DRAWERS (optional):
There is little documentation of Italian Renaissance ladies and their drawers. That is, they are well documented as such, but it's not known if they were worn by most ladies, or if only the nobility could afford/bother to wear them. It's not known if they were worn all year along or only during winter, for practical or aesthetic reasons. But there are some surviving pieces, both of highly ornamental and more plain character. These are from the late 16th or early 17th century, and can be seen at Realm of Venus. Drawers also appear in inventory lists of the mid 16th century. Duchess Giulia Varano of Urbino is listed with a green velvet pair with golden embroidery, Eleonora di Toledo is listed with a pair in crimson taffeta (Landini 2004: 133). These seem to be extraordinary fine items worth listing, the ladies might have been in possession of plainer ones too. Further on, drawers appear in depictions of Venetian courtesans. In some cases it's hard to separate between drawers and breeches, as Venetian courtesans were no stranger to gender crossing in clothing. But they also had a tendency to copy noble ladies, and noble ladies in various city states did own drawers. So the conclusion is so far that drawers existed in the 16th century, in various versions, and that at least fine and/or rich ladies wore them at different occasions, if not every day.

Read more about the construction of drawers here.

The sleeveless camicia is an elusive piece of garb, but there are documentation on it. There is a surviving piece on page 177 in Köhler's book "A History of Costume", though it's from some centuries earlier. It also seems to appear in some early Italian paintings. Various theories exists. It might have come into use to protect the long-sleeved camicia, which became more decorated and ornamental in the 16th century. The sleeveless one was probably easier to wash and hence might have been added as a protective layer between body and long-sleeved camicia. It might also have been worn on colder days, as an extra layer, maybe made of wool. Or could it possibly have been worn alone, without the long-sleeved camicia, on warm days? Some has also suggested it to be a piece worn under the corset. Whereas I think corsets were far and few in the 16th century, much rarer than in for example England, it is also a plausible explanation as such.

I know the latter picture example shows an actual dress and not a sleeveless camicia. There are tie-ons hanging from her shoulders, where a pair of sleeves would probably be attached. But what is interesting is that no camicia is viewable. This might mean she wears a sleeveless camicia under her green dress, just as the Saint Cecilia is doing in a fresco from the same time period, from the same city. The Lotto painting shows a dress in the 1540 style, with a semi-long bodice. It appears she also wears two camicias - one sleeveless and one with sleeves. This is in contrast to the Costa one, which seems to be a dress worn with a sleeveless camicia (or no camicia at all). The first picture shows an extant garb, presumedly from the 14th century, shown in the book "A History of Costume" from 1963. You can read more about "The Elusive Smock" here.

The camicia, or the "shirt", was usually a white garb made of linen, with decorated neck opening and cuffs. The decorations could be pleatings, gatherings, embroidery, bands etc. Later in the 16th century the whole camicia, or at least sleeves and upper torso, also became decorated, usually with black, red or gold embroidery. Italian women wore camicias that were a bit wider in shape than for example English ladies. This is especially noticeable in the upper torso. But the general way or decorating and wearing seems to be the same. An overlapping item seems to have existed - a camicia with a slighter higher neckline. This might have been used as a domestic day dress, similar to what's seen in the one of Venetian women bleaching their hair, or it might have been a night shift. But they might all have been viewed as a camicia by the Italians, used at will depending on occasion and temperature.

Read more about the Italian camicia here. You can also seek out good "how to make" guides at the websites of Bella/Realm of Venus and Jennifer Thompson/Festive Attyre.

CORSET (optional)
Also known as "stays". There are very few proofs of the corset being in use in Italy in the 16th century. In Venice there is a law from 1547 forbidding "...a new type of bodice which being very high and going very low over the stomach - these harmful and pernicious styles produce trouble, inconvenience and ruin" (Arnold 2008: 110). This might be a law against corsets. But it might also be a law against the new type of stiffened dress bodice that came into vogue about this time. From surviving dresses and period descriptions we find that dress bodices had a core of glue stiffened linen (I.E. linen cardboard) wrapped with various paddings and/or soft fabrics, and that this alone made the bodice rigid. Giulia Varano's funeral dress was made this way.

