You are currently viewing Did You Know about Sumptuary Laws and Luxury?

When you look up the word Luxe in the Merriam Webster dictionary you find that the definion of Luxe is luxurious, sumptuous. When applied to fashion, we are in the middle of European and especially German States’ and even city’s sumptuous law history. They led to the distinct continental West European way of dressing. Learn more about these laws, their background and the relation between sumptuary laws and luxury.

  1. What Are Dress Codes?
  2. Expensive Clothes only Communicate Wealth
  3. Europe Has a Long History of Sumptuary Laws
  4. Luxe for Power in Medieval Times (Middle Ages 5-15th Century)
  5. Sumptuary Laws Aimed at Regulating Consumption Habits
  6. The Plague Led to New Prosperty and Restrictions
  7. Formal vs. Everyday Dressing
  8. Some of Today’s Clothing Laws Worth Knowing About
  9. What’s My Everyday Luxe?
  10. Welcome to the Stylish Monday Everyday Luxe Party
  11. Conclusions on Sumptuary Laws and Luxury
  12. References


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What Are Dress Codes?

Clothing has a social significance with different rules and expectations depending on circumstances and occasions. Consequently, different societies and cultures have different dress norms. A dress code has built-in rules and signals. They convey the wearer’s message like the wearer’s gender, income, profession, social class, political, ethnic heritage, religious believes, attitude. The societal accepted rules go far beyond dressing for (thermal) comfort and protection (e.g., iron captoe boots and hard caps for engineers). They include fashion trends, traditions, gender expression, marital status, sexual availability and sexual orientation. The way we dress states and claims our personal and cultural identity by establishing, maintaining, or defying social group norms. Examples are corporate style and the various forms of business style. Or

Just think of the difference between your daugther’s and your It bag.

Whenever you are ready with dressing, ask yourself

Are my clothes telling the story, I want to convey?

Expensive Clothes only Communicate Wealth

First, it’s a myth that you cannot look effortlessly stylish in cheap clothes. On the contrary, buying expensive designer clothes fails to make you effortlessly stylish. You just look wealthy, expensive! The saleswoman working at 5th Avenue sends an incorrect message, as she has just cheaper access to quality clothing. Dressing in a mix of high and low end fashion would send her correct message.

The message clothes sent can be incorrect if the receiver’s code of interpretation differs from the sender’s code of communication.

This point is where sumptous laws came in.

Europe Has a Long History of Sumptuary Laws

These typically fashion related laws are not like “don’t wear white before Memorial Day, and after Labor Day” or “don’t wear denim on denim.” On the contray, sumptous laws prescribed, which societal group was allowed to wear what. Even in the 1970s/1980s, there were still rules handed down from grandma to granddaughter about what is appropriate for which age group to wear!

Historically, certain clothing (including color) was reserved for or only affordable to high ranking people. In Ancient Rome, for instance, only senators were allowed to wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple. Clothing identified people’s occupation or rank within a profession.

courtier exchanging luxury clothing to follow the sumptuary laws
This etching portaying a courtier exchanging elaborate clothing for the sober dress demanded by the Edict of 1633. Abraham Bosse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Luxe for Power in Medieval Times (Middle Ages 5-15th Century)

The Great Charlemagne disliked luxury in everyday life. While his household officers only wore clothes made of leather, wool or cloth, he wore the most magnificent, rich attire on political or religious occasions. He used his luxe clothing to impose imperial dignity.

Medieval fashion hardly changed under other Carolingian Kings. Due to the political situation, wars and social disturbances, people had no interest in fashion. Moreover, clothing was very expensive. Only tailors had the permit to sell them. Recycling was a normal. On the contray,  luxury was at its peak at the Court of France at the end of the 13th Century. The Bourgeois class (tailors, merchants, etc.) started to display their wealth as well. Thus, the Aristorcats in power introduced Sumptuary Laws to keep urban prosperity at bay. Sumptuary laws continued to be applied well into the 17th Century!

Sumptuary Laws Aimed at Regulating Consumption Habits

Officially, the laws aimed at restraining luxury, extravagance with respect to apparel, food, furniture, etc. However, they served to enforce and reinstate social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food and luxury expenditures. Instituting these laws permitted easy identification of social rank and privileges. No wonder that these laws were often abused for social discrimination and stigmatizing disfavored groups. For instance, the Jew hat (more on this in the history of hats). Most importantly, for those in power, the laws prevented commoners from imitating the appearance of aristocrats.

Sometimes these laws served to favor national products and employment. The 1571 Act of Parliament, for instance, served to stimulate the domestic wool production and industry in England.

During the colonial times, sumptuary laws prohibited wearing native clothing and hairstyles. This requirement served to sell the products of the oppressor to the oppressed people.


The Plague Led to New Prosperty and Restrictions

A new boom in wealth and, hence, everyday luxe for the ordinary persons occurred after the Plague. More on this in how epidemies affected fashion. Fashion became very extravagant and ridiculous. Just think pillows to create the pregnancy look similar to the bellies caused by the disease. Shoes up to three times the foot size filled with hay for men. Both trends were very unsuitable to carry out any work.

Thus, during the Rennaisance, new sumptous laws came up. While the fashion of the nobelity benefited from international trade, peasants were forbidden to wear and own such clothing. The nobelty’s everyday luxe encompassed elaborated brightly colored robes and gowns. They reserved silk for themselves and adorned themselves with embroidery of gold and silver threads, jewelry, furs and elaborated belts.

They even wore wigs crafted from their peasant’s hair!

Around this time, the traditional way of the commoners’ dressing started to differ notably among the European countries including the German speaking states.

