From shawl to lace, as the clothes of Venetians change over the centuries

27 September 2022

Venice, 26 September 2022 – It’s one thing to cover yourself and another to dress. Fashion,
understood as evolution and changes in clothes, changes end evolves over the centuries, since
the birth of Venice, which celebrates 1600 years since its foundation. A long path, in ancient
times linked to climatic conditions and later to the general conditions of life, to change of these
conditions, to the influence of political and social events, to the development of civilization and
its spread.
And clothing is constantly changing, depending on the epochs and social classes: long skirts that
are getting shorter and shorter, cloaks, shirts and corsets narrow and wide, tight or puffed
sleeves, lace and wigs. Everything changes, from colors to shapes, from footwear to hairstyle.
The common thread in Venetian clothing, still in the Paleo-Venetian era, which continues to
recur over the centuries is a shawl, called fazuolo and then cendale, ninzioletto, tonda, sial, that
women use to cover their heads. The shawl persists in the fashion of sixteenth-century
handkerchiefs and in the fires and in the eighteenth-century trinkets; in the nineteenth century,
with the emergence of the bourgeoisie and proletariat following the French Revolution, the
shawl – black and with very long fringes – becomes the coat par excellence of the Venetian,
which will bring it with so much grace to become a symbol, along with the lion and the gondola,
of the city itself.
Very used, over the centuries, are the furs, especially of lamb and squirrel in the middle class,
while in the popular classes the furs of fox, cat, hare, dog spread. The patricians in general, and
the magistrates in particular, wear a toga lined with ermine and vaio with the hair facing
inward. In the fifteenth century, fur has its maximum development: in Venice, caps and cloaks,
gloves and hats are trimmed and lined, but also night caps.
But if in Roman times the Venetian commonly wore the cucollo, practical hood, welcomed not
only but ordinary people, but also by the wealthy class during trips or to protect themselves
from the weather, it is Byzantine ancestry to influence the clothing of the time: men wear a
short white robe and a long blue or purple overcoat, whole women adorn their hairstyles with
fake bandages, ribbons and braids. In the thirteenth century were born the buttons called
knobs or pillows, which make possible a greater adherence of the garments and immediately
find a wide spread. During this period, women’s clothing increases in the width of the neckline
and becomes adherent the hips to be then flowing up to the feet.
But we will have to wait for the Renaissance to rediscover all Venetian styles. In the second half
of 1400, Venetian fashion began to break away from European fashion. Venetian women give
up the widespread habit of shaving their foreheads to gather their hair in a “mushroom”, on
top of the head, leaving others, short and curled to frame the face. On the dress with tight
sleeves, detached from the lap-shoulder and cut at the neckline, wearing an upper coat with
bib, with very wide sleeves and train. The first notches of needle lace or bobbins begin to
appear on the edges of shirts or dresses, which many worries will give in the centuries to come
to the magistrates involved in curbing the luxuries and pumps of the Venetians.

Even for men there is a certain originality: nobles, dignitaries, doctors, lawyers wear the toga
that can be peacocks, crimson or black, lined or not fur depending on the season. Women tend
to wear very high wedge footwear, the so-called heels, and they will do so for the whole of the
following century despite the suntuarii prohibitions.
Over the centuries, the Magistrate at the Pumps will have to intervene continuously to limit the
pomp in the costumes. Its roots can be traced back to the second half of the thirteenth century,
but it was officially established on 17 November 1476 and in 1514 it was surpassed by the
College of Pumps, an organization formed by three Superintendents to which are added, in
1559, two superintendents. This judiciary had only executive powers, while legislative powers
were always at the head of the senate. The aim was containment and moderation in dressing
and flaunting precious and luxurious items and clothing. The laws in this regard even concerned
gondolas and the Magistrate at the Pumps imposed that all were painted black, including felze
and other covers.