The Renaissance Connection Innovations: 1400-2020
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Time Telescope: Everyday Life: Clothing/Fabric/Textiles


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Modern Fabric

Today—High Performance Wear
Clothing today is available in a wide range of fabrics and blends including nylon, denim, cotton, polyester, silk, and wool. Special combinations of fabrics are used to make high performance clothing and specialty fabrics such as fleece.

Polyester clothing from the 1970s

Polyester, the 'wash and wear' fabric, invented by Wallace Carothers, a chemical researcher, changes American's clothing styles. It fast becomes a popular fabric as it dries quickly and does not wrinkle easily.

Levi Strauss pants
Patent drawing for Strauss's rivet method
Image courtesy of

1850s—Blue Jeans
Levi Strauss opens a dry-goods business in San Francisco. After seeing miners wear right through their pants, he began using a twilled cotton cloth from France called "serge de Nimes", or "denim", to make pants reinforced with rivets.

Whitney's Cotton Gin
Patent drawing for Whitney's cotton gin

1793—Cotton Gin
Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin an automated machine that could remove the cotton seed from the fiber led to the mass production of cotton. Cotton production jumps 3200% in two years.

Unknown: Fragment of Silk Velvet
Fragment of Silk Velvet
Early 16th century
White silk satin weave with polychrome cut voided silk satin velvet
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Finkelstein, 1978

Early 16th century—The Renaissance Connection
Known as the king of fabrics during the 15th century, velvet was worn by nobility and persons of great importance. In Renaissance paintings, tapestries and, frescoes Saints, the powerful, and kings are easily identified as they are adorned in velvet much like the fragment seen here dating from the mid 16th century. The presence of this luxurious fabric not only indicated the wealth and status of the person wearing it, but it also created a significant amount of wealth and power for those who manufactured it.

As the century progressed production was increased to meet the demand for even more lavish velvets and gold fabrics sought out by the wealthy. Manufacturing towns in Italy, which became renowned for producing beautiful, high quality silk velvets, responded with greater experimentation and new techniques that increased the value of the fabric.

In an effort to try and out do one another and to further demonstrate their wealth, fashion conscious Italians increased the size and complexity of their clothing resulting in exaggerated styles for both men and women. While wardrobe's grew to include greater numbers of clothing, the outfits increasingly featured forms that hindered movement. Today, velvet continues to be used in the production of clothing and in home decoration. It is widely available in many styles with the quality and complexity of the patterns and motifs determining the cost of this lush fabric making it affordable to more than just the wealthy and powerful.

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