Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sumptuary Law in early Christian Times and other cultures

According to Brundage (1987) early Christians disapproved of luxury in dress.

“But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” (Matthew 11:8).

St Paul’s thoughts on Christian women were, they should dress quietly and modestly.

"Sweet disposition and gentle piety, not gems bangles, and flashy dresses should be the adornments that holy women cherished (1Tim. 2:9-10: cf. 1 Peter 3:3-5; Isaiah 3:16-24).

So it would seem early Christians had strong opinion on dress and initially the high church shunned sumptuous clothing for themselves, and most certainly for the commoner priest and friar. All this would change quickly as expensive clothing became the mark of the new ‘Christian Emperors.’

In her essay "Sumptuary Law", Hurlock (1965) refers to the custom of primitive societies and their reliance on sumptuary laws. The Chibcha (indigenous people of the eastern cordillera of the Andes of Colombia) forbade any common person in the tribe from decorating their bodies with paint.

The Kaffirs (or indigenous people from the region of the Great Fish River) punished members of the lower classes who attempted to ornament themselves in imitation of their social superiors.

In ancient Peru the lower classes could not use gold or silver except without express permission of the ruling group. >

Japanese sumptuary law was the most severe in civilised society. These determined not only how everyone should dress, work, speak, walk, sit, but also pray. Provincial governors were required to enforce these laws and farmers with an income of less than $100 were unable to wear zori (sandals) made from leather. Instead they wore sandals made from straw or wood with cotton straps.

Sun shades or paper umbrellas were prohibited to the lower classes and they protect themselves by wearing straw raincoats or large straw hats.

The Chinese people were aroused to great fury and open rebellion in the 13th century when ordered by their Tartar conquerors (Mongols) to cut off their hair as a sign of servitude. Many preferred to lose their heads rather than comply.

In pre-Christian Ireland, laws relating to the use of colour by different ranks were in place. These were similar in character to those found in ancient Rome. The colour purple for example, was always reserved for the royal family. Scarlet could be worn only by royal family members and high noblemen. The cost of dying cloth in ancient times was expensive and economic factors alone would influence what was worn within the caste or class structure. By the Middle Ages this began to change due to a rising Merchant Class and the spoils of war.

Brundage JA 1987 Sumptuary laws and prostitution in late Medieval Italy Journal of Medieval History 13:4 343-355.
Hurlock E B 1965 Sumptuary law In Roach ME Eicher JB Dress, adornment and the social order New York: John Wiley & Sons 295-301.

Reviewed 27/02/2019

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Sumptuary Laws in Antiquity

In antiquity, efforts to control personal regulation were related to the general mode of living rather than of dress. The Greeks had some laws relating to clothing, such as; women could only wear three garments at a time. This may account for why most women went barefoot. The amount of money to be spent of clothing was also regulated by the wealth of the family. Sumptuary laws in Rome included the Lex Orchia which was passed in 187 BC. This related to the number of invited people who might attend a feast. The Lex Fannia was passed in 161 BC and regulated, the cost of entertainment. According to Brundage (1987) the Roman Lex Oppia, was adopted in 215 BC and later repealed 195 BC with the Lex Valria Fundiana. He described the action of Marcus Porcius Cato who argued lifting restrictions of women's dress would invite moral decadence and social upheaval. He was right and both followed in quick pursuit.

Colour and material were very important as a means of depicting rank in Roman time.. Laws were passed restricting peasants (plebs) to one colour; officers could wear two colours; commanders three; and members of the royal household up to seven colours. The colour purple was always reserved for the royal family. Scarlet could be worn only by royal family members and high noblemen.

During the reign of Claudius I (AD 41-54), his marines were ordered to go barefoot after some demanded compensation from the emperor for the marching shoes the marines had wore out. As a result the entire fleet were forbidden from wearing shoes.

