The History of Footwear
The History of Footwear – Sumptuary Laws
Cameron Kippen, Curtin University of Technology, Perth WA
"History has proved that all sumptuary laws have been everywhere, after a brief time, abolished, evaded or ignored. Vanity will always invent more ways of distinguishing itself than the laws are able to forbid."
Giraudias E. Etude historiquesur les lois somptuaries (Poitiers, 1910)
Autocratic control of clothes and customs has been practised since the beginning of civilisation. Today, what would be viewed as a gross infringement of personal liberties, then, was part of keeping the ruling class separate from those being ruled. Sumptuary laws were passed in England and Europe from about the middle of the 1300s to the middle of the 1600s. They were devised to control behaviour from wearing of certain apparel to the consumption of particular foods, beverages (usually alcoholic nature) and other miscellaneous products. Sumptuary laws also related to gaming and hunting. The laws often prescribed what prices could be charged for various consumables, from clothing to food. Clothing styles and fashion remained unchanged for long periods of time due to sumptuary legislation. However as trade and commerce increased and towns became more centres of wealth, the feudal lords found competition in the wealthy middle class and as a consequence were forced to set a new standard of differentiation. This meant merchants who were princes in wealth, rather by birth, were able to outstrip true nobility. Extravagance became so universal that the church and crown thought it necessary to put a check on the ostentatious display of the newly rich. While these laws were aimed primarily at extravagant expenditure on dress they were not limited to it. The author attempts to describe a brief history of sumptuary laws and relate this to how Middle Ages legislation may have influenced the design of shoes of today.
In ancient times, efforts to control personal regulation were related to the general mode of living rather than of dress. The Greeks had some laws relating to clothing, such as, women could only wear three garments at a time. Amount of money to be spent of clothing was also regulated by the wealth of the family.
Women could only wear three garments at a time which may account for why most women went barefoot.
Sumptuary laws in Rome included the Lex Orchia which was passed in 187 BC, it related to the number of invited people who might attend a feast. The Lex Fannia was passed in 161 BC and regulated, the cost of entertainment. According to Brundage, 1987) the Roman Lex Oppia, was adopted in 215 BC and later repealed 195 BC with the Lex Valria Fundiana. He described the action of Catto who argued lifting restrictions of women's dress would invite moral decadence and social upheaval. Both followed in quick persuit. Colour and material were very important in Roman times, as a means of depicting rank. Laws were passed restricting peasants to one colour; officers to two colours; commanders to three; and members of the royal household to seven colours. The colour purple was always reserved for the royal family. Scarlet could be worn only by royal family members and high noblemen. During the reign of Claudius I (AD 41-54), he ordered his marines to go barefoot because some marines from Ostia demanded compensation from the emporer for the marching shoes they wore out. His answer was to forbade the entire fleet from wearing shoes. At the time of Emporer Aurelian,(Lucius Claudius Domitius Aurelianus (AD 270 - 275) men were not permitted to wear yellow, white, red or green shoes as these were reserved exclusively for women.He reserved the right to wear red or purple for himself and his sons. Only ambassadors to foreign lands might wear gold rings, and men were strictly forbidden from wearing silk garments of any sort. When Roman soldiers returned victorious to Rome they frequently celebrated by substituting the bronze nails which held the caligae together with gold and silver tacks. Despite the efforts of Emporer Heliogabalus (AD 218-222) to ban women from ornamenting their shoes with gold and jewels, in the more luxurious days of the Roman Empire, thongs were decorated with gold and precious stones. Heliogabalus had his shoes decorated with diamonds and other precious stones and engraved by the finest artists. Although sumptuary laws and price controls were later imposed by Gaius Valerius Diocletianus (AD 245-313), in AD 301 footwear came in many styles and colours each reflecting class distinctions. Only male citizens entitled to wear toga could sport the calceus which was a shoe or short boot. The colour of the calceus indicated social standing. Red was at first the colour for high magistrates but later became the Emperor's prerogative. Only those in the service of Edile were allowed to wear red.
The Roman custom of using sumptuary laws to curb extravagance was spread throughout northern Europe.
According to Brundage (1987) the early Christians disapproved of luxury in dress. (Matthew 11:8). St Paul thought Christian women should dress quietly and modestly they should not braid their hair, wear gold jewellery or flaunt expensive gowns. "Sweet disposition and gentle piety, not gems bangles, and flashy dresses should be the adornments that holy women cherished (1Tim. 2:9-10:cf. 1 Peter 3:3-5; Isaiah 3:16-24).
