What Did Women Wear During the Renaissance?

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During the time of the Renaissance, most women wore similar flowing styles, although lower class women couldn't afford many of the fabrics used by women in the upper classes. All outfits started with a loose fitting linen smock that was worn to protect outer clothing from sweat. At least one petticoat was also generally worn underneath a long skirt to make the gown fuller and keep the wearer warm.

Women of the lower classes wore clothing for function rather than ornamentation. The majority of their outfits were made of linen, wool or sheepskin. They often wore loose-fitting corsets or chose to forgo a corset altogether. Women in the lower classes also frequently chose not to wear the fashionable bum rolls and farthingales. Bum rolls were a type of crescent-shaped cushion that women wore around their hips underneath their clothing. Farthingales were a hoop skirt used to hold dresses and skirts away from the body. These differences arose because of the expense of extra ornamentation, and because women of the lower classes needed freedom of movement to work effectively alongside their menfolk and in their homes.

Women of the upper classes more often wore dresses with tight-fitting, low-cut bodices that left their necklines bare. They also wore full skirts that hung down to their ankles with bum rolls and farthingales worn underneath. Their gowns were often made of heavier fabrics that restricted their movements, such as velvet and brocade, but they also wore delicate and expensive gowns made of satin and silk. They did this to display their wealth overtly and as a sign that they had no need to be able to work.