Janelle Ducheine: Italia America 2022

Collage created by Janelle Ducheine: photos derived from Andres Surita -Pinterest and LowellDesigns / cc 4.0

The art of simplicity

The 13th century was the beginning of an era of wealth, growth, and modernization for Italy. While many shared industries, each region specialized and flourished in specific areas. Rome, for instance, traded a wide variety of goods but were top producers for grain and wine in the West.2 The city states that were effervesce under the papacy gave light to dozens of artists, setting the standard for art exploring humanistic themes. The individual expansion of power throughout the city states would ultimately lead to most gaining independence from the Holy Roman Empire near the end of the High Middle Ages. Florence was an especially prosperous municipality and over time has grown to be one of the top fashion producers in the world. The high-quality cloths and textiles produced in Florence would supply to countries around the world for centuries. The luxury apparel has been a common theme for the city since its “rebirth”, the Renaissance. The 15th century marked an influential milestone for not only economic growth but also art and philosophy.   

Renaissance Florence

Although Florence was known for its high-end fabrics and styles, it was not easily accessible to all. “During the Renaissance, creating textiles was extremely expensive and time-consuming, so clothing was often recycled.”3 Clothing that would be torn or too small would be tailored and passed down. If an item were to be stained or damaged it would be reworked for other uses such as pillowcases. This norm amongst natives contrasts the expectations set during the renaissance for the rest of Italy, especially for women. The main aspect of Renaissance female clothing was its fullness; men’s clothing, on the other hand, was often tight and sparse, with the exception of the mantle or top garment.

Women’s apparel. To be able to better understand the purpose behind certain styling/designing techniques in typical women apparel, the standards expected of these women is crucial. Women that possessed “Rounded Body and Full Hips Were a Symbol of Good Health”5. The ladies of the renaissance did not mind having a few extra pounds, it was assumed to be a sign of fertility and womanhood. “ When drawing his piece, Della Famiglia¸ Leon Battista Alberti believed that potential motherhood is what made a woman beautiful. “Thus I believe that beauty in a woman can be judged not only in the charms and refinement of the face, but even more in the strength and shapeliness of a body apt to carry and give birth to many beautiful children.”6 The chemise, dress, and over-dress were the four layers of women’s clothing throughout the Renaissance. With this in mind, fashionable gowns were often tailored at the waistline and generous amounts of textile used allowed for more space to be taken up to enhance the appearance of the hips. A woman’s style of clothing at the time could also hint at the social class she belongs to. Generally, the wealthier a woman was, the more layers she could afford to wear. “A wealthy early modern woman wore at least three—often four—complete layers of clothing in public.”5 Gamurra was a special layer made out of an expensive patterned fabric such as silk or velvet that would only be used during special occasions. “Long sleeves are a symbol of wealth and status, as the extra fabric hinders manual labor” and a “veil symbolizes her adherence to humility and religious norms”5 Additionally, a costly accessory would be used to adorn the dresses and veils: precious stones, jewels, and pearls.

Mens apparel. With the help of social media, people are able to “adopt and move on from fashion trends quicker than before”society is able tosbody and beauty ideals  Clothing trends of this era were strongly dictated by the aristocracy and upper classes. The creation of this art on fabric required a large team of specifically skilled crafts and tailors (includes purse makers, embroiders, leatherworkers etc.) men along with a fast pace to maintain the pace of design changes. The standards that men were expected to have to be considered beautiful or attractive would be to possess a youthful and athletic build. The outfit assembly would follow the same pattern of layering with womens’ clothing. Also, like women, men would wear a long dress-like shirt that was mostly open on the sides and rand down the leg, typically sleeve and collar less. This would be paired with trousers that would cinch out at thigh level and stocking on lower legs. As centuries passed, mens’ fashion became less dramatic and in darker hues. “Men’s tunics, jackets, and stockings were generally tailored from black or dark brown luxury fabrics like velvet or silk. “Mantello”, or cloaks, were also commonly used. To enhance the look of athleticism a snug fitting jacket, called a farsetto, was worn and padding was added to create muscle-like figure under the layers of clothing. “Florentine citizens tended to restrict their attire to basic tones of red, brown, gray, or black-even though luxury textiles were a mainstay of their thriving economy. Florentine men, no matter how wealthy, donned the tunics and caps of middle-class merchants.”6

