Friday, June 6, 2014

Sumptuary

Sumptuary laws (from Latin sumptuariae leges) are laws that attempt to regulate habits of consumption. Black's Law Dictionary defines them as "Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures in the matter of apparel, food, furniture, etc." Traditionally, they were laws that regulated and reinforced social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and luxury expenditures. In most times and places, they were ineffectual.

Throughout history, societies have used sumptuary laws for a variety of purposes. They attempted to regulate the balance of trade by limiting the market for expensive imported goods. They were also an easy way to identify social rank and privilege and often were used for social discrimination.

This frequently meant preventing commoners from imitating the appearance of aristocrats and sometimes also to stigmatize disfavored groups. In the Late Middle Ages, sumptuary laws were instituted as a way for the nobility to cap the conspicuous consumption of the prosperous bourgeoisie of medieval cities, and they continued to be used for these purposes well into the 17th century.

No comments: