Dress of the Courtesans
During the early sixteenth century, when courtesans were beginning to emerge, they were not easy to recognize in the city. They often wore the same clothing as the common women of Venice. As their fame and presence in the city grew, Venetian courtesans began to break away from the laws of dress passed by the Signori delle pompe and started new trends. The way the courtesans dressed reflected how they did not restrict themselves to certain regulations put onto the common Venetian woman. One of the trends they began was the wearing of a pearl necklace and the heavy use of lace. Their garments were sometimes made of expensive imported silk. They were also known for bleaching their hair by using a bleaching paste and sitting in the sun for hours at end.
Venetian courtesans, unlike courtesans of other cities, revealed more flesh. Their gowns were usually low-cut across the breast or over the shoulder, often with an open stomach and ladder lacing. Courtesans of cities outside of Venice had variations and different styles of dress. Roman courtesans wore Spanish cut gowns, with buttons up to the neck and thick neck ruffles. This less-revealing style may have been the result of the presence of the Vatican within the city. The courtesans of Florence wore off the shoulder gowns with a neck scarf and a plunging neck-line. Sometimes, it is said that courtesans could be seen wearing men’s clothing during the Carnival season. Some cut their hair very short, like a man’s cut, in order to attract men who may be homosexual. Although some men were homosexual, it was not accepted in the city, and the courtesans had to create the illusion of a man through their appearance
Paolo Veronese, Portrait of Veronica Franco, 1575 (http://realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/wardrobe/VeronicaFranco.jpg)