As might be expected, the attention paid to women in sumptuary law varies with time and country, and does so in ways that reflect their place in society. Generally speaking, early modern sumptuary legislation treats women in one of four ways: it exempts them specifically or ignores them completely (implying that women were of no consequence); or, conversely, it subjects them either to the same requirements as men or to parallel requirements (implying that women were not to be disregarded). There are of course exceptions. A few statutes imply fear of gender confusion. In the third century C.E., for example, the emperor Aurelian barred men from wearing shoes of yellow, green, white, or red since these colors were reserved for women. Others were aimed at keeping women in the home, as did an edict enacted in Rome in the second century B.C.E., that forbade their riding in a carriage in or near populated areas. More (both written and unwritten) were intended to keep them modest—Hebrews, Romans, early Christians, and early Americans alike mandated simplicity in feminine hairstyles, clothing, and accessories. Perhaps not surprisingly, prostitutes received special attention, as did courtesans, who, finding their consorts among the nobility, rather naturally rivaled wellborn women in their dress. From at least the thirteenth century onward, European prostitutes were commonly enjoined to wear some form of distinctive clothing, whether striped hoods, striped stockings, colored patches, or bells (interestingly, such markers were prescribed for other social outcasts, among them lepers and Jews).
Was this article helpful?