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The Evolution of the Camicia

Baroness Rainillt Leia de Bello Marisco ( mka Lee Ann Posavad )

www.bellomarisco.com/pleatworks ~ email: Rainillt@yahoo.com
The author of these works retains full copyright for all material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of documents for noncommercial private research purposes provided the author's name, the copyright notice, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies. Using the
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To document the camicia through the 15th and 16th century requires much conjecture and great leaps of
faith. There are mens shirts and undergarments dating one to two hundred years earlier. There are men
and womens extant chemises dating 100 years later. The inventories and household records generally
date from the early part of the 16th century. By comparing this information with pictorial references, a
time line of a garment can be deduced. This paper is one artisans thoughts on how a particular
undergarment evolved and changed though a century of fashion.
Documenting undergarments from the medieval and renaissance periods is difficult due to the lack of
extant examples. Documenting womens garments is even more complex due to the general lack of nonallegorical portraiture, which normally gives some insight to the garments of the time.
Prior to the mid to late 15th century, women were painted in allegorical settings portraying the Madonna
and various Saints. This does not necessarily preclude using the garments depicted in the artwork to help
document clothing styles. After all, if you are paying to have yourself or your wife portrayed as a saint,
she would of course have to be painted in the latest fashions and in the most opulent of fabrics.
Finding supportive written documentation is also difficult when dealing with undergarments. Inventory
records and sumptuary laws are the most common forms of written documentation. Undergarments are
rarely included in household records because they seldom have any noted value. The few that have listed
associated with them do so because of the expense associated with buying or making them.

The camicie were not gender specific in their description. The term could be used to describe either or
male or female garment. Considered a form of under-blouse, it was generally made of fine linen,
inexpensive cotton, or silk. Colors ranged from that of the natural unbleached color to fine bright whites
(Frick 162). Men had their camicie made for them at the camiciaia, the women were responsible for ensuring
that the household linens were made, including the undergarments for the rest of the family (Frick 40).
Hints at the amount of fabric required for the camicia come from the letters written by the wives and
family of the great families such as the Medicis. Margherita Datini, writing to her husband Francesco in
the early 1400s, speaks of a length of linen cloth that she had previously made 8 undershirts for herself
and 12 for him (Frick 41). Clarice Orsini, a member of the Medici family writing in the mid 1470s, requests
twenty braccia (arms length) of linen cloth so that I can make camicie for these children (Frick 41).
Wardrobe accounts from the 15th century periodically mention camicia, mainly under listings for personal
linens. Among the accounts of items not counted in the dowry of Tessa Guicciardini upon her marriage to
Grancesco de Medici in 1433 are 17 chamicie (Herald 243). The household inventory of Puccio Pucci notes 18
chamicie da donna (womans shirt) valued at 14 fiorini, a price equal to one single gamurra (Herald 245).


The undergarments worn during the late 14th and early 15th century were simple square cut construction
according to popular theory. There would be little waste in this design. The fabric would have used
selvage to selvage in many cases, putting less strain on the seams. The silhouette during that time was
slim and form fitting, and the necessary undergarments would need to be minimal in fabric to fit under the
outer layers.
Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 1

A garment thought to be worn by St Louis, dating from the

13th century shows the shape of this rectangular construction
(Plate 1).
In a drawing by Marc Carlson, he shows two possible
layouts for the St Louis smock: one by Dorothy Burnham,
from Cut My Cote and the bolder lines are from a study
done by Heather Rose Jones, after she examined the
garment. The patterns are very similar; the main difference
is that Ms Jones suggests straight edges on the arms eye vs. a
rounded edge and a more angled side profile.

Plate 1: St Louis Smock

Images taken from a panel painting of the Fountain of

Youth date from approximately 1415 show two people in
full length under-gowns ( Plate 2). While the figures are
most likely male, it can be conjectured that the silhouette of
the womans garment would be similar.

