Archives for posts with tag: fashion

Triangle factory, photo in workshop of shirtwaisters

The 8th of March has just been and gone. Pre-packed sprigs of yellow mimosa in the supermarket and tacky adverts…. I have never liked this ‘celebration’ of women. It’s sad and, yes, even slightly insulting. But I am bringing the topic up because I have been thinking about – and wearing – white shirts quite a lot recently. The link of course is the Triangle factory fire in New York city back in 1911.

On the 25th of March that year the blouse (or ‘shirtwaist’ as they were then known in the States) factory that we can see in the image above, went up in flames. The doors were closed, the workers locked in. 123 women died and 23 men. A tragedy. Many of these women were immigrant family bread-winners. Their death sparked unionist and female political activism across America and beyond. The 8th of March is dedicated to them but sadly few women today are aware of this.

The shirtwaist was worn by all women at the turn of the century. Rich and poor alike. The two young women below were approximately the same age but even the simple blouses reflect the very different social status and economic possibilities.

J.Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard,1888,Amon Carter mus texas

John Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888, Amon Carter museum, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Pelizza da Volpedo,Dolore, Acc Car Berg

Pelizza da Volpedo, Suffering, 1900c, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy

In fact, the simplicity of the white blouse caused sartorial difficulties in certain respects: it was wonderfully modern and easy, you could match it up with anything. It was democratic, plain cotton for everyone. But in the world of haute couture this was not always a good thing. Distinction was needed. And this, in terms of the white blouse, came via the use of lace. White lace blouses had the same ‘function’ as the cotton ones but they were obviously more dressy and definitely more expensive – and suitably delicate for the ladies of leisure of the Belle Époque.

camicia pizzo di Vernon, Scandinavia, 1915-17c

Vernon lace blouse, 1915-17c, Scandinavia


Some were in between on the social scale there were

female students:

Mrs Gray s group,1909,McCord mus

Canadian female students, 1909, McCord museum Canada


opuscolo settimanale,1902,Fondo Gnecchi



And sporty types:

divided skirt for cycling, USA 1900c

American lady in blouse and divided cycling skirt, 1900c



Lady paddling or rowing, 1900c

But who started off such a wide-spread and long-lasting fashion? It all began in the 1850s and not up, or down, but in the middle. The white blouse is one of the most sensible middle class inventions ever!

It was first worn by middle class teenage girls under jackets (often in velvet) and with a silk skirt. This would have been part of a ‘set’ comprising different bodices for different occasions. This was a mix and match concept. A clever way to get good use out of a silk dress, an ‘investment’ buy in those days. In the image below, the girl on the left wears her rust coloured silk taffeta skirt with a black jacket and the white blouse. (The skirt seems too long, but that is just because she is not wearing her wide, fashionable crinoline as she is in the countryside visiting her friend).

W.Gale, The confidante, 1857, Tate B

W.Gale, the confident, 1857, Tate Britain, London UK

Older generations soon followed: by the 1860s the blouse was worn by most women on a daily basis. In hot climates and on very informal occasions such the one in the image below, the ladies would remove the jacket of their two-piece suit (a concept straight from the male wardrobe – but that’s another story)

S.Lega, Il canto di un stornello,1867, Pitti


Silvestro Lega, the song, 1867, Pitti gallery, Florence, IT

In the two portrait below we can see how the blouse was also worn under the one-piece dress. The reason for this is practicaityl: hygiene (the white cotton blouse would soak up the sweat and could be soaped and boiled up innumerable times. Women had several of them).

foto,Amalia Oieri,CRAA

Italian lady, 1860c

P.A.Renoir, donna 1868


A.Renoir, woman in the garden, 1868c, Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland

The model in the Renoir painting was Lise Tréhot, a dressmaker. She probably made her own white blouses! And here she is in a photo wearing a white blouse

Lise_Tréhot_in_1864, model for A.Renoir, dressmaker

(For more on the white blouse see my post from October 1914 on World War I fashion)


El Greco. (The lady in a fur wrap), 1580 Glasgow mus e galls.

El Greco, Lady in fur, 1580s, Glasgow museums and galleries, Scotland

El Greco’s enigmatic lady is wrapped up in a black cape, with a thick fur lining and generous collar – probably a traveling cloak.

A post on fur has been a long time coming. I have been so wrapped up (!) in other projects – including research into the wearing of fur – that I have been silent far too long. Today I want to dedicate this post to the warmth of fur.

For the past 50 odd years the wearing of animal fur has ignited much controversy, but  despite that, the industry has continued to exist and even flourish in certain decades. Today we could say that there has been a democratization process around the fur discourse. You like it you wear it, if you don’t you don’t.  Simple. Being political in fashion is not so cool right now. The social history of fur is rich and fascinating and I hope to explore some of its aspects in this and other posts.

I have little doubt that humans started wearing fur for warmth. (The fact that you had to be really strong and fearless to kill the animals that would yield the fur, and the implications of that within the social group is also interesting but I will discuss that in a later post about the social significance of the wearing of fur).

I have selected a series of images which, I hope, will reflect the need (and dare I say the pleasure) of wearing fur in really cold climates.

The 16th Century is THE century for fur fashion. Quality fur was a status symbol and it was a hugely lucrative business with well-established trade routes – the luxury furs coming west from Russia. But as fur became increasingly popular, local industries emerged, farming all sorts of animals which brought onto the market a great range of different furs in terms of colour, appearance and of course cost. By the later 1500s most people could afford to line a cloak or a coat with fur. So as well as being a status symbol, fur was also a fashion and lastly it was wonderfully warm.

Italian Renaissance artists took great pleasure in representing fur by 1500, just as the portrait genre began to acquire new psychological depth and attention to realism of detail. Enveloping – male or female – sitters in rich furs was a way of showing their wealth but also the technical capacity of the painter. The fur, along with the clothing, accessories and jewels, added importance and significance to the portrait.

The Venetian and the Lombard artists were particularly good at doing fur:

Moretto da Brescia Bonvicino Alessandro, uomo forse Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco, 1522, nat gal lon

Moretto da Brescia, gentleman, 1522c, National Gallery, London, UK

artista lombardo,gentiluomo,1540c,met NY

Lombard artist, gentleman, 1540c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

Thick linings for over garments in velvet, silk or wool were worn by both men and women during the century – the collar and lapels turned over to ‘show off’ the inside.

Moretto da Brescia Bonvicino Alessandro, donna come Sta Agnese, pc Svizzera

Moretto da Brescia, Lady as saint Agnes,1550s, p.c.

These gowns were not necessarily for wearing outdoors, but also to keep warm inside the scarcely heated palaces of the time. We get to see these fur-lined gowns in some of the more ambiguous portraits of the time. Portraits of young brides on their way to the nuptial bed or courtesans?

1506 Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli from Castelfranco 1477-1510) Portrait of a Young Woman, Laura

Giorgione, young lady, 1506c, Kunsthistoriches museum, Vienna, Austria

Tiziano, ragazza con soprabito pelliccia,1535,KM Vienna

Tizziano, young lady wrapped in fur gown, 1535, Kunsthistoriches museum, Vienna, Austria

These loose-fitting over gowns were known as ‘night gowns’ in England. Queen Elisabeth has several of them made throughout her reign. The name comes from its original use as a bed chamber  ‘dressing gown’, but by the 1550s it had become acceptable wear around the palace for less formal occasions. Queen Elisabeth I was very receptive to foreign fashions and at this point long loose gowns were being worn all over Europe as well as Muslim countries, in her inventories we find Italian, French, German, Spanish and even Polish gowns.

Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, 1565c, Sidney Sussex college cambridge

Anon, Frances Sidney Countess of Sussex, 1565-70c, Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge University, UK

Countess Sussex (Queen Elisabeth’s Lady of the bed-chamber) here wears a more formal version of the fur-lined gown. It is made of silk velvet displaying the family’s heraldic motif. This would have been a garment made for a  specific formal occasion in deep winter and is therefore lined in warm fur. The fur is ermine which was of course a symbol of royalty/aristocracy.

Northern artists were a little less enamoured with the tactile aspect of fur compared to the italians, but made a good job of representing it.

In the 1600s  the Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens brought together the Italian cinquecento tradition and his own Dutch roots in this powerful portrait

Rubens, The fur, 1630s, Kunst, Vienna

P.P.Rubens, the fur, 1630s, Kunsthistorisches museum, Vienna, Austria

Here the pale pinky flesh of Rubens’s lover contrast with the dark velvet and fur of the gown. An intense, even erotic combination which leaves no doubts as to the nature of their relationship.


alberto Vargas, Esquire Magazine

Alberto Vargas, 1940s, Esquire magazine, USA

GARDEN DRESSING is a new pet project I am working on with Italian garden historian and architect Filippo Pizzoni. In 2014, after asking me to give a talk on “plants and flowers in Italian fashion of the 20th century” at the yearly conference he organizes for prestigious Orticola in Milan, my love for the subject has literally bloomed.

I am now researching for a publication on the theme of gardens and clothes – in its widest possible interpretation. From what to wear while gardening, to fashions inspired by gardens. Obviously from a historical  perspective – in true style.

So today I have decided to share some images: some beautiful, some curious and some just plain fun. I will return to this topic as research develops.


Nathaniel Dance, Pybus family,1769c,NGVictoria

N.Dance, the Pybus family, 1769, CNG Victoria

By the mid 1700s images of individuals enjoying the open space, and more specifically their custom designed gardens (note the beautifully trimmed grass), become quite common. The English had already established their ‘garden culture’ which swept across Europe and the world by the end of the 18th century. The children here seem to be the ‘sensible’ ones with their broad brimmed straw hats. Suntans were not acceptable in good society and hats were essential to protect fair skin and indeed light-coloured eyes.

straw hat, diameter 35.6 cm, met ny

Straw hat, mid 1700s, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York USA

Into the 20th century, when representations of women in gardens turn from passive to active. Although sometimes their clothing is totally unsuitable for this outdoor pass-time.


This young lady from a 1923 american gardening catalogue has her straw hat but wears dress, stockings and high heeled shoes in immaculate white. From the start of the century we are fed paradoxical images like these. One way to interpret them is by understanding that the lady is only actively undertaking the final phase of gardening – she is picking the flowers for her arrangements within the home. The ‘dirty’ work is left to the paid (male) gardener through hot summers and chilling winters.

Vogue 1948, Elisabeth taylor in a garden

Elisabeth Taylor in the garden, 1948, Vogue USA

Here the beautiful garden becomes synonymous with the beautiful celebrity, actress Liz Taylor posing in a secret garden holding a fresh bloom. An easy association typical of fashion magazine dialectics.

But at the same time another eye catching image of women (and gardens) is appearing in adverts and the media


It takes the notorious admen of 1950s America to come up with associations like this one!






John French, Susan Abraham in John Cavanagh lace evening dress, spring 1957

Photo John French, model Susan Abraham in John Cavanagh lace evening dress, 1957

The combination of black and white in fashion has always attracted  attention. What I find interesting is the timeless appeal of the two opposites, whichever way you combine black and white in clothing, it is always to a striking effect. Spring is in the air and  B & W is the hot trend in fashion right now. So wishes to welcome the new season with a post to  celebrate the ultimate colour combination.

A.Durer,autoritratto a 26 anni,1498,prado

Durer, self-portrait age 26, 1498, Prado museum Madrid, Spain

Men’s fashions have not been immune to the lure of the black/white combination. We find examples from Renaissance Italy, but it is the German artist Durer who wears it in the most compelling way at the end of the 1400s. Durer was an extraordinary character. His self-portraits  (which he executed at regular intervals throughout his life) were always intense and challenging, and I imagine his choice of clothing or ‘look’ for each picture was carefully thought out. This white jacket with black trim and sleeve detail is certainly eye-catching, as is the floppy striped hat and the black and white plaited rope holding his cloak across his bare skinned chest. The outright sensuality of this outfit and the way it is worn remains  intriguing 600+ yeas on.

Fra Galgario, gentiluomo 1730c, brera

Fra Galgario, Italian gentleman, 1730c, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan Italy

Less sensual but equally fascinating is the coat worn by this Italian gentleman from the first half of the 1700s. At a time when pastel colours – as dictated by French taste which was closely emulated in Italy – were the dominant trend for upper class gentlemen, this mat black coat with intricate, rich late baroque embroidery in silvery white is worthy of note.

Goya, Pepito Costa y Bonells 1813 met

F.Goya, Papito Costa y Bonells, 1813, Metropolitan museum of art, New York  USA

Again a coat of black with silver embroidery for this very young Spanish gentleman. Flaunting the latest fashion for children, (the idea of putting children in adult clothing had been swept away by Jean Jacques Rousseau’s forward thinking philosophy some decades earlier) he wears a little jacket, the sombre black colour being set off by the white silk high-waisted trousers and the lace trimmed collar of his shirt.

The ultimate black and white combination for men came with the invention of the evening suit by George Brummel in London at the turn of the 19th century. The first official dandy (as decreed by Lord Byron) wanted English gentlemen to smarten up and wear different clothes at different times of day. He declared that black was the perfect colour for night, as long as always worn with freshly pressed white linen (shirt and cravat). White gloves and a black top hat completed the look.

J.McNeill Whistler, Theodore Duret, 1883, Met

McNeil Whistler, Theodore Duret , 1883, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

Black and white clothing does have a less glamorous side to it too. Until recent times, the close members of the family of a deceased person (man, woman or child), would adopt mourning clothes for a period of time after the death of the loved one. The ancient Greeks did it, as did the Romans, continuing in Europe  throughout the past centuries. By the 1800s this tradition was so consolidated that etiquette books were written on the subject giving all the information necessary as to what colour should be worn, for how long etc. Fashion magazines always had pages dedicated to the topic and often included fashion plates representing mourning dress. This implies that it was acceptable to look ‘fashionable’ during the time of bereavement and there was no shame in dedicating time, care and money to looking nice at such a terrible time in one’s life. Today we would call this a form of ‘Fashion therapy’ I suppose.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth century fashion plates for mourning dress show total black for the first period of mourning, followed by black and white combination for the second period of mourning. Often it is difficult to tell whether a b/w outfit is mourning or simply fashion.

mourning outfit, paris

French fashion plate, 1780s, Paris, France

Il corriere delle dame,  moda d'italia,  1808

Il Corriere delle Dame, 1808, Italy

Le Journal des dames et des Modes, 1830

Les Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1830, Paris, France

journal des demoiselles, agoust, 1867

Journal des Demoiselles, august 1867, Paris, France

And then there is black and white for the sheer  pleasure of it. The strength exuded by the next few images speak for itself:

Correggio, lady,1517-19.Hermitage,  St.Pet

Correggio, Lady, 1517-19c, Hermitage museum, St Petersburg,  Russia

partrait of a lady, french, Bonhams

French school, lady, 1560c, Bonhams UK

Alathea Talbot, countess of Arundel and Surrey, 1605c

British school, Alathea Talbot countess of Arundel and Surrey,1619c, Ingestre Hall, UK

A.Renoir, Il palco, 1874, Court. gal lon

A.Renoir, box at the theatre, 1874, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK

corset, 1905c, museum of decorative arts, Prague

Corset, 1905, museum of decorative arts, Prague, Czech Republic

Worth, abito ballo, 1898-1900, CI Met

C.F.Worth, ball dress, 1890s Paris, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

bozzetto Lanvin,1929

Jean Lanvin, 1929

Ladies Home Journal, 1958

Ladies Home Journal, 1958, USA

Vogue Foale e Tuffin,wool suit,1964         Foale e Tuffin,wool suit,1964,VA

Vogue UK, Foale and Tuffin suit, 1964 (suit in Victoria and Albert museum, London UK)

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel,AI 1991-92

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, 1991-2, Paris







Picture 29107

La Gazette du Bon Ton, cover by George Lepape, cape by J. Lanvin, 1923


Mark Rothko

Blue goes well with more blue….different shades together are intense, sensual and powerful.

