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1480's Florentine Gown

Spring 2015:
        This year I participated in the Realm of Venus Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge! This was my first time entering, though I have looked at the website for years. I had never tried Italian Renaissance garb before but really enjoyed researching the period. My entry can be found at the Realm of Venus IRCC 5 page. * Edit - I won! This was an incredible experience and I still almost can't believe it. It was so much fun to enter and I am blown away by the results. I was also awarded Best Historically Accurate Construction and Best Novice in Italian Renaissance Costume which makes me so ecstatic as researching and recreating historic construction techniques was my main goal for myself entering this competition.
 My Pintrest page for inspirations for the outfit can be found here.

Items in my Ensemble:
Camicia: An Italian smock/shift/chemise
Gamurra: A bust-supportive undergown. 
Giornea: A tabard-like overdress.
GirdleA belt.
PouchAn embroidered pouch.
Reta: A netted Italian cap. 
Shoes: Leather turn shoes


Florentine Fashion of the 1480s:

        I was intrigued by the paintings of Ghirlandaio, who "represented the women of the city's elite in brocade and voided velvets embroidered over with pearls, with silver tinsel and gilded ornaments, richly ribboned and padded sleeves, and often luxurious trains" (Frick 3). The dress of the women seen in these paintings was carefully designed to demonstrate the honor (and wealth) of the woman's family. I did not follow the sumptuary laws of the period as they did not apply to the higher classes, "the ladies of knights or doctors," whose clothing I am predominately focused on (Herald 39). 

(Right: The Visitation, Domenico Ghirlandaio, all images are in the public domain unless otherwise cited)

(Nativity of Mary, Birth of The Baptist. Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485-1490)

(Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, The Resurrection of the Boy. Domenico Ghirlandaio. 1488, 1483-1486.)

1. Camicia (shift/smock). For my take see 1480s Ensemble - Camicia  
        While no extant camicias from this period exist, looking at slightly later extant linen smocks and chemises from the 16th century the most common seam treatments on linen underlayers seem to be running stitch, a variation of insertion stitch, french seamed, or whip stitched (Arnold vol. 4 112, 113, 115, 116). Many of these techniques can also be seen in pre-period archaeological finds, which to me implies use throughout this period. 
    In the late 15th century the camicia was long and voluminous to allow for folds at the neckline as well as puffs in between the laced openings of the sleeves (Birbari 40, 41). There are several potential patterns, but a raglan pattern where the sleeves create the shoulderline can found in Mistress Rainillt's article "Evolution of the Italian Camicia" and is cited in Tortora (159).
    While the outer layers of clothing were made by male tailors, the linen under layers worn by both men and women were mostly made in the home, and often even by the lady of the house. The wife of the powerful Lorennzo de' Medici, Clarice Orsini (who some people may know from the television series Da Vinci's Demons) perhaps the most powerful and wealthy family of the time, wrote her mother in law asking her to send her "twenty braccia of linen cloth so that I can make camicie for these children" (Frick 41). Numerous other extant letters reaffirm wealthy women making the linens for their husbands, children, and themselves. This makes me smile, as it is quite possible that the camicias worn by the women in Ghirlandaio's paintings were made by the women in the paintings or their mothers, and they would soon be making them for their own families and households. This is one of the reasons that this is the part of the project I most enjoyed, as I felt it was the closest to a shared experience I would get with the women I was attempting to emulate with this outfit.

