Dirty Laundry: Caring for Clothing in Early Modern Italy

Michele Nicole Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Clean personal linens were an important means of maintaining good health and hygiene in early modern Italy. The increasing visibility of these garments in contemporary portraits, in the form of bright white shirt sleeves, carefully ruffled collars and spotless embroidered aprons, announced the cleanliness of the sitter in terms of their body, mind and spirit. Pristine, restrictive and sometimes superfluous linens also suggested an elevated social position, far removed from physical labour. Consequently, scholars have long associated these items and the cleanliness they signalled with the elite. But, as this article demonstrates, people from the lower social orders also owned a great number and variety of shirts, caps, collars, cuffs, aprons and other linen goods. Through the exploration of how these items were laundered it becomes apparent that they were not just utilitarian pieces of clothing for work, but also enabled inn-keepers, sausage-makers, potters and their family members a means of presenting themselves as clean, respectable and even stylish members of society.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Early modern Italy
  • linen
  • laundry
  • shirts
  • collars
  • Fashion

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