Honorable Mention

Located at the headstream of the Adriatic Sea, Venice was conveniently established in an ideal position to open trade with neighboring city states and other countries throughout all of Europe. Although initially starting off with maritime commerce which included local products such as fish and salt, it quickly grew to include goods from other nations becoming the entrepôt between all of Europe, Middle East, and Asia. Trade between Florenece and Venice allowed for goods to be transported to a wider clientele pool. By the mid-15th century, Italy was deemed one of the most prosperous units in all of Europe. This is largely due to the powerful noble families that were involved in not only trade but also other important industries such as the art or architecture. Because these noble families possessed lineage to an individual that reached consulship or were owners of major trade, they were able to make many of the important decisions involving the livelihood of the nation. One of the most renowned being the Medici family, “were wool merchants and bankers. Both businesses were very profitable, and the family became extremely wealthy.”7 They contributed to the growth of Florence by funding the arts and humanism. They have hired numerous artists, like Leonardo da Vinci and Brunelleschi, to paint or serve as consults on major projects throughout the city.

Modern America

Especially in the age of technology, fashion is an upbeat and fast paced industry, meaning that a specific style will usually not last long before it is considered “out of season”. This, along with political/social movements that have granted more rights and independence have shaped how women of the American society decide to dress. Because it is considered the melting pot of cultures, defining a specific trend would include many cultural variables. Technology and social media have fueled false standards people believe about how bodies should. Treadmill reviews conducted an interview on ideal female body types. “The ideal woman would be nearly 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weigh under 130 pounds, with a 26-inch waist.”8  This would be considered an average height petite woman. Most woman, however, do not fit this category. In fact, because of the alarming rate of malnutrition present within the country, “85% of Americans Suffer from Malnutrition Without Even Knowing It.”9 Nonetheless, similarities in trends arise and can be analyzed through many groups, especially during the 90s.

Womens apparel. “More recently, in the late 20th century, thin, waif-like models filled the pages of fashion magazines. Now, shapely backsides are celebrated with “likes” on social media.”10 To be considered beautiful women had to portray unhealthy characteristics such as being extremely frail to the point where protrusion of bones was present as well as being really tall. In the 1990s, fashion sparked a youth uprising by providing carefree looks with a touch of defiance. The decade’s primary trends were rough and minimalist, with hip-hop and “schoolgirl” fashions also popular. This time period was highly obsessed with denim apparel. Flared or wide leg denim pants were a statement piece and was highly favored. Shoes during this era were heavy set and bulky, which regardless of change of outfit would be match with. Hip-hop fashion was also popular during this time. Characterized by oversized/loose fit, casual materials, and athletic features, and was popular in metropolitan areas. The style was inspired by the same-named musical genre.


Men’s apparel. In 2011, Treadmill Reviews (2011) conducted a survey amongst 1000 Americans on their ideal body type based on gender. “the ideal man would be just over 6 feet tall and weigh 187 pounds.”13. Style for men during the 1990s followed a similar trend when compared to women, the main difference being dramatically oversized. A popular sub style that many men followed would be grunge, a casual and simple approach. The Grunge style of the 90s embodied the “anti-fashion” mentality. It is among one of the most popular trends of the decade, giving fashion an edgy revamp. The comeback of the style to mainstream attention has been apparent on the streets and on the runway. Classic grunge staples arranged, from ripped jeans and loose tees to plaid shirts and layered slip dresses. “Guys embracing a grunge style need wardrobe pieces like flannel shirts, ripped jeans, combat boots, Converse shoes, band shirts, leather jackets, cardigans, denim tops, and beanies.”11 Windbreakers and graphic tees were staple pieces of 90s men choice of clothing.