In her essay "Sumptuary Law", Hurlock (1965) refers to the custom of primitive societies and their reliance on sumptuary laws. The Chiochas forbade the common people to paint or decorate their bodies. The Kaffirs punished members of the lower classes who attempted to ornament themselves in imitation of their social superiors. In ancient Peru the lower classes could not use gold or silver except with express permission of the ruling group. Japan has produced some the most severe sumptuary laws known. These determined how everyone should dress, work, speak, walk, sit, and even pray. Provincial governers were required to enforce these laws. Farmers with an income of $100 were unable to wear sandals made from leather and had to have sandals made from straw or wood with cotton straps. Sun shades or paper umberellas were prohibited to the lower classes, and they had to protect themselves by wearing straw raincoats or large straw hats. The Chinese people were aroused to great fury and open rebellion when ordered by their Tartar conquerors to cuf off their hair as a sign of servitude. Many preferred to loose their heads rather than comply. In pre Christian Ireland, laws relating to the use of colour by different ranks were in place. These were similar in character to those found in Rome. The colour purple was, always reserved for the royal family. Scarlet could be worn only by royal family members and high noblemen. The cost of dying cloth was quite expensive and economic factors were more likely to influence what was worn by whom, than any law.
Laws to control common people were evident in other societies
The motives for Sumptuary Law have certainly varied throughout history, depended on many factors including the prevailing circumstances at the time they were introduction as well as when they were eventually revoked. The flourishing of sumptuary laws in part reflected greater prosperity. The proliferation of sumptuary legislation occurred mainly in municipal statutes. Ecclesiastical legislation on the subject remained meagre and laws about adornment were a marginal concern for cannonists. At first Kings and parliaments paid little heed to regulating women's dress. Overwhelmingly in Europe it was city law makers who tried to repress extravagant fashions. This would infer the existence of sumptuary laws was in part the concerns of urban dwellers such as merchants, professionals, artisans and craftsmen. It is notable most of the sumptuary laws came from the Mediterranean cities. Burckhardt suggested this was because dress was taken more seriously in Italy than elsewhere in this period. It is not the intention of this essay to discuss these matters in full but instead to consider the context within which sumptuary laws pertaining to footwear can be best understood. According to Balwin (1926, p10) what led to the enactment of these laws was likely to include the following:
- the desire to preserve class distinctions;
- the desire to check practices which were regarded as deleterious in their effects. For example the feeling luxury and extravagance were wicked and harmful to the morals of the people.
- economic motives, to encourage home industries and discourage the buying of foreign goods; or the attempt on the part of the sovereign to induce their subjects; to save money, so they might be able to help the countries finances in time of need;
- shear conservatism and dislike of new fashions or customs, especially by some of the more conservative clergy. The paradox here was many of the clergy, were guilty of wearing fashion excesses including Cardinal Wolsey. Someone responsible for imposing restrictions on lower orders of the clergy and faithful.
Some authorities consider there remains little evidence to support the theory, sumptuary law in England was aimed to codify class differences as a result of some general disparity between income and rank. The bulk of evidence indicates sumptuary law was anti-inflationary, wage controls and protectionist in its intents. Prior to the eighteenth century there were laws to stop common people from dressing like affluent society. These laws regulated personal behaviour on moral or religious grounds (Healy, 1977 p 10). Hurlock (1965) wrote "Sumptuary laws were used primarily to preserve class distinctions. When members of the nobility found their position of supremacy encroached upon by the lower classes who had attained wealth, they passed laws to restore the respect for the inequality of ranks which had previously existed." Clearly a division of opinion exists between historians. Hurlock went on to say sumptuary laws were often used as a means of inducing people to save money. It was considered necessary to reduce senseless spending on luxuries such as clothing lest the event would result in the country going bankrupt. The Sumptuary Laws helped to encourage domestic trade. One law which exemplifies this was a law concerning the wearing of woollen caps to be worn on Sunday and all holy days by all persons over the age of six (except those of high position). The caps had to be made in England and the law was thought to have succeeded by building up the woollen industry. As wealth began to spread to the lower classes people began to evade the sumptuary laws during the fourteenth century lower class women learned to embroider to give elegance to their clothing. Because they did this themselves they did not breach any laws relating to the purchase of expensive clothing. In France the wearing of expensive hand muffs were restricted to the aristocracy, poor women had muffs made from cat and dog skin instead. Few could tell these apart from sable and mink. The main differences between English and continental sumptuary laws was in England they were national where as in Europe they were local in nature and dealt with fewer subjects than those of other countries (Baldwin. 