Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sumptuary Laws in Medievil Italian City States

The first Italian sumptuary law was contained in the Breve della Campagna of 1157, which banned the use of rich furs. Sumptuary laws appeared in the middle of the thirteenth century in communes which had admitted the "popolo" or common people to government. By the time sumptuary laws were being applied at various levels of European Society the Council of Montpellier had forbidden churchmen in 1195 from slashing at the hems of their robes.

In the thirteenth century the Republic of Venice appointed magistrates to enforce regulations. Italian sumptuary laws were more designed to restrain the aristocrat then keep down the peasants. The city state of Siena regulated trains on dresses in 1249; and Bologna made a similar decree, in 1260. A 1430 statute at Venice set stringent limits on the height of heels and platforms of women's shoes. In Siena only prostitutes were permitted to wear flat shoes or slippers in public (Newett 1902 (pp 273-274); Bistort 1912; 168-71 Casanova 1901 :61; Verga 1898:25 cited in Brundage).

The sumptuary laws prescribed fines for women who contravened these provisions, while some also made husbands and father liable to punishment. A few required tailors and dressmakers to take oaths that they would not produce garments that failed to observe statutory limits and levied fines on those who violated the undertaking (Ciampi1815 xi-xvi; Perugia 1523:1-27; Sarzana 1965:2.21: Todi 1549:3 232; Orvicto 1581: 5.29; Bistort 1912:328; Kantorowicz and Denholm-Young 1933 : 357-359 cited in Brundage). Slashed dresses were outlawed in 1472. A century later The Genoese required the Tailor's Guild to register new designs for approval by the censors or Ufficio delle Virtu. Most cities turned their sporadic medieval legislation into formal Renaissance codes which were endlessly amended in response to criticism and fashion.

Many believe throughout modern history sumptuary laws have been used in an attempt to separate the "good" and "bad" women. In 15 century Venice, courtesans were prevented from wearing pearls but otherwise could dress well. Outwardly they projected a highly sophisticated public image and many joined the aristocratic circles of Venetian life. Their gracious costumes mimicked the splendour of the attire of noblewoman. The noblewomen of the upper class of Venice were highly sheltered from the world and never appeared in the street. Passers-by might catch a glimpse of them on the balconies of their palace or in the window of their sedan chairs as they were carried through the streets.

Courtesans would appear in public and many of them wore the fashionable chopines (tall platform shoes) which so impeded their gait that they could not move unless when supported on both sides by servants. At the height of fashion, chopines were 24” from the ground. Sleeves too were worn very long and billowing. Most historians acknowledged the fashion to lengthen hemlines was a deliberate attempt to wear more sumptuous clothing. The cost of the materials to create these gowns was enormous. Cloth of gold and silver used the actual metals and were exceptionally expensive. Other fabrics such as brocade and silks were also very extremely costly. Sumptuary laws were introduced by the city Senate in 1433 to curb the use of cloth of gold and silver being used for making garments. The ban initially met with little success. Costumiers found ways around the law and lined the sleeves with the cloth and slashing the outer sleeve to let the more expensive fabric to show through. Alternatively, the expensive sleeve lining was left to hang out of the cuffs. Almost 30 years after gold and silver threads were banned the practice of slashing was legislated against in 1472 (Hughes, 1983).

In Florence when buttons were banned, to prevent prosecution women used studs. Few doubt that the innovativeness in circumventing legislation by clever dressmakers was the reason why the laws were reprised so often. Whilst many took great steps to avoid breaking the laws others blatantly ignored them.

Sumptuary law was frequently waived to suit social occasions and in 1459 the Venetian Senate, relaxed the sumptuary laws regarding bright dresses and jewellery to impress French ambassadors when they visited the city. Many historians believe sumptuary laws were a deliberate attempt by men to stop their wives and concubines from spending lavishly on sumptuous goods. Italian city states produced 83 substantial laws during the fifteenth century. This number was doubled in each of the following centuries.