There are of course the stays of Eleonora di Toledo, but by most accounts these were worn for comfort rather than shape, and they were probably put on the corpse to fill out the too-big bodice, as the Duchess had lost weight due to her sickness. Eleonora was sick much of her adult life, and the corsets that are find in her inventory lists are either the soft velvet type, or very solid steel stays. The latter were worn for medical reasons, as described by the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510-1590): "...to amend the crookednesse of the Bodie (...) In order to correct and hide to hide such a defect, they will be made to wear iron corsets, which shall be full of holes so that they will not be so heavy, and they will be well fitted and padded so as not to hurt at all, and will be changed often if the patient is still growing" (Steel 2001: 5). More about that here.

That said, corsets did exist, and they slowly came into use in the second half of the 16th century. The earliest surviving examples are German and English; the "Dorothea" stays and the "Effigy" stays from 1598 and ca. 1600.

1. Steel corset, from the second part of the 16th century (Museo Stibbert, Florence)
2. Eleonora di Toledo's funeral stays, ca. 1560 (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)
3. The English "Effigy" stays, ca. 1600 (Westminster Abbey, London)
4. The German "Dorothea" stays, ca. 1598

STOMACH BAND (optional)
Eleonora di Toledo had in her wardrobe what is referred to as "fasce da stomaco"; stomach bands. Hers were usually made of one piece of fabric, most in red wool, laced to the body. In "Moda a Firenze" they're not first and foremost reckoned as figure shapening, but as a means of keeping warm. Seeing how Eleonora had a stomach band lined with soft swansdown supports this theory, and they could have been a lighter substitute for the unboned velvet stays. In my opinion they probably also served as a way of gathering a wide camicia in the waist, as an Allori painting from 1596 seems to depict a stomach band used under a semi-open bodice, but over the camicia. No known stomach bands have survived, and it's also only suggested they appear in various paintings. The first is what might just be an allegorical piece of cloth, or an actual stomach band. It appears in a fresco in a church in Volterra. The second is the before mentioned Allori painting from 1596. The third is a band appearing in a roof fresco in the church Santa Maria in Trivio in Rome. The lady is depicted wearing a camicia with some sort of band around the torso. This might only have been intended as an allegorical "quasi bodice" or a general drape. But most ladies in these roof frescoes wears recognizable clothes. I therefore add it here with the suggestion of it being a stomach band, though it's impossible to say for sure. It's from the early 1600s.

Italian ladies seems to have adapted the farthingale, the narrow hoop skirt, later than their continental sisters. It appears in inventory lists only towards the end of the 16th century. Before that they depended on skirts with a stiffened hem. The stiffened hem usually consisted of felt or another thick fabric being sandwiched in between the outer fabric and a sort of lining. Sometimes the stiffened hem was further emphasized by the "tuck", a regular pleat going all around the skirt. The hem was often decorated with embroidery and also a clipped (sometimes piped) edge, and the underskirt was frequently shown off by lifting or draping up the skirt of the dress. Later in the 16th century, when the closed "veste" came into fashion, ladies often wore just the underskirt and sleeves (and sometimes a separate doublet) underneath. For that style they might also have worn a skirt front only, that is the front being of a fine fabric, while the back was of a plainer fabric. The underskirt was more often than not of a contrasting colour and/or fabric. The first picture underneath shows an item referred to as "gonnella". Originally I thought it referred to an underskirt, but I've since learned there is a matching bodice and sleeves. It's believed to be the funeral dress of Isabella of Aragon. Alas there's only been published pictures of the skirt, and not the bodice and sleeves. So for now I include it underneath.

You can read more about the stiffening of hems and the possible use of skirt foreparts in the given links.

