MALE CLOTHING IN THE RENAISSANCE
Lord Aubrey de Baudricourt
"I am also pleased when clothes tend to be sober rather than foppish; so it seems to me that the most aggreeable color is black ... I am talking of ordinary attire, for their is no doubt that bright and gay colors are more suitable for wearing ... to public occassions..."
Castiglione The Book of the Courtier, 1528
As the quote from The Courtier indicates, clothes were a very important part of making of a Renaissance gentleman. Many writers of the period felt that a man's clothes gave the viewer a glimpse of what lay within his heart. For somewhat different reasons, costuming is as important today for Lords (and Ladies) of today's SCA as it was for the Renaissance courtier of Elizabethan England. One of the most effective ways to convey the atmosphere so much sought after by the SCA is to be found in accurate costuming. Clothing lends to the wearer the appearance of the period in which his persona lives as much as his mastery of the courtly graces or skill on the list field. Accurate and ostentatious Renaissance clothing are, by their nature, eye-catching.
This article was not written as a "how-to" article. I have no skill or talent in the realm of costume making. As little expertise as I have in costume making, I have even less knowledge of how the ladies of the time dressed. Therefore, I will limit myself to describing male Renaissance fashion in Italy, England, France and Spain from 1500 to 1600. I ask the humble pardon of the ladies but, until I have enough knowledge on the subject, I will refrain from ventures into the world of female Renaissance fashion.
Styles changed pretty dramatically over this time span and there were differences from country to country, although Spain was generally held to be the leader in fashion in this portion of the Renaissance. But, since the Renaissance began in Italy, it is to that group of city-states and its fashions that I will first turn. Their clothing styles set the stage for clothing throughout Renaissance Europe and many of their ideas spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean and over the Alps.
"...but as the one and the other [style of clothes] can be when corrected and given a better-appearance by the Italians."
The Book of the Courtier, 1528
The Renaissance Italian preferred relative simplicity in his clothing. The men dressed in a tight-fitting outfit made up of hose, which were often visible right up to the waist, and a shirt. The shirt could be made of linen, silk or shot taffeta (which was recommended as a good lining material for discouraging fleas). Shirts varied in color but white was probably the most popular color. They were often embroidered around the cuffs with stitching of a contrasting color.
The upper garment was the doublet. It is defined in the dictionary as "a man's close-fitting jacket worn in Europe, especially during the Renaissance". The doublet can be best likened to a modern sports jacket and suit coat. It was to become the dominant item of wear for the upper body for men throughout the 16th and much of the 17th century in Europe. It developed from the jacket of the late Middle Ages and was worn over the shirt. In early 16th century Italy it stopped at the waist. Once it made its escape from Italy, it would grow in length and be paired with a kilt-like skirt or pants. But in Italy the hose connected to it at the waist with points or ties. The doublet could be sleeveless or be equipped with mid-length or long sleeves. The sleeves were often slashed to allow the sleeves of a contrastingly colored shirt to show from underneath.
A jerkin could be worn over the doublet if the wearer so desired. This jerkin was normally open down the front and had a knee length skirt though the younger men wore them much shorter. The longer skirt was pleated and the jerkin was belted with either a metal belt or with a silk sash or ribbon. If worn open to show the doublet underneath, the jerkin might have a wide fur collar with revers (a type of lapel). A second style of tunic was closed right up the front to and topped with a high roll collar. It had wide, open sleeves which showed the full length of the doublet sleeve underneath.
The hose could be made of almost any material, but they were more often knit and were almost never plain in color or pattern. Variations were almost infinite: one leg checkered, one leg striped; patterns that changed at the knee or patches of different colors on the knees, thighs or calves. These hose can be best simulated by ballet tights. Around the beginning of the 16th century a new type of leg covering appeared: "upper stocks" for the top of the leg, and "'lower stocks" for the lower leg. Garters were needed to
keep the lower stocks smooth and were jeweled or embroidered.
The shortness of the doublet led to the introduction of the codpiece, a pouch made of the same material as the hose and fastened over the crotch with ties or buckles. The codpiece was to spread to Germany, England and France where it was worn with breeches and the English kilt-like skirts.
The nobility wore clothes made of rich silks, satins, taffetas, velvets and cloth of gold or silver. The colors were strong with black velvet used often to provide contrast. Increased trade and travel brought a variety of fabrics and the capability to dye them any number of colors. Plain and patterned materials were used together in garments during this time. These patterns were either woven directly into the fabric or applied afterwards. The patterns often took the form of fruits, flowers, animals or abstract designs such as diamonds. Even personal initials could be embroidered into the fabric, either alone or in an all over pattern.
