Observations of Venice (Women's Dress)

Most of the women when they walke abroad, especially to Church, are vailed with long vailes, whereof some doe reache almost to the ground behinde. These vailes are eyther blacke, or white, or yellowish. The blacke eyther wives or widowes do weare : the white maides, and so the yellowish also ; but they weare more white then yellowish.

It is the custome of these maydes when they walke in the streetes, to cover their faces with their vailes, verecundiae causa, the stuffe being so thin and slight, that they may easily looke through it. For it is made of a pretty slender silke, and very finely curled : so that because she thus hoodwinketh her selfe, you can very seldome see her face at full when she walketh abroad, though perhaps you earnestly desire it, but only a little glimpse thereof.

Now whereas I said before that onely maydes doe weare white vailes, and none else, I meane these white silke curled vayles, which (as they tolde me) none doe weare but maydes. But other white vayles wives doe much weare, such as are made of holland, whereof the greatest part is handsomely edged with great and very faire bone-lace. Almost all the wives, widowes and mayds do walke abroad with their breastes all naked, and many of them have their backes also naked even almost to the middle, which some do cover with a slight linnen, as cobwebbe lawne, or such other thinne stuffe : a fashion me thinkes very uncivill and unseemely, especially if the beholder might plainly see them. For I beleeve unto many that have prurientem libidinem, they would minister a great incentive & fomentation of luxurious desires. Howbeit it is much used both in Venice and Padua. For very few of them do weare bands but only Gentlewomen, and those do weare little lawne or cambricke ruffes. There is one thing used of the Venetian women, and some others dwelling in the cities and towns subject to the Signiory of Venice, that is not to be observed (I thinke) amongst any other women in Christendome : which is so common in Venice, that no woman whatsoever goeth without it, either in her house or abroad ; a thing made of wood, and covered with leather of sundry colors, some with white, some redde, some yellow. It is called a Chapiney, which they weare under their shoes. Many of them are curiously painted ; some also I have seene fairely gilt : so uncomely a thing (in my opinion) that it is pitty this foolish custom is not cleane banished and exterminated out of the citie. There are many of these Chapineys of a great heigth, even half a yard high, which maketh many of their women that are very short, seeme much taller then the tallest women we have in England.

Also I have heard that this is observed amongst them, that by how much the nobler a woman is, by so much the higher are her Chapineys. All their Gentlewomen, and most of their wives and widowes that are of any wealth, are assisted and supported eyther by men or women when they walke abroad, to the end they may not fall. They are borne up most commonly by the left arme, otherwise they might quickly take a fall. For I saw a woman fall a very dangerous fall, as she was going down the staires of one of the little stony bridges with her high Chapineys alone by her selfe : but I did nothing pitty her, because shee wore such frivolous and (as I may truely terme them) ridiculous instruments, which were the occasion of her fall. For both I my selfe, and many other strangers (as I have observed in Venice) have often laughed at them for their vaine Chapineys.

All the women of Venice every Saturday in the afternone doe use to annoint their haire with oyle, or some other drugs, to the end to make it looke faire, that is whitish. For that colour is most affected of the Venetian Dames and Lasses. And in this manner they do it : first they put on a readen hat, without any crowne at all, but brimmes of exceeding breadth and largeness : then they sit in some sun-shining place in a chamber or some other secret roome, where having a looking-glasse before them they sophisticate and dye their haire with the foresaid drugs, and after cast it backe round upon the brimmes of the hat, till it be throughly dried with the heat of the dressing. sunne : and last of all they curle it up in curious locks with a frisling or crisping pinne of iron, which we cal in Latin Calamistrum, the toppe whereof on both sides above their forehead is acuminated in two peakes. That this is true, I know by mine owne experience. For it was my chaunce one day when I was in Venice, to stand by an Englishman s wife, who was a Venetian woman borne, while she was thus trimming of her haire : a favour not affoorded to every stranger.

Citation Type  Prose
Citation Year 1602