2. Gamurra (underdress). For my take see 1480's Florentine Gamurra
    A. Fabric. "silk velvets, damasks, and the best quality woven fabrics" are described as the best choices for fabric (Frick 101). Silk taffeta/damask, cotton velvet (as a stand-in for silk velvet), and wool would make for good choices. While many of the period velvets incorporated brocading or voiding to create a pattern, an undergown of "plain crimson velvet" is also described in Frick, confirming a more simple fabric and color as appropriate (194). The Met has a great short article on more ornate period velvets here. The bodice could be lined with linen, silk, wool, or cotton and stiffened (Frick 127), but the skirt is usually unlined. The amount of fabric used ranged from 12.75 to 17.67 braccia (one Florentine braccia is roughly 58 centimeters according to Herald 12), but the fabric most likely would have had a smaller loom width than the upholstery fabric than today, so I tend to estimate approximately half the yardage is needed to be equivalent (depending on the width of your fabric), 6.5-9 yards (Frick 172). Use a lot of fabric in the skirt, especially for higher-class women, as "the more cloth one wears (thus enhancing one's volume), the more serious and indicative of high social status one's outfit is" (Frick 90). 
    B. Construction. While I have not discovered extant gamurras of this period to confirm this style of construction, Crowfoot states that running stitch was the norm in later garments which are better preserved than the Museum of London finds discussed in the book, but that the visible hole marks caused by the thread show that "in the majority of cases a fairly fine running stitch was usual for holding the two edges together" (155). Additionally, shaping garments (or other joins that would be under stress) were often back-stitched to provide additional strength (Crowfoot 156). 
    C. Bodice. For my pattern I modified my 4-panel bust supportive gown pattern for the bodice. I have found references to silk, wool, and cotton being used as lining but the only reference to linen I have found from the 15th century is the term boccaccino as a lining, which can mean linen or cotton which was mostly used to line sleeves or lesser-quality garments (Frick 127, Herald 210, 220). As best as I can tell the period method would have involved quilting using cotton fibers, though pad stitching is also a possibility based on what several people have told me. While a few decades post period, Moda a Firenze states that the techniques found in the bodices of undergowns "the padding of the garment was obtained by an internal layering of the fabrics, the doppia, made up of a felt and two types of cloth, one stiffened the other finer" and then cites sources for both linen and cotton (84). This bears a strong resemblance to Frick's description in period of the required supplies for a bodice including "lining fabric, cotton wool for quilting the bodice" (127). As the details can be found across multiple sources and periods in the same location, this seems like a likely method for recreating the period technique so I will be using a combination of a linen layer, a cotton canvas layer, and a felt, possibly pad-stitched together, to create a stiffener. Moda a Firenze adds that the stiffening was usually covered on the inside by another lining of silk in the Florentine court by the 1540's, but as it specifies usually and is several decades post period, I will be adhering more to Frick's listed materials and only using three interior layers and the velvet fashion fabric  - velvet, cotton canvas, felt, linen (listed from exterior to interior). For the two back panels I will not include the felt.
    By the 1480s the waistline was near the natural waistline (a little on the high side), so I will set the waist there as well (Birbari 21).
    D. Sleeves. Both full and two-part sleeves are described in Birbari (20, 69) and Herald (193). Birbari references that where it was possible sleeves sometimes used permanent cords instead of lacings for ease of use (77). Linings for sleeves that I have found references for include lesser quality plain silks and taffettas, as well as cotton or linen boccaccino (Herald 210, 220). 
    E. Skirt. According to Birbari, skirts were either gathered or pleated onto the bodice (21). Box pleats are an option, seen in several paintings, though sometimes slightly flared to give a triangular effect (Birbari 52, 53). Cartridge pleating is an option as well (Birbari 53). Herald and others state that the gamurra was unlined (Herald 217)
    F. Lacing rings/eyelets. One description of a period gamurra, designed as a wedding dress and to be worn under a sleeveless overgown (and thus very similar to my design) lists required items beyond the outer fabric for the dress as "lining fabric, cotton wool for quilting the bodice, 120 singlets for the dress itself, and 100 small singlets for the sleeves alone. The cotta also had embroidery . . . and ribbons of green and gold" (Frick 127). While personally I prefer silver usually, gold was the metal of choice in period and appears far more commonly cited (Orsi-Landini 27). Herlad refers to the lacing rings as magliettes (224)

3. Giornea (overdress/tabbard). For my take see 1480s Giornea.
   There is one extant giornea that I have been able to track down, but it is a man's giornea. While the fashions were somewhat similar, the neckline and fullness of the men's giornea is significantly different that the giorneas worn by women. Birbari describes the pattern as "a segment of a circle," which is similar to what I was guessing was the pattern is seen in pieces such as Ghirlandaio's Birth of the Baptist (detail shown to the right) (21). While some giorneas were dagged in the side-back (seen to the right as well), many were cut straight too.
   I have found numerous statements that a giornea would be lined, and a contrasting lining appears in many period paintings (Frick 126, 172). Some were embroidered or trimmed, while others appear to be plain, though usually the undecorated giornea was made from fabric with a rich woven pattern and the decorated ones are shown on a simpler fabric. The fabric in the paintings for the giornea is predominately brocade, a common fabric for outerwear at this time (Frick 162). They also usually a strong contrast to the gamurra, as seen in many of the Ghirlandaio paintings and stated in Birbari (48).
    Records of the embroidered wedding over gown designed by Francesco Castellani include references to the use of pearls, silken gold thread, silver thread, and small silvered ornaments, specifically requesting pearl and silver embroidery on the sleeves of the cioppa (another style of overgown with attached sleeves) (Frick 119).  Other examples of embroidered overgowns are described as "embroidered with pearls and rubies" especially seen at the "neckline, hem, and openings" (Herald, 184-185). This was the layer most predominately decorated with expensive trims, embroidery, fur, and jewelry, and as such is the layer seen most frequently in 15th century Florentine paintings (Frick 163). The hem was often trimmed (balzana) with jewels, a contrasting textile, or fur (Herald 210). It was noted that the clothes were decorated after the garment was made (unlike how we embroider linens much of the time, before they are cut and assembled), "oversewn with pearl or metallic embroidery . . . [decorated] by embroidery, the application of lace, or the sewing on of appliques" (Frick 163). A letter from a mother to her son, advising him on designing his bride's gown, states that "if the fabric is not adorned with pearls, one must decorate it with other trifles" (Frick 163). Fur was also sometimes used on the edges of overgowns, such as the Florentine fashion of the filetto, a thin strip of fur applied to the edge of a border or hem (Herald 216).
4. Girdle. For mine see 1480s Girdle
        Crowfoot describes as 15th century fashion for tablet-woven girdles, "subdued monochrome colors which often resemble satin, velvet, or satin damask" (134). Looking at the girdle seen in Virgin and Child with an Angel by Luca Signorelli and Portrait of a Lady by an unknown Florentine painter (I do not have permission to post the images here unfortunately) gives a few ideas