At the time of Emperor Aurelian, (Lucius Claudius Domitius Aurelianus (AD 270 - 275) the colours yellow, white, red or green were reserved exclusively for women. The only exception to this was he reserved the right to wear red or purple for himself and his sons. He banned his wife from buying purpura-dyed silk garments because it cost its weight in gold. Only ambassadors to foreign lands might wear gold rings, and men were strictly forbidden from wearing silk garments of any sort.

When Roman soldiers returned victorious to Rome they frequently celebrated by substituting the bronze nails in their caligae (war sandals) with gold and silver tacks. The fashion caught on and patricians began to wear ornamentation on their shoes with gold and jewels.

Such alarm was raised with the fashion for shoe bling Emperor Heliogabalus (AD 218-222) banned the practice. Heliogabalus had his own shoes decorated with diamonds and other precious stones, engraved by the finest artists. During the more luxurious days of the Roman Empire, thongs were decorated with gold and precious stones.

Sumptuary laws and price controls were later imposed by Gaius Valerius Diocletianus (AD 245-313), in AD 301.

During Roman times footwear came in many styles and colours each reflecting class distinctions. Only male citizens were entitled to wear the toga and the calceus (a shoe or short boot). The colour of the calceus always indicated social standing. The reason for this had much to do with the cost of dying materials which was very expensive. Red was, at first, the colour for high magistrates (in the service of Edile); but later became the Emperor's prerogative.

Brundage JA 1987 Sumptuary laws and prostitution in late Medieval Italy Journal of Medieval History 13:4 343-355.

Reviewed 10/02/2019

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Transient nature of Sumptuary Law

Sumptuary Law describes the autocratic control of clothes and customs which has been practiced since the beginning of civilization. Today in the West, attempts to ban the hijab, the niqab and the burka or hoody jackets is viewed as a gross infringement of personal liberties, whereas in the past it was all part of keeping the ruling class separate from those being ruled.

Sumptuary laws were passed in England and Europe from about the middle of the 1300s to the middle of the 1600s. They were devised to control behavior from wearing of certain apparel to the consumption of particular foods, beverages (usually alcoholic nature) and other miscellaneous products. Sumptuary laws also related to gaming and hunting. The laws often prescribed what prices could be charged for various consumables, from clothing to food. Clothing styles and fashion remained unchanged for long periods of time due to sumptuary legislation. However as trade and commerce increased and towns became more centres of wealth, the feudal lords found competition in the wealthy middle class and as a consequence were forced to set a new standard of differentiation. As middle class merchants became princes in wealth they soon began to outstrip true nobility in luxury. Extravagance became so universal that the church and crown thought it necessary to put a check on the ostentatious display of the newly rich. While these laws were aimed primarily at extravagant expenditure on dress they were not limited to it.

From the 8th century many Christians and Muslim cities and countries forced their Jewish population to wear badges to identify themselves. In the 20th century after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Europe were forced to wear a badge in the form of a Yellow Star as a means of identification, and humiliation. The badges were usually printed on coarse cloth of garish yellow. The star, which represented the star of David, was outlined in thick, black lines and the word 'Jew' was printed in mock-Hebraic type. In the Warsaw ghetto, Jews wore a white armband with a blue Star of David on their left arm. In some ghettos, even babies in prams had to wear the arm bands or stars. Jewish shops were also marked with a Yellow Star. The star was intended to humiliate Jews and to mark them out for segregation and discrimination. The end of the Second World War (1945) saw the end of forced wearing of the Yellow Star.

“History has proved that all sumptuary laws have after a brief time, been abolished, evaded or ignored. Vanity will always invent more ways of distinguishing itself than the laws are able to forbid."

Giraudias E. (1910) Etude historiquesur les lois somptuaries (Poitiers) Reviewed 14/10/2018

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Sumptuary Law: The jury is still out.

It is not entirely clear what combination of events led to the making of sumptuary laws. Private extravagance, moral degeneration and political decline were certainly key factors but not always the only variables involved. During the time of plague, Hughes (1983) documents the absence of new sumptuary laws. However, the church's condemnation of the poulaine, or long toed shoe was cited as the reason for God's wrath in sending the plague. Medieval laws were too often merely an articulation of an ideal.