These garments appear to be fuller than that of the St Louis

shirt but this silhouette would be possible using rectangular
construction. Cutting a more acute angle on the line from
the shoulder to the hem would allow for increased fullness
or draping on these and later garments. Additionally,
adding gores to the side panels and increasing the size of
the front and back gores would also achieve this result.
The possibility exists that this garment is cut on the bias
with wide angled sides. It would increase the amount of
fabric used, but these were images of upper nobility and
that would not be as much of a concern as it would be for
the lower classes. The use of the bias would account for
the drape starting at the neckline and would explain the
drape of some of the garments in later periods.

Plate 2: The Fountain of Youth

Italian Camicia: Mid Late 15th century (c 1440s-1480s)

Through the early 15th century, artwork rarely shows womens
undergarments. It is not until about the 1440s that glimpses of
undergarment is seen. While some of the paintings are often allegorical,
typically birthing scenes, the garments are in so many paintings by
different artists, that it becomes more likely that the depicted clothing
from current styles.

Plate 3: Young Lady, c1470

Evolution of the Italian Camicia

When people think of the camici of the Italian renaissance, they tend to
think of the full, heavily pleated versions, with fabric puffed out
through shoulder and sleeve seams. That version did not become
fashionable until the late 1400s when the center-laced gamurra began to
open up and expose the undergarments. Until that time, a simple ungathered version appears to have been worn. It is the authors conjecture
that these camici were simply variations of the earlier rectangular
constructed garments.
Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 2

The best indication that the early camici were

un-gathered necklines comes from the
appearance of small tucks or folds in the
neckline on the undergarment. These folds
occur when the tighter overdress pulls in the
body, which would cause even a close fitted
undergarment to loosen.
Even if the camicia fit perfectly with no
gaping, as soon as the gamurra is laced over
it, gaping would be created and the small
pleats would appear. This small pleating is
depicted so often in the images that it may
have been a fashionable feature of the

Plate 4: ~ Carnevale 1467

Plate 6: Rossellino c 1460-1470

Portrait Bust of a Lady

Plate 5: Verrocchio ~ 1480s

Plate 7: Portrait of a Lady

Robbia ~ c 1465

Patterns and Layouts for Mid 15th century Camici

The actual shape of this camicia is unknown. There are no known extant
garments of this type. A few images show the shape of a camicia (Plates 8 and
9). The necklines are rounded, the sleeves are still narrow and there does not
appear to be excess fabric over the body. In the image by Lippi (Plate 9), the
sleeve line and the draping through the neckline and body hint that the
garment is possibly cut on the bias.
There are a number of possible patterns that can be
used to create this garment. The actual layout to use
will depend on your body shape, fabric widths and
personal preferences.

Plate 8: Cossa ~ 1476

If you are slight enough in the shoulder and bust it is possible to use a layout in
similar to that of the St Louis shirt (Plate 1) in which the top of the sleeve fits at
the top of the shoulder or slightly past it.
Moving the sleeve further out from the top of the shoulder will put more fabric in
the bust/body and will create some of the puff see through the sleeves without
having to draw it up from the sleeve itself.
Plate 9: Lippi ~ c1440

Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 3

A few basic measurements need to be taken into consideration when

making this garment:
A : Sleeve length ~ The sleeve length should be from the point of the
shoulder for the body of the garment to the wrist. Add in approximately 3-5
inches for extra fabric to create any desired poof on the forearm and ease.
B : Shoulder to Bust ~ This is an imprecise measurement which will be
dependent on which version you use. It is the measurement from the top of the
shoulder (Point E ) to where the bottom of the sleeve needs to be without
taking into consideration gussets.
C : Bust ~ Measure this at the widest point.
D : Length ~ Length of garment from top of shoulder to mid calf
Plate 9: Lippi ~ c1440

E : Point of shoulder

Version 1 : Angled Body Construction similar to the St Louis Shirt.

