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  • Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing
  • John T. Paoletti
Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing. By Carole Collier Frick ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. xiv plus 347 pp. $47.00).

This book presents a detailed discussion of style, the clothing industry and its technical underpinnings, economic history, social decorum, gender, and changing social customs in Florence from the end of the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. Frick's evidence derives from substantive archival searches and from diaristic accounts of the period. Given the breadth of Frick's concerns, it is perhaps not surprising that one occasionally feels overwhelmed with details, losing sight of the reason for them in the first place. Chapters are divided into multiple subheads and one often feels as if there might be more information that could be teased out of what seems a very copious and extended outline.

One of the more interesting aspects of this book comes at the outset where Frick talks of the improving social position of the tailor (sarto) and the impor- tance—and thus the substantive remuneration—of this overlooked trade during this time. It is hard to imagine that there is any aspect of the manufacture and meaning of clothing that Frick has overlooked. Her appendices of currencies, measures, and weights, of categories of clothiers, and of types of clothing and the standard measure of cloth involved in their making are extraordinarily useful. Frick also includes an appendix of inventories of two Minerbetti trousseaux, which gives some insight into the value of this exchange within the elaborated wedding rituals of the period and within a very particular social group.

Frick also discusses the importance of clothing—both for males and females—as a public manifestation of a family's honor, so much so that the weight and color of the fabric even provided gauges not just of the individual's wealth, but also of his honor within the civic hierarchy of the city or her importance as a visual link in the social/economic/political linkage of two families at the time [End Page 1229] of a wedding. Decorum of clothing was a gendered construct that played out on the bodies of its wearers.

Despite the welcome information that Frick provides and the detailing of the processes of manufacture and use of clothing, there are some issues that beg for greater attention (although we may still be lacking the hard documentary evidence that undergirds Frick's history). After reading about the luxury of fabrics and their decoration with gold and silver ornament and fur, it seems that sumptuary laws and what Frick calls the "fashion police" (Ufficiale delle donne [!]) deserve more attention. How were women flaunting regulations of decorum in clothing—or rather when? If women's appearances in public were as circumscribed as we are led to believe, then what opportunities did they have to wear such finery in public in a way to necessitate the creation of a formal legal watchdog body? And who lay behind these prescriptive laws? It would be interesting to know whether they were initiated as part of recurrent religious reforms during the time, or whether specific political factions used them as a means of asserting pressure on families whose wealth gave them undue political clout in the city. In this regard, curiously no Medici woman appears in the documentation and Frick does indicate (p. 188) that sumptuary laws tightened under Cosimo and Piero de' Medici. It does look as if something more than social position was involved in clothing, something perhaps having to do with political control, although one is aware that this is also the time of the reformers St. Antoninus and St. Bernardino.

One also wonders about the frequency of use of some of the more elaborate clothing that Frick discusses, and whether, especially for women, the rather simple clothing worn within the house was the norm. In this case, Frick presents information about women, but not men, illustrating the portrait of a woman attributed to Botticelli now in the Pitti where a woman is shown in what we believe to be everyday costume with a simple kerchief binding her hair. (In this light...


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