Laws were altered to respond to the inventiveness of language and style by the 15th century the outlawing of expensive buttons involved listing all unacceptable alternatives. In 1512 as Venice's enemies gathered for an attack. The Senate debated dress materials, the size and design of sleeves, fringes and ornaments belts and head-dresses, shoes and slippers, home furnishings and bed linens. (Hughes, 1983). Private extravagance, moral degeneration and political decline may have been three variables involved when thoughts have turned to sumptuary law. However, this is not always reflected in the actual events.

Although Hughes argues the Black plague did not engender interest in new sumptuary laws, the clergy were quick to brand Poulaines as the reason for it. The wrath of god was often used as a reason for the laws and many were created by or helped enforced by the church. Hughes wrote “. the Venetian Senate appealed in 1438 to the patriarch Lorenzo Zustinian, who had the year before outlawed silk trains, long sleeves, or sleeves ornamented with pearls and hair adorned with gold, silver, pearls, or false tresses, threatening with excommunication all who disobeyed. The Senate wanted him to help them control extreme headdresses and excessive trains by the ecclesiastical means.

The 16th century heralded a new era for painting in the Netherlands and Germany. Northern artists were influenced by the great innovations in the South; many artists travelled to Italy to study; and the Renaissance concern for bringing modern science and philosophy into art was also evident in the North. There was, however, a difference of outlook between the two cultures. In Italy, Humanism inspired change, with its emphasis on the revival of the values of classical antiquity. In the North, change was driven by another set of preoccupations: religious reform, the return to ancient Christian values, and the revolt against the authority of the Church. Many of the sumptuary laws went ignored although fashions such as slashing was considered a means to overcome the law. Fancy dress was also a clever deception as was celebration days, where gentry would change places with other classes.

The first examples of sumptuary legislation in Spain, and France date from the 13th century in the reigns of:, James I and Philip IV respectively.

Brundage JA 1987 Sumptuary laws and prostitution in late Medieval Italy Journal of Medieval History 13:4 343-355.
Hughes D O 1983 4: sumptuary law and social relations in Renaissance Italy In Bossy J (ed) Disputes and Settlements NY: Cambridge University Press.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sumptuary Laws of the Fifteenth Century

"Forasmuche as the greate and costly array and apparrell used wythin this realme, contrary to good statutes therof made, hath be the occasion of grete impovershing to divers of the Kings subjects and provoked many of them to robbe and to doo extortion and other unlawful dedes to maynteyne therby ther costeley arrey: In exchewyng wheof, Be it ordeyned by the authority of this present Parliament that no persone of whate state, condition, or degre that he be, use in his apparel eny cloth of golde of purpoure [purple] coloure or sylke of purpoure coloure, but onely the Kyng, the Quwene, the Kyng's Moder, the Kyng's Chylder, the Kyng's Brethers and Susters, upon payne to forfett the seid apparel, .. . and for using the same to forfaite 20 pounds. "

Under this preamble was published the list of "no-nos" and "exceptions" laid out in the above. At the discretion of the regent however he could, and did, grant special dispensations to wear articles of clothing forbidden by law, to whomever he pleased.

During the reign of Henry IV (1366 -1413) the male attire became much quieter than in previous times. Fantastic styles still existed and were recorded by contemporary writers. Parliament tried to curb fashion excess by legislation but this had little effect. The lower classes were condemned for imitating the fashions and extravagances of the rich and diatribes of ecclesiastics and contemporary satirists were especially directed against garments of the slashed (torn or rented) variety. Slashed outer clothing revealed finery beneath which was often banned from wear. Because the sumptuous garment was an undergarment it did not transgress the law.

Much later broad toes shoes or Bears Paw were made of soft leather uppers which were slashed to reveal finery beneath such as colourful silk stockings. The broad toed shoes were popular with men. Parliament proposed two new sumptuary laws in 1402 and 1406, but neither met with the king's full approval.

During the reign of Henry V (1387 -1422) no more sumptuary laws were enacted. Henry V preferred wearing buskins to the long toed poulaines.

