Some Information Concering
In the Renaissance everyone had their place, and there were laws to enforce this. One of these laws was called the Sumptuary Law. This enforced among other things, what you could or could not wear. The Sumptuary Laws made which class you were a member of obvious by your clothing, clearly defining which class you were. Be you peasant, middle, or nobility, a quick glance by someone, would reveal just what your status in life was. Further, it would give clues as to which ranking within each of those you would be.
The reasons are varied for these laws. One of them already made obvious here is class distinction. There were also some moral and religious issues concerning dress, which involved the more conservative people and religious to regard too much finery as a bad thing, potentially leading one down the path of evil. Others were economic, as they attempted to keep people buying fabrics and trims within the local industry. In the case of England they promoted examples such as wools and linens. Additional economic issues included the fact that clothing was rather expensive, many imported fabrics such as silk brocades were quite costly. This money spent on luxurious clothing could be put back into the economy for more useful possessions such as horses.
Sumptuary Laws in England have been recorded as early at the 1300's. In 1510 during Henry VIII's reign they were rewritten in great detail and further amended as the years went by. While there were no real "clothing police" there was some enforcement at the levels of society. There is always the story of two the young women vying for the attentions of the same handsome man. One woman having a nicer ribbon than the other, so why not turn her in? Since the poor lass had no money, a day or three in the stocks, would cause quite a stir.
In order to vie for attention many spent a year's income on their clothing. The quest to look fashionable and wear status symbols is not new to our modern society. Punishment for disregarding these laws was typically a monetary fine, or luxury tax. So it was possible to buy your way into a more stylish look. Naturally that made you clothing cost even more, but it also got you noticed, and could help improve your status in life. Certainly if you were a merchant you would want to appear to be prosperous.
Within the elite world of courtiers, those wishing to gain further power, money and favor the laws were still in effect but were enforced at the whim of the King or Queen. Elizabeth I kept a journal of those who dared to defy upon the Sumptuary Laws and collected fines from those who fell out of her favor. However if you wanted to get anywhere at court disregarding those laws was not a bad thing. People noticed you, and just as today you wanted to look good walking down the proverbial "red carpet" for important events. You would marry better, get offered a better post, and perhaps enjoy a more exciting dalliance with another. If you look good, you feel good and more opportunities will become open to you, just as it is now, it was then,
Our motto "Always Dress Above your Station" refers to the Sumptuary Laws. Our goal is to provide you with gowns that will make you the envy of all other courtiers.
Examples of Sumptuary Laws Are;
Servants, shepards, common laborers, servents to artificers living outside of any city or borough, and all farmers worth less than 10 pounds a years shall not wear cloth costing more than 2 shillings a broad yard or hose worth more than 10d a yard.
(Punishment could be imprisonment in the stocks for up to three days. Apparently the lower classes had no money to pay a tax on their clothing so a "proper" punishment for their disobedience was found. There are further rules governing the lower classes listing in great detail who could wear fur, how much fabric would be in a female's gown, what types of fabrics and trim. But for our purposes who really cares? As long as our servents bring us what we want when we want it?)
None shall wear any in his apparel embroidery, taffeta, satin damask in his outermost garments unless he is a Baron's sons, Knight or one really rich dude. This also includes pricking or pinking with gold or silk, furs of Luzernes or Libardes.
Dukes, Marquesses, Earles or their children, Barones and Knights could wear velvets of crimson, scarlet or blue. Wool from outside of England. Any fur they pleased with the exception of sable.
Who could wear pearls, precious gems, cloth of gold, and silver trim was regulated. The size of ruffs too was stated in the laws. And it was always a good idea to be just a bit less gloriously attired than your Monarch, because while the Sumptuary Laws were not overly enforced, one certainly would not want to, push one's luck too far. It's one thing to be noticed and quite another to be dressed better than the Queen.
There are many fine web sites located on the Internet concerning these laws in detail. Should you wish to know more we suggest that you type "sumptuary law" or sumptuary laws" into your favorite search engine and enjoy the information.