Hats came in an amazing variety of types and styles. The basic hat was plain and brimless but could be trimmed with gold braid around the edge and decorated with a feather, jeweled brooch or both. The Spanish hat was also popular in Italy, consisting of a tall velvet cap with six or seven sides. A round hat with deep fringe around the brim was imported from Portugal at about the same time. The most common hat of the Italian style was a plain hat with a domed crown of medium height. The small brim was turned up at the back and came to a point in the front. Small feathers were used to decorate hats in the late fifteenth century. These were replaced in the 16th century with larger swan or peacock feathers and, later, by ostrich plumes of varying colors.
Young Italian lords wore short cloaks outdoors. These were normally semi-circular cloaks trimmed with jewels or furs. Older men preferred ankle length gowns while the Venetians considered the toga as a symbol of authority. This wag not the toga of Roman antiquity but, rather, a flowing gown with loose sleeves and a band of color around the edge. The colors denoted the status of the wearer: black for the nobility and magistrates, purple for senators and violet for scholars.
The handkerchief enjoyed a comeback during the Renaissance. Initially, they were used only by the nobility, who passed laws to forbid their use by the lower classes. This, however, was not to last. Purses or pouches were often attached to belts and an ornamental, but very useable, dagger was often worn, pushed through the belt straps or between the belt and outer clothing. Dress swords or, later, rapiers were often worn as well.
Jewelry was not worn often by Italian men. For the most part it was restricted to a brooch in the hat or on the sleeve and a gold chain worn around the neck. One or two rings were worn but, unlike the Spanish, the Italians wore no earrings. The younger generation wore their hair long and generally were clean shaven. Those who wore beards wore them in a number of shapes, of which pointed, brush-shaped or forked were the most common.
"I should like the clothes of our courtier wears to reflect the sobriety characteristic of the Spanish, since external appearances often bear witness of what is within."
--Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, 1528
By the 1550's, Spain was the acknowledged leader of fashion, rivaled only by the French. The Spaniards were extravagant and ostentatious by nature but their clothes, while very luxurious, were relatively simple in design. A man's clothing normally revealed and exaggerated his natural shape. The Spanish, a warlike race, patterned their clothing somewhat after the shape of their armor. Slashing, which wag used extensively in German and early Tudor garments, was less prominent in Spanish clothing of the Renaissance.
The Spanish doublet was generally tight and high collared, coming to a point in the front. Doublet sleeves were normally mid- to full-length. They were sometimes lightly slashed or braided with gold. The trunk hose varied in length from knee length to the very short. Both the doublet and trunk hose were padded with bran, straw or cotton waste. The long waisted, pointed doublet remained in fashion until the 1590's when it was replaced by the skirted jacket with a waist roughly in the right place. This was worn with broad trunk hose that reached well down the leg to just above the knee. The sleeves were separate and probably of a contrasting material.
The ruff, while not of Spanish origin, came to be identified with Spanish fashion. The dictionary defines a ruff as "a wheel-shaped stiff collar worn by men and women of the late 16th and early 17th century." This terse description does it little justice. Worn above the doublet, it tended to make the head appear detached from the rest of the body in the form used in Spain. Less severe forms framed the face. Spanish ruffs were almost exclusively white in color and were always heavily starched to maintain their stiffness. The-most popular starch was made with rice.
To maintain the military look, the men wore daggers and swords. The sword belt was often passed two or three panes of the trunk hose in front and behind. The trunk hose themselves were short full breeches reaching about halfway down the thighs. Boots were often worn with the outfit to give it a martial appearance. The boots were generally long, reaching well above the knee, and fairly tight. The bucket boots of "The Three Musketeers' fame did not reach Spain until around the turn of the century. In general terms, shoe and boot fashion in Spain paralleled those in the rest of Europe.
A variety of cloaks were worn with short cloaks being the most common. The capa, or circular cloak with a hood, could be full length or less. The ferreruelo, similar in shape to the capa but with a high collar and no hood, the boemio, semicircular dress cloak of taffeta or velvet, and the fieltro, a mid length riding cape with a buttoned collar and hood, were often worn as well.
Materials varied as well. Fine merino wool cloth and very fine leather were produced in Spain. Silk, taffeta, velvet and brocade, heavily embroidered with New World gold and silver, were imported. As Castiglione noted, black was the most popular color with red, yellow and green often worn as well. Because of the expense of the dye, blue was seldom used.
Hairstyles in Spain were relatively short. This was due in part to the ruff. Hair was worn short in the back with two relatively long locks on either side of the face. Generally, ears were visible and the hair was short in the front. Beards and moustaches seemed to be without limiting rules.
Early Tudor England 1509-1558
"I bought thee kerchers to thy head which were wrought fine and gallantly. I kept thee both in booth and bed which cost my purse well-favouredly."
--attr. Henry VIII, Greensleeves, c. 1535
Early English Tudor styles were generally less graceful than those of Italy. Many young men of the time, money permitting, traveled to the Continent, bringing back samples of what they had seen abroad. English clothes generally developed along similar lines to those in Germany but with a certain amount of restraint that seemed to be lacking in the wildly slashed and colored clothes of the Landsknects.