Fold fabric in half, measure out a length equal to measurement D.
Calculate distance between the tops of shoulders (E ). Add ease and divide by 2.
Measuring out from the fold at the top of the fabric, mark a spot using this
measurement. Draw a straight line from the top of the point on an angle to the
full width of your fabric at the bottom. If you assume that available fabrics
measured between 22 and 36 or so, this may not leave a lot of room around the
bust at C.
Gussets fitted under the sleeve will accommodate some of the required ease.
Wider fabric of course allow a steeper angle and thus more room at the bust line.
Side and front gores can be added for additional fullness in the body.
Sleeves at the top of the shoulder ( on the fold ) should equal B + ease. Sleeve
length is A.

Version 3 : Straight Body Construction

Measure around the rib cage just under the bust, add seam allowances, ease,
and divide by 2. This is the width of the front and back panels.
The bottom of the gusset end approx where the rib cage measurement was
taken. The sleeve width is the same as for Version 1.
Depending on how much room in the body is required, gores can be set in the
sides or the front or both.
This version will cause the shoulder seam to fall down over the upper arm. But
this extra fabric can be pulled up through the arm openings. The fabric provides
the puff seen in the portraits as the sleeves are opened up.
Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 4

Version 3 : High Body Gore Construction

This version is a variation on the layout in version 2.
Obtain the width between Pts E, add ease and s/a. This is the measurement
of the front and back body panels. To add additional fabric to help
accommodate the bust longer gores are set ifurther up along the side of the
body. The sleeve then attaches to both the body and the gore.
This variation, with the gore high up into the body shows up in the camcias
again at the end of the 15th century.
This can also be done to Version 1 to give a fuller garment.

Version 4 : Bias Construction

This version quite simple. It is a bias drape: the front
on the 45 degree bias, the sides are on the straight of
the grain. The length of the camicia will be limited by
width of the fabric.
Cut a small quarter circle for the neckline. Slowly
trim away the neckline until desire depth is reached.
Allow the fabric to fall to the sides; the sleeves will
set in at the created shoulder line.

Late 15th century Camicia ~ c 1470s -1490s

Around the end of the 3rd quarter of the 15th century, there was a shift in
fashion. It was a time of relative peace in Italy. The war between Venice and
the Turks was ending. The power struggles between the ducal households
ruling much of Italy had subsided. As society flourished so did conspicuous
consumption. Fashion, of course became a public way to show status. The
portraiture of this age reflected that role. These portraits represented a
recording of dowry, proof of station, and symbol of possessions.
It was during this time that the shift in the role of undergarments occurred. It
was almost as if the loosening of society was reflected in the clothing. The
mens garments became shorter, tighter, the undergarments exposed. In the
women, the gamurra began to open in the front exposing the camicia beneath
it. The opulence of the outer garments now moved to that of the undergarment.
There was now more fabric in the camicia as indicated by the fine pleats
showing through the lacing of the gowns. The camicia became a fashion garment.

Plate 10: Ghirlandaio ~ 1488

The structure of this garment is as much a mystery as the earlier versions. The conjectured patterns can be derived
from glimpses of fabrics along necklines and sleeves. The shape that would arise from this garment is one that will
carry through the next century with little variation. This garment would seem to be the transition from the ungathered versions of the 1450s to the fully gathered versions seen in the next century.
Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

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The neckline of the camicia from the prior decades was already somewhat loose
and draped. To create the style shown in Plate 10, it would simply mean increasing
the amount of fabric in the body of any of the previous layouts, gather the neckline
and increase the amount of fabric in the sleeves (See Layout 4). This change would
mean that little additional fabric would be needed to make the garment, yet it
would provide enough fabric in the front for the gathers.

