Sumptuary laws and prostitution in late Enedieval Italy

James A. Brundage

Although ancient Roman lawmakers had often adopted statutes designed to curb conspicuous dis- plays of wealth, sumttuary legislation was uncom- mon in medieval Europe prior to 1300. Then statu- tes imposing limits on ostentation and extravagan- ce, particularly in women’s clothing, suddenly ap- peared in large numbers. This article analyzes the principal themes of this legislation, concentrating particularly on the sumptuary statutes of fifteen northern Italian towns. The author concludes that the reappearance of legislative concern with dress and related matters resected the new prosperity of the period, as well as new social developments, including a constriction of the marriage market for young women, apprehensions about social cohesion among successful merchants and tradesmen, and a desire to channel resources into more productive kinds of investment. In addition, he argues, sump- tuary statutes mirrored new fashions in jurispru- dence during the post-Bartolist period and a desire to employ legislation to affirm the moral aspira- tions, although not necessaril_y the actual practices, qf communities.”

Societies from ancient times have used legal prescriptions about styles of dress and adornment as mechanisms to maintain so- cial distance between classes. Dress regula- tions provided a semiotic code that distin- guished the favored from the disadvanta- ged, and thus reinforced the stability of the social order (Hughes 1986:45-6, 48). The purple stripe on a Roman senator’s toga si- multaneously commanded deference and envy from the lowly, certified to the wearer’s peers that he was entitled to their fellowship and camaraderie, and reassured the man in- side the costume that his privileges would be respected, regardless of his personal shortcomings.

Regulation of dress has, in addition, often served as a vehicle for asserting social poli- cy. Sumptuary statutes have typically ex- pressed concern about the moral and social implications of apparel, usually female ap- parel. Statutory constraints on the cut and fabric of women’s dresses, on the height of their heels, the depth of their decolletage, or the number of fur cloaks they might keep in their closets have typically been prefaced by declarations that these measures would restrain frivolity, promote thrift, and encou- rage morality.

The Roman Lex Oppia, adopted in 215 BC during the fervor of the Second Punic War, was an early experiment in social re- gulation through control of feminine fash- ion. When this statute was repealed twen- ty years later by the Lex Valeria Fundiana, Cato argued with great urgency that lifting restrictions on women’s dress would invite moral decadence and social upheaval.’ Sin- ce both consequences followed the repeal, there were those who felt that Cato had been right. Further legislation to repress lu-

Journal of Mcdicval History 13 (1987) 343-355 0304.4181/87/$3.50 0 1987, Elscvicr Scicncc Puhlishcrs B.V. (North-Holland) 343

xuries and prohibit lavish displays of wealth soon followed. The Lex Orchia (181 BC) lim- ited the number of guests who could be entertained at banquets; the Lex Funnia ( 161 BC) curtailed the number of courses and the types of food that could be served at feasts; and the Lex Aemilia Sumptuaria (115 BC) set additional limits both on entertain- ment and on extravagance in women’s wear.2

Early Christians likewise disapproved of luxury in dress and lifestyle. Jesus had re- portedly declared that if his hearers wished to admire fine garments they could find them in the households of kings, but not, he implied, among those who accepted his message (Matt. 11:8). St Paul focused spec- ifically on female garb. Christian women, he directed, should dress quietly and mod- estly, they should not braid their hair, wear gold jewelry, or flaunt expensive gowns. Sweet disposition and gentle piety, not gems, bangles, and flashy dresses, should be the adornments that holy women cherished (1 Tim. 2:9-10; cf. 1 Peter 3:3-5; Isaiah 3: 16-24).

Both Roman lawyers and Christian moralists expressed concern about the re- lationship between luxury, lust, and the so- cial order. The Didascalia warned married Christians not to try to make themselves at- tractive to anyone other than their lawful mates, lest they stimulate carnal desires and thus provoke sinful thoughts and actions. The Church Fathers sternly admonished women not to imitate the provocative clo- thing of harlots, or to adorn themselves ex- travagantly in ways that might entice men other than than their husbands to flirt with them (Funk 1905a:1.3.1-9, 17-18).