Due to new knitting techniques, the Italian renaissance ladies (or at least the nobility) wore more comfortable stockings that previous centuries. The new techniques were both decorative and slightly elastic, which made the socks follow the shapes of the foot and leg. Silks were preferred by those who could afford it and of course those who were allowed to use it. Wools were hence more common. The stockings were usually knee high, and were secured by decorative garthers under the knee. It was long thought Eleonora di Toledo were buried with gathers when she died in 1560, but later analysis has proved that the relatively simple strips of red silk found around her knees and wrists were there to keep the limbs of the corps in place. But she were buried in fine red silk stockings manufactured in a variety of knitting techniques. One of the stockings were put on inside-out, which, along with the loosely laced up bodice, indicates the corpse was dressed in a hurry. Read more about Eleonora di Toledo's stockings here.

The biggest variation in 16th century shoes for women seems to have been the height. The shoes could be all flat or seriously platform high. They could also be slashed, velvet decorated, with trims, or plain. But the actual shape of the heel and toe cap varied little. The exception seems to have been then sandal like platform shoes, but they were often used in addition, where you put your flat shoe into the platform sandal one. The flat shoes were called "pianelle", or slippers. The platform shoes (in Venice known as "chopins") added lots of height to the wearer, and is thought to have its origins in the Ottoman empire. They seem to have been popular all through the century, but became taller towards the end of it. In the first half of the century As for the "pianelle", Eleonora di Toledo owned a lot of them: 31 in red, 10 in green, 10 in purple, 5 in brown, 3 in grey, 2 in white and only 1 pair in black (Landini 2004: 143). Shoes were often made of a complementary colour or of a matching colour of the clothes. This is probably why black were uncommon for Eleonora's shoes. It's said she was buried in black leather shoes, but these have disappeared, and it's hard to tell today if they really were black, or merely had darkened in the grave through the centuries. In Florence the soles, be it high or semi high, were made of wood and dressed with fabric or leather. Often it was slashed over the heel and toe cap, in a decorative manner. The edges could also be snipped, like the skirt hem and neck opening often was. "Mary Janes" also appears; flat shoes with a strap.

The partlet started as a light piece of fabric draped or placed lightly over the neck opening of the bodice. Later it became a clothing piece tied under the arms (under the dress) and with a gradually growing collar. The purpose of the partlet was to hide exposed skin, but it became just as much a fashion item, decorated with pleats, ribbons, pearls and so on. The partlet is said to have come into fashion when laws tried to prevent women from exposing too much skin. But the very fine silk used for the earliest partlets didn't cover up a woman - if anything, it draw attention to the chest area rather than concealing it. Throughout the 16.th century partlets became more ornamented, embroidered, pleated, braided. It became custom to wear them under the bodice, to veil low necklines, and they were fastened under the arms or at the waist by ribbons or chords (Landini 2005: 250). Late in the century they also got collars and/or ruffs, but unlike Spanish and Flemish fashion, Italian women still showed off the chest. Eventually, the fashion envolved into free-standing ruffs and "millstones" typical for the 17th century (Earnshaw 1985: 15).

Many nice partlets occurs in the online costume world: A gold silk partlet, A transparent early Florentine partlet, An embroidered and pearled partlet, An Italian net partlet.

SOTTANA (main dress)
The sottana was, as the name reveals, the basic dress worn under another dress. In much of the 16th century, it was however worn alone, as the main garb. The sottana usually had tie-on sleeves which could be changed at will. In the early 16th century they were often of a contrasting fabric, while it later in the 16th century often were made of the same fabric as the bodice and skirt. The sleeves could have slashes, ribbons or other kind of decorations, or they could be paned. Early in the 16th century they had a wide "baragoni", a puffed sleeve, which slowly developed into a small shoulder roll. The bodice was usually stiffened with cardboard and/or glue-hardened linen, as well as various padding. Square neck openings seems to have been standard. The closing tended to be in the sides, slightly towards the back, though front-closed sottanas also frequently appeared. The latter was particularly popular in the Veneto area, with a wide ladder lacing showing the camicia or a modesty panel. The skirt was usually full, and train was optional. Wearing the sottana alone slowly went out of fashion in the 1560s sometime, though it was still the preferred way of dressing in Venice. It was also the main outfit for working class women and small girls.

