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Saturday, 7 August 2010

- Part 1: A History of the Legislation

A History of Sumptuary Legislation in England [i]

Sumptuary legislation has existed for centuries - one of the earliest examples one is found in Greek law which ‘ordained that no woman should wear gold or embroidered material unless she were a prostitute.’[ii] In the early modern period the sumptuary laws in England forbid prostitutes to wear anything as elaborate or excessive, but this serves to illustrate that different time periods have different ideas of what is fitting for each social class to wear.
Using N. B. Harte’s ‘Social Control of Dress and Social Change’, A. Hunt’s ‘Governance of Consuming Passions’, and F. Baldwin’s ‘Sumptuary Legislation’, we can fast-track through the legislation relating to apparel, and covering the period 1337 to 1604 in England.
Sumptuary legislation was introduced into England relatively late compared to the rest of Europe, with the first Act of Apparel being established in 1337, forbidding all but the royal family to wear cloth manufactured outside England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This legislation was obviously introduced for economic reasons, and intended to promote internal production.

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