Among the jurists, Ulpian (around 160-

228) assumed that a woman’s clothes should reflect her social and moral status and the sumptuary laws of the Christian emperors reiterated this message. There was a clear consensus that styles of dress required legal regulation in order to main- tain the distance between social classes (Codex Theodosianus 1905:10.21.1-2, 4; 14.10.1-4). A matron who dressed like a tart could expect to be treated like one. A man who propositioned a lady of rank, how- ever, put himself at risk because he might be liable to her husband on an action for insult, even if the woman’s clothing indi- cated that her morals were loose and her favors available.3 By the time of St Jerome (around 347-4 19/20) the connection be- tween prostitution and provocative dress had become a commonplace both in Roman law and Christian moral discourse.4 Women were often enticed into a life of prostitution, the Emperor Justinian de- clared, by promises of daring dresses and flashy shoes (Schoell and Kroll 1895: Nov. 14 pr.; cf. Procopius 1940:1.9.2-3).

Despite all this, however, medieval law prior to the thirteenth century paid scant heed to fashion, dress, or adornment. What little attention the canons gave to these mat- ters focused mainly on the attire of the clergy, not on female fashions.5 Only one canon in the Decretum of Gratian (around 1140) dealt with feminine adornment, and that one was more concerned with the mor- ality of makeup than with luxury in clothing (Friedberg 1879: D. 5 de cons. c. 38).

Theologians and moralists prior to the end of the thirteenth century seemed more concerned with costume than were the lawyers and legislators of the period. St Thomas Aquinas (1224-74), to cite just one


example, scrutinized closely the moral im- plications of luxury in women’s dress. Inor- dinate attention to and expenditure on lavish clothing, he cautioned, might under some circumstances be sinful. A married woman, according to Aquinas, could legiti- mately lavish attention onher appearance only so long as her goal was to make herself attractive to her husband and keep him in- terested in her. A single woman who had no desire to marry should therefore dress plainly, lest she provoke men to sinful thoughts and deeds. A woman who pur- posefully dressed in ways calculated to arouse men’s lust sinned mortally; if she wore a provocative frock simply out of frivolity (ex quadam levitate), however, she committed only a venial sin (Busa 1980: ST 2-2 q. 169 a. 2 concl.).

Aquinas left unresolved the moral status of an unmarried woman who dressed pro- vocatively in order to attract suitors. But he did consider the moral perils of the garment trade. Tailors and dressmakers did not sin, according to Thomas’ analysis, by creating luxurious or attractive fashions, since pur- chasers could employ their stylish dresses and other adornments either for permissible or impermissible purposes. The fashion de- signer might sin, however, by creating frivolous or novel styles (aliqua superjlua et curiosa) for the display of feminine charms (Busa 1980: ST 2-2 q. 169 a. 2 ad 4). Makeup posed special moral problems, Aquinas thought, since its use could involve deceit. He distinguished between wearing cosmetics in order to feign a beauty that God had not bestowed and using makeup in order to hide the strain of illness or the pallor of exhaustion. Again, intention was the key to morality. Women who used

makeup in order to deceive onlookers into thinking them more beautiful than God had made them sinned thereby, especially if they were motivated by lascivious desire or contempt of their creator. But women who employed the cosmetic arts simply to hide the ravages of time, care, or illness commit- ted no sin (Busa 1980: ST 2-2 q. 169 a. 2 ad 2).

It is a major step, however, to pass from moral counsels about the sinfulness of low- cut dresses and seductive makeup to forbid- ding these things under penalty of law. Medieval Europeans began to take that step during the second half of the thirteenth cen- tury, and continued to impose legal re- straints on fashion and adornment for cen- turies thereafter. Why did policy shift in this way at this time?

