History of Italian fashion

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The history of Italian fashion is the important events and occasions which marked Italian fashion and how it evolved to being as it is today.

Middle Ages[edit]

Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. This portrait was painted by Leonardo da Vinci c. 1489. The painting reflects Italian fashion in the 15th century.

Clothing in Italy became the most fashionable in Europe since the 11th century and powerful cities of the time, such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples, Vicenza and Rome began to produce robes, jewelry, textiles, shoes, fabrics, ornaments and elaborate dresses. Italian fashion reached its peak during the Renaissance. Art, music, education, finance and philosophy flourished in Italy,[1][2] and along with these, Italian fashion designs became immensely popular, especially those worn by the Medicis in Florence.[3] The fashions of Queen Catherine de' Medici of France were considered amongst the most fashionable in Europe.

Italian fashion in the 15th and 16th centuries was mainly influenced by the art of the time, especially by the masterpieces of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Botticelli. Italian designs were well known for their extravagance, and their expensive accessories, such as velvets, brocades, ribbons and jewels. Also, Italian fashion for ladies changed dramatically around 1460, where skirts were gathered or pleated, and would often be split at the front and the sides to show a sleeved underdress.[4][5]


During the Italian Renaissance, men wore closely fitted waistcoats underneath pleated overcoats called giornea, which had wide, puffy mutton sleeves and were often made from brocade. They wore different kinds of hats, ranging from caps to berets.

They also had an overcoat called cioppa. Its lining was of a different colour than the main fabric which was a feature of the Italian Renaissance. They also wore hose or tights to emphasize their lower bodies. As hair styles, anything from short to shoulder-length hair was common; it was often curled inwards.

Women's dress consisted of fitted garments worn underneath a belted dress which was also called giornea. Unlike the men's version, the women's reached the ground and covered their feet. Women's giorneas, originally evolved from the houppelande, had separate skirts and bodices. The skirts were tight at the waist and the lower part of the dress was often pleated. They were cut at the front, and in later years at the sides, to display the rich undergarments. Underneath the giornea women wore a dress called gamurra, which was a high-waisted long dress which could have detachable sleeves. The underdress worn underneath this was a simple linen dress called camicia.

Men and women would wear outer clothes with detachable, and often slashed, sleeves of varied designs. Rich people would own many different pairs of sleeves to match with their overcoats and dresses.[4][5]

The Renaissance was a turning point for people's attitude regarding clothes and their appearance. People had a desire to wear tighter fitted clothes to emphasize body shape, particularly in men's clothing. Merchants expanded the market for items of clothing, creating accessories such as hats, hairnets, bags, or gloves. The spread of mirrors led to people becoming more interested in their self-image, and people were increasingly trying to look good and care about how they appeared to others.

Female hairstyle[edit]

  • Lenza: Leather chord worn around the head; it served the function of keeping hair flat.
  • Trinzale: Sheer sort of hair-net worn at the back of the head, sometimes it was beaded.
  • Coazzoni: The hair was center-parted and smoothed to the head with a long braid at the back; ribbons or netting was added.
  • Hair tapping: Uses long strips of ribbon to secure the hair and tied it into a bun.

Women during the Italian Renaissance used wigs and false braids to tie onto their hair.

Men hairstyle[edit]

In the 16th century to 1530s, clean-shaven face along with long, straight or crimped bob with deep bangs of natural hair or yellow or white silk wigs was popular. Italians and the Swiss had short hair and beards, following a French king, Francois I (1515-1547) who accidentally cut his hair. In 1560s, starch was invented and people started to starch their beards. From 1570s-1590s, smart men brushed their front hair up off the forehead. To be well dressed, men back then wore wigs and not show baldness; they would wear tilted berets attached to a wig in place of a coif. Back then, wigs didn’t signify false hair but were applied to long natural hair.

Men Headdress[edit]

Venetians wore pileus, biretta or bonnet; a small, round or square, unbrimmed cap that is usually red or black in felt or velvet. It was unadorned and sometimes pinched in at four corners. Different classes will have slight variations; headcovering for church and university with four corners or sign of the cross for a doctor of divinity, three for the university professor. The cornered cap evolved into today’s square trencher or mortarboard university hat.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, the flat cap or beret was a popular headdress that was worn by men, it was often worn over a velvet coif or gold cord net, beret was attached to a wig sometimes. Caps for common use was made out of cloth, while dressier bonnets were made out of varies of luxurious materials like felt, velvet, satin, taffeta, sarcenet (a thin silk), and straw in the summer. Adornments used for the hat are usually white in ostrich, peacock, marabou and wool imitation, plumes and are untrimmed. Feathers held with jeweled sockets with spangles and jewels sewn to the spine. Medal or brooch with a sacred otif were also used sometimes. Minute gold ornaments in gold bowknots, rings and buttons were sewn to the underside of the brim.

