An Introduction to Fashion during the Renaissance

Renaissance clothing

What was the height of fashion during the Renaissance?

When you think of the Renaissance, you probably imagine a time of fairy-tale princesses and courtly gentlemen. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that everyone during this period must have dressed like characters from Shakespeare or da Vinci. Considering how much of our modern understanding of the Renaissance comes from paintings and literature, it’s not surprising that we have such notions about what people wore during this time period.

In reality, there was no one single “Renaissance” era; instead, there were several smaller subperiods within the broader Renaissance era, which spanned several hundred years across different continents. As a result, what people wore during the Renaissance varied widely depending on where and when they lived.

The Importance of Clothing during the Renaissance

Clothing played an important role in the Renaissance in both Europe and the East, reflecting a society that paid close attention to rank and status. Wealthy members of society, in particular, dressed themselves lavishly with fabrics such as velvet, satin, brocade, and silk, which were expensive and imported from Asia. For the upper class, clothing was a way to show off their wealth and social status. Nobles wore elaborate styles of dress that changed with the times, though they often incorporated traditional elements such as velvet, fur, and gold or silver embroidery.

The clothing of the lower classes was often simple, with poorer people depending on everyday items such as linen, hemp, or wool to make their clothes. Regardless of their social status, though, people of the Renaissance paid careful attention to the details of clothing. This included items such as accessories, which were often used to convey the wearer’s place in society.

Women’s Clothing During the Renaissance

The most significant difference between Renaissance women’s clothing and modern clothing is the lack of tight-fitting garments. The fashions of the Renaissance were known for their excess. A woman’s gown might be so voluminous that it would require a large retinue of attendants to help her get dressed in the morning.

When it came to clothing, the Renaissance woman had many choices. Common clothing pieces for women of this era included gowns, robes, and kirtles. Gowns were loose-fitting, floor-length garments that were often made from brightly coloured silks. Robes, on the other hand, are knee-length garments that are closed at the front. A kirtle is a knee-length skirt with an attached bodice.

Men’s Clothing During the Renaissance

Men’s fashion during the Renaissance was often very practical, with men often dressing in neutral, unadorned fabrics. Men’s clothing consisted of three main items: a pair of trousers (often knee-length), a shirt or tunic, and a cloak or coat. Men’s clothing was typically plain, with medieval men tending to wear black clothing and Renaissance men wearing dull, muted shades of brown and gray. Men’s clothing was designed to be durable and functional, with the materials often consisting of linen, hemp, or wool.

Women’s dresses were typically floor-length and designed to be decorative, but men’s clothing tended to be more practical, with men often wearing knee-length trousers and shirts with long sleeves. Men often wore capes or cloaks for warmth, and frequently wore cowls or hoods to cover their heads.

Accessories in Renaissance Fashion

Besides the basic pieces of clothing, Renaissance-era people often wore a variety of accessories. Some of these were worn for purely aesthetic reasons, while others served a more practical function. For example, Renaissance men often wore belts. Belts were used to hold up men’s tunics, but they were also used to carry all sorts of different items, from tools to coins. Women often wore belts too; however, their belts were often used to hold up their gowns, which were gowns that covered the lower part of a woman’s body as well as her upper body.

Other common accessories worn during the Renaissance included hats, gloves, stockings, and shoes. These items could be as elaborate as one wanted them to be; Renaissance-era people often wore many different accessories as a way of expressing their identities and/or social statuses.


The Renaissance was a time of great creativity, with people experimenting with different styles of fashion. This meant that what people wore during this period varied depending on where they lived. This meant that a traveller from Southern Italy would likely have noticed a drastic difference in what people wore in a Northern European city such as London.

Despite these differences, there was an overall sense of experimentation within Renaissance fashion. This meant that while people of this era wore similar types of clothes to those of today, they often used different fabrics and styles of stitching.