The reign of Henry VI (1421 – 1471 ) was a time of lavish excesses. In 1444 there was wage control legislation for husbandry servants. Clothing was part of wages and they were restricted to wear certain attire. During this time England was still at war with France and the Wars of the Roses started. Shoes were worn long often longer than the entire length of the foot.

Throughout the reign of Henry VI, wooden overshoes (pattens) were worn by gentlemen when walking out in bad weather. Towards the end of his reign foot fashion changed to include dark hose and boots.

The War of the Roses started in 1455 and ended in 1485. In 1461 the Yorkshire faction gained the upper hand and its leader, Edward IV (1442- 1483) became king. Little had been done to curb dress excesses since the reign of Henry IV. Despite the continuing civil war, Edward was determined and passed several laws. The first was enacted in 1463-1464. The act attempted to regulate the wearing of long toed shoes.

By the time of Edward's reign the long toed shoe fashion was strongly established and hence difficult to dislodge. The style had long been the subject of scorn from satirists. In the new act no-one lower than the rank of a lord should wear and shoes or boots with pikes more than two inches long.

Shoemakers were forbidden to make shoes or boots with points longer than the prescribed length. The responsibility for punishment of offences was given to Justice of the Peace or local magistrates. All fines were to go towards the expenses of the king's household. The act related to the lesser and poorer nobility and to the classes below them. The law relating to shoe length seemed to be hard to enforce, judging from the number of regulations issued with regard to the matter within the space of two or three years (Baldwin, 1926 p.108). One year after the passage of the statute of 1463-64 it was ordained:

"that no person cordwainer or cobbler within the city of London or within three mile of any part of the same city, be he within franchise or without , do to be made after the feast of Easter (sic 1464)....and shoe, galoches, or huseas (sic bushkin), with any pike or poleyn that shall pass the length of two inches , which shall be judged by the wardens or governors of the same mystery. "

The act was later repealed by Henry VIII. Shoe makers were however, forbidden to sell any of their wares on Sundays or on certain other days, and the penalty for doing so, as well as for making shoes with pikes more than two inches, was to be a fine of 20 shillings. The following year it was proclaimed throughout England that the beaks or pikes of shoes or boots should not exceed two inches, upon pain of cursing by the clergy and forfeiting 20 shillings, one noble to the king, another to the cordwainers of London and a third to the chamber of London. Despite this the fashion for long toed shoes continued. The act of 1462-63 had not been effective in checking fashion extravagances. Later acts in 1477 and 1483 were passed which reinforced many of the aspects of the 1462-63 acts. They also included granting the right of appeal. The most significant aspect about the later acts was the exact penalties for each offence was identified. However, there is no evidence to support these laws were ever enforced.

From the time of the reign of Richard II 's time." (1367 – 1400) males wore shoes with pointed toes (peaks, pikes or poulaines). The shoes were worn up to 24’ longer than the foot and prevented normal walking. Aristocratic gentlemen would tie the toe of their poulaines to their knees using chains of silver or gold. Those who could not afford precious metals used silk laces. From contemporary paintings ladies also wore sized down long toed shoes.

By statute shoes split at the sides with a peak before and behind, and long and pointed toes were forbidden (Baldwin, 1926, p98). Late in Richard II’s reign, broad toed shoes became popular. Some men wore designs sewn on one leg of their tights. Poor men wore shapeless shoes and woollen tights. Country women dressed in foot shaped shoes with wooden pattens strapped onto them for outdoor wear.

By the mid fifteenth century Edward IV (1442 – 1483) wore red Spanish boots turned over at the top.

Henry VII (1485-1509) crushed the baronage and tentatively began to construct the middle classes. A decline in agriculture resulted in people moving to urban areas and development of manufacture. Henry believed gold and silver reserves should stay in England and English manufacturers should be protected from foreign competition. These economic ideas often underpinned the Tudor sumptuary laws.

Exquisite taste in clothes did not stop with the gentry and the clergy wore luxurious and ostentatious garments. Despite this, there were few sumptuary laws from the period of Henry VII. The long toed shoes which had attracted the attention of the legislators in the reign of Edward IV were still worn though they were fast going out of style. During the reign of Henry VIII shoes became very broad at the toes and slashing on the uppers was common

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Poulaine or long toed shoe

“If ever a shoe style represented a symbol of social status then the long toed shoe of the Middle Ages remains unsurpassed. The fashion lasted for four centuries, unbroken.”


