The Flamboyant Fake: Sophie Pitman - Fake Fashion
5th Online Expert Talk in the series The Flamboyant Fake: Sophie Pitman - Fake Fashion
The Renaissance is often characterised as an era of sumptuous luxury, with rich velvets, shining pearls, and gold ornaments. Fashion was extreme - yards of lace-trimmed ruffs, exaggerated padded shoulders, and elaborately underpropped skirts. But what did those who were not elite enough to afford such luxuries do to achieve fashionable styles?
Looking at mock-velvets, imitation beaver hats, and fake gold, gems, and pearls, this talk will argue that many iconic Renaissance fashions did not rely on the most sumptuous materials, but instead utilised innovative fabrics and techniques to imitate luxury materials. Skilled craftsmen used ingenious techniques to provide the non-elite with fashionable dress within their budget and in line with sumptuary laws that often restricted the use of fine materials.
So how did early modern people think about these substitute materials? Were they considered duplicitous fakes or desirable alternatives? And how were fakes and imitations influenced and spurred on by sumptuary legislation?
Using examples of surviving clothing alongside reconstructed objects, this talk will also suggest how historians can recover the fashionable clothing worn by the lower classes, and witness the efficacy of some of these substitute materials, in spite of the scarce available evidence.
Sophie Pitman is a Leverhulme Early Career fellow at University College London, where she explores the history of early modern clothing and its relationship to the weather and the environment. Pitman received her PhD in History from Cambridge University in 2017, and formerly held postdoctoral research fellowships on the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University, and the European Research Council-funded Refashioning the Renaissance Project at Aalto University. She has published works on sumptuary law, issues of luxury and the everyday, and reconstruction as a methodology. Pitman recently curated the exhibition 'Reconstructing Everyday Fashion, 1550-1650' at the Dipoli Gallery in Helsinki, Finland. She combines traditional source analysis of texts and images with the close study of surviving objects and hands-on experimental methods.