Nutter, (1992) considered there was little evidence to indicate sumptuary laws in England were aimed to codify class differences as a result of some general disparity between income and rank. Instead most were anti-inflationary, wage controls and protectionist in their intents. Prior to the eighteenth century there were laws to stop common people from dressing like affluent society. These were laws regulated personal behaviour on moral or religious grounds (Healy, 1977 p 10). Hurlock (1965) wrote sumptuary laws were used primarily to preserve class distinctions. When members of the nobility found their position of supremacy encroached upon by the lower classes that had attained wealth, they passed laws to restore the respect for the inequality of ranks which had previously existed. Clearly a division of opinion exists between historians.

Hurlock went on to say sumptuary laws were often used as a means of inducing people to save money. It was considered necessary to reduce senseless spending on luxuries such as clothing lest the event would result in the country going bankrupt. Sumptuary Laws helped to encourage domestic trade. One law which exemplifies this was a law concerning the wearing of woollen caps to be worn on Sunday and all holy days by all persons over the age of six (except those of high position). The caps had to be made in England.

‘Buy British’ is a modern example of the same type of protectionism but without legislation.

The sumptuary legislation of Tudor times was distinctly the most numerous statutes of apparel. Those passed in the latter part (Mary and Elizabeth) had economic motives and were less detailed than those of Henry VIII. They usually forbade the wearing of a solitary fabric or article of dress. Most of the laws were prohibitive in character though some did contain statements as to what certain classes of person might wear. Besides suppressing extravagance many of the statutes were intended to maintain and perpetuate distinctions in rank by preserving the ancient differences in dress. By the end of the Elizabethan period many writers were questioning the need to enact such acts since they felt high living was advantageous to the nation. This was of course provided the luxuries were manufactured at home since it encouraged domestic manufacture and commerce.

Healey T 1977 History of costume London: Macdonald Educational.
Hughes D O 1983 4: sumptuary law and social relations in Renaissance Italy In Bossy J (ed) Disputes and Settlements NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hurlock E B 1965 Sumptuary law In Roach ME Eicher JB Dress, adornment and the social order New York: John Wiley & Sons 295-301.

Reviewed 7/10/2018

Friday, October 5, 2018

Why were sumptuary laws seldom enforced ?

By the Middle Ages the Church was a powerful body that exerted considerable social control. It was ideally positioned to create and enforce sumptuary laws, yet these laws were generally ignored and went practically unenforced.

In the main the laws were aimed specifically for middle and lower classes, with the nobility and royalty exempt. Laws allowed the upper classes to indulge themselves in grave excesses. This behaviour was eagerly copied by lower tiers of society, particularly the middle classes who would wear elegant fashion, and consume fancy food. These excesses were often cited as the cause of ruin in families with meagre circumstance. Only the very poorest working class strictly followed sumptuary laws, and even they were rarely prosecuted for violating them. Due to their impoverished circumstances most, by necessity, wore rudimentary garments fashioned of the coarsest cloth, and referred to as "russet" or "blanket cloth”.

Despite this, according to Hurlock (1965) the desire for self-display was strong among the lower strata of society and the author suggests this was the origins of national costume. Instead of imitating the upper classes, gratification came from out-rivalling the beauty and elaborateness of costumes of the other members of the same social class. By this means the desire to be satisfied was met without breaking the laws of the land.

Many of the sumptuary laws went ignored although fashions such as slashing were thought to be implemented as a means to overcome the law. Fancy dress was also another clever deception as was, celebration days, where the gentry changed places with other classes.

One explanation as to why so many people ignored the laws was because despite the act of defiance incurring steep financial penalties, the nouveaux rich could well afford to pay them. Alternatively, at times of rising costs of gold and silver men did not want to have their money spent on women's luxuries and hence supported sumptuary restrictions.

Hurlock E B 1965 Sumptuary law In Roach ME Eicher JB Dress, adornment and the social order New York: John Wiley & Sons 295-301.

