Tuesday, December 6, 2016


I think the Oxford Dictionary is wrong in saying this is a seventeenth century word, right in contrast to other sources in not limiting meaning to moral or religious grounds.

There are valuable texts, links here and here (and in the right column) for discussion of sumptuary laws in medieval and renaissance Italy.

These also make the interesting point that Italian cities and towns (Italy just a notion and a bit of geography back then) differed from other places in Europe; they saw the development of a middle class earlier than other parts of Europe. In referring to cities I note that at the time of the renaissance Florence had the same kind of population as my small town in Australia (30,000 - 40,000).

In that situation, sumptuary laws evolved to limit wicked expenditure on non-necessities and especially imported goods, trading cities having a rather Trumpian notion of trade, push it out, stop it coming in. Already a bit upper class people who would prefer to kick away the ladder than help others up to their elevated level. Dr Seuss wrote a book, King Looie Katz, and more about it.

There was church-tut about décolletage and more of course.

At the beginning of her honours thesis, Amanda Facelle writes:
Fashion and luxury were very important in Italian Renaissance society.
One’s appearance indicated more than whether one was simply attractive, it also
indicated one’s social standing. It was commonly believed that if one could acquire
the wealth and means through which to buy beautiful clothing and host bountiful
feasts, one could rise in status and prestige. Since most of the societies of
Renaissance Italy were relatively fluid, at least compared to other societies of the
time, the prospect of upward status mobility by the middle classes through
luxurious clothing and opulent public behavior was troubling to the upper echelons
of society. The more people infiltrated their ranks, the more their power would
become diluted. They would not have this, if they could help it. How was this
problem to be solved? The answer, in part, lay in the adoption of sumptuary laws.
There follows a very interesting account, worth the read but long and thesis-style, including of the velocity of new laws to catch up with new efforts to beat existing laws.

Facelle [p 24] writes
Numerous cities also imposed fines upon those who acted contrary to the established law. Often times, ladies would simply wear what they wanted and expect to pay the fines that they knew they could afford. This phenomenon was so prevalent that it was even given its own term by the Venetians,“pagare le pompe,” or “to pay the luxury fine.”
In those times, according to such reports, women wore impractical shoes to make clear that they did not have to work.

But now we read in the Medical Daily that academics claim that certain shoes are worn to manipulate men. They probably did not expect to have an accompanying photo of so much more than shoes. People are apparently paid for this research:
According to a recent study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, women who wear high heels are found to be significantly sexier to men. ... The first three studies involved a woman confederate wearing black shoes with no heel, a 2-inch heel, or black pumps with a 3.5-inch heel asking men for help in various circumstances. The woman switched shoes after soliciting every 10 people.
I am distracted.

Nancy Lamb Roider writes:
The Italian noble class was a highly fluid group. Nobles in other parts of Europe were easily identified, as they lived off rents and other feudal incomes, and fought based on the requirements of knight service, rather than for money. The lifestyle of Italian nobles resembled that of their counterparts only in passing, for the Italians were frequently only glorified merchants [or successful gangsters according to Templeton, see earlier blog entry]. Most of the people who will be discussed in this paper come from the merchant stock; they or their immediate forefathers worked for a living for at least some part of their lives. This history of work led new Italian nobles of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to feel somewhat illegitimate. These feelings of illegitimacy were manifested in the perceived need to proclaim their status whenever possible. These feelings gave rise to the ostentatious fashions...
Aha, you say, I know those people, they are all around me in the modern gossip magazine, with also some efforts just to have fun. But underneath all, the desire to be sumptuous. Or cheerfully ludicrous.

We have, at minimum, subconscious rules about where people should wear such.

It is possible to observe class differences (real or imagined) in assessing those photos from this link.  ... acceptable on a racecourse in spring, in Australia.

People write to TripAdvisor asking what is the dress code for Italy in April. To which the reply generally is "there is none, but be respectful in churches, some have rules."

Morality and politics come into play in modern times too.  As these images indicate:

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