The typical Tudor lord of the 1530's wore a linen shirt and full-length hose tied to a belt or a little short jacket. A pair of upper stocks were worn on top of the hose. This type of upper stocks were much looser in the leg than their Italian counterpart. They were made of plain material or from bands of silk, called panes, which were attached to a plain colored base.
The gentleman's doublet had voluminous sleeves, padded with straw and slashed to allow the lining material below to be seen. Sleeves were often made to be detachable, giving the early Tudor gentleman considerable flexibility with his wardrobe in that he could play "mix and match" with his doublets and their sleeves. The front of the doublet might be slashed as well and could be left partly open to show the elaborate embroidery on the shirt underneath. The very wealthy often attached jewels to the doublet. The doublet was often cut at the top in a manner similar to the lady's bodice.
A gown or surcote was worn over everything else. Sleeveless, with armholes cut deep enough to accommodate the doublet sleeves, they were often lined with fur and remained popular until replaced by the Spanish cape, introduced by Mary Tudor's husband, Philip of Spain, and the gentleman who attended him.
At times, the doublet was worn with a knee length kilt-like skirt, sometimes cut of the same material as the doublet. The skirt was often divided in the front to allow the use of a codpiece. This skirt was a holdover from the 15th century. It was put on separately from the doublet and was called the "base". It was often made of brocade or other fine embroidered cloth.
A Parliamentary act in 1534 limited English dyers to brown, blue, pink, tawny and violet. Materials of other colors would have to be imported. Gold and silver cloth was very fashionable though only the very rich could afford it. Velvet, satin and damask taffetas were also popular choices for doublet material by the nobility and gentry.
Both men and women wore elaborate brooches on their hats and hoods. At times men wore jewels on their doublets or doublet sleeves. Rubies and pearls were very popular, as were emeralds and sapphires. A gold chain was often worn. It was set in a wide oval from shoulder to shoulder.
The typical square-toed shoes of Tudor England were made of leather, silk or velvet and normally lacked heels. In 1520 an extra piece of leather began to appear attached to the toes and heels of flat shoes. Soles were also made of cork and could be of a different color from the upper shoe. Often times the upper surface of the shoe had small slashes.
The hairstyle most commonly seen among Tudor men was short. The hair was cut in a fringe across the forehead and was long enough to hide the earlobes, but no longer. The wearing of beards and moustaches were not 'uncommon. Hats were usually a version of the flat cap known as the bonnet. Sometimes a jeweled band decorated the edge, and often a ---mall feather was pinned to the left side of the hat with a jeweled brooch.
Fashion became less elaborate during the reign of the boy-king Edward VI (r. 1547-1553). This move towards simplicity was a result of strong Puritanical and Reformist influence at Court. Edward's reign was a sort of transitional period that marked the end of the German influence on English clothing and the beginning of Spanish dominance in English fashion. The reign of Mary Tudor (r. 1553-1558) and her husband, Philip of Spain, brought Spanish fashion to England, exposing the Tudor gentleman directly to the Iberian mode of dress.
Late Tudor England: 1558-1603
"Let your attire be comely, but not costly."
--John Lyly, Euphues, 1579
Elizabethan fashion borrowed a great deal from the Continent. Its overall form was heavily influenced by Spain while its decorative touches were borrowed from French or Italian models. But each of these foreign influences underwent a subtle transformation, being molded to fit the English character and the newly emergent self-confidence and daring that epitomized Elizabethan England.
Men of Elizabethan times were encouraged to be thinner than their immediate ancestors. This was often achieved by the wearing of a corset, often times giving the Elizabethan gentleman a shape that nature never intended. Linen or cambric shirts were worn over the corset with a waistcoat thrown over the shirt for good measure. This coat could even be sleeveless.
A doublet was worn over the waistcoat. This doublet was normally padded and padded. It was worn with a very short skirt, though this was often dispensed with. The early Elizabethan doublet was made with a high neck and decorated with embroidery, ribbon, slashing or embossing. Doublet sleeves were normally long but of reasonable size and padded. They could be of a different color and style than that of the doublet and were, at times, detachable (as they had been in the time of Henry VIII). The peascod doublet became popular after 1580. This oddity in fashion was heavily padded with a portion protruding below the waist in the front. it, and all other doublets worn in England during this time, buttoned from the throat to the waist with close get buttons. Ruffs for the neck and wrists were often worn.
There were various ways to cover the legs. Round, or trunk, hose could be of any length. These breeches were often paned, that is cut in strips showing between them a lining of a different color. Below them were a "netherstocking", form fitting and extending the rest of the length of the leg and foot. A variety of pants were also worn with the doublet. These included the ever-popular puffy Venetian pants, which were to remain in style well into the 17th century, though they did not become popular with the nobility and gentry until near the end of Elizabeth's reign.
