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MEDIEVAL FASHION POLICE

Edward III's sumptuary laws of 1363 where aimed specifically against 'the outrageous and excessive apparel of divers

people, against their estate and degree'. These laws offer a number of equivalencies between the different levels of the social

hierarchy. Cloth of gold was reserved to the highest lords and the most elevated levels of society. Richer knights may choose

what other cloth they wish, and their ladies may wear embroidery of pearls in their headdress. Lesser knights are limited, for

clothing and hose, to cloth worth 6 marks, the broadcloth, and forbidden to trim mantle or gown with ermine. Richer esquires

are permitted cloth worth 5 marks, and lesser esquires cloth worth 4 marks: the former may wear girdles or ribbons

'reasonably garnished of silver' and trim with fur of miniver(a mixture of furs used for trimming. Then come the equivalencies.

Merchants, citizens and artificers(skilled craftsman) of London and elsewhere, with chattels worth L1,000 or above, are to

observe the same limitations as the richer esquires, those with chattels worth L500 or above the same as lesser esquires and

gentlefolk. We are also told that, in the matter of wearing furs, clerks with stalls in cathedrals and colleges must abide by the

statutes of their particular institutions, that clerks with 200 marks of land or rent must abide by the same rules as knights of

equivalent wealth, and those with L100 of rent by the same rules as lesser esquires. Below these ranks 'men of handicraft'

and yeomen - the aristocracy of the lower deck in the social strata - are limited to cloth worth 40s., and forbidden any fur

save that of lamb, cony (rabbit), cat or fox; and carters, ploughmen, shepherds, and all below the yeoman level are to wear

no cloth but blanket or russet wool and girdles of linen.

Chattel: any interest or right in land less than a freehold: a leasehold estate in lands for a determined period.

Ermine: A long-bodied, slender, voracious weasel. in its winter dress, it is white with a black tail tip.

Yeoman: One who owns a small landed estate.

 

Taken from "English Society in the Latter Middle Ages 1348-1500" by Maurice Keen, ISBN 0-14-012492-6