Fashion Then and Now

The Middle Ages and modern history have a large gap in culture, space, and time, and the bridge covering that gap is the Renaissance, or rebirth, period. The Renaissance was a time of renewal in art, culture, and life that held man, not God, at the center of it all. Art was approached in a new way, becoming more realistic and man centered. Some of the world’s most famous works like the Mona Lisa, the statue of David, the Sistine Chapel, the Birth of Venus, the Pieta, and The Gates of Paradise (just to name a few) were produced by Raffaello, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Da Vinci, and many other famous artists at this time. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, or “Firenze” in Italian, holds many of the Renaissance’s greatest works such as The Ognissanti Madonna by Giotto, Annunciation by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, La Primavera by Botticelli, and much, much more.  The building the Uffizi is held in was a part of Medici family dynasty of the Renaissance era.

Most of the paintings and works we witnessed today were of human (or god/goddess) subjects, so the clothing the subjects were wearing and their overall appearance is crucial to the understanding of each piece of artwork. The role of men and women were strict and clear at the time: women either became nuns or got married at a young age to a much older man, had children and raised them while men married, worked, and slept with whomever they pleased. Women, based on their social and marital status, had a very specific way that they had to dress. If they were unmarried, then hair was worn down and natural. If they were married, then hair was worn in an elegant updo. The clothing women wore also had a significant social meaning:  if women wore a belt around their torso and a long, flowy dress, then that indicated that they were pregnant. As a general standard, women wore several variations of a long sleeve, long length dress. Men wore detailed, elegant ensembles to boast a broad figure and big wallet (if they had it). The colors worn also were very symbolic of themes in history. For example, black represents death, while white represents new life, purity, and baptism.
Dress today couldn’t be more different than dress during the Renaissance era. Today, women and men are much more free to customize their own wardrobe and style to their liking. We have much freedom in pattern, color, texture, and overall style, and their are many ways you can dress up or down. Despite that, there are still some major fashion norms we all generally follow. For example, there is a pretty general understanding of what things like business casual, business formal, and black tie dress is, and those requirements (when made) are most often respected out of social normality and courtesy to give a general guideline for parties and events. Women have a significantly larger amount of fashion choices today, as skirts of all lengths, dresses, shirts, jackets, and pants can all be combined to form outfits of all kinds, only making it a much more complicated process to choose any outfit. Colors are still somewhat symbolic, but the gravity of color choice is much smaller now than it was then, allowing a much greater freedom in the choices of color for clothing on occasions. Women may or may not dress differently depending of their relationship and marital status, but no assumptions can generally be made for certain, as their is no one rule on how married and unmarried women should dress. Men dress generally the same whether married or not, and their style consists of diversified variations of suits, pants, shirts, and shorts. Today, similar to the Renaissance, fashion is somewhat an indicator of social class. For example, during the Renaissance, opulent men and women wore the rarest feathers, fabrics, furs, and jewels on their bodies in order to distinguish their social status. Today, only the wealthiest of the world can afford to flaunt the most high end fashions to the rest of the world, but only if they wish. Also, similar to the Renaissance, each occupancy requires a different outfit or uniform, often used to distinguish what kind of work one does. 

Overall, our visit to the Uffizi Gallery was an extraordinary experience. Seeing the works of history’s most famous artists is something you can only dream of in Italy.

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