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Sumptuary Laws

Between the 1100s and 1700s the English government passed a number of different laws restricting what different groups of people were allowed to wear. The rising wealth of the merchant class threatened the nobility, and they were worried that people would confuse them with mere merchants! So, together with the King or Queen England’s government passed a number of different laws to make sure that, no matter how well a merchant or his wife might dress, they would never dress as well as the royals. These sumptuary laws limited the types, colors, and even the amounts of fabrics that people were allowed to wear. Knowing that this didn’t sound too good, one queen, Queen Elizabeth I, justified the new rules by saying “The excess of apparel and the superfluity of unnecessary foreign wares thereto belonging now of late years is grown by sufferance to such an extremity that the manifest decay of the whole realm generally is like to follow.” In other words, you guys are spending so much time and money trying to dress fancy that you are bringing this whole country to ruin! Which, as you have seen, is a little hypocritical, given the extravagant ways that the nobility were dressing. Source:





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