Reviewed 6/01/2016

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sumptuary Laws and Shoes: A summary

From the days of antiquity, the right to wear shoes was a privilege only afforded to the free and affluent. Whilst there were several attempts to limit excesses, the dress code for footwear was simple, rich people wore them and ordinary people went without. Colour and styling, including the height of shoes, became the discernible means of class distinction and this was reflected in many cultures. The need to preserve class distinction coupled with clerical conscience would seem to have been the two main motivations for sumptuary laws governing shoes.

Whilst the fashion for long toed shoes lasted four hundred years they were not always in vogue. The restriction in length of shoes was at first to discriminate "the haves" from "the have nots", then to quell the reappearance of the worship of the phallus.

Shoe fashion did change and by all accounts pretty rapidly at the beginning of the 15 century. Rossi believed this had nothing to do with legislation but more to do with the news of a high profile assassination. Alarm was raised when the victim could not escape his attackers because he was wearing long toed shoes. Others believe it may have been due to the birth of the heir apparent to the Spanish thrown who had polydactylism (extra toes). The risks following surgical removal of the extra toe would have presented with many complications and it was much easier to change the fashion to broad toed shoes. Credible reasons perhaps but unlikely to explain the quick transition from long toed shoes to broad shoes (Bear’ Paws).

An altogether more credible explanation would be the presence of disease which would necessitate accommodating painful feet. History records a great syphilis epidemic spread throughout Europe after the return of Christopher Columbus from the New World in 1493. One of the outcomes of tertiary syphilis is Charcot feet. This is a very painful condition and feet ulcerate due to undue pressure. The presence of syphilis in the courts of Europe and sequestrate would be a more satisfactory explanation for the swift change in shoe style. Bears' Paws were fashionable with the affluent and in the spirit of zeitgeist celebrated the Cult of the Virgin Mary with reference to the female genitalia in the form of delicate slashing of the upper.

Eventually Queen Mary (1516 - 1558), keen to comply with the wishes of the Catholic Church banned broad toed shoes from England and her dominions.

The platform shoe, popular with the women from Venice and Florence were eventually legislated against because of the number of accidents reported by ladies falling over. It is thought the term ‘miscarriage’ refers to the fall from the chopines and not specifically pelvic complications.

During the Victorian era high heels became closely associated with sado-masochistic eroticism. This was promulgated in no short measure by the introduction of still photography, then cinematography. The high heeled shoe became the symbol of the Jezebel. During the last century attempts were made at times of national emergency to control heel height through rationing. Rather than reduce interest in heeled shoes this is likely to have been the reason for their continued popularity.

Despite the absence of official sumptuary law to curtail the heights of the shoe, subsequent to the introduction of the stiletto heel, free access to privately owned public spaces has become evermore restricted by dress codes. Just to keep a balance the same dress codes apply to thong wearers and barefoot persons.

Reviewed 3/10/2018

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sumptuary Laws of the Seventeenth Century

The upwardly mobile middle class became more influential during the 17th century and began to replace impoverished gentry. James I (1566-1625) fearing the mood of the people repealed many sumptuary laws.

In early Colonial America the The Puritans were concerned with the incompatibility of European fashionable clothing and the wilderness. Many sumptuary laws were introduced and it was prohibited to wear silver, gold, silk, laces, slashed sleeves, ruffs, and beavered hats. The following is a quote from Colonial Sumptuary Laws issued in Massachusetts, 1651.

"Although several declarations and orders have been made by this Court, against excess in apparel, both of men and women, which have not taken that effect as were to be desired, but on the contrary, we cannot but to our grief take notice that intolerable excess and bravery have crept in upon us, and especially among people of mean condition, to the dishonour of God, the scandal of our profession, the consumption of estates, and altogether unsuitable to our poverty. And although we acknowledge it to be a matter of much difficulty, in regard of the blindness of men's minds and the stubborness of their wills, to set down exact rules to confine all sorts of persons, yet you cannot but account it our duty to commend unto all sorts of persons the sober and moderate use of these blessings which, beyond expectation, the Lord has been pleased to afford unto us in this wilderness. And also to declare our utter detestation and dislike that men and women of mean condition should take upon them the garb of gentlemen by wearing gold or silver lace, or buttons, or points at their knees, or to walk in great boots; or women of the same ran to wear silk or tiffany hoods, or scarves which, though allowable to persons of greater estates or more liberal education, we cannot but judge it intolerable...

