What were the main garments, clothing styles, and silhouettes worn by men and women during the Italian and Northern Renaissance? 

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Early Renaissance Italians were the "trendies" of their period. This entails that the fashion styles of their peers in the rest of Europe will more than likely imitate the style of the once Romans. Men and women of Italy wore characteristic dress salient for its thickness and for its fullness as far as it being tight at the weight, ankle length, and quite elaborate. It was what, in modern terminology, would be no different than wearing a drape or a curtain...even a tapestry that is wrapped tight to the body, form fitting it as well as decorating it. That is the texture to which fullness refers. 

Women's sleeves, as art work shows, are often tight as well, and petticoats are worn also quite elaborately with rich touches. It is said that the idea of clothing close-fitting to the body was acquired from this time period. This is evident particularly in male costume. 

Men, with the exception of a mantel or cloak, wore close-fitting clothes with not that many elaborate touches compared to females. Men of higher ranking would likely show off with colorful textiles and added accessories, but the keyword with early Renaissance is "close-fitting clothing". This alone was a break from all previous fashion constructs. Men also had overcoats (sleeves were also tight, like females') and boots. Both men and women had a thing for hats, with the men's hats being wider than the females. 

An pop culture example of what an Early Renaissance dress looked like is Princess Fiona, of the children's movie Shrek fame. Her long, green, silky dress shows the form fitting style, the tight sleeves, and the exact length used by the ladies of that period. 

However, as the 16th century (Cinquecento) moved on the skirts became wider and wider, while still fitted tight to the waistline. Sleeves began to puff at the top while remaining tight at the bottom, and the elaborate use of mixed colors, symbols, and jewels encrusted in dresses was synonymous with rank and status.

It is an accepted fact that, out of all the outrageous fashions that came out of the Early and full Renaissance periods, Switzerland, Germany and the Flemish had the most elaborate dress out of all the Northern Renaissance period. 

Included are the examples of these three particular fashion styles. Compare that to the Italian woman sitting with the child by herself (Bronzino's Eleonora de Toledo), and you can see the huge difference between Italian and Northern Renaissance as far as these other three countries goes. 

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