The dressing of an Italian lady: Against the skin is worn a loose, white linen layer, called chemise (it. camicia). Over this is worn the petticoat (it. sottana) and over the petticoat is the gown (it. veste). The gown and petticoat had almost identical cuts; the petticoat could be seen when the gown hemline is lifted or at the neck or sleeves. Over this could be worn the loose overgown (it. zimarra, roba). There are variations on this over the course of the 16th century, including the arrival of farthingale (it. faldiglia) and the doublet (it. giubbone) in the latter part of the century.
The dressing of the Italian gentleman followed a similar pattern. A linen shirt was worn next to the skin, a padded doublet (it. farsetto) was worn over the shirt, which had points for the hose to attach or tie to. Over the hose and farsetto was worn a gown.
The fabrics ranged from plain wools to fantastic silks and brocades. Many of the portraits from the early part of the 16th century do not reflect the recorded descriptions from events, such as the following:
And then Madame the Prefectress entered with Madonna Constanza her daughter and the two married nieces of His Holiness. The first, Madonna Sista, married to the nephew of the Cardinal of San Giorgio, Signor Galeazzo Riario... she wore a dress of gold brocade covered with slashed crimson silk and a mantle of gold taffeta. The second niece, called Madonna Lucretia, married to a nephew of the Cardinal of Naples, who is the son of the Duke of Ariano, wore a dress of black and gold silk with pearls at her neck and jewels on her head of not much worth; and these two are the neices of the Pope, the daughters of a sister of His Holiness, called Madonna Luchina. And Madonna Constanza preceded all, with a yellow dress covered in slashed white pendant trimmings and a headdress of diamonds of some worth, believed to have been given her by the Pope.
This is a translated description of an event that occured on July 11, 1504, found in Alessandro Luzio and Rudolfo Renier, Mantova e Urbino; Isabella d'Este ed Elizabetta Gonzaga nelle relazioni famigliari e nelle vicende politiche, Torino/Rome, 1893. Excerpted from Caroline Murphy, The Pope's Daughter, ISBN 0-19-531201-5, pg 53.
Here follows another description of extravagant fashion from the 16th century:
On entering Ferrara she rode a black mule caparisoned in black velvet embroidered with woven gold, and wore a mantle of black velvet strewn with triangles of beaten gold; another day indoors she wore a mantle of brown velvet slashed, and caught up with chains of massive gold; another day a gown of black velvet striped with gold, with a jewelled necklace and diadem; and still another day, a black velvet robe embroidered with ciphers.
Baldassare Castiglione,The Book of the Courtier, Translated by Leonard Eckstein Opdycke, Published by Courier Dover Publications, 2003, ISBN 0486427021 Page 320 (note 12 to page 2).
The rich fabric described here is absent from most contemporary portrait art of the first half of the 16th century. Nonetheless, eyewitness accounts give us a clue to the heights of sumptousness that dress could rise.