Medieval sumptuary law has been receiving renewed scholarly attention in recent decades. But sumptuary laws, despite their ubiquity, have rarely been considered comprehensively and comparatively. This essay calls attention to this problem and suggests a number of topics for investigation, with specific reference to the first phase of European sumptuary legislation in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It argues that comparative study demonstrates that this chronology closely parallels the development of the so-called “Western fashion system” and that the ubiquity of sketchy or nonexistent enforcement is evidence for the symbolic importance of sumptuary legislation, rather than its instrumentality. Comparison across (modern) national boundaries further reveals intriguing patterns of similarity and difference that require further exploration and contextualization; for example, such research reveals that only one social category, that of knights, emerges as universally important during this period.
"Common Threads: A Reappraisal of Medieval European Sumptuary Law,"
The Medieval Globe: Vol. 2
, Article 7.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/tmg/vol2/iss2/7