Abstract: Taking on the Fashion Business: The Rising Fortunes of the Mercer in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Florence

Elizabeth Currie


Mercers enjoyed a pivotal role within the Florentine clothing trade. Their increasing prominence can be connected with a series of developments in textile production and dress fashions, including the growing availability of medium-quality silks, and the popularity of elaborate forms of applied haberdashery and dress accessories. Through consumer records, such as account books and bills of payment, it is possible to trace a striking range of goods and services provided by mercers running large-scale businesses. Literary descriptions of mercers' wares underline an already well-established emphasis on variety, choice, and novelty in fashion retail. The flexibility of mercers' activities was unusual at a time when clothing retail and production was, at least in principle, strictly controlled by guild regulations and sumptuary legislation. As artisans, merchants, and middle-men, mercers supplied textiles and haberdashery, as well as bespoke and ready-made dress accessories. Their expanding role influenced the working practices of other members of the clothing trade. It also had repercussions for the way Florentines acquired their clothing, potentially shifting the balance of power—and the ability to dictate what was fashionable—away from the consumer.