1926). According to Jeudwine JW (cited in Baldwin, 1926) medieval society was a democracy founded upon the principle of aristocracy, and this meant every man was to keep his place in society. Sumptuous dress and social habits threatened the stability of the age. Each person's place in society was considered fixed by social custom and it was considered heresy for anyone to rise above their class, either in his manner of living or in his dress. Inevitably authority (usually the Kings or Parliament) took steps to curb extravagances. The laws were implemented throughout the middle ages and had their zenith during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Avoiding prosecution by the law became a source of fertile innovation in clothing designs
Courtesans were a prominent feature of Venice in the seventeenth century and were, for want of a better description, upper class, prostitutes. According to Rosentham (cited in Tucker, 1999) courtesans were sexualized versions of aristocratic women, kept in court and often used by aristocratic men for the purposes of sex. Coutesans were similar to concubines. Some were kept by nobles and had extravagant homes and clothing fit for royalty. Others had a different client every night and were reported to amass greater fortunes. (more than most of the town's merchants). Arthur Wellesley , Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was attribute to say "Publish and be damned." when the courtesan Harriette Wilson threatened to publish her memoirs and his letters. Thoughout history courtesans have dressed as ornatley as aristocratic women (Masson, 1975). The habit had little to do with imitating their superiors but instead a deliberate display of their wealth and prestige. Courtesans often set the fashions and by doing so made statments of beauty and identity. Whilst governments saw the women's costumes as a symbol of their city's wealth and stature, the male dominated republic, also cracked down on the coutesan's dress through sumptuary laws. These regulations were intended to protect the honour of female patricians from the courtesans, who mimicked their noble bearing and costumes. Courtesans became so established and wealthy in their own right it was difficult to separate them from true noblewomen. The action of subsequent governments was to restrict the wearing of some clothes to the nobility, according to Rosenthan (cited in Tuicker, 1999). These laws were often flaunted by the courtesans but did influence women of the lower class. Karra (1999) described how, in most Medieval towns, prostitution was illegal or in some cases regulated, clothing regulations required prostitutes to wear distinguishing marks (Weaver, 199). Pope Clement III (1187-91) ruled at the end of the 12th century that harlots should dress differently from honest women (Freiberg 1879, cited in Brundage, 1987) In 1215 Pope Innocent III proposed that Jews and Saracens should be required to wear special insignia when they appeared in public. The Fourth Lateran Council adopted the proposal for fear of interbreeding. Prescriptive codes, along with sumptuary legislation prohibiting prostitutes from wearing certain luxury materials followed. This action was thought to demonstrate a degree of tolerance i.e. as long as prostitutes remained clearly labelled they could remain within society. Laws relating to prostitution mainly applied to professionals but other sexually active women, were often included. The focus of this legislation was to shame and stigmatise these women. In twelfth-century Arles, prostitutes were prohibited from wearing a veil, the sign of a respectable woman, and anyone who saw an "immoral" woman wearing one had the right and the responsibility to take it from her. Similarly, in fifteenth-century Dijon, although it was not established in the law, removing a woman's headgear was an accusation of sexual immorality. In England, the striped hood, which prostitutes were required to wear in some towns, was in others used as punishment for prostitution. Sumptuary legislation required prostitutes to dress according to their station and distinguished them from "respectable" women. Although such laws often were ignored (as indicated by their frequent reiteration) they were nonetheless an important part of the discourse that constructed the prostitute. In 1243 Avignon law prohibited Jews and prostitutes from touching food at the market and requiring them to purchase whatever they touched. Similarly, clothing regulations labelled the Jewish people. In late medieval German towns, "both Jews and prostitutes were believed to perform essential services for the community, yet both groups were excluded from full membership of the city," and both were buried in unconscecrated ground. Medieval societies not only treated Jews, heretics, and lepers in ways comparable to prostitutes or sodomites, but also sexualised them, basing at least part of their otherness on their sexuality. The idea of Jewish men having sex with Christian women was an important undercurrent in the development of hostility toward the Jews; the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council cited this as the reason why Jews had to wear distinguishing clothing.
