Fashion, emulation and social classes in late medieval Valencia. Exploring textile consumption through probate inventories

Juan Vicente García Marsilla, University of València

Luis Almenar Fernández, University of València

The last centuries of the Later Middle Ages represented a period of profound transformations in personal dress. The huge variety of garments of complex designs that developed in the epoch represented a novelty as compared to immediate prior centuries, to the extent that some historians have suggested that the origins of fashion itself should be located in the late medieval period (Heller 2010, 2007). Similarly, other scholars have stressed the innovations and dynamism showed by late Medieval clothing with notorious terms, such as those of ‘dress revolution’ (Piponnier 1989; Blanc 1997) and ‘fashion revolution’ (Koenig 1991; Scott 2007).

This phenomenon, in turn, can be contextualised within the wider ‘consumer revolution’ that included not only textiles, but also other material objects and possessions that emerged or spread across a number of late medieval households (Petrowiste 2018; Kowaleski 2006; Dyer 2005). Identifying the emergence, proliferation and sometimes disappearance of certain fashions proves to be an extremely complex matter to deal with. Some cloths appeared in the late medieval period and remained in use for centuries, well into the early modern period, while others had a very short existence. Likewise, particular garments were only present among the houses of the rich, while others spread enough to be worn by urban workers and peasants. The reasons for the expansion of certain fashions are no less difficult to establish. Historians have explained this many times as an expression of social emulation, that is, the imitation of the consumption patterns of elites, since it seems evident that kings, courts, and townspeople possessions were desired by the rest of society, which could lead and inspired the consumer behaviour of the latter (Kowaleski 2006, Dyer 2005). The proliferation of sumptuary laws and criticisms of contemporary clergymen to these realities also supports the idea that emulative attitudes existed and were widely present in late medieval society (Muzzarelli 2003). In Iberia and, more specifically, in the kingdom of Valencia, a realm located in the east of the peninsula that was part of the Crown of Aragon, similar processes have been detected in the last years, with a general rise in living standards and consumption that lead altogether to changing textile fashions as well as emulative attitudes (Furió 2009; 2011; García Marsilla 2014; 2015; Almenar Fernández 2018; 2020. Almenar Fernández and Belenguer González 2020).

The purpose of this work is to explore textile consumption among various social classes so as to identify the origins, spread and consolidation or extinction of particular textile fashions. We turn to a sample of 83 probate inventories from the late medieval kingdom of Valencia, particularly, of the city of Valencia and its surrounding countryside. The sources will allow to explore the garments of men and women from various social classes, with a wide range of details that prove excellent for tracking the diffusion of fashions across society. Particular attention will be paid to process of trickle-down or ‘downward’ transmission of consumption patterns, from the richer to the poorer, as well as from townspeople to peasants. Independent, genuine fashions of particular social classes, with no evident inspiration in the habits of consumption of other groups, will also be dealt with, as well as ‘bubble-up’ or ‘upwards’ transmissions, from the poorer to the richer. Part one presents the kingdom of Valencia and its two selected areas for analysis, as well as Valencian inventories and their ability to show the textile possessions of medieval society. Part two deals with temporary and long-lasting textile fashions, with particular attention to its origins and diffusion across society. Part three focus on a major novelty that came to stay, the emergence of gender specific cloths, as a global reality across all social strata. Finally, part four approaches the proliferation of fashions of higher complexity, like those in colours, cloth materials, styles, linings and finishes, which developed transversally across various garments and often independently from them.

DOI: 10.36253/978–88–5518–565–3.19

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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy