1480s Florence – Camicia (shift, chemise, smock)

The camicia is the layer worn closest to the skin – a chemise, smock or shift. Like it’s counter-part in other parts of the world, it was worn for a few reasons – it was made of more washable fabric (or at least not fabrics embellished by metals, etc) so could be washed more frequently than the gowns which would be more challenging (or possibly not washed at all). It protected the skin from the outer gowns, but mostly protected the gowns from the sweat and oils of the skin.

For the most part, this garment was unseen – but in the era I’m looking at, it was shown peeking out from the neckline, cuffs, and at the opening of the gown in the front.

Background research

I already posted some of this in an earlier post, but I wanted to keep it together on this page as well, so some of it is repeated from my original “inventory” post.

In The Birth of Mary portrait (detail) the camicia is only visible at the armscye at the front, and is white.

In The Resurrection of the Notary’s Son, the white camicia are visible at the armscye and sleeves, and possibly the neckline, but it’s hard to tell.

In the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni the camicia is only visible through the lacing of the Gamurra and where the sleeves lace onto the Gamurra as well through the sleeves. There is also a tiny hint of the camicia at the cuff of the sleeve.

Lynn McMasters made her camicia out of cream silk, and recommends that “the trick to getting a good puffs on the chemise is to make the chemise sleeve wider and longer than a regular sleeve”.

Kristiina Prauda suggests that “many of the portraits show very thin almost transparent camicias”. While she used a cotton blend, she recommends fine linen. She made hers with a square neckline, gathered with thread and held in place with a strip of narrow machine-made lace. She opted not to cuff or gather the sleeves.

Camicia in the style of 1485

Premysl Polasek made her camicia in white silk with embroidery around the neck and wrists.  The full garment can be seen here, while the not-quite rectangular construction for the pattern with the square neckline is here.

The Canton of Black Icorndall offers a camicia pattern which uses largely rectangular construction for a square-necked camicia based on a speculative 1485 design.

Bella from the Realm of Venus has a similar cutting layout for a 16th Century Venetian camicia, and is replicated at the costuming diary.

Kathelyne opted for a non-gathered camicia in the style of 1480s for a persona with lesser means.  She comments that 1480 was a transition period as the camicia moved from this simple style to something more pleated / gathered for rich and fashionable ladies.

Briana Etain MacKorkhill shares a pattern for a late 15th Century Italian Chemise here  – this one has a gathered round neckline and is ankle length. She recommends that the cuffs be closed with a drawstring, tie closed with attached ties, or cuff and close with a button and loop.

Vera‘s camicia appears to have extra-long sleeves, a gathered neckline, and is ankle length.  I love the idea of a drawstring neckline, but it doesn’t seem authentic. The idea of it being transitional for different necklines really appeals to me though… Her costume is based on the Birth of Mary costume (1480s too) and she chose 3.5 oz linen for her version. A pattern is here.

The “order of the golden lion” has copied Jen Thompson‘s (elusive since it’s no longer linked on her website) Italian Chemise pattern & instructions.  It recommends linen, with silk and cotton also acceptable. The pattern has rectangular pieces and underarm gussets. Necklines and cuffs are bound or ruffled. This is very similar to the Costuming Diary pattern which doesn’t suggest a date.

Lee Ann Posavad writes about Italian (not specifically Florence) Renaissance camicias, and states they were made of fine linen, inexpensive cotton, or silk. She adds that colours included unbleached natural colour (cream) or bright white – or any shade in between. In detailing the late 15th Century specifically (1470-1490s) she elaborates that the camicias shifted from exclusively undergarments, to garments that were exposed beneath the front-laced gamurra. To indicate wealth during a time of peace, the garments had more fabric in them indicated by fine pleats showing through the lacing. She references a 1496 painting and suggests that the hems were full, but the sleeves were regular length.

In Glossary in Words & Pictures, Anéa describes the camicia as an undergarment protecting other layers of fabric, often called a camisia, chemise, smock, and undergown. She writes that it was made of linen or wool, or sometimes even cotton or silk. She notes that in Florence the most common embellishment is blackwork over lace, redwork, or gold embroidery. She writes that necklines may have been tied closed, or had no opening beyond the neckline (the neckline being wide enough for the head to pass through).

In Survey of Historic Costume, the author discusses the most common combination of garments for women in Italy between 1450-1500 was a camicia worn under a dress, and then a second over-dress worn above that. However, they also identify that there are a “number of examples of women’s dress in which only the chemise and an outer dress are worn”.  The author notes that in some paintings peasant women are shown working in the feilds dressed only in their camicie, and suggests that “during hot weather women wore the garment in the privacy of their own quarters”.
They identify the camicia as being made of linen, the quality of which might vary based on the status of the wearer, and the fullness of which was dictated by the weight of the fabric; a very sheer fabric would be cut with more fullness. The author indicates that the camicia was “full length, to the floor” and had long sleeves. The author also notes that some sleeves were cut “in raglan style”.

Anéa writes more about the camicia, and has some criticism for the idea of a drawstring neckline (which costumers use to adjust for a variety of necklines for their gowns) along with some alternate ideas and further information about how these were made, by whom, and how they’re embellished.

Camicia Summary

Colour: White, cream
Fabric: Silk, fine linen, cotton
Neckline: mostly gathered to a square neckline with either a band or a ruffle. Optional drawstring which I don’t think is accurate.
Sleeves: Wider and longer than regular sleeves
Cuffs: gathered and banded
Length: Most I’ve looked at are between calf and ankle length.

In an upcoming article…

I’ll share what I ended up making for my camicia – at least as a first-draft.

One comment on “1480s Florence – Camicia (shift, chemise, smock)

  1. I did extensive research on a Tuscany area woman’s camicia from the late 1400s for an A&S project.


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