How to get ahead at court

Elizabeth Currie, Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and author of the newly published ‘Fashion and Masculinity in Renaissance Florence’ uncovers the meanings behind Renaissance fashion. 

Fashion and Masculinity in Renaissance Florence
Click on the book cover to read a free preview!

What to wear for an evening at the theatre? To take part in a football match? Or to have your portrait painted?

These were just some of the sartorial dilemmas facing Italian courtiers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. First impressions were vital and men’s clothing was observed and critiqued as much as women’s, if not more so.

Courtiers could impress with their steadfastness and sobriety when dressed head-to-toe in black. Or they could throw caution to the wind and dress up for festive occasions, demonstrating their virility to onlookers, including the most influential female members of court. Souvenir books frequently recorded their magnificent outfits for posterity.

Clothing was a powerful source of honour but an error of judgement put reputations at risk. Courtiers who wore styles that were fashionable in enemy countries might be accused of treachery.  If their garments were too elegant and brightly decorated they could be insulted as tailors’ puppets. Or they were considered to be effeminate – a key concept that symbolized a range of ills from luxury and decadence to idleness – putting their manhood in jeopardy.

All these scenarios are explored in Elizabeth Currie’s ‘Fashion and Masculinity’, offering a new insight into performing gender at an early modern European court. The story is told through the fascinating personal records of Florentine courtiers, which reveal their successes and failures in the game of fashion.

Elizabeth Currie has recently discussed a contemporary take on Renaissance fashions in the Gucci A/W 2016 Collection, which can be read here..