ZIMARRA (optional)
The zimarra was a wide sort of overdress, said to be inspired by the kaftans worn by the Ottomans. It usually had a frog (or decorative) closing in front, and it could be sleeveless or with sleeves. This piece of garb was worn over the main dress, often in a matching colour, or sometimes in a contrasting colour. It could be lined for winter, or made of thinner silks for summer wear. The zimarra was favoured by Eleonora di Toledo, and can also be seen in portraits of her ladies in waiting. Her daughters and other young women, on the other hand, seems to have preferred the more close-fitting doublet dresses in "French style", the so-called "veste".

Read more about the construction of a zimarra in Katerina's Purple Files, and the related "loose gown" in Venetian style in Oonagh's site.

VESTE (optional)
The term "veste" can refer to a dress in general, but in the second half of the 16th century it usually meant a close-fitting overdress. This was said to be "in the French style", meaning it was inspired by fashion in France. Elder noble ladies often preferred the wider zimarra, while the younger ladies preferred the tight-fitting French style. Whereas the former usually meant one needed a separate sottana underneath, one could wear only a skirt and sleeves under the veste. Wearing a doublet bodice under the veste was also common. Soon enough it became the way to dress for the nobility, although the sottana stayed in fashion as a separate item several places, especially in Venice. It seems to have been particularly in vogue (or just well documented) in Florence and in Bergamo.

SACCOCCIA (optional)
The "saccoccia", or the loose pocket, are well-known to anyone doing Rococo dresses. But it was also worn in the Renaissance, at least in the second hald of the 16th century. It was reached through a slip in the skirt, often where the bodice laced up (as seen in the last picture underneath). It could be decorated with embroidery or with trims, and seems to have come in various shapes and colours, though the semi round shape seems to have been dominant. Noble women usually wore them under their dress or skirt, while working class women (or informal dressing in general) wore them over their skirt. The loose pocket also occurs in Eleonora di Toledo's funeral derss. There it seems to have been sewn to the skirt, and it also was of a narrower shape than those in the gallery. Read more about the saccoccia here and at Katerina's Purple Files.

SNOOD (optional)
The snood seems to have been popular in the Veneto in the early 16th century, and in Florence/Tuscany in the mid 16th century. The latter was due to it being favoured by Eleonora di Toledo, duchess of Florence. For the latter fashion the hair as usually braided or taped and wrapped around the back of the head. The snood was usually made of metal threads or various trims in an X pattern, sometimes decorated with pearls. The earlier version of the snood was a wider hair net attached to the back of the head and with the hair loosely worn inside a wide, rounded shape. The snood was just one of many options in 16th century Italy, and various veils and hair girlanders seems to have been just as common, especially towards the end of the century.

HAT (optional)
Hats were considered a masculine fashion in the first half of the 1500's, but became increasingly popular in the latter part of the century. In Tuscany it has been ascribed to the fashion Eleonora di Toledo brought from Naples to Florence in the 1540's. She was an active woman, accompanying her husband where he went, and joining various hunt and horseback events. For this she needed practical head garbs, and joining the general continental trend, she adapted the male head garbs (Landini 2005: 157).

Bonnets and the likes were often bought as a finished production rather than being custom made (Landini 2005: 157). They were often made of black velvet, since that could be used to most kind of outfits, but sometimes they were to match a specific dress as well. To some processions women would have a bonnet made of the same colour as their dress. But the trend wasn't welcome everywhere. Sumptuary laws of Milan from 1565 seemes to have allowed women to wear "male" head gears only in case of necessity - for protection from weather, and in case of illness (Landini 2005: 158). Together with the doublet and the zimarra the female dress became all the more masculine in the second half of the 16th century - which was probably what the officials disliked. But elsewhere in Italy it seems to have been both common and allowed.

APRON (optional)
Some very fine aprons have come down to us from the 16th century. It seems to have been a common domestic piece of garb, worn by both noble women and their servants, but it was seldom a part of noblewomen's outdoor outfit. Most seems to have been made of white linen, with various lace or embroidery embellishment. Aprons being just a bit shorter than the skirt seems to have been common, but there are plenty of examples on shorter versions too. Three very fine versions can be seen at Realm of Venus, but there are also plainer ones in paintings of the 16th century. The plainer ones have probably been used and re-used until there were only rags left, while the finer ones was saved. And though the most common colour seems to have been white, several green versions can for example be seen in late 16th century paintings by Bernardino Campi.