Footwear throughout history has supplied a social ritual, the knowledge of which indicated, breeding and status. The wealthy classes of the Middle Ages indulged their superiority by wearing sumptuous clothing and shoes became symbols, serving to indicate standards of conduct as well as emotional states. During the High Middle Ages fashion took a bizarre turn and the glitterati of European courts wore poulaines or, very long toed shoes. As the centuries passed, men’s footwear grew longer and longer until they were 24” longer than the feet they protected. Normal walking was impossible and young dandies stiffened their peaks with moss and grass ensuring the true purpose of the shoe dildos was obvious. Despite the fashion’s longevity no rational explanation has ever been proffered to explain the phenomenon. In the spirit of zeitgeist, the author attempts to now fill that void. The fashion began at the same time the first Crusaders were returning from the Holy Lands (The First Crusade, 1095–99).


As European society emerged from the Dark Ages, high culture prevailed in the Empire of Islam which extended from India to Spain. When the two cultures clashed Knights were surprisingly impressed by the sophistication of the mystic culture of the Sufis. For centuries the Sufis developed a mystical path of love where the sensual and the spiritual came bonded in an ecstatic way. It was never clear whether the poet was praising a human beloved or the divine beloved or one shining through the other. Modern scholars acknowledge the influence of Islam formed the basis for European Chivalry and Courtly Love. The conventions of courtly love taught young men to sublimate their desires and channel their energies into socially useful behaviour. To do otherwise might have threatened social stability especially at a time when feudal lords and knights were engaged in the Crusades. For people to break these taboos only reinforces the strength and drive for sexual pleasure which transcend any moral precept.

Courtly Love

Courtly love flourished in the early 12th century during the cultural renaissance that followed the first Crusades. It involved the passionate devotion of lover and loved one. The relationship was always illicit i.e. the woman was the wife of another, often a lord or patron and its consummation was virtually impossible. The high minded ideas about romance spread when troubadours sang openly of love’s joys and heartbreaks in daringly personalised terms, extolling the ennobling effects of the lover’s’ selfless devotion. The troubadours (the term is derived from the Arabic word 'tare', meaning musical enchantment) promoted a love yearned for, and at times rewarded by, the solace of every delight of the beloved except physical possession by intercourse. Courts of Love were held to publicise the rules of love and the ladies who presided at the courts taught society about the new way to live and love.

Domnei & Donnoi

Most arranged marriages between aristocrats were for political reasons but convention upheld two "intimate ceremonies" as a form of courtship. Domnei (woman worship) was a custom where the would-be suitor gazed on the partly or fully undressed lady; and Donnoi where the couple lay naked together sometimes separated only by a pillow. The test for the young lovers was to prove their depth of love by avoiding intercourse. This was sensual, carnal and openly encouraged the delights of kissing and embracing. The sight of a beloved’s nudity and the touching of her body provoked desire. Under these circumstances it would be no stretch of the imagination to work out what gainful employ a 24" long extension on the foot might be put towards. Indeed, at a public banquet an average sized adult male with two 24 " long extensions on his feet could keep three women perfectly happy under the table, leaving his hands free to enjoy a health repast.

Long Toed Shoes

The fashion for long toed shoes lasted four centuries and although it ebbed and waned in that time, the length of shoes got longer until the style was abruptly halted in the early 15th century. Through its zenith, shoe length was subject to papal condemnation as well as sumptuary laws which always restricted excesses to the less wealthy. Despite this the fashion remained even although it caused men to walk unnaturally and ungainly with a wide based, high stepping gait. A particular fad of the young nobles who attended the court of William Rufus was to wear shoes with long tapering points like scorpions’ tails. Orderic Vitalis was an English born monk who spent the whole of his religious life in the Norman Abbey of Evroul and recorded much of the social events of his time. He documented a fool in the court called Robert, who stuff the points of his shoes with flax so they could be curled back in the form of a ram’s horn. He was subsequently given the ribald nickname Cornadus, meaning ‘Horner” or Horny.

