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10 March 2020 - 12 March 2020

Fake it ‘til you Make It: Imitation in Early Modern Clothes and Accessories, Aalto University

How could people dress up within their financial, social, and cultural means? Can snail shells and silver leaf combine to create a convincing fake pearl? Were imitation gems and fabrics attractive alternatives for people who could not afford or were not legally allowed to wear the real thing? The Refashioning the Renaissance team and three external historians of art and economics will be exploring these questions and more during this three-day workshop on imitation in early modern fashion.

This workshop will combine research presentations and discussion with hands-on experimentation, to see what we can learn by reconstructing imitation clothing and accessories that we read about in early modern texts and see in museum collections. In Aalto University’s dye kitchens and Biofilia science labs, we will test recipes to create imitation damask, add spots to furs, craft pearls from shell or clay, make amber from varnish, and dye fabrics in seemingly rich hues. These recipes have been selected from Italian, French, and German ‘how-to’ books and manuscripts that were written with increasing frequency from the mid-sixteenth century, appealing to people across the social spectrum who were interested in how natural materials could be transformed and pushed to their limits through artisanal craft and skill.

By reconstructing these recipes, we will be closely reading them to see what ‘imitation’ might have meant to those who made and wore materials that mimicked other substances and to ask what materials and skills were required of makers of imitation finery. These experiments and discussions are part of a larger focus on imitation in early modern clothing for the Refashioning the Renaissance project, that will result in conference papers and publications.


Read more about the workshop on our experiment page