The term Sumptuary law has been derived from the Latin words ‘Sumptuariae leges’ meaning the laws brought into force in order to systematize the habits of people in clothing, food, trade or business, to maintain social hierarchy, etc.
The Sumptuary laws were also passed in 1571 during the Elizabethan period. As per this law, every person who is above six years was to wear a woolen cap on Sundays and holidays. However, the law was enacted only to profit the woollen industries in England and was restricted to the lower classes of the society.
This law also provided for the type of fabric, colors and the materials that were to be used whilst making clothes depending upon the social rank of the people. Thus, based upon the social position of a person the material or fabric to be used for his clothes was determined.
Elizabethan Era Sumptuary Laws Facts
An important feature of the law was that it provided for limitations on the clothing of the people. For instance, purple colored silk clothes, or gold clothes were to be worn only by the immediate royal family and no one else. Also, the aristocratic class was allowed to spend only 100 pounds per year whereas, an ordinary people or persons with low ranks could spend up to 40 pounds a years.
Thus, there was also a restriction on the amount to be spent on the clothes. The probable rationale behind imposing the limit on the amount spent on clothes was that the same money that was unnecessarily spent on showcasing the wealth of the rich could be utilized for the betterment of the society.
Sumptuary Laws and Social Hierarchy
Also, the variation in the fabric or material of the dress of the persons belonging to different strata of the society was just to enable the social hierarchy to be maintained and every person’s social ranking was recognized from his clothes.
As far as the enforcement aspect of the law was concerned, this law was nearly impossible to enforce in the society. It was very difficult to impose upon the society to follow such a strict pattern of clothes. Throughout the several years before and after this law was implemented, people always chose to wear something that was affordable to them and color was a choice of an individual.
Thus, through the medium of this law, there was an attempt made to regularize the basic habits of the Elizabethan people as far as food, clothing, trade and other mundane things were concerned.
More Info On- Listings of Important Elizabethan England Laws