Okay… for all of you who don’t know this by now… half of being a good teacher means being curious about stuff most people this is boring and mundane. Let’s face it, your best teachers were also the kids who almost flunked out of school: the daydreamers, the backrow wasteoids, the social outcast rejects… yeah, those people grew up and are raising your kids.
Now, I wasn't really a social reject, but I certainly fell into the daydreamer category. Long hours were spent in high school just staring at posters on the wall or thinking about the hairs on the head of the kid in front of me… one day it was a forest I hoped to enter and fight a dragon, another the long braids of a maiden high atop a tower in need of rescue… okay, maybe I was a bit of a wasteoid after all.
But one thing I loved was books. And so when I became a literature teacher, it wasn’t just teaching great novels like Of Mice and Men or The Sun Also Rises, it was also about following my own curiosity toward the eras those books were penned and learning everything I could about them to bring back to class. That’s another rule about great teachers, they never stop learning and making it new.
One such subject was Sumptuary Laws. These are basically laws on the books that regulate habits of consumption that restrain luxury or extravagance and help to create social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and accessories. Sounds lame, huh? No, actually, it’s amazing to study.
Here’s some background.
One of the first sumptuary laws was a Greek code in the 7th century that said, “No free woman should be allowed any more than one maid to follow her, unless she was drunk.” She was also, “not to wear jewels of gold at night or an embroidered robe unless she was a professed and public prostitute.” (This comes from the studies of Montaigne).
How totally silly is that?
Rome had her laws as well, known as Sumptuariae Leges… which stated, “ordinary male citizens were allowed to wear toga virilis only upon reaching the age of a political majority,” and they were not allowed to wear silk or detail their clothing with stripes as per social rank.
Once again, prostitutes in Ancient Rome were to wear flame-colored togas and in the 13th century in Marseilles, a striped cloak, in England, a striped hood, and over time every group from Jews to Muslims were mandated to wear certain clothes like tassels over the arm or specific finery.
Now… you don’t even want to get me started on the Church! Wow, those guys had dress codes down pat… but how about the fashion forward French. Well, between 1629 and 1633 Louis the 13th, ever the conscious fellow, prohibited anyone but princes from wearing gold embroidered caps, shirts, collars, and cubs with puffs, slashes, and bunches of ribbon. He wanted them all to himself.
Yeah, it’s madness right? But knowing these things can help you enjoy the play a little better.