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Dressing Renaissance Florence

, 368 pages

33 halftones

July 2005



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Dressing Renaissance Florence

Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing

As portraits, private diaries, and estate inventories make clear, elite families of the Italian Renaissance were obsessed with fashion, investing as much as forty percent of their fortunes on clothing. In fact, the most elaborate outfits of the period could cost more than a good-sized farm out in the Mugello. Yet despite its prominence in both daily life and the economy, clothing has been largely overlooked in the rich historiography of Renaissance Italy. In Dressing Renaissance Florence, however, Carole Collier Frick provides the first in-depth study of the Renaissance fashion industry, focusing on Florence, a city founded on cloth, a city of wool manufacturers, finishers, and merchants, of silk dyers, brocade weavers, pearl dealers, and goldsmiths. From the artisans who designed and assembled the outfits to the families who amassed fabulous wardrobes, Frick's wide-ranging and innovative interdisciplinary history explores the social and political implications of clothing in Renaissance Italy's most style-conscious city.

Frick begins with a detailed account of the industry itself—its organization within the guild structure of the city, the specialized work done by male and female workers of differing social status, the materials used and their sources, and the garments and accessories produced. She then shows how the driving force behind the growth of the industry was the elite families of Florence, who, in order to maintain their social standing and family honor, made continuous purchases of clothing—whether for everyday use or special occasions—for their families and households. And she concludes with an analysis of the clothes themselves: what pieces made up an outfit; how outfits differed for men, women, and children; and what colors, fabrics, and design elements were popular. Further, and perhaps more basically, she asks how we know what we know about Renaissance fashion and looks to both Florence's sumptuary laws, which defined what could be worn on the streets, and the depiction of contemporary clothing in Florentine art for the answer.

For Florence's elite, appearance and display were intimately bound up with self-identity. Dressing Renaissance Florence enables us to better understand the social and cultural milieu of Renaissance Italy.

Carole Collier Frick is an associate professor of history at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

"A useful and timely undertaking."

"A pioneering book on the sartorial extravagance and fashions in Florence."

"A wonderful book, after reading which we will not be able to visualise Renaissance Florence in the same way again."

"This lively book should convince any skeptic that fashion was a serious Renaissance business."

"This study nicely opens up a little-studied domain of Renaissance culture and shows the way to linking mundane craft with the dearest social aspirations of the Florentine elite."

"The Johns Hopkins University Press is to be congratulated for publishing this imaginative book linking the history of technology and guilds with social history, with the study of costume, and with artistic iconography... This book will be a delight for scholar and general reader alike. "

"Frick's thorough treatment of Renaissance costume has set a new standard of excellence for scholars working on costume of any age."

"The final sections of this valuable study on sumptuary legislation and the representation of clothes in art are perhaps the most effective in drawing out the significance of clothing in understanding social relationships and social power in Renaissance Florence."

"This is a very substantial and innovative investigation of the clothing industry and fashion market in Renaissance Italy. Frick has done important and original work in the archives and successfully illuminates a crucial but little-studied aspect of Renaissance culture and economy. This book will find a large readership in Renaissance and early modern studies, in gender studies and the history of women and the family, and in social history generally."

" Dressing Renaissance Florence is a fascinating and wide-ranging study. It covers everything pertaining to clothing, from ribbon vendors to the great Ghirlandaio frescoes. No other study has taken this broad interdisciplinary approach to dress. Frick has a clear mastery of the complex technical vocabulary surrounding the creation of fashion, and the broad archival base of her study is impressive."

"Seldom does one come across such a valuable and entertaining book."

"An important addition not just to the history of clothing, but to our understanding of social positioning within the visual field of Florentine culture."

"A fascinating college-level study, recommended for any collection strong in fashion or Renaissance history."