Cultures of Clothing in Later Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Cultures of Clothing in Later Medieval and Early Modern Europe

By Margaret F. Rosenthal

Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Vol.39:3 (2009)

Introduction: In the past two decades, the multifaceted discipline of the history of medieval and early modern dress has benefited from reconceptualizations of the long, late Middle Ages and Renaissance as having undergone “a revolution of consciousness, belief, and thought with global implications” that we still recognize today.

A widening of the number and variety of crafts and industries, a proliferation and multiplication of skills and artisanal productivity that crossed regions, the ingenuity of pioneering ideas, and an unprecedented movement of goods, all had far-reaching influences on how merchants, diplomats, humanists, artists, mendicants, pilgrims, itinerant artisans, and laborers viewed their world and moved within it.

Dramatic technical and intellectual innovations were not solely the product of small, closed, tightly knit elite societies of humanists and artists as these have traditionally been studied. Rather, since the eleventh century, the growth of towns and cities in Europe led to the formation of new and multiple centers of cultural forms and industrial practices and larger and more expansive social networks. Rural households were linked to urban markets, and more goods were owned by more people. This paradigmatic shift of attention from social structure to both practice and agency links production and consumption when scholars now examine the significance of clothing and social systems of dress in these periods. Early modern retailers, for example, played a growing role as middlemen and women between producers and consumers.

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Top Image: Photo by Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería / Flickr



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