Horst P. Horst Vogue USA,fashion ed Babe Paley,1946

Horst P. Horst, Babe Paley, 1946

Horst P. Horst is here using tones of blue to give depth and a sense of intrigue to his portrait of one of the most powerful women in New York just after the second World War, Babe Paley, Vogue USA’s feared fashion editor.

But blue works well with a number of colours (see my previous post on blue and red), in some cases muted shades such as green, give a light spring/summer feel to an outfit

Derwent Lees,girl in black hat,1912,NGVictoria

Derwent Lees, Girl in black hat, 1912, National Gallery of Victoria , Australia

Electric blue and grey are dynamic and work well for this child’s dress from 1918, but this colour combination would not be out-of-place on today’s catwalk

Bernard Meninsky,child in blue,1918,pc

Bernard Meninsky, Child in blue, 1918, pc

Blue and any acid colour has a stunningly fresh effect, catching our attention every time

Blue and orange:

beckmann-autoritratto-in-giacca-blu-1950,St Louis Art mus

Beckmann, self-portrait in blue jacket, 1950, St Louis Art museum, USA

Or blue and yellow:

Ethel Spowers, skaters, 1931 Bonhams

Ethel Spowers, skaters, 1931 (Bonham’s, London, UK)

mark rothko

Mark Rothko

Mme Gres, sleevless dress, 1968 with overcoat, met ny

Mme Grès, maxi dress + coat, 1968, Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art , NY, USA

Mme Gres, sleevless dress, 1968

the dress

Mme Gres, sleevless dress, 1968 back, met ny

the back of the dress

Yellow also works splendidly with a greener shade of blue:

feather tunic, 7th-10thC, feathers sewn on cotton fabric,MET NY

Feather tunic, Peru, 7th – 10th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, USA

man shirt,embroid damask

Man’s short sleeved cotton Bazin top with yellow embroidery, west Africa, 21st century


Jeffrey Campbell shoes, USA, 21st Century


Mark Rothko

Back to the topic of colour combinations, this time its red and blue, an all-time fashion favorite. Why? The hot red is perfectly balanced out by the cold blue. Its bold, clean and sharp to look at. This combination really needs bright, natural sun light to set it off, therefore usually seen in spring and summer outfits.

And it seems they understood this very well in the Renaissance:

Palma Vecchio, La bella,

Palma il Vecchio, La bella, 1518-20c,Thyssen-Bornemisza Coll, Madrid, Spain

A slight variant of red and deep purple from later in the 1500s:


Trachten buch, Habitus praecipuorum, Neapolitan lady, 1577

Despite the invention of artificial dyes in 1853 (when just about any daring colour combination became possible) red and blue remained a constant of the 1800s and the 1900s:

Englishwoman's domestic magazine,sept 1869

Englishwoman’s domestic magazine, fashion plate, September 1869

Philippe Poittier, L'Officiel, 1963, C.Dior

L’Officiel, photo: P. Poittier, outfit: C.Dior, 1963

Men’s fashion is not immune to this colour combination either, although as we can see in the examples below, there is also an element of sports uniform (especially in the stripe motif)

hs162-redbl.jpgred and blue sock Cordings uk

Cordings, Uk, striped sock, 2014

Nike Air jordan retro

Nike, Air Jordan retro

And finally a non-western take on this colour combination: shades of red/fuchsia and blues as used by Tibetan monks still today

tibet,monaco in preghiera

Just shows that clothing and colour can be a spiritual experience, some combinations can have a deep emotional impact on wearer and onlooker.


B0090P 0051

Felice Casorati, the red jacket, 1939, MART Rovereto, Italy


In this, and the following posts, I shall let my selection of images speak for itself. Colour can be quite fascinating, especially when worn in contrasting combinations.

I will begin with a personal favourite of mine: red and burgundy. The brightness of the red is reflected yet absorbed by the muted tone of the burgundy. Exciting.


Mark Rothko

Back in the Renaissance it was actually men who favoured this colour combination

D.Ghirlandaio,man,met NY

Domenico Ghirlandaio, man,  15th century, Metropolitan museum New York USA

Alfonso I d'Este,Duca di Ferrara marito Lucrezia Borgia


Dosso Dossi, Alfonso I d’Este Duke of Ferrara

By the 1800s, initially due to Romanticism and Renaissance revival,  it was very popular with women too

56.54.1 096

J.E. Millais, actress Kate Dolan impersonating Portia, 1886, Metropolitan  museum, New York

J.S.Sargent, Ena e Betty Wertheimer,1901,tate

John Singer Sargent, Ena and Betty Wertheimer, 1901, Tate Britain, UK

In the above portrait, the contrasting combination of colours is not in the actual dress – which is a rich light burgundy –  but it’s created by the eye-catching red flowers worn in the sensual dark hair of the sitter.

Charles James,evening dress,1949,Kent state uni usa


Charles James, evening dress in silk and velvet, 1949, Kent State university collection, USA

Fashion Italy 1960

Sorelle Fontana atelier Rome, Wool and velvet day suit, 1960 (1960 Italian fashion magazine photo)

nike 2014

Nike sports shoe, 2014

Benozzo Gozzoli,affreschi S.Agostino, S.Sebastiano1464-5,S.Giminiano

Benozzo Gozzoli, Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, 1465c, San Giminiano, Italy

It’s not an easy topic to cover, underpants…

As the word implies they are ‘under’ pants or trousers or breeches, according to which era you are looking at. Investigating the history of Renaissance men’s underpants is complex. Primary sources are scarce: practically no surviving underpants, some documentary sources and limited visual material.

In Christian medieval Europe, representing naked – or nearly naked – men was frowned upon. Things got better with the Renaissance and the revival of classical ideals of beauty. Portraying nakedness in the name of art was not only acceptable, but became fashionable among Italian Renaissance artists especially. As most art commissions were still religious, artists had to find the appropriate themes where they could include naked bodies (which by the end of the 1400s they were studying assiduously and reaching exhilarating results. See Michelangelo Buonarroti).   ‘Christ on the cross’ was popular , but in terms of dress, not useful to us as the figure of Christ followed an iconographic convention which showed him naked with a cloth draped across his loins. Fortunately, Renaissance artists liked to place religious themes and stories within a contemporary context. Thus we have representations of saints being flogged, stoned, burned and, as in the case of Saint Sebastian, shot with arrows at close range.  Usually these saints are represented as normal citizens, stripped down to their underwear. For a dress historian this is as close to a real pair of Renaissance men’s underpants as one gets.