One possibility is that until the end of the thirteenth century there was not a great deal of luxury for lawmakers to worry about. Writers such as Dante and Giovanni Villani certainly gave the impression that extravagance in dress was something novel around the beginning of the fourteenth cen- tury. But that impression was not altogether accurate. The well-to-do of earlier genera- tions had not always been modest in their expenditures on clothing and adornment. Yet there is little doubt that by the late thir- teenth century more Europeans possessed surplus wealth than had done so a century earlier. In consequence conspicuous dis- plays of wealth became far more numerous in the closing decades of the thirteenth and the opening decades of the fourteenth cen- turies than previously (Kantorowicz 1970:357). The flourishing of sumptuary laws in part reflected greater prosperity.

The jurisdictional, geographical, and


chronological distribution of sumptuary laws tells us something further about the reasons behind the laws themselves. First, the proliferation of sumptuary legislation occurred mainly in municipal statutes. Ecclesiastical legislation on the subject re- mained meager and laws about adornment were a marginal concern for canonists. Royal law-makers, too, showed slight in- terest in these matters; kings and parlia- ments paid little heed to regulating women’s dress. Overwhelmingly it was city law-makers who tried to repress extravag- ant fashions. This suggests that sumptuary legislation reflected the concerns of urban dwellers, particularly. merchants, profes- sionals, artisans, and craftsmen.

Second, it is notable that Mediterranean cities produced most of the sumptuary laws of this period. Urban centers in northern and central Europe adopted some legisla- tion about attire, to be sure. In 1351-52, for example, the city of London forbade women of bad moral character to wear furs or to line their cloaks with silk (Sharpe 1904:241), while Parisian authorities at about the same time were busily prescribing the types of garments that prostitutes might wear (Geremek 1976:246-7). Town au- thorities in German-speaking lands did likewise. As early as 1291 Hamburg’s laws regulated the kinds of clothing that its daughters of joy might sport (Schonfeldt 1897:91, 103-4), while other German towns attempted to differentiate whores from hon- est women by color codes. In Leipzig and Vienna. ladies of easy virtue wore yellow, in Zurich red was prescribed, while in Augs- burg and many other cities loose women wore green:

In Griin, in Griin, in lauter Griin will ich mich frijlich kleiden, da wird mein liebes Liebschen sich wohl nimmer von mir scheiden.

(Jung n.d: 219)

Travelling ladies obviously needed to select their wardrobes with care and to be mindful of local regulations if they wished to avoid embarrassing confrontations.

But statutory regulation of women’s dress flourished most profusely in Mediterranean Europe. As early as 1243 the municipal sta- tutes of Avignon directed officials to restrain prostitutes from wearing mantles in public, while the Marseilles ordinances of about the same period listed a variety of distinctive garments that only respectable women could wear.6 Smaller towns followed suit. We find dress codes that specifically forbade harlots to wear certain kinds of attire at Nimes in 1350 and 1353, at Piolenc in the Venaissin in 1406, at Barbentane in 1448, and at Aubignan and Loriolin 1487 (LePil- leur 1908:5, 10, 32-3, 135-6). Meanwhile Perpignan adopted a different approach. There a sumptuary law of 1308 simply exempted prostitutes from observing the regulations imposed on the dress worn by respectable women in the community. This created a presumption that a woman who failed to conform to the statutory prescrip- tions was a whore, an approach that pre- sumably made compliance with the statute easy to secure (Vidal 1897:213-14, 217 n. 1; Otis 1985:141 n. 14).

Within Mediterranean Europe sumptuary laws were especially abundant in Italian towns perhaps as Burckhardt suggested because dress was taken more seriously in Italy than elsewhere in this period (Burckhardt 1945:224). This paper


will concentrate on Italian sumptuary sta- ‘tutes from fifteen cities in the northern half of the peninsula: Ancona, Bergamo, Cre- mona, Florence, Macerata, Milan, Orvieto, Pistoia, Perugia, Reggio Emilia, Sarzana, Siena, Todi, and Venice. Although this list is no random sample, it does represent a cross-section of northern Italian towns – some are large, some small, some medium- sized; some ancient, others more recent; some rich and famous, others modest and obscure. The chronological distribution of their sumptuary statutes also ranges across a wide span, from the mid-thirteenth cen- tury to the beginning of the sixteenth, but more than three-quarters of them date from between 1306 and 1490 (see Table 1).7

