The Beginning of High Fashion 6


By the 16th century, the ideology of the Renaissance had spread throughout Europe making a deep and lasting impact on literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, and

Portrait of Henry VIII by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1497. Public Domain.

religion. The influence of the Renaissance also launched the concept of high fashion as costume began to reflect the love of art, discovery, and invention that defined it Exploration, which brought in new goods such as silks, cottons, furs, dyestuffs, jewels, and precious metals from North America, Africa, and Asia, created new industries for luxury items. Weavers created beautiful silk, brocade, and velvet fabrics, delicate needle laces were produced for the first time; and jewelers developed new techniques for cutting gemstones. As trade and industry grew, so did the economy – at least as far as the nobility and middle-class bourgeoisie were concerned.

Catherine of Aragon, by Lucas Hornebolte. Public Domain.

During the Renaissance, high fashion arose as a new way to display wealth and position. The clean and simple lines of medieval clothing gave way to more elaborately-shaped and adorned clothing that reflected the artistic ideals of the Renaissance. Men’s clothing was designed to accentuate broad shoulders and other masculine attributes, whereas women’s clothing adopted waistlines and full skirts to create a narrow-waisted silhouette. Women also began to pluck the hair from their foreheads and eyebrows to get the appearance of a high forehead – a symbol of the intelligence that was lauded during the Renaissance. The influx of new materials and wealth created a demand for fashionable clothing that raised the occupation of the tailor to a much more prestigious position in society. Fashion had become an important part of social etiquette for the bourgeoisie as well as the nobility.

Although monarchs from many different European countries influenced Renaissance fashion, Henry VIII of England was probably the most influential when it came to 16th century European fashions. The opulent styles that characterized the Renaissance fed Henry VIII’s vanity. Jewels, pearls, gold, lace, and techniques such as slashing and puffing were used

Portrait of Jane Seymour, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1535. Public Domain.

unscrupulously to adorn and accentuate his fine, youthful figure. No other period was more given to precious adornments, and clothing was designed to display as much as possible. Henry VIII and his wives were never lacking in an abundance of fur and jewels to showcase his wealth; he reportedly spent 16,000 ducats on clothing annually, which amounts to about $3,140,000 today.


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6 thoughts on “The Beginning of High Fashion

  • Rebecca

    This whole series has been fascinating. I never thought about the beginning of high fashion, but the Renaissance makes complete sense. Thanks for sharing!

  • Annlee

    I enjoy reading the article how Renaissance fashion a new concept in fashion designs and material and design.

  • Kristi L Taylor

    And don’t forget about the Scrumptious Laws. That was put into place to prohibit anyone other than royalty to wear certain colors and trimmings. Even if the family was rich and could afford it, they couldn’t dress like the aristocracy.

  • Penny T.

    Interesting that doing something as pointless and painful as plucking your hair made you appear intelligent!

  • Elaine M. Hoffman

    Dear Shari, Hampton Court was a perfect name for this gown. I hope you will have many more Renaissance gowns for us to have in a Renaissance wardrobe for our dolls. I absolutely loved the Christmas episodes on The Tudors because of those Ruby red gowns with the Christmas wreaths that Kathyrn Howard and Ann of Cleaves had worn on their heads during the Christmas festivities. So beautiful. My favorite Queens were Catherine of Aragon, little Mary’s mother his first wife and Ann of Cleaves. I really thought she was so sweet and kind and King Henry did not even give her a chance. You and Eve Coleman, even though you are at different ends of the fashion spectrum, are so accurate in your details of recreating history and making fashion come to life no matter what time frame. I love different eras. Modern bores me so much. I know I would not have wanted to be a woman in those earlier times because woman had no voice, but they sure did dress well and it is so much fun to recreate that feeling of glamour and royalty and elegance. It makes my heart jump inside my chest to see clothes like this coming out of our modern age of fabrics and garments being made from China and other 3rd World countries. Thanks so much for making my life so much more happy in this wonderful world of dolls that we live in. I am only 57 years young and have no daughters, but dolls make me so happy and they are my passion as well as making and dressing them with yours and Eve’s patterns. God Bless you both. Sincerely, Elaine Hoffman