Formal vs. Everyday Dressing

Historians point to the time of the Roccoco as the onset of distinction between formal and informal dressing. “Full dress” (elaborately embroidered silk and velvet attire) was worn at Court and for formal occasions. Otherwise, everyday daytime clothes. The end of the 18th Century was the dawn of a strong movement towards democracy and simplicity in clothing. Concurrently, acristocats developed a new enthusiasms for outdoor sports and country pursuits. Consequently, tailored woolen (called “undress”) garments gradually replaced “full dress” (formal attire) at all occasions except formal.

When the Commoners Abonndened the Luxe Sumptous Laws Became Obsolete

After the French Revolution, no French (wo)men wanted to look like an aristocrat. In Great Britain, Beau Brummell introduced trousers, perfect tailoring, unadorned, immaculate linen in men’s fashion. Finally, undress/informal styles overcame brocades, lace, periwigs and powder. In some European countries and the US, the only leftovers were the wigs and gowns retained by the judges, and the regalia indicating the discipline and ranks in education worn at University commencements.

The Dress Reform

Fashion historians view the Victorian Era (1850-1890) as the beginning of the western 3-pieces suit for men. This era is also the root of the Romantic Style as well as the return to the natural shiloute for women. Parallel to the first women movement, the Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in reaction to the extreme corsetry of the time. My Grandma once told me that when her Mother was to go out, their peasants started in the morning to tie my Grand-grandmother’s corset tigher every 15 minutes!

Some of Today’s Clothing Laws Worth Knowing About

In the UK, Germany and France, public nudity is legal on some beaches and required in saunas. Topless is okay on tourist beaches in Spain and Italy. Prior to the pandemic, wearing a face mask in public that covers the entire face excepts the eyes, was a crime in Germany. Also in German public schools wearing any political or religious jewelry is prohibited.

What’s My Everyday Luxe?

Definitely, high end fashion items that I bought second hand. Furthermore, pieces for which I or my husband saved to be able to buy them. For instance, my Hermes collier de chien bangle (see photos of the OOTD) that I wear every day. I also believe that when you splurge on an item, you should not save it for Sunday’s Best. Recall not wearing your investment pieces is like tossing them.

Enjoy your luxe before your heirs do!

… or sell it on eBay.

fashion blogger in teal silk skirt, floral print cotton topnude pantyhose leopard print pumps

fashion blogger in everyday outfit that wouldn't violate sumptuary laws

style book author in silk skirt floral top emerald belt buckle luxury
Aldo leopard print pumps, Hipstik nude tights, emerald buckle and Hermes collier de chien bangle as everyday luxe, Notations cardigan, Cami Confidential layering top and Lilysik skirt


I also believe that cheap, fast fashion can be an everyday luxury for some women. And there is value in both trendy items and the high end designer pieces. Fast fashion keeps many (wo)men employed and helps them providing for their families. See for instance, the story in my review of an ONNO T-shirt. Expensive or artisan clothing and accessories help to conserve high skills humankind developed over time. More on this topic in my review of an Uno Alla Volta Murano glass jewelry.

Both high and low end fashion help commoners to feel good about themselves. Wearing your everyday luxury item also makes you feel great about yourself. Therefore, carry your luxury bag on the Metro every day.

Don’t let your outfit be a random thing. Wear the right look in every situation by looking up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy the book now.


Welcome to the Stylish Monday Everyday Luxe Party

stylish Moday hostesses showing their everyday luxe clothes

Join the party and check out my friends’ blogs to learn about what their everyday luxe is. from the top left to bottom right: Nancy Batten from Nancy’s Fashion Style, Monique from Shelbee at the Edge, Ada Furzhi from Elegance and Mommyhood, Gwen Gottlieb from Gwen Lives Well, Emma Peach from Style Splash, Nicole Mölders from High Latitude Style, Amy Johnson from Amy’s Creative Pursuits, and Julie Augustyn from Fashion Trends and Friends.


Stylish Monday Luxury Linkup


Conclusions on Sumptuary Laws and Luxury

Everyday luxe has been and still is about feeling a bit better about yourself, giving yourself a boost without going over the top.

Today, you still see leftovers from Sumptuary Laws used for professional and societal rank in the military, members of religious orders with their habits, company uniforms, school uniforms and sports clubs.

It is important to understand that sumptuary laws are not fashion laws. Fashion Law covers the protection of intellectual property rights of designers and the criminal aspects of counterfeiting fashion designs.

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Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.

Mölders, Nicole, 2019. Outdoor Universal Thermal Comfort Index Climatology for Alaska, Atmosphere and Climate Sciences, DOI: 10.4236/acs.2019.94036.

Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.

Young, Caroline, 2016. Style Tribes, Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2021 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Ada Furxhi

    I love that when I come to your posts I always get a history lesson! Love that! =) I had no idea it was defined as Sumptuous. Interesting! I love that you stuck to what you know and stayed true to yourself with your colors and your skirts. That is a stunning emerald skirt, by the way!

    I love that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US interpreted the Everyday Luxe “trend” differently! Well done! =) Welcome by my blog and join the Thursday Moda linkup tomorrow and every Thursday!! =)

  2. Jodie

    You are always so amazing at giving the history too Nicole. Just love the outfit too because it’s so bright and colorful.

  3. Amy Johnson

    Such fascinating history. Thanks for sharing. Love your outfit, especially that pretty skirt.

  4. gwenliveswell

    What a wonderful history lesson, Nicole. This was such an informative post. I especially liked reading about medieval laws. What a fun collaboration!

  5. shelbeeontheedge1

    Nicole, I always love reading about the history of all things especially things fashion related. This was an incredibly interesting post. Thanks so much for doing all the research involved to share this! And your outfit is so gorgeous. I love the green silky skirt! That is definitely my definition of everyday luxe.


  6. Diana

    Wow! I had no idea about much of this subject. Thank you for writing about this subject, it’s rather interesting!