5. Headgear.  - For mine see 1480s Ensemble - Reta
     In Herald the covering is described as "knotted nets of silk or gold threads, which often incorporated pearls and sometimes other gems" (177). Young women often wore their hair "curled in long tresses" underneath their reta (seen in the image to the right) (Tortora 159). A good explanation of the reta and what other reenactors have done on the subject can be found at Dawn's Dress Diary

6. Jewelry. 
    Jewelry was essential to the Florentine fashion of the highest classes of society. The website The Florentine Persona has an excellent page on recreating Florentine jewelry, along with many period images to support the process. There are references in Frick and Herald to brooches (called fermaglio) worn on the shoulder of a sleeveless gown (Frick 127, Herald 178). 

7. Pouch. See 1480s Ensemble - Pouch 
        My understanding is that the saccoccia does not come into play until somewhat after this period. Herald describes a borsetta to be a "purse, usually attached to the belt. Many were decorated with embroidery" but does not list the culture it was used by or if it was masculine or feminine (210). While the women of Ghirlandaio's painting do not seem to show any means of carrying their things, for those of us who do not have a retinue anytime we go out in public, we do need something to put our wallets and cell phones in. Most of the pouches I have seen in plain velvet which are not embroidered with designs have either bobbin lace, gold work, fingerloop cord, or something decorating at least the sides/seam lines. Some potential examples are the extant pieces pictured to the right, labeled by Larsdatter as "Drawstring purses with goldwork, from the patrimony of Hermann von Goch, c. 1398." (Image courtesy of Bildarchiv Foto Marburg) While this is early for this period, the rounded shape can be seen (along with what looks like it may be goldwork along the sides), in The Visitation, from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier and :"Catherine of Cleves Distributes Alms" The Hours of Catherine of Cleves c. 1440. Many other depictions across various European cultures from 1300-1600 show this rounded style, often ornamented with goldwork at the seams for the upper classes (see Larsdatter link above).

8. Shoes. See 15th century turn shoes.

Looking at paintings such as Carlo Crivelli's ; St Catherine of Alexandria (1476) as well as several of the Ghirlandaio paintings  (especially those of the Tornabuoni Chapel) they seem to show a low/non-existent heel, flat sole, and look well fitted to the skin but without any real decoration - a potentially attainable shoe even for a beginner.



Birbari, Elizabeth. Dress In Italian Painting 1460-1500.  London: John Murray Ltd., 1975.

Crowfoot, Elizabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450.

London: Boydell Press, 2001.

Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Guntram. "A 13th Century Tabletwoven Brocaded Belt." Guntram's Tablet Weaving Page. np. 2003.

Herald, Jaqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500. London: Bell & Hyman, 1981.

Larsdatter, "Drawstring Pouches & Purses." Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture. np. nd.

Monnas, Lisa. Merchants, Princes and Painters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Orsi-Landini, Roberta and Bruna Niccoli. Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: Lo Stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza. Florence: Edizioni 

            Polistampa, 2005.

Tortora, Phyllis, Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume. 4th ed.  New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc., 2005.

Watt, Melinda. Renaissance Velvet Textiles. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Useful Websites:
    Dawn's Dress Diary "1480's Florence Reta."
An easy way of making a Ghirlandaio reta, as well as a bibliography to other modern reproductions of the headwear.

While this website is linked above as a source, I also wanted to list it here as a very helpful website. It lists period images, references, and extant pieces and organizes them by topic and items (wide belts, round pouches, bees, etc.). If you are looking for evidence of something or inspiration I highly recommend this site.

    Martina and Martin Hrib, Kostym
This website has images of numerous extant garments and accessories throughout the medieval and renaissance period, very very useful.

    Sophi Stitches. "15th C: Italian Gamurra & Giornea"
An excellent collection of period paintings and modern reproductions of the gamurra and giornea.