Use of color[edit]

Prior 1500, clerical dress was arbitrary, then in 1565 Milan, black became the accepted color in Italy. While white remained as the pope’s biretta color, scarlet for the cardinal’s, purple for the bishop’s and black for other clerics.


In the 17th century, Italian fashion fell into decline when the designs of the Spanish, English and French courts took the lead. In France, French fashion became the most popular in Europe.

Despite this decline, however, there was some fashion and clothing activity, especially in Rome, Milan and Florence. In the mid-19th century cheaper silk began to be imported to Milan from Asia and the pest phylloxera damaged silk and wine production. More land was subsequently given over to industrialisation. Textile production was followed by metal and mechanical and furniture manufacture.

Some of the first Italian fashion houses such as Bulgari, Prada, Gucci and Ferragamo were founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was not until the 1950s and 60s that Italian fashion retook its position of importance in the fashion world.


A dress made by Valentino for Audrey Hepburn.

On 12 February 1951, Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini held a fashion show in Florence,[6] as he wanted to re-make Italy the international trendsetter for designs. Prior to his 1951–53 soirées, Italy had been exporting luxury fashion goods and handbags to other nations and the USA. His fashion shows were a huge success,[clarification needed] and saw the possibility of Italy returning to its original position. In the 1960s, the designer handbags produced by Gucci drew the attention of numerous stars and celebrities, such as Grace Kelly, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Gucci's "GG" monogram logo became synonymous with Hollywood chic.[7] American First Lady Jackie Kennedy became a close friend of Italian designer Valentino Garavani, and was well known for having worn his clothes ever since 1965, and at her marriage to Aristotle Onassis.[8][9] Even though Florence was Italy's fashion capital in the 50s and 60s, Milan led the way in the 70s and 80s, with then-new labels, such as Versace, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana opening up and setting up their first boutiques and emporia. Until the 1970s, Italian fashion was mainly designed for rich and famous people, more or less like the French "Haute Couture". Yet, in the 1970s and 80s, Italian fashion started to concentrate on ready-to-wear clothes, such as jeans, jumpers and miniskirts. Milan became more affordable and stylish for shoppers, and Florence was deposed of its position as the Italian fashion capital. In the 1990s, also, new clothing labels, such as Miu Miu[10] and Geox, started to appear around the world. Today, and during that period, many famous celebrities, such as Beyoncé, Axl Rose, Elton John, Naomi Campbell, Elizabeth Hurley, Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham, Madonna, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Alexandra Burke, Christina Aguilera, and even Diana, Princess of Wales,[11] are or were famous clients of numerous Italian fashion brands, such as Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Versace.

Today, Milan and Rome are Italy's fashion capitals, and are major international centres for fashion design, competing with other cities such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, London, Paris and New York.[12] Also, other cities such as Venice, Florence, Naples, Vicenza, Bologna, Genoa and Turin are important centres. The country's main shopping districts are the Via Montenapoleone fashion district and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (Milan), Via dei Condotti (Rome), and Via de' Tornabuoni (Florence).


  1. ^ "WebMuseum: The Italian Renaissance (1420–1600)". Ibiblio.org. 14 October 2002. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "History Of The Renaissance". Historyworld.net. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "Renaissance Fashion". Renaissance-spell.com. 9 May 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "The Renaissance in Italy". Mediaeval Misc (via the Internet Archive). Archived from the original on 11 May 2010. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "Italian Renaissance". Kostümwerkstatt Gandiva. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  6. ^ "the birth of italian fashion". Gbgiorgini.it. Archived from the original on 16 October 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "Italian Fashion products". Designerhandbags101.com. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  8. ^ BetterBlazers Archived 11 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine., The Italian Renaissance (1420-1600) – Fashions Influential Era.
  9. ^ "The Stars and Valentino". Oprah.com. 20 October 2004. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Miu Miu". Net-a-porter.com. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "Diana, Princess of Wales: Magnificent Seven Di Lifestyle Sites". Londonnet.co.uk. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Global Language Monitor » Fashion". Languagemonitor.com. Archived from the original on 1 November 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 

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