierarchical Principle (dressing to indicate one’s position in society), the Utility Principle (dressing for warmth and comfort), and the Seduction Principle (dressing to attract the opposite gender).  Of course, these are more applicable to history because nowadays there would be a few more to add, perhaps including the Expression Principle (dressing to express one’s personality) and the Cultural Principle (dressing according to one’s culture, traditions, or lifestyle).  Anyway, here is Laver’s theory:


James Laver’s Law of Fashion

  • 10 years before its time:  indecent
  • 5 years before its time:  shameless
  • 1 year before its time:  daring
  • current fashion:  smart
  • 1 year after its time:  dowdy
  • 10 years after its time:  hideous
  • 20 years after its time:  ridiculous
  • 30 years after its time:  amusing
  • 50 years after its time:  quaint
  • 70 years after its time:  charming
  • 100 years after its time:  romantic
  • 150 years after its time:  beautiful

To wrap up my posts about Medieval fashion and before I move on to Renaissance costume, I decided to share some illuminations from the Middle Ages that colorfully depict the fashions worn then.  Most of these are from the later Medieval period because there are little detailed images from the early Middle Ages.

The image below is from Jacques de Longuyon’s Vows of the Peacock, an illuminated manuscript from around 1350, and depicts nobles playing chess.  It shows the dagged chaperons and buttoned cotehardies as well as the pointed poulaines worn by men.  The women wear cotehardies, some with sideless surcoats over them and some with dalmation sleeves.


The following image is from an illuminated calendar from around 1410 called Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry.  This specific illumination is for the month of April and depicts noble men and women with the Chateau de Dourdan in the background.  The men wear large houppelands with dagged dalmation sleeves.  The women wear fashionable high-waisted gowns with large dalmation sleeves as well as rolled hennins in various styles.


This next image is a painting called “The Arnolfini Portrait” from 1434 and is by Jan van Eyck.  Although his painting style is much more similar to Renaissance art, the fashions depicted are still Medieval.  The man wears a fur-lined tappert over a black cotehardie and a wide-brimmed hat.  The woman wears a wimple over her hair as well as a green, fur-lined, high-waisted gown with slashed sleeves over a blue cotehardie.


The below image is a painting called “Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius” from the manuscript The Consolation of Philosophy.  It is from around 1450, at the end of the era of Medieval fashion and just before the Renaissance started changing clothing.  The women wear a variety of gown styles, including sideless surcoats over cotehardies and the v-necked, high-waisted “Burgundian” gown.  They all wear either wimples or hennins in different fashions, some veiled.

Someone suggested to me that for one of my posts I should examine the historical accuracy of costumes from movies set in the medieval era.  So, as something fun, that is what I shall do.  However, I do not think it is completely fair to critique a film’s costumes on historical accuracy alone, for many designers choose to make costumes UN-historically correct for the purpose of the film.  Therefore, I shall examine and give two ratings per movie: accuracy (based on clothing actually worn during the era portrayed) and relevancy (based on how well the costumes enhance the purpose and style of the movie).

Ivanhoe (1952):  This movie is based on Sir Walter Scott’s fictional novel.  It is set in the 1190s during the reign of Richard I, more commonly known as Richard the Lionheart, and includes the character of Robin Hood.  Overall it is a fun watch, combining medieval legends with historical facts.   


Accuracy:  4 stars.  Its costumes are actually very accurate.  The men characters wear the tunics with looser sleeves and fur-edged mantles commonly worn during the period.  The women wear the fashions brought into style by Eleanor of Aquitaine in the latter part of the twelfth century, fashions that were also common a century before.  These included vertical tunics with fitted sleeves, girdles worn at the hips, cloaks, and veils worn around the neck and hair and topped with coronets.  The colors used are also very accurate, with abundant blues, grays, burgundys, and earth tones.  The one fault is that the women’s gowns are very tight-fitting, whereas during that time they were much more loose, intending to accentuate the vertical.  I also noticed that the crowns and coronets worn by both the men and women were worn incorrectly.  They should be worn straight on top of the head so that they cross the forehead, but in the film they wore them tilted so that they centered on the back of the head.

Relevancy:  5 stars.  I think for the purpose of this film accurate costumes aided in the portrayal of the story.  It gives the entire plot a more genuine feel, taking the mystical and almost fairy-tale aspects out of the medieval legends.  However, the small details that are not completely accurate allow the movie to retain the romantic ideal of the Middle Ages portrayed by Sir Walter Scott in his novel.

The Court Jester (1956):  This is a very fun comedy set generically in medieval times.  It includes singing, plots, a character resembling Robin Hood, wooing, bewitching, and plenty of tongue twisters.  Although there is no specific century or year assigned, it is most likely modeled after the late 14th/early 15th century.


Accuracy:  3.5 stars.  The costumes in the film are not the most accurate.  They stem from a much more romanticized view of medieval times, castles, knights, and princesses.  The colors are one aspect that show this view; not only are they much brighter and plentiful than they would be realistically (especially the pink), but they pervade almost every article of clothing.  Historically, women’s wimples and veils were almost always white or gray.  In this movie, however, they usually always matched in color the gowns worn with them.  There was also bountiful amounts of bare shoulders and uncovered hair.  These things were not uncommon in the 1400s, but off-the-shoulder dresses were made in a different style than those shown in the film.  Hair was usually contained in elaborate headdresses (which were surprisingly missing and I think they should have added more of), and if exposed was usually plaited or bound up.  The male costumes were actually a lot more accurate; the extravagance of some of the male costumes (especially the jester’s) matched the styles of the period.  The king also managed to always be clothed in the royal colors of red, purple, and gold, (along with plenty of fur) which may seem stereotypical but was actually very appropriate in the period.  Despite some inaccuracies, the general idea of the costumes was more or less correct and there were some details that were surprisingly accurate, including the girdles, coronets with veils, and cloaks lined with fur. 