A survey of images of semi naked saints produced between the 1400s and the 1500s brought some interesting results: two types of underpants seem to have been in use and were being represented at this time. We could say, in general terms, that the style worn was related to fashion and hence to social class. According to the perceived social class of the saint (these saints were ‘transposed’ into the contemporary with great artistic licence), they were shown wearing either baggy pants or close-fitting briefs.

Baggy pants were worn by the lower classes or by men who did not wear tight-fitting, fashionable clothes :

Giovanni di Paolo,Battesimo,1440s,Esztergom

Giovanni di Paolo, group baptism, 1445c, Esztergom cathedral,  Hungary

In the above scene the three men being baptized have stripped down (others are in the process of doing so), they wear the long-legged, gathered, linen under trousers which had been in use since barbarian  times.

A mid-way version  existed, as represented bellow:


Anon Bavarian artist, Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, second half of 15th century

Saint Sebastian was usually represented as an upper class man. In this image we see that he has retained some of the dignity of his status through his fur-lined hat, still on his head. His underpants are a kind of modern-day ‘boxer short’ gathered at the waist line and reaching down to the top of his thighs. The textile used is a fine soft linen, we can imagine these shorts would not have been too bothersome under his long gown, visible on the ground under his left foot.

By the last quarter of the 1400s  European men’s fashion aimed at a very close-fitting silhouette. Doublet (jacket/coat) and hose (thigh high socks) were skin-tight. The ideal of a perfectly harmonious, healthy  and agile body was back from ancient times. Clothes reflected this ideal. As the doublet shortened, the genital area and the buttocks were in danger of becoming visible at every move, especially as tailors had not solved the mystery of how to make tight-fitting breeches(trousers). The two socks, or legs, were still  separate until the last decades of the 1400s, when they were eventually sewn together center back. The young man on the far left of the image below shows this ‘body conscious’ fashion at its best:


Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, marble relief , 1480-82c, Cremona cathedral, Italy

Tailors invented a way of covering the offensive area (the preacher San Bernardino da Siena often raged against this indecent fashion from his pulpit). Tabard or poncho-like covers with a hole for the head and fabric long enough to cover up front and back. As worn by the young man in profile in the image below:


Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, marble relief (detail) , 1480-82c, Cremona cathedral, Italy

The same series of reliefs made for Cremona cathedral in northern Italy gives us perfect evidence of what was worn beneath this style of clothing

Amadeo Giovanni Antonio, formelle per l'arca dei martiri persiani, 1480-2c, duomo  Cremona ,part 2

Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, marble relief (detail) , 1480-82c, Cremona cathedral, Italy

Of the three saints being flogged in the above image, two wear real underpants in the ‘brief’ style. These would have been made out of  linen and cut on the bias to assure a minimum of stretch, yet reduce the bulkiness of the fabric. Perfect under the tight-fitting hose.

Northern European artists also represented saints in underpants during this period:

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian

Mater of Jacques of Luxemburg, ill. manuscript (detail), Saint Sebastian, ,1466-70, J.P. Getty museum USA

In the above image the artist is careful to represent the construction of the underpants: there is a central section gathered at the waist to create a sort of ‘pouch’, while the rest is smooth and probably cut on the bias.

master of the acts of mercy,austrian,martydom st Lawrence,1465c,met NY

Master of the acts of mercy, Austrian, martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, 1465c, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York USA

The artist of the above image represents tiny briefs in a dark colour, unusual but not unique:

anon german woodblock, St Sebastian

Anon, hand coloured  wood block print, 1460-70c, Munich, Germany

The only surviving pair of briefs I have found from this period is Austrian and it is believed to have belonged to a woman as it was found alongside a bra-like garment. After seeing so many ‘briefs’ worn by men during this period maybe we should not take it for granted that these were a specifically female garment. Maybe there is an interesting story behind these pants too.

pants, Austria Lengberg Castle, 15th century


Linen underpants, found at Lengberg castle, Austria. 15th Century.

I am re-posting this piece on men in underpants from last year. Time to get back onto this interesting topic once again. Soon I will post a follow-up on this: Renaissance underpants!

Aspertini Amico, madonna e santi, 1508-9c, mus naz Villa Guinigi lucca


Aspertini Amico, Madonna and saints, 1508-9, museo nazionale Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy

Did men wear underpants in the past? well some did and some didn’t. The ancient Greeks abhorred this item of clothing defining it as “barbaric” and unhygienic. The Romans adopted them in extremis to keep warm in the northern outposts of the Empire. They took the idea from the barbarians who wore tunics and trousers as their costume. But under the toga a roman citizen would have only worn his tunic which served as outer garment/undergarment, often even slept in at the end of the day. A fresh tunic would have been put on after the daily ablutions.

With the middle ages the barbaric custom prevails and soon all men wear underpants under their tunics (as well as an under shirt/tunic). Very simple in shape, made of linen and held up at the waist with a draw string. Baggy and comfortable. the peasant in the mosaic is working in the field in the summer heat and has stripped down to his underpants

peasant, mosaic, 12 th Century, St Philibert Abbey, Tournus, France

peasant, mosaic, 12 th Century, St Philibert Abbey, Tournus, France

Everything changed once men started wearing clothing that was closely constructed to the body. By mid 1300s we get into the western pattern cutting era and a new age of male body consciousness. Baggy underpants are out, skin-tight briefs are in.

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Ok I am bored of underpants now. We’ll leave the topic aside after today and move on to other stuff (but we will come back to it I promise)


La Baionnette magazine, France, 1916

In this post Fashionarchaeology wants to pay its own (thematic) tribute to the memory of World War I.

“A century on, the events of 1914-18 are still difficult to comprehend. The first truly global conflict, the war’s toll in human terms resulted in over 9 million soldiers and 6 million civilians killed and 21 million wounded”

These are the opening lines of the catalogue to a very interesting exhibition currently on in London, “The Great War as recorded through the fine and popular arts”

In her opening text, historian and art specialist Sacha Llewellyn  immediately brings home the ultimate reality, the sheer number of lives involved. Reading this was, well, shocking. A term which came to mind was ‘discomfort’ and this set me off thinking about the dichotomy comfort/discomfort that was actually very much alive in the fashion discourse during those years.

1914 Paris: Fashion had been living a true revolution for a few years, since the debut of designer Paul Poiret who, in 1907, decreed a change in silhouette and abolished the S-shaped corset of the previous era. He took The word ‘comfort’ and made it fashionable, whereas up until then it had been synonymous with lower class practicality.

Agnes, 1914 L.M.

Les Modes, Paris, May 1914

As we can see in the fashion magazine photo above, both day wear and evening wear were softly draped and not too binding of torso and hips. Heels were moderately high, hats reasonably sized. Both outfits seem quite comfortable.

But then war broke out and began to affect everybody’s lives in one way or another. Women found themselves in a new predicament: working class women were called to work in those jobs that had been left vacant by men. Manly jobs that required them to wear trousers for the first time ever (see the blue overalls bellow : a little belt added for fashion’s sake). These women were to feel the effects of this new lifestyle deeply well beyond the war.


Paul Iribe, woman factory worker, 1917

At the other end of the social spectrum, upper class women were not expected to work (although some did, as nurses), they  were used to defining their role in society through their use of the latest fashion from famous designers but now they began to  feel some ‘discomfort’ regarding fashion. Was it right to spend time and money on clothes when one’s husband or son was at war? The moral dilemma was strongly felt. The effect of this and of war in general on the fashion world – in France first of all and subsequently everywhere else – was disastrous.  Sales dropped and the industry nearly collapsed.

