From an initial study of the historical period to its accurate creation in every detail
First-time visitors to Sulmona watching the annual Giostra Cavalleresca are often more struck by the wonderful costumes of the participants than by the horse race itself. Created by hand, by dedicated teams of local dressmakers hidden away in workshops all over town, the costumes – particularly those of the noblemen and women – tend to steal the show.
Here, local dress designer Manola Amoroso explains the various steps.
“Making a historical costume requires several stages of work, and is always preceded by a study of the gown within its own historical context. For each given dress, the first step is the research phase, which consists of documenting, collecting and studying specific texts and images from that period. Detailed descriptions of clothes are available to us thanks to the many artistic reproductions, particularly oil paintings, so we can avoid making mistakes. During the research phase, every detail must be analysed: the fabrics, the embroidery, the accessories and the hairstyles.
The discovery of America and new maritime trade routes with East Asia, brought new concepts to the art of dress design and clothing.
During this period, people loved dressing up with clothes made from gorgeous fabrics featuring embroidery and precious decorations: the gowns and outfits were real works of art.
The study of colour is also crucial as during this period strict laws sanctioned its use by certain social groups. The ‘Sumptuary Laws’ were legislative decrees which governed the exhibition of ostentatious luxury according to social class, gender, and economic, religious or political status.
Red for example indicated a high social status such as royalty. It singled out the upper classes and was therefore a symbol of power and prestige. During the Renaissance period spanning the 14th to the 17th centuries, with the promulgation of these laws restricting expensive clothing and fabrics, the colour black, became the typical colour of composed and austere elegance – first in Italy and then throughout Europe. It was therefore one of the colours chosen by the nobles and wealthy citizens. It represented refinement and distinction, and was – perhaps surprisingly – a very expensive colour to produce. Other codes of the time dictated that green was worn by young people especially in the month of May, light blue was typical of a young married woman’s attire while yellow was often the colour that distinguished prostitutes.
After gathering all of the historical information and deciding on the precise design of the costume, the preliminary sketch is made with all of the information necessary for its creation. Then follows the search for all of the necessary materials including the fabrics, finishes and buttons based on that research.
Now it’s time for the design itself: the paper pattern is created according to the measurements of the wearer and the idea finally begins to take shape.
The fabric is then cut according to the pattern, and must be faithful to the historical reconstruction, remembering that at that time dress-making techniques were different. For example, there were no dressmaking teams – and the pattern took shape by simply placing the toile onto the body.
The final phase is the execution of the various additional details. The finished work has to be accurate in every detail, and at this stage the hair style, jewellery and footwear must not be overlooked.
Finally, the dress must fit the body of the wearer perfectly.”
This article first appeared in the 2016 edition of ‘Il Piazzale’ – the annual Giostra publication of the Borgo San Panfilo neighbourhood in Sulmona. It has been translated and reproduced by kind permission of the author Manola Amoroso.