June 25, 2014

Italian Renaissance Dress

I recently became highly obsessed with the TV show The Borgias, so when it came time for me to make my monthly Thrifty Thursday purchase all I could think about were Italian Renaissance dresses.
Just look at these dresses!  They may not be 100% historically accurate, but it is impossible to deny that they are pieces of art.

Can you see why I was inspired?

I got one white sheet, a pillow case that I stole the trim from, an opulent bed skirt, four pieces of light brown fabric, and a pearl necklace from Goodwill.  In total it came to $16.

I started by doing some further research.  I know quite a bit about English Renaissance dresses, but Italian?  Stumped.  The Borgias takes place in 1492, all my costuming books skip this period and move straight from Medieval into the 16th century.  Even Janet Arnold's AMAZING books had nothing on this period.  I wept and turned to the internet, which was absolutely zero help.  Forums and forums of people arguing whether ladies wore corsets or not...where they laced the dresses, what fabric they used.  Almost no one agreed with each other.

So I decided to just make up my own mind based on paintings- and if it wasn't historically accurate...well I would learn for the next time.

I pinned a bunch of paintings to my Pinterest board, but these were a few of my favorites.
 This dress is a dress from a bit later in the Renaissance, but it showed the lacing of the dress up the side which was supremely helpful.

I decided to make a really weird corset that would simply give me the correct shape I needed, rather than being historically accurate.  Why?  Because I could find NO visual examples of an early Renaissance corset.  It didn't make sense to me that the same corset they use for later in the period, when the waist drops, would be used in this period when the waist is so high.  So I made this...thing.  Half Tudor, half Regency...it is 100% inaccurate.  But hey, it gave me the right shape.

I made a chemise out of the white sheet and added gold trim on the neckline.  Technically this would have been gold embroidery...but I didn't have time for that.  I figured gold trim was a nice compromise.
You wish your undies were as awesome as mine!

So together-
I needed lots of help getting dressed- it was no easy task.  The dress tied up the side rather than lace.  I tried adding hooks for lacing, but couldn't pull the bodice closed enough.  So I tied it instead.
The sleeves all tied on as well.   My hair got SUPER messy during this dressing period.  Note- do your hair AFTER you get dressed.  Not before.
Then I dragged my mother out into our park to take some pictures in the few spots that actually had green grass still.  

 I made a gold cap for my hair, and added my hair extensions.  While I have quite long, thick hair, I don't have THAT much hair. 

 Oops...my sleeve broke.  Shh.

This project was fun.  So much fun that I want to make several more dresses and just wear these all the time.  Going to the grocery store, the library, to work- Italian Renaissance style.

Thanks for reading!  If you have any comments, suggestions for the next Thrifty Thursday, or information on ways I could be more historically accurate next time I make something from this period- please leave me a comment!


  1. That's such a pretty dress. I'm intreguied by your tudor-ency(?) stays. Do you have any construction details. I have such a different bust to underbust size tudor stays just don't work properly on me. So Interesed on how these work....for future cosplay idea.

    1. Thank you! :) I didn't take any pictures along the way, but I can describe what I did! I used the same pattern as the bodice for this dress, but then trimmed down the neckline 5/8" so it wouldn't peek out of the bodice. It laces up the side. I think, were I to make one of these again, I would have the sleeves grommet and tie (like 17th century stays do) just because it was a pain to get into the corset.

      Boning- It was pretty heavily boned for being such a small piece. This is where the Tudor part comes in. I placed the bones similarly to how bones are placed in a Tudor corset. I think I had 6 bones in the front (rather than a busk).

      If you try it out send me pictures, or link me to your post! I'd love to see it :)

    2. Thanks for the explanation Did you use metal boning or plastic kind? I have a short wooden 'busk' (removable) I use for my regency stays and wondering if I can incorperate that.
      If I actually get the outfit done I will credit you and post you a link. :)

  2. Beautiful work! And you look perfect in that Italian Renaissance look, it fits you well, (ended up on this blog from seeing your pictures on pinterest pins). I know how you feel about the lack of information on this period of clothes, it's a very underrated period of clothing probably because its too far back in history from present time and there is less artifacts of it left than eras after that, but there are a few sewing patterns available on this period though like Simplicity Pattern 3812. And like you after seeing the Borgias show I want to wear those dresses and keep thinking about it. And to use household fabrics from bedding and curtains is great idea, like you I thought of that as well when I seen how much those damask and jacquard fabrics cost per meter/yard which is really expensive. I bought jacquard curtains that give me lots of fabric and was really reasonable price but have yet to make an Italian Renaissance dress with it since I feel intimidated by how hard it looks to sew lol.

  3. So the Italian renaisance stas were actually the same as the longer version. In the mid evil and Gothic periods, bodies were shaped by the strength of the fabric you were using for your garments, but by the age of enlightenment, you begin to see the waist length stays. This style of stays (or bodies if you need another word to look for) was used for approx. 200-300 years (about 1500-1800) it's the same basic shape used from before king Henry the 8th till after Marie Antoinette was killed. I do however agree that the dress is lovely, and I absolutely love the fact that you did it all with sheets and pillow cases. The gown is absolutely gorgeous, and your stays are ingenious.

  4. During the first half of the century, the Italians didn't use stays/corsets. This is one reason I prefer them to northern European style!