One would think that on a journey to salvation Dante wouldn’t have time to comment on clothes, but in in a few passages he tells us what he likes and doesn’t like. Likes first. In the time of his great, great grandfather, Florence’s good ol’ days, “No necklace and no coronal were there / and no embroidered gowns; there was no girdle / that caught the eye more than the one who wore it.” (Girdle here refers to a woman’s belt.) With respect to menswear, he admires the simple style of Bellincione Berti, who was “girt with leather and bone, and saw his wife / come from mirror with her face unpainted (Par. 15.100-102; 112-114). So no jewelry, no make-up, no decoration on dresses. Same goes for men–unadorned and simple attire.
Now for his dislikes. While in Purgatory, Dante takes a moment to pronounce on the vulgar dress of women from his own time. He prophecies that it will soon be forbidden “to those immodest ones–Florentine women– / to go displaying bosoms with bare paps” (Purg.23.100-102). Dante, the fashion police. One artist who did not share the great poet’s views on low cut gowns was Franz von Bayros, who, alone among artists of the Divine Comedy, chose just these lines to depict in this most titillating illustration. Can’t imagine gowns cut any lower than these ones!
As for Dante himself, he reports that three fellow Florentines recognize him as a fellow citizen from his clothing (Inf.16.8). Unfortunately, Dante doesn’t describe what he was wearing. However, we might imagine him attired as Medieval and Renaissance artists illustrated the poet–wearing either a crown of laurel, as befits a poet laureate, and a lucco, a loose-fitting red tunic, over a long-sleeved cassock. An iconic look!