History of Italian fashion

The history of Italian fashion is a chronological record of the events and characters that marked the Italian fashion through time and impacted the way it evolved into what it is today.

Middle Ages

Italian fashion reached its peak during the Renaissance. During this period, art, music, and philosophy were flourishing in Italy.[1][2] Cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples, and Rome began to produce textiles such as velvet, silk, and wool.[3] Italian fashion became immensely popular and influential across Europe. It was preferred by one of the most powerful families in Italy, the Medicis in Florence.[4] Queen Catherine de' Medici of France was considered one of the most fashionable people in Europe.

Italian fashion in the 15th and 16th centuries was influenced by the art of that time, especially by the masterpieces of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Botticelli. Italian designs were well-known for their extravagance and expensive accents such as velvet, brocade, ribbons, and jewels. In the 1460s, Italian fashion for women changed dramatically, shifting from high-necked gowns and braided hair wrapped around the head to layered v-necks and longer braids. Styles such as gathered and pleated skirts also gained popularity during this time.[5][6]


During the Italian Renaissance, men wore fat, fitted waistcoats underneath pleated overcoats called Giornea - which had wide, puffy mutton sleeves and were often made from brocade. They accessorized with hats ranging from caps to berets.

An overcoat called a cioppa was typical for menswear. The coat's lining was a different color than the main fabric, which was a defining feature of Italian Renaissance fashion. Men typically wore hose or tights to emphasize their lower bodies. As for masculine hairstyles, anything from short to shoulder-length hair was common and it was often styled to curl inwards..

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

Men and women would wear outer clothes with detachable and often slashed sleeves of varied designs. Wealthy people would own many different pairs of sleeves to match with their overcoats and dresses.[5][6]

The Renaissance was a turning point in people's attitudes regarding clothes and their appearances. People had a desire to wear tighter fitting clothes to emphasize their body shape, particularly in men's clothing. Merchants expanded the market for apparel, creating accessories such as hats, hairnets, bags, and gloves to complement the traditional outfits. The widespread use of mirrors, popular in Renaissance interior design and architecture, influenced people by increasing their interest in their self-image and fashion.

Women's Hairstyles

  • Lenza: Leather cord worn around the head to keep a woman's hair flat.
  • Trinzale: Sheer hairnet worn at the back of the head, sometimes beaded.
  • Coazzoni: Hair parted in the middle and smoothed to the head with a long braid at the back; ribbons or netting could be added.
  • Hair tapping: Using long strips of ribbon to secure the hair and tie it into a bun.

Women during the Italian Renaissance also used wigs and false braids that tied into their hair.

Men's Hairstyles

It was common in the 16th century to have a clean-shaven face along with a straight or crimped bob. Long bangs of natural hair or silk wigs were fashionable, as well. Francois I (1515-1547) started the trend of short hair and beards in the Italians and the Swiss, after accidentally cutting his hair. In the 1560s, starch was invented and men started to starch their beards. From the 1570s to 1590s, men brushed the front of their hair up off their foreheads. For elegant events or occasions, men wore wigs in order to conceal their baldness. They would wear tilted berets attached to a wig instead of a coif. Wigs were made out of real hair.

Men's Headdresses

Venetians wore pileus, biretta, or bonnets. The bonnet is a small, round or squared, unbrimmed cap that was usually red or black and made of felt or velvet. It is unadorned and sometimes pinched in at the four corners. Slight variations in the bonnet's style were visible among the different social classes and professions. For church officials and university professors, the cap had four corners or the sign of the cross. For a doctor of divinity, the cap had three corners. The cornered cap evolved into today’s square trencher or mortarboard university hat.

In the first half of the 16th century, the flat cap or beret was a popular headdress. It was often worn over a velvet coif or gold cord net and sometimes attached to a wig. Caps for daily use were made out of cloth, while fancier bonnets were made out of luxurious materials like felt, velvet, satin, taffeta, scarceness (a thin silk) and straw in the summer. The decorations used for the beret were usually white, in untrimmed ostrich, peacock, marabou and wool imitation, and plumes. Feathers held with jeweled sockets with spangles and jewels would often be sewn onto the spine. Brooches with sacred motifs were also used for decoration. Small gold ornaments in bowknots, rings and buttons were sewn to the underside of the brim.

Use of Color in Clerical Dress

Prior to 1500, there were no rules about the color of the clerical dress. However, due to a decision in 1565 in Milan, black became the accepted color in Italy. While white remained as the pope’s biretta color, scarlet was accepted by the Cardinals, purple by the bishops, and black by the clerics.


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

Despite this decline, there was still some fashion industry activity in Italy, especially in Rome, Milan, and Florence. In the mid-19th century, cheaper silk was imported to Milan from Asia because the phylloxera pest infestation damaged the silk and wine produced in Italy. The land was taken over by industrialization and textile production was followed by metal, mechanical, and furniture manufacturing.

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 1960s that Italian fashion regained its position of importance in the fashion world.


On 12 February 1951, the Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini held a fashion show in Florence[7] as he wanted to remake Italy as the international trendsetter for designs. Prior to his 1951–53 soirees, Italy had been exporting luxury fashion goods and handbags to other nations and the USA. His fashion shows were a huge success, and many 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.[8] The American First Lady Jackie Kennedy became a close friend of the Italian designer Valentino Garavani and was well-known for having worn his clothes ever since 1965, including at her marriage to Aristotle Onassis. Even though Florence was Italy's fashion capital in the 1950s and 1960s, Milan led the way in the 1970s and 1980s, with then-new labels, such as Versace, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana, opening up their first boutiques. 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 1980s, Italian fashion started to concentrate on ready-to-wear clothes, such as jeans, sweaters, and miniskirts. Milan became more affordable and stylish for shoppers and Florence lost its position as the Italian fashion capital. In the 1990s, new clothing labels, such as Miu Miu[9] and Geox, started to appear around the world. From that time until today, 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,[10] 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 they are major international centers for fashion design, competing with other cities such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, London, Paris and New York.[11] Other Italian cities such as Venice, Florence, Naples, Bologna, Genoa, and Turin are also important fashion centers. The country's main shopping districts are the Via Montenapoleone fashion district (Milan), the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (Milan), Via dei Condotti (Rome), Via de' Tornabuoni (Florence), and Chiaia (Naples).


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  2. "History Of The Renaissance". Historyworld.net. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  3. Alvarez, Sandra. "Move over Milan! Late Medieval and Renaissance Fashion in Venice".
  4. "Renaissance Fashion". Renaissance-spell.com. 9 May 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  5. 1 2 "The Renaissance in Italy". Mediaeval Misc (via the Internet Archive). Archived from the original on 11 May 2010. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  6. 1 2 "Italian Renaissance". Kostümwerkstatt Gandiva. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  7. "the birth of italian fashion". Gbgiorgini.it. Archived from the original on 16 October 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  8. "Italian Fashion products". Designerhandbags101.com. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  9. "Miu Miu". Net-a-porter.com. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  10. "Diana, Princess of Wales: Magnificent Seven Di Lifestyle Sites". Londonnet.co.uk. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  11. "The Global Language Monitor » Fashion". Languagemonitor.com. Archived from the original on 1 November 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
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