Sumptuary Laws

I just received a copy of the book Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, by RIchard Thompson Ford. It’s now in my ‘to read’ list, but it might be a while before I get to it… I found a reference to this book during one of those rabbit holes that are easy to fall into when I was researching 18th century sumptuary laws. These were laws enacted to limit access or restrict use of certain materials or styles to specific people, usually with an eye to keeping everyone within their class and not dressing like their social betters.

One such law I came across recently in an article about Swedish lace making refers to two acts. In 1767 Sweden, His Majesty’s Directive against Luxuriance and Superfluity was enacted to minimize commoners from wearing luxurious materials and accessories, as well as limit ostentation amongst aristocratic ladies when not at court: “For the prevention of a harmful luxuriance in Ladies’ costumes, all trains on Ladies’ costumes of whatever kind are forbidden as from the 1 January 1767…” As well, this edict also limited silk and wide lace trims to court wear only. Three years later, a 1770 sumptuary law extended restrictions to men’s clothing: “All Male Persons in general are forbidden at a Penalty of one Hundred Silver Riksdalers…to wear Silk Velvet, and Silk fabrics in Clothing, Lining, by which is meant Coats, Frock-coats, so-called Surcoats, Jackets and Waistcoats; Likewise forbidden at the same Fine are all Galloons and Embroidery in Gold, Silver, Silk or any other kind, except for what officers and the parading Burghers of the town have the right to wear on their Hats and Caps; Also forbidden for Male Persons at the same Fine are Lace and Mountings on Canvas for Cuffs…”

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