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The Renaissance Era was a period in time in which the mood and values of the 16th century were conveyed through the fashion. The expression of the period of time was filled with innovation and creativity itself and this was manifested throughout the fashion trends and styles of the era. Society was broken up into three major categories; peasants, middle class and nobles. Fashion that was displayed in the Renaissance Age was shaped by the impacts of Queen Elizabeth and Christopher Columbus, these influences aided to the significant difference of the style of clothing worn by upper and lower class society. Clothing differentiated social classes during the Renaissance.
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Renaissance is a French word defined meaning “rebirth”. It refers particularly to the renewed interest in classical learning, which means the writing of ancient Greece and Rome (Main 193). This rebirth was also seen in fashion with the sudden change in trends and style of the Renaissance era. Indeed, “the fashion” referring to the mode of dress for theâ€¦adopted into society for the time being is recorded in the Oxford English dictionary for the first time in 1568 (Jones 1 ). It continued to embody the rapid shifting of the style of clothes through periods of time and as reflected through the renaissance. The innovative force of fashion was associated with both the dissolution of the body politic and the exorbitance of the states subject (Jones 1). Which translates to today’s clothes worn by modern society being a direct reflection of ones own state and belief. This can reflect something of a person’s religion, favorite genre of music, sexual orientation, etc. Fashion extended it semantic field to include the sense of mere form or presence (Jones 1). Fashion was used to highlight characteristics of the renaissance as well as conditions of the time which were used to shape the way people of different social classes dressed.
The fashion of the Renaissance can be described as one which was quite flamboyant. Consisting of rich fabrics: wallet, taffeta, gold brocade and fur. The elite were known for wearing the finest silk stockings and cock platform shoes (Main 206). Woman as well as men were both known for wearing undergarments which changed the silhouette of a normal person’s body. Women wore corsets which cause a sudden excruciating slenderness to the waist and men used pasteboards stuffed with horse hair to achieve a peasecod belly (Main 208). During the Renaissance the fact that men wore underpants and women didn’t was hidden under the long tunics worn by both, which shortened over time. Underpants emerged and were refined into elegant, visible individual leg coverings, while women’s garments developed into even longer and fuller skirts (Hollander 132). Shoulder pads in those days were exaggerated as well stretched linens neck ruffs were used in the place of our small stifles. The garments as well as fabrics used to create the definite image of supremacy, proved to be problematic for people of low social class how could not afford the special garment, and fabrics. This barrier resulted in people of different social classes dressing differently.
Queen Elizabeth, herself had a lot of control of these barriers. Elizabeth was the ideal model of the admired styles and fashions of the Renaissance era. She inspired the way people of the time dressed. The one thing that wasn’t expected was the degree in which Queen Elizabeth influenced fashion. Queen Elizabeth was obsessed with trends in fashion, her power allowed for her to spread the obsession with the outward appearance through the kingdom (Boucher 14). Queen Elizabeth’s had a rare skillfulness in advantage of any situation presented before her (Boucher 17). She realized early that manifestation of rich cloths and fashionable attire would help attain authority and respect of the materialistic people she governed. Wealth and power was not the only thing Queen Elizabeth achieved with her wardrobe. Her fondness for foreign dresses resulted in tremendous impact on the English fashion trends and styles of the time (Leed 13). The citizens of Elizabeth’s rule tried to replicate her style to the best their ability (Boucher 15). The upper class women were able to reproduce her outfits to the “T” enabling them to set further trends for the social class.
Not only were the elite able to duplicate queen Elizabeth’s fashions but it also provoked them to take advantage of other up an coming fashions for over seas which influences like Christopher Columbus exposed to England. The Renaissance era revealed citizen’s desire for exploration of fashion trends over seas. As discussed in, A Survey of Historic Costume, “It was an era that dedicated itself to the search of new markets and raw materials, with the goal of new exotic modes of dress in mind.” Columbus’s findings created an ram pant excitement in England’s fashion world. If an item was new, it was valuable and wanted by many (Tortora &Eubank 130). For example, Spanish fashion was indentified as “different” by the English markets, which resulted in a huge spread of Spanish costume through Europe. Although Columbus was no the supplier of the direct discovery of the sea route to transport silk, he is recognized for his the immerse growth of relations with Spain (Boucher 131). But because of the cost of importing, the foreign styles were styles that belonged to the wealthy in England and it help determines the upper nobles from just the nobles (Jones 63). These new discoveries gave elites sense of superiority over other elites, which in turn created more divisions in social clusters.
Eventually the Renaissance age began to see not only change in structure of fashion but in society and social clusters. The population of the cities consists of nobility, clergy, and townspeople from merchants to the poor laborers (Sider 2). The possibility of an individual moving up in social rankings or to become accepted in another group with a differing social status was almost unheard of. Even during the Renaissance, members of the clergy were locked into different social classes, ranging from wealthy landholding bishops to priests with poor rural parishes (Sider 2). As economic development began to flourish in the city new social classes began to for m such as the bankers and wealthy merchants. As economic advances expanded more jobs became available which in result drew more people to the cities to employ new upcoming labor jobs (Sider 4). The upper class dictated fashion, and the middle class copied details of elite style as budgetary and sumptuary laws permit (Sider 3). This was then followed with the lower class rankings. The organizations of wealth and fashion differences were greater than ever.
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The Sumptuary Laws clearly show that fashion was a sign of wealth and was strictly prescribed for the various classes of society, by a ruling court (Patrick 556). This can be viewed a way of publically making it known who is who in society, and can be quite offensive to the less fortunate. In 1634, a General Court issued a sumptuary law that prohibited the purchase or wearing of clothing embroidered with gold thread or embellished with lace (Mays 383). Only the elite citizens of the community were deemed permissible to wear, this group was also prohibited to wear things like long wigs or bulking sleeves because they were seen as being unfashionable and “tasteless” by the rich. This is just one example of fashion restrictions set by the government to purposely segregate social classes in society.
Clothing then like present day was a sign of a person’s social rank and as well as bracket wealth. However it was even bigger symbol of status in the Renaissance (Norris 34). The fashions for the affluent were intended with the purpose of spending masses of their funds on their garments and outfits, it was not uncommon to see them literally “wearing their wealth” (Norris 34). Clothes of the elite were marked by specific things that anybody could look spot rich or poor. The more elaborate tailoring and craftsmanship, the more expensive the clothing which helped to establish a reputation of wealth to the owner (Norris 34). The elite were also know for were more elegant fabrics such as heavy cotton which was know for being a excessively taxed import good. Clothing had so much value that when hard time came clothes could be pawned for large amounts of money (Norris 34). Kings and queens were known for pawning their own clothes. An average outfit of a girl from lower-class consisted of a long-sleeved kirtle worn with ample skirts and a rectangular apron and a headdress (Jones 4). The difference between how people acquired clothing as well as what exactly they wore were strong indications of what social cluster they belonged to .
Fashion is a way in which people express their feelings and moods. But fashion can also reflect what wants to be seen and the ideals and values of a society. Fashion reflected these ideals and values through the use of foreign fabrics, accessories, and decoration, which was the result of Christopher Columbus, and Queen Elizabeth I influence. During the 16th century, Fashion made the upper class, for your wealth was determined by what you could afford to wear. Clothing became a strict, definite reflection of the morals, status and values of the time which ultimately provided Great Britain with a way to institute differentiae between different social classes. It was a time much different from today, but still, the society of the Renaissance era expressed many materialistic values that were captured so well through the use of fashion.
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