Women's fashions in the 15th century were both brightly coloured and free-flowing. While special laws dictated what certain classes could wear, all were influenced by the bright colours in Gothic cathedral windows. Many clothes were parti-coloured, with each half of a dress in a different colour. Slim gowns accentuated the desired "S"-shaped figure, made as the woman's hips were thrust forward. Pillows worn under the dress accentuated the desired "pregnant" look.
Fashion in the 1400s
Women of the 15th century dressed in layers and wore long gowns with high waists. Often ladies wore a loose gown over a closely fitting underdress. The sleeves of the top dress were slit to show the colours of the second set of sleeves. Puffed sleeves were slit to show other colours. Sleeves did not have cuffs but were closed with a row of ribbon or buttons. Chronologically, the "V"-shaped neckline followed the scoop neck. Wool fabric was preferred by all classes as it could be either coarse or very fine.
During the Middle Ages, many countries had sumptuary laws, which affected fashion. Some laws stipulated that the people could not buy clothes outside their class, no matter how much they could afford to spend. While the upper classes wore ermine, the poor wore rabbit, cat and fox fur. In Florence, the Italian sumptuary laws did not allow the lower class to wear the very fabrics they made for export.
During the Hundred Years War in France (1400-1450), fashions were very extravagant. Trailing gowns with embroidery and fancy sleeves were popular. Dress material was loose, long and fell away from the lower arm. Below this, women wore a different colour under their dress and the sleeves either buttoned or laced with ribbons. Occasionally sleeves had puffs at the elbows. Some wing-like sleeves were edged with furs. Women also wore closely fitted jackets with long sleeves.
English Clothing Laws
Sumptuary laws were most prominent in 15th century England. Women had to dress at the class level of their fathers or husband. Colours such as purple were only worn by royalty while the upper class wore red and green. The wealthy also preferred gold trim, lace, satin, fine fur and embroidery. The lower class wore plain clothes with no embellishments.
Paintings made in 15th century Italy show a very natural woman's figure. Dresses had loose-flowing skirts and a high waist that shows no use of corsets. Despite this natural flow, women were also encased in a heavy underdress called a chemise. Some dresses had pleats on the sleeves, back and front like many men's clothes did at the time.