The rationale advanced to justify sumptuary legislation was varied. St Ber- nardino of Siena ( 1380-l 444) complained that women paid far too much attention to their clothes and changed them too fre- quently. This, he declared, was a species of vainglory and offensive to God (Bernardino 1948:2:82-97; Hughes 1983:82-4). The Franciscan preacher and moralist, Orpheus de Cancellariis (d. 1503), also stressed the moral and theological basis for sumptuary statutes, alleging that luxury in clothing would provoke God’s wrath, that fancy dress, jewelry, and makeup manifested de- praved or evil intentions stemming from lust or vanity, and that extravagant displays of wealth created public scandal. Orpheus was particularly offended by the noxious custom of leaving the shoulders bare; even worse, he added, in some regions women bare their breasts as well (Kantorowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:355; Dante 1965: Purgatorio 23.98100; Hughes 1983:82-8). Other writers justified sumptuary laws on

economic grounds, arguing that lavish ex- penditures on dress and rivalries over fash- ions would impoverish individuals, drain community resources and drive men into the clutches of usurers (Reggio Emilia 1582:7.1 at 185r; Bistort 1912:329; Verga 1898:9; Newett 1902:252-3; Pinetti 1917:26-28; Hughes 1983:76-g).

Virtually all of these statutes were con- cerned primarily with women’s dress and adornment. Some ordinances also sought to restrain spending on banquets, wedding parties, and other celebrations (e.g. a Ven- etian law of 1299, Bistort 1912:98-104, 323- 5; a Sienese statute of 1343, Casanova 1901:66-70; a Milan statute of 1396, Verga 1898:37; and a Bergamo statute of 1491, Pinetti 19 17:63-5). Sumptuary laws typi- cally detailed the fabrics, furs, and colors that women were forbidden to wear in their gowns (Perugia 1523:1.27; Sarzana 1965:2.21; Bistort 1912:121-42; Casanova 1901:62; Newett 1902:262, 275-6). In addi- tion lawmakers often sought either to ban or else to restrict sharply the use of gold, silver, pearls, and gemstones in dress orna- ments. Buttons also received great attention in these laws, which specified their num- bers, size, and materials in minute detail (e.g. Orvieto 1581:5.29; Todi 1549:3.232; Verga 1898:9; Bistort 1912: 172-89; Pinetti 19 17: 14; Kantorowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:358-g). A few statutes limited both the amount and the cost of the cloth used in a single gown or other garment (Perugia 1523:1.27; Orvieto 1581:5.29). Venice fixed the prices that might be charged for the ren- tal of necklaces and rings (Newett 1902:251). A Florentine statute of 1290, a Sienese statute of 1413, and a Perugian sta- tute of 1445 even required women to reg-


Table 1. Italian sumptuary statutes to 1562

Date City References

1157 Genoa 1249 Florence 1266 Perugia 1279 Florence 1287 Ferrara 1299 Venice

1306 Venice 1317 Florence 1318 Perugia 1318 Florence 1322 Florence

1324 Florence 1330 Florence 1330 Sarzana 1331 Bergamo 1332 Pistoia 1334 Venice 1343 Siena 1356 Venice 1360 Venice 1366 Perugia 1387 Cremona 1396 Milan 1400 Perugia 1400 Venice around 1400 Orvieto 1402 Perugia 1403 Venice 1416 Perugia 1421 Milan 1421 Venice 1426127 Siena 1430 Venice 1433 Siena 1437 Venice 1443 Venice 1445 Perugia 1455 Venice 1459 Venice 1460 Perugia 1460 Siena 1460 Venice 1472 Perugia 1472 Venice 1475 Perugia 1476 Venice