The problem was faced head on. A committee was set up (led by Paul Poiret) by the French government and an ingenious solution found: totally new fashions were launched for winter 2015. The new war ‘style’ was characterized by a natural waistline, a short skirt and very high heels. The new proportions required women to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Umberto Brunelleschi, La bersagliere, 1917

Umberto Brunelleschi, La Bersagliere, 1917


La Baionnette,1916

Magazine illustrations tended to exaggerate these new elements, especially the length of the skirt which in reality does not seem to have been worn as short as the above images.

stivaletti cuoio con ricamo,1917-18c,texas

Leather and bead embroidery boots, 1917, Texas museum, USA


Afternoon dress by Estelle T.Hart, 1915, Cincinnati Museum of Art, USA

The media was extremely supportive as we can read in the article published in Les Modes on November 1915


Les Modes, Paris,  Nov 1915

The new fashions should be bought and consumed as a war effort by women. Especially those women who were not expected to do manual labour. Wearing these fashions was also about patriotism and ‘keeping up appearances’ despite the difficult times.

These new fashions received great media coverage and even satirical magazines like La Baionnette (published between 1914 and 1918) represented them exquisitely.


La Baionnette, 1916

The magazine even dedicated a whole issue (August 1915) to the topic of fashion – in satirical terms of course. “Elegancese Berlinoises” was the title, each image representing German women in old-fashioned, shapeless clothes. Their figures far from the fashion ideals of Parisian couture.


La Baionnette, Aug 1915,      translation: “German fashion from now on will not follow French taste”

A last word should go to hats of this period. This was one of the most creative and darkly inspired moments of the history of millinery



both from Les Modes,Paris , 1917

feather hat, 1915, Met NY

Feather toque,1915,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, N. Y

toque, fur, 1912-18, met ny

Fur and embroidery toque, 1916c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.

In conclusion we can say that World War I fashion was a comfort in the discomfort of the times. A true effort was made by Paris fashion houses, followed by the rest, to keep alive an industry and ultimately (however frivolous it may sound) to keep up morale through exterior female beauty.

Apart from the high heels, it actually looks very comfortable indeed.


ventaglio,punched skin leaf,ivory,1590-1600, MFA Boston

Punched leather and ivory fan, 1590-1600c, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

Can fashion make a noise? Can what we wear and the way we wear it make specific noises?

Probably the first type of sound we associate with fashion today is some form of music. The extra loud music of fashion shows or the background melodies of department stores. Nowadays music is also an essential part of fashion advertising, it forms the sensorial backdrop that sticks in potential customers’ minds.

What about the noise that fashion items (clothes, shoes, hats, fans, etc.) actually make when we wear them? Are these sounds distinctive and recognizable? Are they instinctively associated with  a particular item or even style throughout history?

Here is a selection of items which make or made, each in their specific fashion eras, a bit of a noise:

THE 1500s

During the pre-industrial  era sounds and sound perception would have been quite different from today (just like the perception of light and darkness would have been different in pre-electricity days). So when looking at these objects we should take into consideration that the noise pollution surrounding the wearer and the listener, would have been made up of other types of sounds from those we are familiar with today.


corsetto metallo, lombardia 1560-80,MPP mi

Metal corset, Italian, 1560-80c, Poldi Pezzoli museum, Milan, IT

This type of metal corset was quite common amongst upper class women from the middle of the 16th Century (examples survive in museums around Europe). As we can see by looking at the right hand vertical edge, there are two sets of hinges center back. The corset therefore was front opening (it has a small clasp at the front to keep it closed). We can imagine that if the hinges were not kept well oiled,  it would have made a screechy  jarring noise on opening and closing it. Not a pleasant sound.  But then not a very pleasant fashion item.


Tiziano, ragazza con ventaglio,1556,G Dresden

Titian, Girl with fan, 1556c, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden

Fans were very popular in the 1500s, as they still are today in many countries around the world. Back then, women (who were wearing  those rigid corsets and tightly laced bodices) would have suffered from the lack of air in a crowded room, an overly incensed church interior or simply the heat of the  summer months. Fans were functional as well as decorative. In a previous post I mentioned 16th century  feather fans, but before and alongside these, many women used paper fans such as the one used by the young woman in Titian’s painting . We can imagine the swoosh swoosh noise as she flips it back and forth between her fingers.


CHOPINS (platform slippers)

These were a form of female footwear which (in one form or another) became fashionable in various countries in Europe during the 16th century. They were essentially a very sophisticated version of the wooden clog worn by peasants everywhere throughout the middle ages and beyond.

chopines, veneziane, XVI sec, castello sforzesco MI

Chopins, leather covered wood platform sole, punched leather uppers,16th Century, Civiche Raccolte Arte Applicata, Milan, IT

These chopins in the Castello  Sforzesco museum in Milan are of a moderate height (much higher ones were the norm in Venice at this time – examples can be seen at the Costume museum in Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice). Yet they are interesting for the shape of the base – it resembles an animal’s hoof (possibly an elephant’s). The wide base provided some stability to a very precarious piece of footwear. The upper is so short and the back of the heel so narrow, that one wonders just how the lady could walk in them. Throughout the wooden clog-wearing centuries, people must have been used to a certain degree of noise emanating from them. They were generally worn out of doors on packed earth roads or in some areas even  paved streets from Roman times. A common sound associated with the lower classes. If I have to imagine the sound that these chopins created, I think of a muffled thud thud noise. An aristocratic sound of covered wood gently thumping down on terracotta or tiled floors, as the lady – swiftly lifting the hem of her dress so as not to trip – walked through the halls of her palazzo.


Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-2, Tate Britain, London   UK

An exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings just opened in Turin (Italy) , which promises to investigate the movement’s “utopia of beauty”. is very excited as this has been a favorite topic since 1984, when the Tate Gallery in London staged a major exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Seeing it was a powerful and deeply impacting experience. The dress, beauty and politics of the women involved in the PR movement became the topic of my degree dissertation. However, I then moved on to other dress and textile obsessions. Until today.

In this and the following posts,  I wish to muse over a few ‘issues’ that have come buzzing back to me after all these years.

As a dress historian I am naturally often concerned with the concept of beauty. Why and when is a person considered beautiful or not so? All eras have their canons of beauty. In terms of PR beauty standards, what is interesting is that they were not actually the same as those of contemporary Victorian society. In other words what the PR Brotherhood deemed ‘beautiful’ was not aligned with the  ‘ideal’ beauty represented in fashion magazines of the time.

giornale moda 1840s

Fashion magazine, 1840s

The work of these (initially, in 1848) young artists, reveals a deep understanding of Italian Renaissance aesthetics, a great concern with women,  and a desire to look for beauty in the unusual. They were shying away from the banal, the mass-produced, that anonymous beauty found in fashion magazines, which we can easily relate to today.

If we can ascertain a difference between the real and the represented we may be able to understand what PR beauty was all about. Photography comes to our aid as we now try to understand what these women, the models, looked like in real life.

J.M.Cameron,foto Marie Spartali as Hypatia,1867

Julia Margaret Cameron, photo of actress Marie Spartali, 1867

If we compare the above photo of actress Marie Spartali with a portrait made shortly after by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, we begin to see how he (as unchallenged leader of the group) had devised a ‘style’, a way of beautifying his female subjects to fit in with his specific ideals of beauty. By the end of the 1850s he had devised a set of facial connotations that came to represent PR beauty. He curled the upper lip of his female sitters and elongated their neck, while tilting the head slightly to one side.

