Kathy's All-Purpose Blog

I guess some people have different blogs for different subjects, but this is it for me, baby. One blog to bring them all, or something.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Fashion Police

There really did used to be a Fashion Police. I get a kick out of that.

Back in the Middle Ages, they began passing these things called sumptuary laws. They were passed in response to the growth of the middle class, and especially the growing wealth of the middle class. Nobility and aristocracy back then tended to be land-rich but cash-poor. A typical noble family would own several acres, and the ancestral manse (likely in dire need of repair). They'd have lots of people working for them, but their cash flow would be minimal.

By contrast, middle-class tradesmen and professionals might not own the homes in which they lived, but they had actual money to spend on things like clothes, and furniture, and meals to entertain their friends. The upper-class folks, of course, began to think it just wasn't right that these jumped-up merchants were putting on airs and buying all the trappings of aristocracy--trappings the actual aristocracy could hardly ever afford.

Hence, sumptuary laws, which stated in astonishing detail what you could wear, how you could decorate, and what you could serve your guests, based on your social status. Once the laws were in place, they needed people to enforce them, and so...the Fashion Police.

They weren't called that, of course. But their job was to go through peoples' closets and root out the stuff they weren't supposed to be wearing. Sadly, taste had nothing to do with whether a garment was acceptable, it was a question of how much fabric, and what kind, and how it was decorated.

Still, I get a kick out of the fact that, once upon a time, you truly could get busted by the Fashion Police.


  • At March 18, 2005 at 5:07 PM, Blogger Beverly Marshall Saling said…

    I believe the Fashion Police go all the way back to ancient Roman times, when their job was to make sure that no one wore more purple than they were supposed to. Only the emperor was allowed to wear a totally purple toga. (Historians still say "donning the purple" to mean becoming emperor.) Senators were allowed a certain width of purple trim, and select other officials got other widths. I like to imagine some guy running around with a ruler measuring people's trim widths.

    The Chinese probably had Fashion Police of some kind even before that, but I don't know any specifics.


Post a Comment

<< Home