Hughes 1983:72-3 Kantorowicz 1970:347 Fabretti 1888: 155-9 Davidsohn 1896:4/3:345-6 Ferrara 1955:6.70-81 Kantorowicz 1970:359; Newett 1902:61-2; Bistort 1912:323-g Kantorowicz 1970:359 Kantorowicz 1970:257-8 Fabretti 1888: 164-5 Kantorowicz 1970:357-8 Kantorowicz 1970:357-8; Davidsohn 1896:3/4:346-8 Kantorowicz 1970:359 Kantorowicz 1970:359 Sarzana 1965:2.21 Pinetti 1917:14 Ciampi 1815:xi-xvi Bistort 1912:329-52 Casanova 1901:52-72 Newett 1902:255 Newett 1902:268-70 Fabretti 1888:168-72 Cremona 1578:~. 114 Kantorowicz 1970:358-g Perugia 1523:1.27 Newett 1902:252-3,275-76 Orvieto 1581:5.29 Fabretti 1888: 177-9 Newett 1902:275-6 Fabretti 1888: 180-3 Milan 1512:2:147r Venice 1870:35-6 Casanova 1901:80-2 Newett 1902:273-l Casanova 1901:82-6 Newett 1902:259 Newett 1902:268, 275-6 Fabretti 1888: 188-9 Newett 1902:275-6 Newett 1902:246,277 Fabretti 1888: 192-7 Casanova 1901:89-93 Newett 1902:250 Fabretti 1888:203A Newett 1902:275-6 Fabretti 1888:205-7 Kantorowicz 1970:359; Bistort 1912:352-63


Table 1. (Continzced)

Date City References

1483 Venice 1489 Venice 1491 Bergamo

around 1500 Ancona 1506 Perugia 1508 Perugia 1529 Perugia 1536 Perugia 1547 Macerata before 1549 Todi around 1550 Reggio Emilia 1562 Venice

ister their dresses with municipal au- thorities (Fabretti 1888:188-g; Casanova 190 1: 72-4; Kantorowicz and Denholm- Young 1933:358-g).

The cut of dresses also attracted legisla- tive attention: some statutes limited the length of trains or forbade them completely, and a few defined the limits of decency by regulating the depth of decolletage (Sarzana 1965:2.21; Orvieto 1581:5.29; Todi 1549:3.232; Casanova 1901162-3; Kan- torowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:358-g). An Orvieto statute, for example, specified that the neckline of a woman’s dress must not descend more than two fingers’ breadth below the suprasternal notch on the chest, and the same distance in back. A type of bodice known as the cipriana offended Vene- tian legislators, since the garment was cut so loosely that the breasts could be glimpsed through openings known as “Hell’s Win- dows”. A statute required Venetian women to lace up the offending aperture, but did not forbid them to wear these garments (Bistort 1912:167-8; Verga 1898:22;

Bistort 1912:363-7 Bistort 19 12:368-73 Bergamo 1490: 10.48; Pinetti 1917:57-66 Ancona 1566:3.55 Fabretti 1888:215-18 Fabrctti 1888:219-23 Fabretti 1888:225-g Fabretti 1888:229-32 Macerata 1879:25-32 Todi 1549:3.232 Reggio Emilia 1582:7.1 Newett 1902:246; Bistort 1912:373-414

Hughes 1983:82-4). Todi’s lawmakers, in contrast, thought that the bustline of dres- ses worn by females age twelve and older “is and ought to be rounded, so that its con- tours may correspond and conform to the chest of the woman” (Orvieto 1581:5.29; Todi 1549:3.232). The Maggior Consiglio of Bergamo, however, was more concerned about the other end of garments and for- bade the wearing of dresses that exposed the pudenda (Pinetti 19 17:63).

