Dumb Things We Believe About The Renaissance Thanks To Movies And TV

List Rules
Vote up the most pervasive Renaissance tropes you're done with seeing on TV and movie screens.

The Renaissance was an era of innovation and change, when artists broke barriers and rulers fought for power. It's not surprising that movies and TV shows set in 1400 to 1600 are enormously popular today - but certain Renaissance tropes have given viewers the wrong idea about the era, especially related to beauty and fashion. Plus, Hollywood hygiene standards are way different from what really went on during the Renaissance.

In fact, the Renaissance changed the world in ways that still matter today. The unique blend of science and art in the Renaissance led to breakthroughs in anatomy, optics, and even flight. Next time you tune into The Tudors or The Borgias, keep an eye out for these tropes, and remember that fact and fiction don't always line up.


  • Men Wore Their Doublets Open
    Photo: Shakespeare in Love / Miramax
    944 VOTES

    Men Wore Their Doublets Open

    The Trope: Renaissance men liked to show a fair amount of chest hair while walking down the street.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? That white shirt under the doublet is called a chemise, and wasn't meant to be seen at all - it was the Renaissance equivalent of underwear. So when Joseph Fiennes wanders the streets of London with his doublet wide open, he's showing off his underwear for everyone to see.

    Actors sometimes sport a similarly inaccurate style when they appear without a chemise at all. But the chemise served a critical function in the Renaissance. During an era when people washed their clothes less frequently, the chemise kept sweat and grime off people's fancy clothes.

    Notable Offenders: Shakespeare in Love.

  • All Women Wore Their Hair Long And Down
    Photo: The Borgias / Showtime
    880 VOTES

    All Women Wore Their Hair Long And Down

    The Trope: Renaissance women let their hair flow free, growing it extremely long.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Although women did have long hair in the Renaissance, they typically swept it up and hid it under hairnets or veils. Long, flowing hair often interfered with fashion, like the collars and neck ruffs that became popular in 16th century England. 

    Notable Offenders: The BorgiasThe Tudors, and The Other Boleyn Girl.

  • Men Always Wore Boots
    Photo: The Tudors / Showtime
    623 VOTES

    Men Always Wore Boots

    The Trope: When men walked through the halls of Renaissance palaces, they always made sure to wear their best leather boots. 

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Men did wear boots, of course - but mainly when riding and hunting. Boots were meant to protect your legs during activities that might be dangerous, like chasing after a fox. Inside, men traded their boots for shoes. And there's a good reason for that. In the Renaissance, men considered their calves one of their best features. They donned tight hose and silk stockings to draw attention to their calves. 

    There's also a good reason why Renaissance movies and TV shows use so many boots. Unlike many other Renaissance costumes, leather boots are easy to find in any store.  

    Notable Offenders: The Tudors and Anonymous.

  • Beheading And Torture Were Common Punishments
    Photo: Wolf Hall / BBC Two
    604 VOTES

    Beheading And Torture Were Common Punishments

    The Trope: Anytime someone looked at the king wrong, he shouted, "Off with their head!"

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Yes, beheading and torture did happen during the Renaissance. Anne Boleyn famously lost her head because of Henry VIII's rage. But removing one's head was actually reserved for noble convicts. Common crooks were much more likely to face other fates. In fact, when rivals went after the Medici family, they hanged the conspirators to dishonor them.

    The legal system also placed restrictions on the use of such practices. However, they were often ignored in particularly gruesome cases.

    Notable Offenders: Anything featuring Henry VIII, though he kind of deserves it.