heck do I wear under that thing?'
When I first began
researching, and constructing, late period historical clothing
the best advice I received was "don't try to cut out or
sew your dress without the right under garments!" It was
great advice. The right 'undies' were more important to
achieving the late period Venetian look than the gorgeous,
decadent fabrics - but not by much! But what just what did
Venetian ladies, and courtesans, wear under their sumptuous
gowns? What did the rest of Italy wear under their clothes?
Well, there is one item of underwear we know about with some
certainty: the shift (or chemise or smock), known as a "camicia"
in Italian. There is much less known about whether Venetian
ladies wore the corset, referred to in period, in English, as
a 'pair of bodies' or 'bodies', or 'stays'. Other items of
underwear we know about are drawers, and nobody that I've
talked to is sure whether any sort of hip padding, "bum
roll" in English, or farthingale, was worn.
The Venetian Shift
October 28 2004)
The shift/undershirt/chemise, or in
Italian, camicia,  was the
garment worn next to the skin. There was an
important reason for this. Sumptuous clothing
made from costly fabrics and adorned with lace or
embroidery, would have suffered from frequent
washing. The camicia worked to absorb the body
oils and sweat, helping to protect these fine
 (also referred to as shifts, smocks or
chemises) were probably exclusively made from
fine white linen - I have yet to discover either
extant or textual evidence for silk camicie.
Sometimes an unbleached fine linen was used, and
it was often embroidered as simply or elaborately
as desired in monochrome work such as blackwork.
Lace became popular late in our period, and there
is a little evidence that, very late in the 16th
century, polychrome embroidery was also used.
consensus is that the camicia was mid-calf
length, but I made my first ankle length for two
reasons: looks and warmth (I was heading into
autumn/winter at the time and wanted an extra
layer for warmth). Just don't make it so long
that you trip over it.
of this is based on extant English smocks, due to
the ease of obtaining information on them - there
is much less written about any extant Italian
camicie, although they do exist, and much can be
deduced about the generic 'Italian' camicia.
However, none has been conclusively proven to be
of Venetian origin, so we must look to Venetian
art to discover if a truly Venetian style exists.
of their place of origin within what later came
to be known as Italy, the extant camicie remain
as a testament to typical period construction
method for undergarments: geometric shapes which
result in a full camicia utilising maximum fabric
usage and little to no wastage.
Vecellio's Venetian Camicia
picture above, taken from Cesare Vecellio's De
gli Habiti antichi et moderni di Diverse Parti
del Mondo, 1589-90, is our only truly reliable pictorial
source for a Venetian camicia. It is
reliable because it originated from the hand of a
Venetian artist who lived in Venice all his life,
and shows the camicia in its entirety. This
woodcut showing a Venetian lady bleaching her
hair on an enclosed space on the rooftop is from
Cesare Vecellio's woodcuts of the late 1580s. It
is undoubtedly very late in our period, but there
is nothing I've found so far that suggests that
the 16th century camicia varied much in style
throughout the century, apart from perhaps
variation in the width and length of the sleeves.
you can see, the sleeves, even this late, have no
cuffs - they are loose at the wrists and are
wide. The body of the camicia features a neckline
with what appears to be a black worked ruffle, gathered to a black
worked band. The body of the camicia is made from
several panels of fabric, possibly 71cm,
(28") wide linen, and black worked down the
seam lines. Also, it is possible that what looks
like blackwork, by the very nature of the woodcut
medium, could also be lace . It is difficult,
if not impossible, to determine whether this
camicia has under arm gussets.
Camicia or camiscia are two correct, late 16th
century spellings for the item known in English a
smock or shirt, or chemise. Camica is incorrect.
Taken from Florio's "A Worlde of
Wordes" - an Italian/English Dictionary
Plural for camicia
Further evidence has come to light that this
might in fact be the case - more in "Extant