            People originating from different countries and eras will have different customs and beliefs, but history has proved that humans tend to repeat their actions just in new ways. Though difference in style of clothing between Florentine Renaissance and the 1990s is major, yet still contain similarities. For example, the use of a “camica” is the same as modern day undershirts. Or also “statement sleeves” key When Florentine citizens render their clothing as useless, they are able to find a new purpose for the material. Individuals born in the 1990s have also repurposed their clothing through thrift stores, clothing stores that bought and sold used clothes. This was an efficient way to clean out one’s closet while maintain clothing that was trendy. Native Florentians and “90s babies” share a common theme in styling, simplicity. The people of Florence maintained a public humility and refrained from splurging in luxury apparel despite being a major textile export producer shipping worldwide. The style in the 90s also place shifted importance away from top-flight brands and more emphasis on the overall presentation of the outfit. Although many big-name brands did thrive, such as Champion and Reebok experiencing major economic growth.


            Dubbed the name “birthplace of the renaissance”, Florence, Italy during the 15th century experienced centuries worth of societal enrichment through the arts, economic avenues, and ideology. This was due to the advanced trade network between the city states with other countries and powerful families such as the Medicis’ that funded many of these artistic excursions. The city grew in popularity as a crossroads for wool merchants in the high Middle Ages. Giovanni and Cosimo de Medici utilized banking to turn Florence into a financial crossroad. Florence became a junction for ideas as a result of these linkages. “in fact, one of the three most important regions that supplied good- to high-quality wool-based textiles to much of Christian Europe and to the Islamic world in the Mediterranean basin and the Near East during the” (Munro, 2012). The success of the city alone was not enough to have the native Florentines stray away from their values and respect for their homeland, though. American 90s fashion trends followed the same concept in the sense of not choosing outlandish outfits but wearing mostly simple patterns. These styles were attained in similar sustainable ways as to reduce the amount of waste is produced. There are many factors that contribute to why these two time periods are so different, body and beauty standards being one of the main ones. Yet regardless of background, traces of Italy can still be found even in seemingly different cultuers, such as fashion.


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2 adminWebsite, Admin. “What Did the Roman Empire Trade.” Lisbdnet.com, 9 Dec. 2021, https://lisbdnet.com/what-did-the-roman-empire-trade/#What_Did_The_Roman_Empire_Trade.

3 Lanes, Eagle. “Month: Last Updated Mar 5, 2019: Published on Jan 16, 2018.” Fashion History Timeline, https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/2018/01/.

4 Guidato, Enrica. “Florence: The Art of Fashion.” The Florentine, 15 Oct. 2008, https://www.theflorentine.net/2008/10/16/florence-the-art-of-fashion/.

5 Sydel, Simone. “The Weird and Dangerous Beauty Standards of Renaissance Italy.” Evie, https://Images.ctfassets.net/ydv6sq0kb5bw/VPXcVUzPNoYjdNmMuwo8m/a2be598830e9b26d963308c6e3cab05b/Evie-Logo.png, 4 Nov. 2021, https://www.eviemagazine.com/post/the-weird-and-dangerous-beauty-standards-of-renaissance-italy.

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9 Hill, Jay. “85% Of Americans Suffer from Malnutrition without Even Knowing It. Are You One of Them?” Lifehack, 2 Nov. 2016, https://www.lifehack.org/486617/85-americans-suffer-from-malnutrition-without-even-knowing-are-you-one-them.

10 Howard, Jacqueline. “The History of the ‘Ideal’ Woman and Where That Has Left Us.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 Mar. 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/07/health/body-image-history-of-beauty-explainer-intl/index.html.

11 Dek, Chris. “90s Fashion for Men: How to Wear 90s Outfits for Guys.” Top Trends Guide, 22 Apr. 2022, https://www.toptrendsguide.com/90s-fashion-men/.

12 Sydel, Simone. “The Weird and Dangerous Beauty Standards of Renaissance Italy.” Evie, https://Images.ctfassets.net/ydv6sq0kb5bw/VPXcVUzPNoYjdNmMuwo8m/a2be598830e9b26d963308c6e3cab05b/Evie-Logo.png, 4 Nov. 2021, https://www.eviemagazine.com/post/the-weird-and-dangerous-beauty-standards-of-renaissance-italy.

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Butchart, Amber. “The Art of Power Dressing in Renaissance Florence.” Frieze, 4 June 2019, https://www.frieze.com/article/art-power-dressing-renaissance-florence.

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