sumptuary laws

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sumptuary laws

(sŭmp`cho͞oĕ'rē), regulations based on social, religious, or moral grounds directed against overindulgence of luxury in diet and drink and extravagance in dress and mode of living. Such laws existed in ancient Greece and Rome, and in Japan they were applied to the peasant and commercial classes until the mid-19th cent. In the 14th and 15th cent. several statutes were passed in England that regulated ornateness of dress and the people's diet. These regulations varied according to the rank of the person, peasants being subject to rules different from those of the gentry. The main purpose of the legislation was to mark class distinctions clearly and to prevent any person from assuming the appearance of a superior class.


See F. E. Baldwin, Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England (1926).

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Family law, education, the prevention of vice, regulating trades, Sabbath and sumptuary laws, licensing, marriage and divorce, the elaborate framework of the civil and criminal law, the jury system--these were responsibilities that could only be done safely, and properly, by the states.
In the sumptuary laws of Livonian towns there was one constantly repeated requirement regarding the fabric used for clothing: wearing garments or adornments made of silk were prohibited or restricted (e.g.
While addressing the influence of sumptuary laws, increased social mobility, and a wider availability of luxury items on fashion during the period, Paulicelli looks at both works in the context of the contemporaneous genres of costume and conduct books and shows how Vecellio and Franco not only document but also participate in the dissimulation inherent in fashion by using dress to shape their representations of historical events and figures.
Outside the Ghetto Jews, according to the Republic's sumptuary laws (which applied to all "outsiders" and were, in fact, prevalent throughout Europe), had to wear certain distinguishing symbols--typically a yellow hat, scarf or yellow badge (later, it was a red hat).
The money lavished on such finery moved local governments to pass sumptuary laws. In 1452, for example, some women who attended a wedding in Bologna wearing prohibited brocades and colors were excommunicated.
As Cohen's language suggests, in this period protectionism took on a moral quality independent of economic arguments, with high tariffs acting in the role of sumptuary laws. In Cohen's words, it " was becoming less about guarding American workers against competition--though this strain of thought never disappeared--and more about preventing the development of what some saw as a hedonistic, aristocratic country." There was also a fear that free trade would open the marketplace to increased participation by women, by depressing men's wages so that wives were "forced" into the workplace, even as it introduced exotic imports that they aspired to purchase.
It is clear that women continued to defy sumptuary laws, and in Jean Jacques Boissard's engravings of three Venetian women representing the newlywed, the matron and the courtesan, it would be difficult to pick out which is which.
Sumptuary laws in France were increasingly ignored following the 1715 death of Louis XIV, whose ancien regime court was characterized by luxurious clothing.
Many of the poems, though, work so hard to sound modern that this lucidity gets lost, as in "I Grew Hoarse": "Go, sirventes, to the White House, / to the UN," writes Keelan, "and exhume our bodies, / history of women, real and image, / while our husbands cowered in the shadows!" This final stanza of a poem in protest of sumptuary laws generates stirring and precise insights for the reader: the exhortation "exhume our bodies" reveals, at the level of syntax, the extent to which those bodies are coeval with a "history of women, real and image." But these insights are stalled by the reader's need to stop and sort out what among the poem's materials is modern, what is historical, and why and how the two are juxtaposed.
The section on the purpose and effects of sumptuary laws will be of particular interest to students of Renaissance drama, who are accustomed to think of them as legal restrictions on dress designed to bolster class differentiation.
Sin taxes are the latest manifestation of a long conversation that harkens to the sumptuary laws of the late medieval period and beyond (Tuchman 1987, 19-21).