By the 1560, the bonnet had faded from popularity. Hats now had high crowns and were made of velvet, felt or even beaver and had narrow stiff brims. A band of lace or braid could be used to decorate the hat and feathers and jewels were also used to make the hat more appealing.
A semicircular cape, similar to Spanish models, and often possessing a small collar, was sometimes worn over the left shoulder and secured by ties under the right arm. Swords and daggers were carried with a swordbelt that followed the edge of the doublet and was worn just beneath it. Many Elizabethan gentleman considered their sword or rapier as much a part of their dregs as their doublet.
"...I should prefer that they [clothes] not to be in any way exaggerated, as the French tend to be in the way they are overdressed..."
--Castiglione, The Book-of the Courtier, 1528
The French vied with the Spanish as the trendsetters in Renaissance European dress. French fashion began the century with relative simplicity and elegance. It moved towards eccentricity after mid-century and then regained simplicity and moderation near the century's end. In the early 16th century the doublet was loose fitting at the neck and equipped with puffed sleeves. At mid-century it was high necked and tight at the waist with a cambric collar or pleated ruff and very tight-fitting sleeves. Spanish influence was most plainly visible at that time.
In the time of Francis I (r. 1515-1547) doublet sleeves were puffed and slashed while the doublet itself was low at the neck and often made of expensive fabric such as gold or silver cloth, velvet, damask or satin. Hose were worn long, dagged at the bottom and top. They were also embroidered at times and of various colors. Conspicuous codpieces were often worn (as French pride demanded) and a short cloak with open sleeves was worn over all. A velvet or cloth hat was sometimes worn. But more popular was the low-crowned satin or felt hat with a turned up brim which was fashioned into place by a jeweled brooch called the affiquet.
Clothing during the reign of Henry Il (r. 1547-1559) reflected his taste for black and other somber colors. The doublet had been altered to where it no longer opened at the neck. Instead, its collar rose above the top of the shirt and was then turned down. This collar was often ornamented with lace or embroidery. Short baggy trunk hose, resembling baggy trousers, were worn with the doublet. Stockings were worn with this outfit and were normally silken or made from woolen yarn. Blaise de Monluc, later Marshal of France, described his dress in his memoirs: red velvet breeches covered with gold lace and a doublet and shirt of silk possessing a low hanging collar.
During the reign of Charles IX (1560-1574) the major changes came below the waist. Italian, Spanish and Flemish style trunk hose became popular and pockets were created and used for the first time. No sooner than they were invented an object appeared with which to fill them: the Nuremberg pocketwatch". Garters came into popularity at this time in France as well.
The royal wardrobe and the clothing of the King's party became outrageous during the reign of Henry III (r. 1574-1589). The King, having diverse sexual tastes, had a fondness for perfumes, cosmetics, earrings and other items that had been heretofore reserved for women. Outside the Court both short baggy trunk hose and narrow close-fitting knee-length trunk hose were worn. These were often trimmed with thick satin or velvet strips that ran from the waist to mid-leg. Shirt collars were no longer turned down but were, instead, outfitted with starched pleated ruffs. The peascod doublet was also popular at this time in France, as it was in England.
Henry IV, ascending the French throne during a time of impoverishing religious civil wars, returned clothing styles to moderation. The peascod doublet fell rapidly from favor. Trunk hose became longer and more closely resembled English breeches. The ruff also fell from favor, yielding pride of place to the turned down collar, often trimmed or lined with lace. Boots continued to be popular and a satin scarf was often worn over the doublet for a touch of bright color. Italian fabric and lace remained popular.
Clothing worn during the Renaissance was varied and rich, often times ostentatious. This article has only been able to scratch the surface of fashion in a few countries during the years 1500 to 1600. Much more information is available than I can use in so short an article as this. I encourage you to find it, read it and let it guide your costuming. There are few aspects of recreation that are more striking than the clothing. It is well worth the time and effort to get them right.
Castiglione, Baldesar, The Book of the Courtier, Penguin Books, London, England, 1976.
Cookson, Nesfield, The Costume Book, Robert M. McBride and Company, New York City, New York, 1935.
Holkeboer, Katherine Strand, Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915, Prentice Hall Press, New York City, New York, 1984.
Laver, James [editor], Costume of the Western World: Fashions of the Renaissance in England, France, Spain and Holland, Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York City, New York, 1951.
Lester, Katherine Morris, Historic Costume, Charles A. Bennett Press, Inc., Peoria, Illinois, 1942.
Selbie, Robert, The Anatomy of Costume, Crescent Books, New York City, New York, 1977.
Winter, Janet and Savoy, Carolyn, Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580, Other Times Publications, Oakland, California, 1987.