Today, feathers are an extravagant accessory in fashion; 500 years ago, however, they were used to constitute culture, artistry, good health and even courage in battle. This unlikely material is now part of a project that promises to tell us more not only about what happened in the past, but also about how it felt to be there.
Sixteenth-century woodcuts often depict young men wearing striped doublets or striped hose. When historian of science Tillmann Taape embarked on a journey into the meaning of stripes, he discovered that artists used them to mark out people who were neither rich and educated nor poor and illiterate – but something in between.
Only briefly in vogue, the codpiece has left a rich legacy in art, literature and – most recently – in televised costume drama. In focusing her attention on this ostentatious male accessory, PhD candidate Victoria Bartels has developed some new ideas about its evolution (and demise) as a symbol of virility.
With the autumn 2014 fashion shows in full swing, all eyes are on the top designers. In 16th-century Italy, the latest looks didn't always go down well with the authorities. Historian Giulia Galastro is researching the sumptuary laws regulating the level of opulence that could be paraded in public – and how the dandies of the day neatly side-stepped the rules.
Throughout history, clothes have been a powerful part of our identity. Taking place this Friday, a symposium called Appearances of Gender – open to all and free of charge – will bring together some of the country’s leading commentators on dress for a debate about fashion and faith, culture and gender.
Tomorrow Cambridge historian Dr Ulinka Rublack will give a public talk that will set footwear at the centre of her argument that in neglecting to explore the history of things we miss a golden opportunity to further our understanding of the past.