Apron for a working class woman can be seen here and here.

MANTELLO (optional)
The mantello was the large piece of cloak women wore outdoor until the mid 16th century, when outer garbs like the zimarra gained popularity. The mantello was a large semi circular piece of fabric, sometimes lined with a contrasting colour than the outer fabric. It could be draped or fastened in various ways, and the general look had varied little since antiquity. The Virgin Mary and saints are usually depicted in a mantello, and they continued to be so long after it went out of fashion. The mantello was perfect for the fashion of the early and mid 16th century, with the large puffed sleeves. The mantello was fastened on the head or around the shoulders, and the sleeved could hence be as large as they liked. With the more fitted overdresses the dress sleeves became narrower. The mantello was in large replaced by the zimarra and the tighter veste, so only very rarely will you see both worn over a sottana. The mantello, and the shorter mantellino, was though still much used for traveling. In such cases it was often made of felt or another tight wool, and sometimes oils were inserted to the fabric too, to make it waterproof. It also remained a standard item for outfits worn in processions, for royalties, clericals and such.

One would think the idea of jewelry in the Renaissance was "the more, the merrier". But wearing precious items were strictly regulated, in terms of quantity and quality. For ladies one string of pearls were accepted; a Florentine law from 1562 explains in detail: "noble women might own only one string of pearls with a value not exceeding 500 scudi, three rings with a value of 250 scudi, a gold necklace worth 50 scudi, a gold girdle worth 70 scudi, and a few other odds and ends.". Fake jewels and jewelry made of gilded copper or silver gilt were also prohibited. A similar law was passed in Venice in the mid 16th century, and it also regulated how long a bride was allowed to wear her bridal finery. The latter might be because grooms spent large sums of money to decorate his bride, and that these sums were meant as a temporary investment. In the 15th century many of these laws also existed, but they were seen as a sort of taxation rather than something prohibited. If you wanted to wear all your precious items, you should be prepared to pay... This might have been valid for the 16th century too, although the counter reformation brought a new ideal of austerity to the Italian city states and vanity and pomp were considered sinful. First ladies, queens and various nobility were more often than not excepted from these rules, and exceptions could also be made for large public celebrations.

In the early Renaissance large brooches were often used. These sometimes had both a pin and a loop, and could be fastened to the left shoulder, worn on the top of the head, or used as a pendant. But the pearl necklace, sometimes with a pendant, became dominant in most of the 16th century, in all Italian city states. An artist goldsmith like Cellini considered pearls to be merely "fishes bones", but ladies were not of the same opinion... But gold chains and gold pendants were also much favoured, usually adorned with rubies and emeralds. In rare cases, like that of Eleonora di Toledo, diamonds also occurs. Gemstones were not cut in a faceted manner like today, but rather polished and "wrapped" with gold in their rounded or octahedral shape. Small figures were often also included. For some time red coral necklaces were also in vogue, as can be seen in Florentine portraits of the late 1490s. In the 16th century coral jewelry are mostly seen on small children and babies. The latter wore them in their natural shape, and could gnaw on them when getting teeth. For women, earrings also slowly gained popularity, and is seen in lots of portraits in the second half of the 16th century.

Jewelry was a often pawned to raise money. One interesting example can be found in the crass letter Isabella d'Este sent her husband in 1496: "I am of course, always ready to obey Your Excellency's command in everything, but perhaps you have forgotten that my jewels are at present in pawn at Venice, not only those which you have given me, but those which I brought when I came as a bride to Mantua or have bought myself since my marriage. I say this, not because I want to make any difference between what is yours and what is mine, but to ensure you are aware that I only have four jewels left in the house along with the large balas ruby which you gave me when my first child was born, my large diamond, my "favorito", and the last one which you recently gave me. If I pledge these, I shall be left entirely without jewels and shall be obliged to wear black, because to appear in coloured silks and brocades without jewels would be ridiculous. Your Excellency will understand that I only say this out of regard for your honour and mine." Which is why I have not listed jewelry as optional!