Layout 4: 1480s camicia

One clue to the pattern of the camicia is see

in the painting by Carpaccio done in 1496
(Plate 11). The garment is drawn on an
angle, hinting of fullness, caused by either
angling the fabric or gores. The sleeves on
the garments appear to be of normal length.
The long item at the end of the pole does not
seem to be part of the first garment.
It is the necklines that are of interest during
this period. It is the primary area that is seen
from beneath the clothing. In the portrait of
Giovanna by Ghirlandaio the pleated
Plate 11: Carpaccio ~ 1496
neckline of the camicia hangs from the top
edge of the garment (Plate 10). This look can be recreated by pleating the fabric
into a small band and turning it over like a facing.

late 12: Ghirlandaio ~ 1485

In another portrait by Ghirlandaio, the top edge of the garment is showing. There is
a tiny band of lace like edging on the neckline above the pleats. (Plate 12)

Camicia 1500s- 1560s and beyond

During the first 2 decades of the 16th century, the typical high
renaissance version of the camicia was immortalized in the works of
artists such as Titian and Raffello. The neckline and the sleeves are
now part of the overall look of an outfit.
As seen in a fresco by Sodoma, dating from about 1508, the camicia
is a simple, low, rounded neckline with full sleeves (Plate 13). The
same shape is seen a few years later in the Raffaello painting La
Donna Velata done in 1516 (Plate 14).

Plate 13: Sodoma~ Benedict

A causally draped camicia in a

painting by Paolo Veronese painted
in the second half of the 16th
century is one of the later versions
of the rounded neckline (Plate 15).
Over the next 50-80 years, this
basic camicia would have
seemingly infinite variations of
Plate 14: La Donna Velata by Raffaello
neck edges, sleeve treatment and
embellishment. Nevertheless, the basic shape of the garment would stay
Initially the garment could have be made by continuing to increase the neckline
opening, gathering up the fabric, enlarging the sleeve and gathering that fabric into
the side of the body as shown in Version 1.
Plate 15: Veronese Camicia
Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

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As more and more fabric would have been incorporated into the
garment, there would have been more need to try to accommodate
the fullness. A simple change to the way the sleeves were set in the
body and a version consistent with the portrait images is created as
in Version 2.
This design accommodates multiple neckline and sleeve
variations. The most common differences will be on the shape of
the neckline: where is the opening placed and how high or how
low is the neckline. The garment can also go from a rounded
neckline to a square neckline depending on how far the seam is
sewn between the body and the sleeve and where the underarm
gussets are placed.

Version 1 : Early 16th century shirt/camicia

If the seam between point A and point B (see gusset placement)

the neckline will become more squared the further the seam goes
under the arm. A shorter seam, one that ends with point B higher
up above the underarm will have a more rounded neckline.

Gusset placement

Version 2 : Early 16th century shirt/camicia

An alternative to the layout shown in

version 2 would keep the original
orientation of the sleeves to the body and
raise them to form a square neckline.

Version 3 : Square necked construction

Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 7

Neckline and Sleeve Variations

Plate 16: Tizian. La Belle. 1535-1536

Plate 19: Laura Pisani ~ Dossi 1525

Plate 17: Port. of a Woman ~ 1509

Plate 20: Pinturicchio ~ 1509

Plate 22: Veronese ~ Venetian Lady ~ 1570

Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Plate 21:

Plate 18: Cariani ~ 1516 Seduction

Moretto. Young Woman. 1540

Plate 23 : Lotto ~ 1521

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

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Multi paneled Camicia

This style of camicia first
makes its appearance in the
Portrait of Isabella dEste by
DVinci in 1500 (Plate 24). It
is somewhat difficult to know
if the pale stripes on the
camicia are narrow panels of
fabric or actual stripes in the
cloth. Either way this fashion
trend made its appearance
throughout the next century.
One of the most famous
images of this camicia in the
Italian region is that of a
Plate 24 : Isabella d'Este ~1500
Courtesan bleaching her hair
(Plate 25). Painted in 1598 by Vecellio it bears an amazing resemblance
to an extant camicia from the late 16th century (Plate 26).

