I he fifteenth century saw transformations in the nature of costume and culture that are key to our understanding of Western fashion. Up until the fifteenth century, the clothing customs of most cultures had been determined by tradition, the availability of certain kinds of fabric, and the skill of the tailor. Ancient Egyptians wore similar clothing for nearly thirty centuries, for example, and the long wool garments worn by Europeans in the sixth century were not that different from those worn in the fourteenth century.
Various styles of fifteenth-century costume, including women's long, flowing gowns and men's hose and breeches. Reproduced by permission of© Bettmann/
During the fifteenth century, however, the nature of European costume began to emphasize fashion, the current style or custom of dress.
In the late Middle Ages (c. 500-c. 1500), only the wealthiest members of a royal court had the resources to regularly change their costume and accessories. But during the early years of the Renaissance, or cultural rebirth, which started in the fifteenth century, more and more people began to acquire the wealth that allowed them to dress more extravagantly and keep up with the newly popular styles. In Burgundy, a kingdom in present-day France, and in Italian states such as Florence, greater numbers of wealthy merchants, nobles, and others competed to wear the most striking and elegant clothes. Certain people, such as Philip III (1396-1467), duke of Burgundy, who ruled from 1419 to 1467, became trendsetters, people who introduced a fashion that others followed. The clothing styles and customs that were introduced in Italy and Burgundy began to spread and by the end of the century, the emphasis on fashion and the wealth that was required to pursue fashion had stretched throughout Europe.
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