FAN (optional)
All kind of fans were used in 16th century Italy. At least if judging from paintings. However, two stands out: the round feather fan and the square flag fan on a long stick. The latter was particularly popular in the Venice area and is likely something they picked up from the Ottomans, where the flag fan was much in vogue. The flag fan was often made of neatly painted paper, but could also be of fabrics or decorated leather. It was fixed to a rather long handle. The feather fan appears in many city states, and in many colours. Multicoloured versions also existed. More rare is the foldable fan, which appears in a painting by Moroni from the 1570s, and one of Santi di Tito from the 1580s. A hybrid version also appears in a Moroni painting from the 1560s. Various laws were passed to keep the fans as plain as possible. A law of 1522 forbade "fans of lynx and ermine with handles of gold and silver encrusted with jewels and pearls". Three years later only plain fans "of simple feathers with handles of black bone or ivory" were allowed, as the law of 1522 don't seem to have had an impact on the fan extravaganza (Fortini Brown 2004: 151). One would think the flag fans were a response to these laws. But the flag fans were expensive luxury items; "These fannes are of a meane price", as traveller Thomas Couray wrote in 1611. So being an oriental fashion item probably has more to do with their rapid fame since they were introduced in the mid 16th century.

Tuscan ladies are rarely seen with fans in their portraits. Instead their attributes are books, leap dogs, gloves and precious jewelry. The jeweled marten also appears frequently. All these items tells of their virtues and fidelity. Why fans are so infrequent in Tuscany is hard to say, but maybe they were considered too mundane for portraits? First towards the end of the century does they seem to gain popularity, and then often in the shape of the folding fan. I have yet to see the flag fan appear here, although it's found both in the Veneto and the Lombardy.


I've completed a Florentine dress in the style of ca. 1560. For this dress I made all kinds of underpinnings and accessories to see how it worked as a total. The layer closest to the skin is the linen chemise with lace decoration. Under this red wool stockings and red garters with lace deco. Over this a pavonazzo coloured underskirt with a golden embroidered hem, and a mustard saccoccia (loose pocket) and a partlet. Then the dress itself, with removeable sleeves and black trims. And if necessary, a white apron is used. And of course jewelry and shoes.

Both the underskirt and the dress skirt has a stiffened hem. This is achieved by adding strips of wool felt on the inside of the hem, and a strip of fabric matching the skirt over this again. This makes the skirt curve around the ankles instead of getting tangled around the knees, and improves walking a lot. It's a most period technique, and is well described in Janet Arnold's description of Eleonora di Toledo's funeral dress (Patterns of Fashion). Stuff I have yet to try out is drawers, sleeveless camicia, stays, stomach band and a snood or hat. Stomach band is an item I'm particularly interested in trying out, as I noticed how much the chemise bulked over the underskirt. I think a stomach band would hold it more in place. But that is for the future.

More on this dress can be seen here.

To come: veil, belt, muff.

Arnold, Janet (1985), "Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620", MacMillan, London
Arnold, Janet (2008), "Patterns of Fashion: Shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories 1540-1660", MacMillan
Campbell, Lorne (1990), "Renaissance Portraits", Yale University Press, New Haven & London
Cox-Rearick, Janet (1993), "Bronzino's Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio", University of California Press, Berkeley
dal Poggetto, Paolo (editor) (2004), "I della Rovere, Piero della Francesco, Raffaello, TIziano", Electa publishing
Eisenbichler, Konrad (red) (2004), "The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo, Ducess of Florence and Siena", Ashgate
Köhler, Carl (1963), "A History of Costume", Dover Publications
Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli (2004), "Moda a Firenze, Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e sua influenza", Pagliai Polistampa, Florence
Monnas, Lisa (2008), "Merchants, Princes and Painters"
Pope-Hennessy, John (1985), "Cellini", Abbeville Press
Steele, Valerie (2001), "The Corset. A cultural history", Yale University Press, New Haven & London
Welch, Evelyn (2005), "Shopping in the Renaissance, Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400-1600"

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