It is therefore ordered by this Court, and authority thereof, that no person within the jurisdiction , nor any of their relations depending upon them, whose visible estates, real and personal, shall not exceed the true and indifferent value of 200 pounds, shall wear any gold or silver lace, or gold or silver buttons, or any bone lace above 2 shillings per yard, or silk hoods , or scarves, upon the penalty of 10s for every such offense and every such delinquent to be presented to the grand jury .For as much as distinct and particular rules in this case suitable to the estate of quality of each person cannot easily be given: It is further ordered by the authority aforesaid, that the selection of every town, or the major part of them are hereby enabled and required , from time to time to have regard and take notice of the apparel of the inhabitants of their several towns respectively: and whosoever shall judge to exceed their ranks and abilities in the costliness or fashion of their apparel in any respect, especially in wearing ribbons, or great boots (leather being a scarce commodity in this country) lace, points, etc., silk hoods or scarves, the select men aforesaid shall have power to assess such persons, so offending in any of the particulars above mentioned, in the country rates, at 200 pounds; according to that portion that such men use to pay to whom such apparel is suitable and allowed; provided this law shall not extend to the restraint of any magistrate or public officer of this jurisdiction, their wives and children, who are left to their discretion in wearing of apparel, or any settled militia officer or soldier in the time of the military service, or any other whose education and employment have been above the ordinary degree, or whose estate have been considerable, though now decayed."

New Jersey was still a British Colony (1670) when a law was passed which stated

" Be it resolved that all women, of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree; whether virgin maids or widows; that shall after the passing of this Act, impose upon and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty's male subjects, by scents, paints, cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the laws now in force against witchcraft, sorcery, and such like misdemeanours, and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void."

In England from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century burial in woollen shrouds was prescribed by law. This was at attempt to lessen the importance of linen and promote the home wool industry. In 1692, the Elector of Saxony decreed no noblility, professors and doctors of universities, their wives, or those who worked in courts of law could wear clothing incorporating gold, silver or pearls. Very soon after the death of Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) parliament passed an act which undid all the work of the previous acts. The reason for the decline in interest in sumptuary legislation is difficult to surmise but it is thought by many experts by this time control of apparel was considered passé and distinctly medieval in spirit.

In 17th century Venice and other Italian city states fashionable women wore platform shoes called Chopines (Choppines or chioppines) (Baldwin 1926, p 252. Made from wood or cork the shoes elevated the wearer and soon the height of the shoe from the ground signified social status. The chopines were sometimes 24” off the ground which made walking very difficult. The ultimate embellishment was two servants to help madam perambulate and a sedan carriage to carry her from her rooms, through the streets, to her eventual destination. The fashion was mainly restricted to the affluent Italian City State although platforms were worn on Spain and to lesser extend in Elizabethean England.

"Upon the morrow, after the blessed new year, I came trip, trip, trip over the market Hill, holding up my petticoats.... to shew my fine coloured stockings and how trimly I could fit in a new pair of corked shoes I had bought."

Willy Beguiled, (1623) Seventeenth Century Play

The fashion is thought to have been associated with the wives of rich merchants keen to show off their family fortunes by wearing sumptuous clothing. The purpose of the platform was to increase leg length necessitating longer and more expensive drapes. Eventually concerts from males keen to curb their wives and concubines’ excesses introduced sumptuary controls.

Comments made by the Venetian ambassador in 1618 suggested all gentle women should wear men's shoes (i.e. very low slippers).

Baldwin F E 1926 Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England Johns Hopkins Press

Reviewed 30/09/2018