Courtesan, painted by Palma il Vecchio (1480 - 1528)
Clothing regulations required prostitutes to wear distinguishing marks
Medieval law prior to the thirteenth century paid scant attention to fashion, dress or adornment (Brundage, 198?) . One cannon in the Decretum of Gratian (around 1140) dealt with feminine adornment and that one was more concerned with the morality of makeup than with luxury in clothing (Freiberg, 1879 cited in Brundage, 1987). Theologians and moralists prior to the end of the thirteenth century were more concerned with costume than were the lawyers and legislators of the period. St Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) scrutinised the moral implications of luxury in women's dress. Inordinate attention to and expenditure on lavish clothing, he cautioned might under some circumstances be sinful. A single woman who had no desire to marry should dress plainly lest she provoke men to sinful thoughts and deeds. Married women could legitimately lavish attention on their appearance only as long as her goal was to make herself attractive to her husband and keep him interested in her. (Bursa 1980 cited in Brundage, 1987). Aquinas did not consider the dressmaker guilty of any sin by creating luxurious or attractive fashions since the purchaser could use the attire for legitimate or illegal purpose. The fashion designer might hoever commit a sin by creating frivolous or novel styles for the display of feminine charms. (Bursa, 1980, cited in Brundage, 1987). This may go some way to explain the often puckarian depiction of cobblers and shoemakers in folklore and fairytales. The first record of sumptuary legislation is an ordinance of the City of London in 1281 regulating apparel of workman. These related to workers who had working clothes supplied by their employer. This may have arisen from a wage/price control impulse or from imitation of continental trends. In Venice special magistrates, Proveditori Sopra Le Pompe, were appointed to enforce sumptuary regulations. In 1299 a laws was passed permitting only the bride and one other guest could wear pearls i.e. one strand around the waste. The first Italian sumptuary law contained in the Breve della Campagna, dates further back to 1157. The law related to the banning of the use of rich furs. The sumptuary laws which appeared in the middle of the thirteenth century came from governments which admitted common people or "popolo". Hence the laws were thought to control aristocratic excesses more than than keep down the peasants. The city state of Siena regulated trains on dresses in 1249. Bologna made a similar decree in 1260. By the time sumptuary laws were being applied to various levels of European Society, the Council of Montpellier had forbidden Churchmen from slashing the hems of their robes (AD 1195) and King Louis VIII was able to control his noble's wardrobe by 1229.
Sumptuary law may have arisen from wage/price control but by 1229 the clothes of noblemen were controlled.
The next sumptuary legal activity was associated with the Parliament of 1309 in the reign of Edward II,(1284-1327). Edward issued a proclamation against outrageous consumption of meats and fine dishes by the great houses of the realm. Parliament did not see fit however to address the royal concern with legislation. According to Strutt (cited in Baldwin, 1926), during the 14th and 15th centuries the people of England and France used to imitate each other. Aristocratic luxuries introduced from France began to appear in the reign if Edward III (1327-77), causing an increase of English manufacturers. England's prosperity grew in the fourteenth century due to success in foreign wars. Many subjects had garments, lined with fur, and made from fine linen in their possession. The acquisition of jewels, gold and silver plate, and rich furniture had all been acquired as a result of the war with France. The availability of costly items led gentlewomen and knights to overvalue their appearance. Each tried to shadow their neighbours with their finery and the habit soon became common place among the lower classes, who slavishly followed the behaviour of their superiors.It was not until the reign of Edward III (1312-1377) when the first national sumptuary legislation was recorded. Edward III attempted to encouragement English manufacturers by diplomatic and legislative activity, he was also keen to encourage growth of craft gilds in the cities and towns. This resulted in the progress of the artisan class, which in turn became one of the chief causes of national strength and prosperity during his reign. Edward III was described as "the king who taught the English how to dress." Although responsible for the introduction of sumptuary laws in England, he did not lead by example. The King hoped to promote prosperity in England and according to Cunningham (cited in Baldwin, 1926) had three main ways of achieving this objective. He intended to foster foreign commerce; he wanted to help English industries; and to restrict public extravagance by sumptuary legislation. During his reign English commerce spread throughout Europe. The wool trade was especially healthy and brought much wealth. The war with France provide a window of opportunity. This led to building of national wealth and coincidentally national costume. One manifestation of the new patriotism engendered throughout the reign of Edward III was the development of a style of dress. Baldwin described this as more national and not a copy of continental styles seen in previous fashions. The frequent tournaments and other gorgeous entertainment which took place in the reign of Edward III promoted a rapid succession of new fashions among the upper classes. Edward's reign saw a meteoric rise in the merchant class (Pearsall, 1996). The recognition of the labouring class and moneyed, or capitalist class was one of the most important developments in English life from the time of Edward III, onwards. (Cunningham, cited in Baldwin, 1926). A good many changes in male costume took place about 1350. Boots became longer more pointed and also more ornate. They were sometimes laced instead of buckled. Women of the period were very fashion conscious. The royal attire of Edward III, included embroidered shoes.