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Because the Renaissance era encompasses approximately 150 years of history, its fashions changed dramatically from beginning to end. At the dawn of the Renaissance in 1450, clothing styles were influenced by Medieval and Gothic designs, as well as the Italian Renaissance movement in art. Women's fashions assumed a more natural appearance from their Gothic predecessors. Dresses gradually lost their long trains, and flowing skirts became increasingly popular. The robe, which was actually a dress with an attached bodice and skirt, appeared on the fashion scene. In addition, the long, rigid, corset that extended in a cone shape below the waist to a V debuted during the early part of the Renaissance period. Women also began showing their hair again. Instead of covering their heads, they adorned their coiffures with shimmering veils and dazzling jewels. In men's fashions, doublets shortened and low-necked tunics and chemises became common garb. Hose became a common necessity for the well-dressed gentleman. Brocades and velvets were among the favored fabrics for both men's and women's clothing.
After the turn of the 15th century, Renaissance fashions began to follow German styles. The simple, natural styles of the early period were replaced with horizontal, massive styles. Men's fashions became square in cut and elaborately trimmed. Breeches were lengthened, and linen chemises were decorated with lace edges and frills at the neck and sleeves. Women's gowns became voluminous, with skirts heavily pleated and supported underneath by hoops made of wire or wicker and held together with ribbons or tapes. The hoopskirt, called the farthingale, reached its maximum width around 1600, when it became a cartwheel or drum shape. Sleeves were puffed and necklines were adorned with high-standing collars with expanded ruffs or circular lace. Men's clothing adopted a similar style, with puffed trunk hose, balloon sleeves, padded doublets, and large ruff collars. "Slashing" (cutting the outer layer of cloth to reveal an inner layer of contrasting color and fabric), also became popular in both men's and women's fashions. The trend for the elaborate also extended to hairstyles. Women began wearing headdresses, at first a simple hood which then became peaked. Men wore broad hats that were sometimes trimmed with gemstones. By the end of the Renaissance in 1600, fashion had reached a zenith under the Elizabethan period.
Food and Cooking
During the Renaissance, as in ages past, food was a matter of social class, as well as region and season. In modest
European homes, meat was not necessarily served every day (although for special occasions, meat dishes were often served in
abundance, to display the generosity of the host). Bread was the fundamental staple for the lower and middle classes,
was made with cheaper grains than wheat: barley and rye, for example. Meals for the lower social classes usually consisted of dark bread such as rye or barley, and cheese or curds.
Servants living in wealthy households usually dined better, enjoying meals of beef or fowl, refined breads, pudding, cod and ale. They also had access to certain seasonings such as salt.
The middle class enjoyed more variety, as each meal generally consisted of several different dishes, with a game bird of some kind being the standard main course. For dessert, the middle class dined on sweets and confections with spiced wine. Meals for the wealthiest classes were similar to those of the middle class, although the rich also enjoyed unusual delicacies such as molden jelly and pastries.
The bread of the upper classes was made with a higher proportion of wheat,
which was more finely ground and sifted. Stale bread was cut into squares and used for trenchers, a surface on which to serve other foods and sauces.
When the rich were done with their meals, the sauce-soaked bread was usually given to the poor.
Most meat was usually served either extremely fresh (birds kept in cages until killed for dinner), or salted and preserved. The spicing of many
Renaissance recipes was intended to mask the fact that the meat was extremely salty and had to be soaked and boiled for a long time. Meat was
commonly served in ragouts and pottages, or baked into pies. Roasted meats naturally had to be fresh and of good quality, so they were more likely
to be found in the homes of nobles. Additionally, only the noble classes had the right to hunt game or to keep a rabbit warren.
Fowl were viewed as especially desirable foods for noble tables. Peacocks, swans, herons, and other birds that are no longer popular today,were much sought after for banquets, but were inaccessible
to the average person.
The Renaissance uplifted Europe's culinary arts, especially in Italy, evident in the banquets of Rome's papal court, the Venice of the doges and
perhaps most elegantly in the Florence of the Medici. That family's epicurean tastes were transferred to France when Caterina de' Medici wed
King Henry II, bringing with her the cooks and recipes that reputedly put the haute in cuisine.
But perhaps the most significant Italian contribution to European cooking, if indirect, was Christopher Columbus's
discovery of America.
In the centuries that followed, the New World endowed the Old with the potato, beans, squash, novel breeds of fowl,
maize, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, pineapples, lima beans, chili peppers, corn for northern Italy's massively popular polenta and, above all, the tomato, which after
posing for a time as an ornamental plant burst forth in the south in the most Italian of sauces.
Coffee was imported from the tropics after Venetians introduced the raw beans to Italy in the 1600s.
Sports, Games and Leisure
Jousting was a competition between two knights on horse-back, wherein each knight tried to knock the other off his mount. Jousting was at the peak of
its popularity in the 14th to 16th centuries. The knights were often each equipped with three weapons; a lance, a one handed sword, and a rondel.
When one knight knocked the other off of his mount, he was declared the winner of the round. If both knights were knocked off their mounts at the
same time, it was considered a tie; they would then engage in sword combat, and the last standing was victorious. The knights usually jousted in
a best out of three situation. Considerable honour and fortune could be gained by jousting. In its earliest form, jousting, or the tournai,
was a simulated battle for training purposes. Victors in these battles usually gained the armor of their opponents, with a value equivalent
to the price of a house these days. Many knights made their fortune in these events, many lost theirs as well.