Symptoms of Tertiary Syphilis

The same high stepping pattern of movement (ataxia) is seen in tabes dorsalis, a sequestrate of tertiary syphilis where spirochetes destroys the central nervous system. Syphilitic myelopathy is a disorder characterized by muscle weakness and abnormal sensations caused by untreated syphilis infections. Loss of proprioception causes coordination difficulties which contribute to problems of wide based walking. The same infection causes widespread damage to the nerves of the brain and results in personality changes, mood changes, hyperactive reflexes, abnormal mental function including hallucinations and delusions, decreased intellectual functioning, and speech changes. This is known as General Paralysis of the Insane and typically begins about 15-20 years after the original syphilis infection.

The Court Jester

"When the king was a syphilitic semi-imbecile, a jester even more grotesque may have served as a useful stage prop, disarming criticism by making the king look more nearly normal by comparison and thus making the make-believe of kingship possible."

(Willeford, 1969 p156).

Syphilis was long thought to be a disease introduced to Europe in the 15th century (carried by Christopher Columbus’s crew). Hence historians have had no reason to seek evidence of its existence prior to this date. Recent discoveries of human remains in Hull, England, have revealed syphilitic pitting and the bones have these have been carbon dated to the 11th century. The presence of the pox and the knowledge of its transmission would give reason to influence sexual practises.

Safe sex

The urge to prevent pregnancy was actively and creatively pursued since Onan spilled his seed (Genesis). Pre modern peoples of Europe regulated family size and women in antiquity had significant control over their reproductive lives. From ancient times a foreign object placed in the uterus was thought to prevented pregnancy and in periods when marriage was delayed it has been assumed that masturbation was an outlet. Until the Middle Ages women practiced birth control with little interference from religious or civil authorities. In courtly love shoe shaped dildos may have been used as sex toys and/or a means of physical contraception used after intercourse. The long shoe style may also have provided protection from sexually transmitted disease and or masked the symptoms. In a similar manner in Oriental Society, sexualisation of the Lotus Foot may have been for the same reasons.

Foot sex

The association between feet and sex is found no clearer than in the Orient. The origins of foot binding are clouded although aesthetic appreciation of the small foot was present in early Chinese literature. Documentation of the foot binding starts from the 10th Century. Maintaining the Lotus foot (3” long) ensured hypersensitivity of the foot arch and forced the child to walk with small steps. Deportment was important and thought to increase the labial folds and muscle tone of the pelvic floors. The vagina was tight for life and the soles of the feet became second vaginas. Pedal sex was contemporary in the ancient world.

But what global event would cause two diverse societies separated by thousands of miles and eons of culture to adopt such a curious preoccupation with feet and sex? It had to be disease.

Fact or fantasy

What I have just recounted is conjecture, and in the absence of written evidence must remain so. Whether shoes became sex toys by necessity and sexualisation of the foot, a focus for safe sex, will never be clear. However, something strange did happened in the 11th century and this has influenced our sexual behaviours to date. As an anthropologist/sociologist who studies the foot in health and disease, I could not finish this presentation without a foot note. The end of the fashion for long toed shoes came abruptly in the early 15th century. From contemporary paintings, the only evidence available, the style was quickly replaced by shoes which were so broad across the ball if the foot as to boast of individual compartments for each toe. The podiatrist’s delight was called Bears Paws. The same style is seen today in post-surgical moon boots used to support and protect injured tissue. One other outcome of neuro-syphilis is Charcot foot where trophic ulceration decimates the sole of the foot making walking in anything other than shoe boxes, impossible. By the 16C a new class of courtiers had emerged and deportment took on social significance where appearance reflected moral attitudes. Clothing became more rigid, to impose a standard form.

