Renaissance Fashion in the Uffizi Gallery, Day 5

Among the other sights of Florence, the Uffizi gallery was the main event of our tour today. We saw many famous paintings and sculptures from Renaissance artists such as Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. The fashion of people in the Renaissance paintings differs from today in its complexity, colors, and pervasiveness. Many of the upper class people pictured in these paintings wore complex clothing compared to today’s relatively simple articles, but there are more colors in the clothing of the common people today. Also, in the Renaissance times, the color and complexity of the clothing denoted royalty, religiosity, or a specific biblical character. 

The complexity of clothing of the Renaissance denoted wealth and thus power, but in comparison today’s clothing is simple and is similarly worn between the wealthy and the poor. One of the first paintings we came across was of the wedding of the Medici women. As pictured below, the wealthy women wore flowing dresses with billowing sleeves. Other women wore gowns with intricate designs with flowers, vines, and other curved patterns. This complexity denoted the wealth of these patrons. Some other non-wealthy women in paintings, like the virgin Mary, wore flowing gowns of single, solid colors to denote that they were not wealthy, but still beautiful. The clothing of today is not nearly as intricate in pattern or design. The suits of wealth people are typically two contrasting colors in two or three pieces. In addition, wealthy and non-wealthy people alike may wear fashion of the same complexity because prices of these simple designs do not differ significantly. Casual clothing of today is even less complicated, normally consisting of pants and and a shirt. These can be worn by either gender today, a departing from the constraints of gender roles in the Renaissance time. Thus the complexity of a dress does not denote wealth, social class, or gender of the individual. 

Something I learned from our tour of the Uffizi today that I did not know before was that the color of clothing is used by artists to tell who the people are. For example, the virgin Mary is always wearing red, blue, or both. This is because red and blue stand for characteristics of Mary, characteristics that differ depending on who you ask. Our guide said the blue stands for purity and the red stands for chastity, but art historians on the internet say blue represents the heavenly realm and red represents the earthly realm, and Mary links the two. Religious figures of the Renaissance are depicted wearing black and white because they are not concerned with earthly possessions. Common people wore drag shades of gray because they were not meant to stick out in the picture, and also could not afford clothing with colorful dyes. Today this is not the case. Black and white clothing cost just as much as colorful clothing. Since anyone can buy colorful clothing, it no longer denotes wealth. Though the religiously devout of today do continue to wear black and white, they are not as common or as important in society as they were in the Renaissance era. The colors blue and red are worn without regard to the virtues they may have represented. Thus there is a great difference between the use and pervasiveness of color in today’s society versus in the Renaissance era. 

Another major difference between the fashion of the two eras is how common each style of dress is across genders and social class. The fashion of an individual in the Renaissance was determined by what they could afford. Poor people could afford simple, colorless rags so that is what they wore. I noticed the common people were not depicted often in the Renaissance paintings, probably because they were not interesting subjects. Rich people could afford the purest colors, the fanciest jewels, and the most complex patterns. Today, there are many styles worn by rich and poor people alike because society does not appreciate wealth flaunted through fashion. In addition, contemporary fashion is more widely varied for any individual. People have casual, business casual, and many levels of formal wear of which they may wear several types each day. Today fashion depends more on an individual’s taste, which is a luxury the peasants of the Renaissance could not afford. Thus fashion is much more varied today because people can express their own tastes. 

Whether changes in society structure have influenced changes in fashion or the other way around, there is no doubt that wealth and power are not as important factors in fashion choices. No longer does color reflect social class or virtues, and no longer are people forced to wear styles because they lack money to own another style. The biggest difference, however, is that fashion today reflects the personality of the individual allowing for more clothing possibilities and the potential for a global fashion industry.

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