Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Cheapside Hoard Gems

October 14th, 2013 4:33 pm

Over the weekend, the Musuem of London opened it’s doors to display the extraordinary and priceless treasure of late 16th and early 17th century jewels and gemstones in its entirety for the first time in over a century.

This new exhibition investigates through new research and state-of-the-art technology, the hidden the secrets of the Cheapside Hoard focusing on who owned the Hoard, when and why was it hidden, and why was it never reclaimed?

The exhibition is open now until 27th April 2014 Daily 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Adult tickets costing £9 (without donation.)

Sumptuary Laws and the Elizabethan Fashion Police

May 1st, 2011 10:00 am

We’ve all bought that item of clothing that we couldn’t quite afford or was a bit of a stretch for the image of ourselves that we usually present. It is our prerogative as women to take fashion risks and to treat ourselves to the latest looks.

But imagine a time when stepping out of the house in the wrong garment for your station in life could –quite literally –bring down the fashion police.

In Elizabethan England, extensive Sumptuary Laws were put in place banning “excess of apparel and the superfluity of unnecessary foreign wares.”  Such “great abuses” of fashion threatened to “so manifest a decay of the wealth of the realm and to the ruin of a multitude of serviceable young men and gentlemen and of many good families.”

The laws purported to protect family fortunes and to curb extravagant spending of money that could be put to better use within the country, such as acquiring horses. But the laws also served to keep commoners from attempting to look like nobility and to keep everyone easily identifiable. The idea was that if you couldn’t tell a farmer from a count at a glance, the very fabric of society was weakened.

Clauses within the Sumptuary Laws (outlined here circa 1574) go into great detail as to what men and women of different social strata could and couldn’t wear.

For example, no one below the degree of vicountess or baroness or similar rank could wear “cloth of gold, silver, tinseled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver or pearl, saving silk mixed with gold or silver in linings of cowls, partlets, and sleeves.” But the laws expanded to include “wives of barons and knights of the order” for the wearing of “velvet, tufted taffeta, satin, or gold or silver in any cloak or safeguard.”

For both men and women, the laws also stipulated which servants could wear which items of clothing as would be appropriate for their stations in relation to nobility. As a result, “caps, hats, hatbands, capbands, garters, or boothose trimmed with gold or silver or pearl; silk netherstocks; enameled chains, buttons, aglets” were allowable by nobility as well as “the gentlemen attending upon the Queen’s person in her highness’s Privy chamber or in the office of cupbearer, carver, sewer [server], esquire for the body, gentlemen ushers, or esquires of the stable.”

There was one small note of mercy in all this though, as the laws allowed, “that her majesty’s meaning is not, by this order, to forbid in any person the wearing of silk buttons, the facing of coats, cloaks, hats and caps, for comeliness only, with taffeta, velvet, or other silk, as is commonly used.”

So, the next time you go out on a limb with your outfit, think of what those poor Elizabethan women would have given to walk in your Manolos.

Pretty In Pink, Boyish in Blue

April 29th, 2011 10:00 am

Ever wonder why pink is for girls and blue for boys? It wasn’t always so. In her new book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, Jo B. Paoletti, an historian at the University of Maryland, explores the cultural shift away from gender-neutral children’s clothing.

For centuries, boys and girls in Western culture both wore little white cotton dresses because they were easy to bleach.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1884

Pastels came into vogue as baby colours after World War I, but up until World War II, Paoletti cites numerous popular culture sources which initially advocated pink for boys and blue for girls. However, by the 1940s, a collective decision and push on the part of manufacturers and retailers set the standard of pink for girls and blue for boys. It was really the Baby Boomers who were first raised in gender-specific clothing.

The women’s liberation movement of the mid-1960s created a bit of a backlash against pink for girls that lasted through the 70s; but, by the 1980s, gender-specific clothing was back in full swing. Paoletti attributes this to advances in antenatal testing that allowed expectant parents to know the sex of their unborn child, and to begin establishing his or her identity right away.

Gender-neutral children's clothing from the 196s and 70s

Another reason that girls have continued to be attached to pink and boys to blue, says Paoletti, is that children themselves have become active consumers. Children are the targets of pervasive advertising campaigns and imagery that tend to reinforce social convention. Kids absorb from an early age how “society” thinks a girl or a boy should look.

Paoletti feels that currently there is a rising demand for gender-neutral clothing for children and toddlers, that many parents would like their children to have more options for expressing themselves. The pink and blue divide is becoming less black and white.

Brother and sister, circa 1905

To read more about this book and see more photos, visit


© Anne Kroul, 2013.