Sumptuary Law in the Fourteenth Century

According to Strutt (cited in Baldwin, 1926), during the 14th and 15th centuries the people of England and France loved to imitate each other. Courtly concerns about upward mobility may have influenced sumptuary control. During the reign of Edward II, (1284-1327) in 1309, a proclamation against outrageous consumption of meats and fine dishes by the great houses was issued. Parliament did not however address the royal concern with legislation.

Aristocratic luxuries introduced from France began to appear in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). English manufacturers were quick to make these available to anyone who wanted to buy them. England's prosperity was on the increase at this time due to success in foreign wars. Many subjects wore fine garments, lined with fur, and made from superior linen. The acquisition of jewels, gold and silver plate, and rich furniture had all been acquired as a result of the war with France. The availability of costly items led gentlewomen and knights to overvalue their appearance. Each tried to outdo their neighbours with their finery and the habit soon became common place among the lower classes. Keen to promote English craftsmen and swell craft guilds in the cities and towns, Edward III used diplomatic and legislative means to achieve this end.

As a result, the artisan class prospered and this became one of the chief causes of national strength and prosperity during his reign. Edward III was described as "the king who taught the English how to dress." Although responsible for the introduction of sumptuary laws in England, he did not lead by example. The King hoped to promote prosperity in England and according to Cunningham (cited in Baldwin, 1926) had three main ways of achieving this objective. He intended to foster foreign commerce; he wanted to help English industries; and to restrict public extravagance by sumptuary legislation. During his reign English commerce spread throughout Europe. The wool trade was especially healthy and brought much wealth. The war with France provided a window of opportunity. This led to building of national wealth and coincidentally national costume. One manifestation of the new patriotism engendered throughout the reign of Edward III was the development of a style of dress. Baldwin described this as more national and not a copy of continental styles seen in previous fashions.

The frequent tournaments and other entertainments which took place in the reign of Edward III promoted a rapid succession of new fashions among the upper classes. Edward's reign saw a meteoric rise in the merchant class (Pearsall, 1996). The recognition of the laboring class and moneyed (or capitalist class) was one of the most important developments in English life from the time of Edward III, onwards. (Cunningham, cited in Baldwin, 1926). A good many changes in male costume took place about 1350. Boots became longer more pointed and also more ornate. They were sometimes laced instead of buckled. Women of the period were very fashion conscious. The royal attire of Edward III included embroidered shoes.

The reign of Edward III provided the first national sumptuary legislation on record. Statutes were passed in the Parliaments of 1336, 1337 and 1363. These are available in the Statutes of the Realm. According to Bland (1976) one act included the following

"no knight under the estate of a lord, esquire or gentleman, nor any other person, shall wear any shoes or boots having spikes or points which exceed the length of two inches, under the forfeiture of forty pence."

The 1336 Act attempted to regulate the dress of various classes of the English people. The war with France was over and the English had triumphed. But the spoils of war brought extravagance and wastefulness. Many of the parliamentarians were clerics or influenced by clerics, and the 1336 Act most probably came from their lobbying (Baldwin, 1926). The law had two levels i.e. an attempt to control excess in dress and promote English garments; and secondly an effort to preserve class distinctions by means of costume. Due to a lack of documented evidence it would seem there are no records of prosecution under the sumptuary laws of Edward III and the same law was repealed a year later.

In 1337 when war was again declared with France, the English Parliament enacted a law intended to restrain extravagance in dress and to promote the consumption of English manufacturers. The 1337 act dealt with furs, limiting the wearing thereof to persons of gentle birth (or persons with annual incomes of 100 pounds or more). The Black Death (1348 and 1350) reached England in 1348 and the end of the following year had spread to the north of the country. It was estimated at least 20% of the population died. This led to the imposition in 1351 of the Statute of Laborers which fixed wages to pre Black Death levels and prevented mobility of labour in an attempt to restore stability at a time when demand for workers was much greater than the supply (Pearsall, 1996). People were often paid in apparel and foodstuffs.