Relevancy:  5 stars.  Although the costumes were very much exaggerated, they went together with the style of the film perfectly.  The movie was definitely a parody/overplayed/extremely romanticized version of the middle ages, so of course the costumes fed this nicely.  I thought the overall effect was very enchanting and did add to the humor and nostalgic feeling emanating from this movie.  Also, since the movie is based generally on the middle ages and not a specific time frame from that era, the fact that the costumes were also generic and taken from a few different times added to the atmosphere.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975):  This movie is a parody of the middle ages and the legends of King Arthur.  The time frame can be assumed to be around 1350, the first time the black plague swept through England and wiped out a substantial amount of the population, because this phenomena is prevalent throughout the film.


Accuracy: 2.5 stars.  Despite the fact that almost everything in this movie is over-the-top and completely ridiculous, the costumes are mostly painfully plain and simple, almost devoid of color.  This is usually appropriate for the peasants, but the nobles and even upper-class would have worn clothing much more elaborate.  It is obvious that the women’s costumes especially had little attention paid to them.  All of the styles are more similar to styles worn fifty years, even a century prior, especially the long, more shapeless gowns, circular coifs worn with chinstraps and wimples, as well as the straight unadorned tunics worn by the men.  The helmets and armor worn by the knights are also of a very simple type that would have been worn around 1200, 150 years before the plague ever hit England.

Relevancy: 5 stars.  Even though these costumes are not spot-on accurate per se, the movie is meant to be a farce and a play on modern views of medieval times, not a historical drama whatsoever.  They are also not a very important part of the movie, as the point is not to establish the story in a specific time period (there are way to many modern references to make that even a theory) but rather to portray the Arthurian attributes of the story in a lighthearted way.  I thought the costumes fit nicely with the tone and point of this film and are an interesting look into the way the modern media or pop culture views the middle ages.


Braveheart (1995):  This movie is set during the Scottish rebellions around 1300, during the rule of Edward I “Longshanks.”  The story is centered on the bravery and leadership of the famous William Wallace, and though well-made with an interesting story, this film is notorious for being historically inaccurate. 


Accuracy: 4 stars.  Despite this movie’s reputation for historical inaccuracy when it comes to events and people, the costumes are for the most part surprisingly correct.  It is obvious that the costumes of the nobles were well-researched and well-made, for they usually correspond directly to the fashions brought into style around 1300, including Isabelle’s hair cauls, veils, and gowns with both tight and trailing sleeves.  The only fault would be that the princess’s hip belts and girdles are more similar to those worn half of a century later.  However, the peasants costumes are not quite accurate because the belted kilts worn by the main characters were actually not worn until the 1700s.  They especially became popular then as Scottish nationalist costumes.

Relevancy: 5 stars.  Correctness in costume really enhanced the atmosphere in the film and helped to make the highly fictionalized story more plausible and realistic-looking.  I also thought the sharp contrast between the Scottish peasants’ clothing and the English nobles’ attire spoke volumes into the social conflict between the two groups, which was the basis for the entire story.  Even though the peasants’ costumes were not completely accurate, they better defined the differences between the Scottish and English and gave off a aura of “Scottish pride.”

A Knight’s Tale (2001):  This movie is set in mid-14th century Europe during the reign of Edward III and contains his son Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, as well as Geoffrey Chaucer.  It’s a bit of a spoof of the middle ages, containing some aspects that are much more modern, but most of the elements are medieval in both culture and setting.


Accuracy:  2.5 stars.  The male costumes are very accurate in this film, including the style of the armor and nobles’ clothing.  However, the costumes of Jocelyn and her maid are completely different from what medieval women would have worn during that time period.  Their gowns obviously have much more of a modern influence, as do their hairstyles.  Even the basic styles of their gowns are usually nowhere close to what women wore in 1350 (usually tight-fitting cotehardies with hip-belts, sometimes off-the shoulder, often with loose pelicons or cloaks worn over).  Jocelyn’s hair is often worn uncovered and styled in ways never seen in medieval times.  Medieval women in that period usually wore headdresses with veils and if they left their hair uncovered it was almost always plaited in some form or fashion.

Relevancy:  4 stars.  I really adore this movie, but the one thing that has continued to bother me were Jocelyn’s costumes.  They were so out of place that they became almost an eyesore.  There were other modern aspects to the film, yes, including the trumpets producing sounds similar to electric guitars and the nike sign hammered on the armor (both of which I thought were quite clever), but they were much more subtle than her outrageous dress.  While her costumes did support the modern aspects of the film, obviously had a lot of thought put into them, and helped her to “stick out,” I think it would have benefitted the movie better if they had made her costumes more realistic and dropped the spiky hair and neon feathers (and she still would have stuck out against the backdrop of peasant’s clothes almost prevalent throughout the film).  Now that I think about it though, she would have fit right in a Star Wars movie…