Renaissance Fashion: A Reflection of Social Status and Wealth

October 30, 2023 3 min read

Young women traditional Renaissance clothing

When you think of the Renaissance, you’ll likely think of figures like Shakespeare and Botticelli, and masterpieces like Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Nicholas Maccievelli’s The Prince. But what might not immediately come to mind is the fashion - despite fashion experiencing a profound and historic evolution from the 14th century to the early 17th century. Love a good puff-sleeve blouse? Give thanks to the Renaissance period!

So, how did people dress during the Renaissance period, and how does Renaissance era fashion still influence how we dress today? Let’s take a look.


Understanding Renaissance Era Fashion

It’s important to understand that Renaissance fashion wasn’t just about style; while the garments worn by the upper classes were beautiful, the hierarchy of clothing was a reflection of social status and power at the time. Don’t forget that the period spanning the 14th to the 17th century witnessed dramatic changes in fashion that mirrored the broader shifts in art, culture, and politics of the time, and within this context, clothing played a pivotal role in signaling one's position in wider society. Here’s how:


Sumptuary Laws

In place in various European cities during the Renaissance, Sumptuary laws were designed to regulate personal expenditure, and they often dictated what each social class could wear, from the types of fabrics to the colors. Their aim was to ensure that people dressed "according to their station" and didn't imitate the attire of a higher social class.



When it came to Renaissance era fashion, the fabrics used in clothing were also a primary indicator of someone’s social position; wealthy nobles and the upper class often adorned themselves in luxurious textiles such as silks, velvets, and brocades, much of which was often imported at great expense. But it wasn’t just that these materials were costly - they were also visually striking, making a clear distinction between the elite and the lower classes.



Another signifier of social status was the complexity of the attire: upper class renaissance clothing included embroidery, layers, slashed sleeves, and detailed beadwork; these weren’t just aesthetic choices but deliberate displays of wealth. After all, complex embellishments required skilled artisans and were time-consuming to make, and only the upper classes had the means to buy such expensively made clothing.



Colors, too, played a role. Bright and rich hues, especially purples and deep reds, were reserved for the elite; dyes for these colors were rare and expensive during the Renaissance era, so brightly colored clothes indicated wealth. In contrast, the common folk wore more muted, natural tones, often dictated by the undyed color of the fabric.


The Enduring Influence of Renaissance Period Clothing

Woman in Renaissance-style dress

To conclude this brief lesson on Renaissance clothing history, it’s important to take a look at just how much Renaissance era fashion still impacts how we dress today in the 21st century. Got a poet’s blouse in your wardrobe? Thank the Renaissance era! Love pairing your favorite corset top with a flowy skirt? So did women in the 16th century. From babydoll dresses to tie-up corsets, so much of our modern style can be traced back to different types of Renaissance dresses and clothes.

The Role of the Renaissance Fair

Let’s also not forget the role of Renaissance Fairs and festivals when it comes to celebrating Renaissance-style garments and dresses; with hundreds of festivals held across the US every year,

And if you’re wondering: “what is a Renaissance fair?” - a Renaissance Fair is a large event where people recreate a 14th-17th century setting, by dressing up in elaborate period-style costumes, reenacting Shakespeare and play-jousting with friends - amongst other things.

But the fashion aspect of Renaissance Festivals represents a great deal of its popularity, and a Ren Faire would be the ideal place to observe Renaissance-style clothing trends in action.


Sustainable, Ethical Renaissance Dresses at Holy Clothing

Woman wearing Renaissance-style dress at the festival


Whether you’re looking for historical Renaissance clothing or a Renaissance dress plus size, we at Holy Clothing offer made-to-order, expertly-crafted Renaissance dresses, made with 100% ethically-sourced vegan materials. Made by hand by our in-house production team, our period dresses are available in inclusive sizing, and are crafted with the ultimate attention to detail so that your dress is built to last.


Did men and women follow different fashion trends during the Renaissance?

While both men's and women's fashions were elaborate and indicative of status, they did differ in style; men's clothing often included doublets, hose, and codpieces, while women's attire consisted of gowns with voluminous skirts, tight bodices, and intricate sleeves. The styles and cuts evolved over the period, but gender distinctions in attire remained prominent.


Were certain colors once reserved for royalty or the elite?

Yes, colors like purple and certain shades of red were often reserved for royalty or the upper echelons of society, as the dyes were rare and costly.