VIC120692093  01

D.G.Rossetti, Marie Spartali, 1869c

It becomes even more evident in the numerous works executed by him featuring the model  Jane Morris. In fact, although Jane could be the instigator of this ‘type’… as we can see she really did have a long neck and full, curly lips.

Dante G.Rossetti, Jane Morris seduta, V&A

D.G. Rossetti, photo of Jane Morris, 1865, Victoria and Albert museum London UK

D.G.Rossetti, Jane Morris,,pc

D.G. Rossetti, sketch of Jane Morris, p.c.

If we explore their professional and personal relationship, we discover that D.G. Rossetti had actually been deeply struck by Jane on first seeing her (he was walking in Oxford with artist William Morris). For Rossetti it was love at first sight, she embodied all the aesthetic ideals he’d absorbed from Italian Renaissance artists. But Jane ended up marrying William Morris in 1859. Rossetti became a close friend and she modeled for him very often, revealing what seems to become an aesthetic obsession, if not a full-fledged love affair.

By the 1860s all of Rossetti’s sitters seem to receive the ‘PR beauty treatment’.

Fanny Cornforth photo 1863

Photo of Fanny Cornforth, model and long term lover of D.G. Rossetti  from 1858 onwards

Monna Vanna 1866 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

D.G. Rossetti, Monna Vanna, 1866 (model F.Cornforth), Tate Britain, London UK

In the end it may just be that the famous Rossetti lips were those of Jane Morris. The one who ‘got away’. His true love.

ritratto artista

Anon, the Italian artist, Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques, Milan, IT

Haircuts are, of course, subject to changes in fashion just like all other aspects of our appearance. Hairstyles come and go, and sometimes come back, and back again. Fashionarchaeology has been reflecting on one particular haircut for a while now, the male “bob” (or rather: same length hair worn long to the neck and cut straight across). This style has a cyclical reoccurrence in the history of western men’s hairdressing and today’s post will investigate when and why men chose this style over the ages.

If anyone has ever worn a bob they will know it is not the easiest of hairstyles to cope with. It’s ‘high maintenance’ and requires constant care and upkeep. This is the first clue to understanding just why men in Europe in the middle ages began to adopt this style  in the early 13th Century


French, illuminated manuscript, 1250c, Bibliotheque National, Paris, Fr

In the rapidly evolving society of medieval Europe wealth and prestige was flaunted through appearance and the use of luxury objects. Quality clothing, textiles, jewellery all needed suitably groomed hair to go with it. Kings and their male courtiers began to wear their hair in a bob. In the above image the young man (his clothing tells us he ‘belongs’ to a court) wears his hair not only cut straight across below his ears, but obviously curled up or “set”  as old-fashioned hairdressers would still say today. Hot metal tongs were used for this purpose – also just like today. This “setting” of the hair is what distinguished aristocrats from commoners


Benedetto Antelami, the months (September), 1210-15c, the baptistery of Parma, Italy

In the rural scene above we see two men working in a vineyard. The smaller figure has the fashionable haircut but it has not been “set” in the style of a gentleman. The larger figure also wears a bob, but since he is doing physical work he needs to keep his hair out of his face and hence the linen cap. These caps will be worn all over Europe by those men who could not afford to  spend their day at the hands of a hairdresser but had to work for a living.

Fast-forward to the next great bob craze: the early 1500s

By the year 1500 the bob was back. Long to mid neck and with just one difference between north and south Europe: In Italy it was worn all the same length whereas in France, Germany, Austria etc. it was worn with a much more practical, short, squared-off fringe. Italians were at the height of their Renaissance and extremely conscious of their self-generated culture as well as their appearance. The explosion of the art of portraiture reveals a very self-engrossed Italian male who took the greatest care over his looks

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo,1504,MFA Budapest

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo, 1520, M.F.A. Budapest, Hungary

The intellectual (image above), the artist (see below) and all who shared contemporary fashion codes adopted this hairstyle

Raffaello, autoritratto con un amico,1518-19,Louvre

Raffaello, self-portrait with a friend, 1518-19, Louvre, Paris, FR

The next time the bob becomes seriously fashionable again is exactly 300 years later. By the 1820s  romantic young men chose the fringeless bob to represent their wildly sentimental characters. Significantly – in this time of historical revival – the new hairstyle was called “a la Raffaello”. A reference for the initiated in the marvels of Italy, the Grand Tour, the Old Masters and the sheer intoxicating romance of it all

Auguste de Chatillon,Theophile Gautier

Auguste de Chatillon, Theophile Gautier, 1820s

In Paris, London, Milan –  it was a shared fashion for Romantics across Europe. It lasted a couple of decades but some artists, such as the composer Liszt, stuck to it for the rest of their life so significant had it become to them.

H.Lehmann, franz Liszt, 1839, musée Carnevalet Parigi

H.Lehmann, Franz Liszt, 1839, Carnevalet Museum, Paris, Fr

In London the young Charles Dickens cut a fine figure (also wearing total black like Liszt) in a wavey bob

D.Maclise, Charles Dickens 1839 NPG lon

D. Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839, N.P.G. London, Uk

By 1850 a new sobriety was setting in and the wild  bob gives way to increasingly layered and short hairstyles. Some artists however maintained at least something of that extravagance of the earlier generation, even if it was only with a wisp of a fringe or a wild curl not conforming to domestication

G.Fattori, autoritratto,1854,Pitti

Giovanni Fattori, self-portrait, Pitti Gallery, Florence, It

Today it takes a seriously stylish and confident  man to wear what is ( for the time being) seen as a totally eccentric hairstyle.

"Porträt der Heinrike Dannecker"

H.Dannecker, G. Schick, 1802, Staatliche museum, Berlin, Germany


leather and gold decoration, shoes, 1790s

How do we choose our shoes? what makes us long for a pair of very pointed flats rather than round toed ballerinas?…

Fashionarchaeology has been musing over this question very much lately. Pointy flats are, after all,  THE  party shoe this 2013-14 festive season…

Looking back in history, points have come and gone several times over the centuries. Waves of “fads” or “fashions” which lasted centuries or just decades. Today they last barely one season and are always offered alongside a distinct alternative. Freedom of choice? maybe. So how do we decide which shape of shoe to go for? It would be great to say we follow our instinct, but of course our choice is always culturally determined. We can hardly desire what we do not know or can not yet imagine.

kore,ultimo quarto VI sec aC,mrt NY

Etruscan, metal statuette, kore, last quarter 6th Century B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York USA

The Etruscans where master cobblers. Unlike Greek  (and later, Roman women) Etruscan women were always represented wearing ankle-high, smooth and strong-looking, pointy booties. We have however very little information regarding this particular “local” fashion  –  or how and who produced it.

The “orient” (anywhere east of Athens) seems to be the common denominator for pointed footwear of the past. Pointy flat shoes were fashionable for women  throughout the long Byzantine Empire

Imp Irene pala d'oro venezia Xsec

Enameled metal plaque, Empress Irene (detail from the Pala d’Oro), 10th Century, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

pantofole di pelle stampata con croce oro,VI-IXc,Walters mus Baltimore usa

Gold stamped, leather shoes, Byzantine, 6th – 9th Centuries , Walters museum, Baltimore, USA

The higher the status the greater the decoration, empresses such as Irene, wore red pointed slippers encrusted with gems and pearl embroidery.