Plate 25 : Vecellio 1598

When this garment was first being created, the

panels would have accommodated narrower widths
of fabric. By the end of the 16th century, the fabrics
would have been wider and there would no longer
be a need for multiple panels to create width.
However, it would now provide a venue to show
off lace and embroidery.
The pattern and layout of the extant camicia is still
based on rectangular construction. The sleeves are
not gathered at the head of the arm. The shoulders
are made with small panels of fabric. This design
would give the illusion of a full garment with
substantially less bulk in the body.
Plate 26: 16th century extant camicia

In this layout the number of panels used in the body of

the garment is up to the maker. Point A represents the
width of the neckline A narrow strip of fabric, the width
needed would be that distance from Pt A to the shoulder
seam, the length of this strip of fabric would be from Pt
A up over the shoulder to the equivalent point in the
Once assembled, the neckline is gathered to the desired
size. The sleeves fit squarely into the side of the body
and the gussets are fit under the arms as needed. Like
with the other versions, where the gores are placed
under the arm helps determine how round vs square the
neckline will be.
Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Multi panel camicia layout

Page 9

Another extant version of this garment, this one featuring embroidery

instead of lace is in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
(Plate27). The garment is consistent with the ones seen in the portraiture
from the end of the 16th century: heavily embroidered sleeves, variations in
necklines but still following the same general shape (Plate 28).
The major difference between this garment and the ones shown above is
the absence of the panels of fabric forming the shoulder portion of the
garment. Instead, the sleeve portions are raised up above the top edge of
the body portions and they are gathered into the neckline directly (Version
2). This is similar to the alternative layout in the camicia discussed earlier,
with the addition of multiple panels of fabric forming the body portion of
the garment.

Plate 27 : Extant camicia

Plate 28 : Micheli after 1550

Multi panel camicia Version 2

Late 16th century Camicia

The pattern or design for the multi panel camicia is the
foundation for other versions of the same garment.
Plate 29 shows two extant 16th century camicia. Both these
garments were created using a layout similar to the pattern
above but using one panel of fabric instead of three
This style shows a resemblance to an undergown painted by
almost 100 years earlier in1477 by Derick Baegert.

Plate 29 : 16th century camicia

Plate 30 : 16th century camicia

Evolution of the Italian Camicia

The embellishment, embroidery and the sleeve shaping has changed but
the basic pattern of the garment is consistent. Of particular note is the
usage of the small panels to create the shoulders on the body of the
gown. Lace as an embellishment continues to be an important element in
the garment.
Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 10

As the lines of the garment simplified the embellishments became

more intricate. La Bella Nina (Plate 31) by Veronese shows elaborate
lace edging on the camicia.
As the 16th century ended, the
clothing continued to take on a
slimmer silhouette in many of
the European cultures. The
focus would still be on the
lower cut necklines and the
emphasis on embellishments.
As fashion would need the
fullness of the camicia less and
Plate 31 : La Bella Nina
less the lines of the camicia
would come full circle back to straight lines and little gathering ( Plate 34 ).

Plate 32: Bia ~ Bronzino

A camicia such as the extant one dating from the 16th century would be an example of the type of undergarment that
would fit under these closer fitting garments (Plate 35).

Pattern for 16h century camicia


Plate 33: 16 century camicia

A 17th century camicia features elaborate lace and pleating on the

sleeves and a square neckline but the remainder of the garment bears a
remarkable resemblance to the 15th century un-pleated versions.

Plate 34 : 17th century camicia

Pattern for 17th century camicia

As with any fashion, they tend to go in cycles. What began as a simple undergarment, with straight lines evolved
into an elaborate fashion layer and back again to a more functional undergarment.
Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

Page 11

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Ricci, Elisa. Old Italian Lace Volume 1. JB Lippincott and Co. Philadelphia, PA. 1908

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Evolution of the Italian Camicia

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Evolution of the Italian Camicia

Copyright 2003-2005 Lee Ann Posavad

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