The Renaissance was a time for rebirth in many ways, and fashion was one area that certainly benefited from Renaissance influence. Gone was the prior emphasis on the stolid, minimal, functional wardrobe. During the Renaissance, clothes began to focus more on form than function, and fashionable styles emphasized a tiny waist and pushed the breasts up and out on display. Clothes of the Renaissance were certainly more fashionable, but also posed health risks for women – and presented the risk of censure from the Catholic Church.
Tiny Waist and Breasts on Display in a Renaissance Dress
Clothes as a Symbol of Social Status
During the Renaissance, clothes very much became a visible symbol of social status. The goal of clothing in the Renaissance was to mark someone’s social status as quickly and precisely as possible. To this end, fashions of this time were focused strongly on trend-setting and being ahead of the curve. If you were seen in last month’s fashion, you it could play a huge adverse role in your social status. Persons who didn’t change their fashions as trends changed were seen as unfashionable or lacking in wealth, and were often ostracized from certain social circles.
The Church Speaks Out Against Vanity
During this era, the Catholic Church continued to speak out against this focus on fashion, arguing that people who pursued fashion relentlessly were indulging the sin of vanity. The Church condemned those who focused too heavily on fashion; largely because moralists and preachers felt that the “trend setters” were able to manipulate the systems of distinction inherent to the society.
In other words, through fashion and dress, these “trend setters” had too much power for the Catholic Church’s liking. To limit this power, the Church exerted its influence to enact “luxury legislation” that dictated the cut, colors and materials for Renaissance fashions. These laws prohibited noblemen from wearing cloth of certain cuts and colors, and every color of cloth had a meaning in the world of Renaissance fashion.
Smaller is Better
It was during the Renaissance that the emphasis on small waistlines developed. Women’s measurements and the size of the waist became a barometer for social status and beauty. Catherine de Medici decreed that the ideal waist of a woman of her era was 13 inches! This spawned a new emphasis on tight-fitting corsets, with lingerie foundations made of steel designed to create a small and shapely waistline. Whalebone eventually replaced the steel lingerie, but the emphasis was always on smaller and tighter dresses, paired with bodices that pushed the breasts up and out.
Various Types of Stays Popular in Women's Lingerie During the Renaissance
Because of this extreme emphasis on small, women in this era often suffered shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea and even fainting! It was common for women during the Renaissance to faint, and with the constant pressure of ill-fitting tight garments, women’s ribcages often became deformed. In some extreme cases, the ribs pierced lungs or livers, and women died for fashion! As the Renaissance progressed, women became literally imprisoned in their tight-fitting shapewear.
It’s lucky for us that fashion doesn’t demand such severe sacrifices today! The shapewear we carry here at Big Girls’ Bras is designed to be comfortable and help emphasize the shape you have, while minimizing trouble spots. But this period is probably responsible for today’s emphasis on small waists; before this era, a full-figured woman was considered more desirable.