In 1355 an act was passed to restrict prostitutes from clothing more in keeping with respectable women. Later parliament of 1363 passed an act regulating both apparel and consumption of foodstuffs. This act amended a previous act from 1337 and reduced the threshold for permissible wearing of furs to any non-peasant with annual income of 40 shillings or greater. The legislation had two objectives i.e. protectionism i.e. only members of the royal family could wear cloth of non-English manufacture; and an anti-inflationary measure. Prior to this, Flemish weavers were taking English cash out of the country. The laws were an attempt retrieve lost taxes by keeping English money in the country.

During the reign of Edward III the length of shoes were regulated i.e. nobility were allowed 24" (61cm) pointed shoes; gentlemen could wear 12" (31 cm) extensions and merchants 6.5" (16 cm).

Towards the end of Richard II (1367 -1400) reign extravagance in dress and manner of living rapidly increased. Richard was a bad example to his subjects and was known as "the greatest fob ever, to occupy the throne'. His excesses were legendary and his nobles and merchants were keen to follow his lead by spending large sums of money on their dress.

The fashions from Italy and those imported by his consort. Queen Anne from Bohemia influenced even the servant class who wore long toed shoes or Cracow’s (poulaines or pokys). Shoes were sometimes worn with one colour on the right foot and another on the left. They were made of every kind of material, sewn with pearls on velvet or cloth, stamped with gold on leather, or made of raised leather. Worn with enormously long, pointed toes, sometimes they were stuffed to become stiff, sometimes left limp. Some suggestions are the end of the shoe was fastened by chains to the waste or knees, in order to allow the wearer to move about. However, no evidence has ever been found to confirm this assumption. The long toed shoe styles proved so popular and unabated it was considered necessary to pass several laws prohibiting their use.

Baldwin F E 1926 Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England Johns Hopkins Press.
Bland A 1976 A history of ballet and dance in the western world London: Barrie & Jenkins.
Pearsall R 1996 Kings & queens: a history of British monarchy New York: Todtri Productions.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sumptuary Law in the Thirteenth Century

Prior to the thirteenth century legislators paid scant attention to fashion, dress or adornment (Brundage, 1987). One cannon in the Decretum of Gratian (circa 1140) dealt with feminine adornment but that was more concerned with the morality of makeup than with luxurious clothing (Freiberg, 1879 cited in Brundage, 1987). Theologians and moralists prior to the end of the thirteenth century were more concerned with costume than were the lawyers and legislators of the period.

St Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) scrutinized the moral implications of luxury in women's dress. Inordinate attention to and expenditure on lavish clothing, he cautioned might under some circumstances be sinful. A single woman who had no desire to marry should dress plainly, lest she provoke men to sinful thoughts and deeds. Married women could legitimately lavish attention on their appearance only as long as her goal was to make herself attractive to her husband and keep him interested in her (Bursa 1980 cited in Brundage, 1987).

Aquinas did not consider the dressmaker guilty of any sin by creating luxurious or attractive fashions since the purchaser could use the attire for legitimate or illegal purpose. The fashion designer might however commit a sin by creating frivolous or novel styles for the display of feminine charms. (Bursa, 1980, cited in Brundage, 1987). This may go some way to explain the often puckarian depiction of cobblers and shoemakers in folklore and fairy tales.

The first record of sumptuary legislation is an ordinance of the City of London in 1281 regulating apparel of workman. These related to workers who had working clothes supplied by their employer. This may have arisen from a wage/price control impulse or from imitation of continental trends.

The first Italian sumptuary law contained in the Breve della Campagna, dates further back to 1157. The law related to the banning of the use of rich furs.

In Venice special magistrates, Proveditori Sopra Le Pompe, were appointed to enforce sumptuary regulations. In 1299 a law was passed permitting only the bride and one other guest to wear pearls i.e. one strand around the waste.

The sumptuary laws which appeared in the middle of the thirteenth century came from governments which omitted common people or "popolo". Hence the laws were thought to control aristocratic excesses more than keep down the peasants. The city state of Siena regulated trains on dresses in 1249. Bologna made a similar decree in 1260. By the time sumptuary laws were being applied to various levels of European Society, the Council of Montpellier had forbidden Churchmen from slashing the hems of their robes (AD 1195) and King Louis VIII was able to control his noble's wardrobe by 1229.

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