- Gilding the Market: Luxury and Fashion in Fourteenth-Century Italy
While there has been a growing body of literature on Renaissance material culture over the last few years, few have focused on the market for fashion. [End Page 867] Certainly, Evelyn Welch's Shopping in the Renaissance: Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400–1600 (2005) and Carole Collier Frick's Dressing Renaissance Florence (2002) address this issue, but within a broader context than the current volume under review here. First of all, Stuard's book focuses not on the Renaissance, but rather on the fourteenth-century in Italy — the late Middle Ages — and the author breaks new ground by using fashion as a measure of the marketplace and consumer consumption. The same era that witnessed the devastation caused by the Black Plague saw as well the arrival of fashion and its trendsetters: the affluent mature male. Fashion flourished in the market towns of Florence, Venice, and other North Italian cities. For men, fashionable garb meant the public display of private wealth. Stuard suggests that — in part because there were no full-length mirrors to provide head-to-toe scrutiny — clothing was garishly ornamented and brightly colored, with gilt and military affectations. The age of Giotto, Duccio, and the Lorenzetti brothers was also the age of fashion, particularly for men (consider the well-dressed figures in Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Government fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena). Drawing on contemporary paintings, inventories, and other documents, Stuard investigates what sold in the markets and who bought, not just clothing, but all the luxury accessories as well: it was men's fashion that influenced consumption, drove the demand for goods, and created an enthusiastic consumer class. Along the way, she considers the curious role of women's fashion and sumptuary laws.
Her introduction (chapter 1) sets the stage for the book, not just laying the groundwork for the chapters that follow, but also reviewing the literature on consumerism, markets, and the economy in the period. In chapter 2 ("Desirable Wares"), we find that desirable luxury goods were included in most merchants' lists of merchandise; and that, except for pepper and spices, the chief luxury goods on the market were well-crafted textiles, some imported, others of local origin. Stuard draws on documents like Marco Polo's will of 1324, which included an extensive inventory of a shop's contents as well as his own personal possessions. She considers as well court fashion and concludes "a Renaissance court setting does not account all that well for a shift to heightened demand from a suddenly fashion-conscious public" (34). The trend for tight-fitting fashions led to a proliferation of fastenings, such as belts and buttons, made of expensive materials.
Chapter 3 ("Gravitas and Consumption") examines the implications for urban men who remained largely unrestrained in consumption, dress, and display, while boys, girls, and women came under the surveillance of sumptuary laws. Gravity and authority meant color and ornamentation in masculine dress. The most magnificently and prominently attired of all consumers were the wise, grave leaders who wrote up and passed the sumptuary legislation that controlled women's dress, and if a woman dared to assimilate masculine fashion in her dress, she aroused anger. "Curbing Women's Excesses" (chapter 4) presents a more detailed discussion of women's dress, sumptuary laws, and women's reactions to this legislation. Women read the laws and could manipulate a forbidden item such as a button in order to avoid paying fines. Servants were often handy with a needle and [End Page 868] could rework a costume, either one handed down for their use or one their mistress wanted modified to make a personal statement.
The following three chapters turn away from the consumer to the business end, considering the role of shopkeepers, merchants, and craftsmen as well as the place of readymade clothing and accessories within the market. Italian banking, long-distance...