In Christian iconography females are always depicted with footwear, never barefoot. Their feet were covered by pointed shoes and hidden by long floor-length garments  (just as their hair was safely tucked away under veils). Women’s feet thus become taboo…


Benedetto Antelami, Deposition from the cross (detail: women), 1178, Parma cathedral, Italy

The real “pointy shoe fashion moment” in history however, comes with the French Revolution. By 1795-6 French women were reinventing their fashion identity in the aftermath of the worst years of the Revolution  – when dress had become a matter of life and death

A.Appiani,Josephine Bonaparte 1796

Andrea Appiani, Rose Beauharnais (Mme Josephine Rose Bonaparte from 1797), 1796, p.c.

During the years of the Directoire women like Rose Beauharnais (Napoleon gave her the name Josephine as he found Rose too vulgar) were turning to the art of classical antiquity for fashion  inspiration. In the early years of neoclassical dressing, sandals were the most obvious choice – but also a semi closed shoe like the light blue one she is wearing in the portrait.

I have never seen examples of surviving sandals from this period, but I have seen many utterly wonderful examples of  very pointed “flats” (heels were  totally out of fashion)

leather and embroidered linen shoe, 1790s, V&A

Green leather shoe, cut out detail filled with silk embroidered linen, late 1790s, V & A, Lon, Uk

Debucourt, abito da giorno 1801

French fashion plate, 1801

3 leather shoes, 1800c, V&A

Three shoes, 1790s-1800, V & A, London, UK

Leather or silk or the very “modern” printed leather variety of pointed flats (see above) in bright pastel tones such as lilac, heather pink, sun yellow, grass green, were chosen to set off the bright white of the neoclassical dress to its best effect.

Fast-forward to today:


Black suede Jimmy Choos……


G.Rossi black lace version…..


And Tabitha Simmons’s black with glittering embellishment…..

ENJOY and dance your way into a fabulous 2014!

Chardin, sealing a letter,1733,Schloss Charlot. Berlin

Chardin, sealing the letter, 1733, Schloss Charlottenburg,  Berlin Germany

In this post I want to concentrate on the attention seeking aspect of stripe fashion. As we have seen there have been “stripe moments” in the history of dress for centuries, but what seems to be the common denominator is the desire (during these particular fashion moments) to attract  attention, through clothing, to one’s person. The optical power of stripes – they relentlessly engage the eye – comes to represent the “power” of the wearer in society. Although it must be said that stripes were not just for the rich and famous, they were adopted as attention seekers at all levels of western society in the past just as they are today. The ability to get people to talk about you, even if it is just about your clothing, should never be underestimated.

robe retroussée dans les poches,1780c,KCI

Robe retroussé dans les poches ,France, 1780c, Kyoto Costume Institute, Japan

By the 1700s we really see the art of Look at Me stripes being worked into the boldest female wardrobes

gior nuove mode fr e ingh 1787

Il giornale delle nuove mode francesi ed Inglesi, 1787, Italy, Coll. Bertarelli, Castello Sforzesco, Milan IT

Moda all'inglese, Mag.des modes nouvelles 1789

Magasine des modes nouvelles, 1789, Paris

The craze for stripes can be seen in the last issues of french fashion magazines before the revolution of 1789. Both women and men wore striped clothing and/or accessories.

Rose Adelaide Ducreux, autoritratto, 1790c,met NY

Rose Adelaide Ducreux, self-portrait, 1790, Mertopolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

The fad returns bold and bright in the second half of the 1800s:

A.Renoir, Il palco, 1874, Court. gal lon

A. Renoir, At the theatre, 1874, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK

Great beauties, ladies or courtesans alike, wore stripes. But also old ladies who still felt like making a fashion statement despite their advanced age and faded beauty

foto Primoli,Contessa Primoli Bonaparte,CRAA

Countess Primoli Bonaparte, C.R.A.A., Milan, Italy

Bartolomeo Veneto,Luc Borgia come Beata Beatrice d'Este,Snite mus Indiana

 Bartolomeo Veneto, possibly Lucrezia Borgia (wife of Alfonso I d’Este), 1500c, Snite museum, Indiana, USA

There are many reasons for wearing stripes. As I mentioned in my last post, during the middle ages in european culture striped clothing was associated with the devil  (via the Arab / infidel-culture link).

So when do stripes really become a fashion trend?

The Renaissance is the answer. It’s enough to look through a gallery of portraits to realize that by the middle of the 16th Century stripes were really “in”. By this time stripes had lost their negative connotations (Humanist culture of the 15th Century had brought about some fundamental changes to the way man related to God and religious culture in general). Conspicuous consumption was the fashion and investing in attention-seeking clothes was a necessity for anyone who had money and/or status (the two didn’t always go together but one could lead to the other).

What better way to grab attention than through bold, striking, striped clothing? Both men and women adopt what in other eras have been termed as “loud” stripes – thick, straight and chromatically strong. In the first decades of the 1500s we find this growing trend throughout Europe. Interestingly, at first, stripes tended to be created by stitching strips of contrasting colour onto a base textile. Eventually we find woven striped fabric being used instead.

Dosso Dossi, Alfonso I d'Este Duke of Ferrara

Dosso Dossi, Alfonso I d’Este Duke of Ferrara, 1530c, ?

Germans were doing it as we can see in the portrait and the surviving garment bellow:

L.Cranach elder,man,1532,met NY

Lucas Cranach the elder, gentleman, 1532, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

gown of Elector Moritz of Saxony 1521-1553,part of complete set,abegg-stiftung mus ch

Silk over gown (back view), part of set belonging to Elector Moritz of Saxony, 1530s, Abegg-Stiftung museum, Switzerland

The French:

j.clouet,Francois I 1525-30

Jean Clouet, King François I of France, 1525-30c, Louvre museum, Paris, France

The English:

Hans Holbein, Henry Brandon,1541,Royal col Windsor

Hans Holbein, Henry Brandon, 1541, Royal collection, Windsor Castle, UK

By the last quarter of the 16th Century, bold applied stripes had been replaced by equally attractive and equally expensive, striped silk

Opnamedatum 2004-23-09

F. Pourbous the elder, gentleman of the Order of Calatrava, 1581, Rijks museum Amsterdam, Holland

De materia medica, ill man, Jésireh, Iraq, 1229, bib topkapi sarayi Muzesi, istambul

Illuminated manuscript, Iraq, De materia medica, 1229, Topkapi Sarayi Muzesi Library, Istanbul, Turkey

The history of the striped fashion “trend” is a long and complex one. A cultural journey of cloth and ideologies from Middle East to West, from Muslim traditions to the realms of fashion bibles today. 

Much has been said and written about striped textiles. One of the most enjoyable books on the subject is The Devil’s Cloth   by Michel Pastoureau. First published in 1991 (republished since) and translated into several languages. The author explores various aspects of striped clothing from a sociological and semantic perspective.

Striped textiles became part of European fashion via the arabic conquest of Spain in the 8th Century.  In the Middle East (and throughout  muslim-conquered lands) striped clothing was fashionable for centuries and still is where traditional dress is still worn. Its origins going back to the dawn of the art of weaving. In the 13th Century image above we see a young arabic gentleman (medical student or young doctor) wearing a long-sleeved striped tunic. In the 10th Century image bellow we see a rider from arab-dominated Spain, also wearing striped textiles both for his clothing and accessories. This illuminated manuscript was actually painted by a woman but that’s another story…

mozarabic ill man,Beatus,cavaliere,975 spain,Gerona

Mozarabic art, Beatus, ill. manuscript, soldier on horseback, 975 AD, Gerona Cathedral, Spain

As always history gets exciting when we have some material artefact as testimonial evidence:

3 piece set grave colthes, child Infanta Maria daughter King Ferdinand III of Castilla y leon,d.1235,Panteon Real s.Isidoro,Leon

Grave of Infanta Maria of Castilla y Leon, sleeveless tunic, 1235, Pantheon Real, San Isidoro, Leon, Spain

The garment above is part of a three-piece set found on the remains of the Infanta Maria, daughter of Ferdinand III of Castilla y Leon. She died in 1235 and considering her status she would have been dressed in new clothes for her burial. This item of dress may seem like nothing, even macabre, until we contextualize it by saying that this kind of fabric/fashion simply was not around elsewhere in Europe at this point in time.

More evidence – this time in the form of decorated panels from another royal grave – from less than a century later

anon,tomba Don Sancho Saiz de Carillo,uomini,1300c,mus NAC Barcelona

anon,tomba Don Sancho Saiz de Carillo,donne,1300c,mus NAC Barcelona

Two panels, male and female lamenters, tomb of Sancho Saiz de Carillo, 1300c, N.A.C. museum, Barcelona, Spain

In the middle ages fashions traveled surprisingly fast across Europe. This one though came up against great resistance. Its  association with muslim culture/religion was dangerous, a threat to  Christian European tradition. So stripes became associated with the devil or the reppresentations of – but for that story you can go to Pastoureau’s book…

Francesco Merletti, First Lady, 2008, tecnica mista, 22 x 23,5 x 28,3 cm, collezione privata

Francesco Merletti, First lady, 2008, mix media, p.c.

For my last post on feathers I have decided to put together a selection of extraordinary feathered items I have come across. One thing is certain it takes character to wear feathers, just as it does to carry off real fur (yes! fur posts coming soon).

scarf and muff of sea-gull feathers, 1880-99,MET NY

Sea gull muff and scarf, 1880-99c, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

And it takes a real woman to carry off a whole bird – eyes, beak and all. This skillfully made “set” of sea gulls from the US seems totally audacious today, but probably less so back in the 1890s when there was a genuine vogue for stuffing and wearing just about any form of living species.

Emanuel Harry of London, gold earings with bird heads, 1865c, V&A

 Emanuel Harry, London, gold and bird head earings, 1865c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

In 20th Century fashion, the trend re-emerges during the 1940s in the form of exquisite little hats:

LIFE cover 1942

cover of LIFE magazine, 1942

Hattie Carnegie, feather hat, 1940, MetNY

Hattie Carnegie, birds hat, 1940, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

Caroline Reboux, feather hat suede base, 1946, V&A

Caroline Reboux,Paris, bird hat, 1946,Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

And finally lets not forget shoes! In this example (image below) Roger Vivier not only covers the exterior in feathers but also echoes the fluid shape of an exotic bird in the silhouette of the shoe – a masterpiece

Roger vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe,  1960c,Met NY

Roger Vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe, 1960, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA


Peacocks and their feathers have been working their magic on fashion for centuries. Different cultures have attributed special meanings to this bird; often connected to immortality. Peacocks are able to eat poisonous plants and survive hence they, or their feathers, are often used to symbolize resurrection. The fact that they shed their impressive long feathers each year  only to grow back fresh, bright and beautiful ones, makes them the perfect symbol for renewal.

In western culture peacocks are also associated with men who consider themselves particularly well dressed or good-looking and who like to show off. “Pavoneggiarsi” (to display oneself in front of others in italian. Comes from the word “pavone” which means peacock). It is of course only the male peacock who has the spectacularly feathered tail and who displays it when he thinks it necessary…

Rex Silver, Peacock Feather textile for Liberty, 1900c

Rex Silver for Liberty, Peacock feather textile design, 1900c

Peacock fashion frenzy seems to begin at the time of the Pre-Raphaelite and the Arts and Crafts movement  in England in the second half of the nineteenth Century.

William Morris in his textile designs and his wife Jane Morris in her embroideries and tapestries often use the peacock motif. By 1900 it becomes THE textile design (see above) that best represents the Liberty culture of those years. And it is still synonymous of the company today.


Liberty case, 2013

Peacocks – as symbol and as motif – becomes hugely popular in the first decades of the 20th Century. They appear in and on fashionable clothing too

Weeks, evening dress peacockfeathers, 1910, Met NY

Maison Weeks, silk evening dress, 1910c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

Lalique, pendant, gold, enamel, pearl, diamonds,1901, Met NY

R. Lalique, pendant jewel with peacocks, 1901, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

In more recent times peacocks are still going strong – there seems to be a fashion subcultural trend there somewhere

PeacockDress_McQueen 2008-9

Alexander McQueen, peacock dress, A/W 2008-09

and lastly one of the most expensive wedding gowns ever made – just to confirm the POWER OF THE PEACOCK lives on!

Vera Wang,peacock-feathers-wedding-dress-china-2009, cosst over a million dollars

Vera Wang, peacock wedding dress, 2009 at bridal Fair in China

att John Bettes,Queen E I,1580-86,NPG

Att. John Bettes, Queen Elisabeth I, 1580-6c, National Portrait Gallery, London, Uk

The fashion for feather fans spread across Europe by the last quarter of the 16th Century. Queen Elisabeth I, in England, had a great number and it is very likely that they came, via fairs and merchants, from Italy – Venice, Milan and Genoa had specialised in this kind of luxury item made up of part local craftsmanship and part imported exotic materials.

By the following century feathers were not only added to accessories but had also become part of  textile iconography

brocaded silk for clothing, peacock feather patern, 1600-1620c, V&A

peacock-feather patterned silk brocade, italian, 1600-20c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

Feathers continue to appear in textile patterns up to present day.

The silk below is typical of the rococo period – small delicate flowers and soft feathers rather than the stiffer, more regimented baroque ones above

Rococo french silk, VEA

French dress silk, 1750c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

In the 19th century feathers continue to be added to accessories such as bonnets and fans (still much in use, especially for the evening)

feather and stuffed bird fan with ivory handle, 1880s, V&A

Fan, feathers, stuffed birds and ivory handle, 1880c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

but also gradually found their way – stitched, apliquéd, woven – onto and into fashionable clothing.

A hierarchy of plumage emerges: from the rare, exotic and therefore expensive feathers from South America or Far East, right down to the more mundane european varieties. The main difference was in the colours available. However with the introduction of chemical dyes in 1853 this problem was quickly resolved.

latvian feather short coat made of feathers, poss swan down, 1860c, met NY

Short outdoor lady’s coat, swan’s down, 1860s, Metropolitan museum, New York, USA

This extraordinary coat (because its made of worked feathers!!) is a perfect example of the levels reached by the new world of Haute Couture from the 1850s onwards. Designers and their Maisons would attempt to outdo each other by inventing the most intricate and exquisite details.

Emile Pingat Paris, mantle in wool, velvet, silk and osttrich feather trim, 1891c,LACMA USA

Emile Pingat, evening cape, 1891, L.A.C.M.A., Los Angeles, USA

Maison Emile Pingat is a wonderful example of the highest level Parisian fin de siecle haute Couture.  Several materials (silk, velvet, wool, metal thread, beads, feathers, lace and so on) were combined into unique pieces by the most creative and skilled craftsmen/women.



Emile Pingat Paris,evening mantle, wool silk metal and feathers, 1891c, Met NY

Emile Pingat, Paris, evening mantle, mixed materials including feathers, 1891c, Metropolitan museum, New York, USA