Elsewhere statutes forbade women to wear strands of pearls or gold and silver diadems and costly brooches. Statutes likewise set limits on the price that might be paid for women’s belts and purses and regulated the number of rings that they might wear. The unusually detailed Floren- tine statute of 1322 forbade the wearing. of dresses decorated with pictures of trees, flowers, or birds, and limited women to the possession of no more than four street dres- ses at a time (Kantorowicz and Denholm- Young 1933:347-59; Newett 1902:258-g, 262, 268-70; Casanova 1901:62). A 1430


statute at Venice also set stringent limits on the height of the heels and platforms of women’s shoes, but at Siena only prostitutes were permitted to wear flat shoes or slippers in public (Newett 1902:273-4; Bistort 1912:168-71; Casanova 1901:61; Verga 1898:25).

Most of these sumptuary laws prescribed fines for women who contravened their pro- visions, while some also made husbands and fathers liable to punishment. A few re- quired tailors and dressmakers to take oaths that they would not produce garments that failed to observe statutory limits and levied fines on those who violated the undertaking (Ciampi 1815:xi-xvi;. Perugia 1523:1.27; Sarzana 1965:2.21; Todi 1549:3.232; Or- vieto 1581:5.29; Bistort 1912:328; Kan- torowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:357-g). But statute makers found it difficult to keep up with changes in style. An amendment to Perugia’s sumptuary law noted despair- ingly: “We see new garments and varieties of adornment appearing from one five-year period to the next, as people discard old styles and put on new ones” (Perugia 1523:1.27).

Women’s clothing, although it attracted the most attention from lawmakers, was not the only subject regulated by sumptuary enactments. Several cities imposed limits on celebratory feasts, especially weddings. A series of provisions in the Ferrara statutes of 1287, for example, specified the maximum number of men allowed in wed- ding parties, the number of attendants at nuptial rites in churches, the value of wed- ding presents, and the length and lavishness of the wedding banquet (Montorsi 1955:399-400; cf. Newett 1902:255, 261-2, 268-70; Casanova 1901:74-7). The Vene-

tians also banned parties and feasts that ex- tended late into the evening hours (Bistort 1912:205-12; Newett 1902:255).

Todi was the only city in my sample that devoted a special statute exclusively to the regulation of men’s tailoring. The male dress code at Todi specified the maximum size of men’s hoods and forbade the use of gold or silver cloth or ornaments on men’s outer garments. It is notable that the lines for infractions of the male sumptuary law at Todi were considerably heavier than those for violations of the laws on women’s dress (Todi 1549:3.233). Elsewhere, however, men’s fashions were rarely much restricted. Statutory references to gentlemen’s apparel appear only occasionally as incidental notes in enactments that dealt primarily with female adornment (e.g. at Milan in 1396; Verga 1898: 10). Italian townsmen, appar- ently, could usually dress as elaborately and lavishly as they pleased.

Sumptuary laws were notoriously dif- ficult to enforce since offenders could easily evade the law’s prescriptions by coining names for the offending frills different from the ones specified in the statutes. In conse- quence, it was frequently necessary to revise and rewrite these statutes (Sacchetti 1860: no. 137, 1:325-7; Kantorowicz and Den- holm-Young 1933:360-l; Hughes 1983:69-70 and 1986:47). Indeed, the Mag- gior Consiglio at Venice in 1339 repealed the city’s sumptuary law of 1334 on the grounds that it was useless (Hughes 1983: 70) . Later generations of Venetians, however, attacked the problem with re- newed vigor and created a special court, the Proueditori alle pompe, to deal with violations of the Republic’s re-enacted sumptuary laws. The court as originally constituted in


1472 had three judges, but in 1562 the press of business made it advisable to add two Sporaproueditori to the panel. Venetian auth- orities also encouraged anonymous de- nunciations of alleged violators of the sumptuary statutes (Bistort 1912:48-60, 361-3; Newett 1902:245-6; Kantorowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:359). Siena likewise had a special judge to deal with violations of the city’s sumptuary laws (Casanova 190 1:45-7).

Enforcement was complicated by streams of petitions for exemption from the applica- tion of sumptuary laws. A few towns, such as For-h and Florence, provided in their sta- tutes that no exception would be allowed, while others, such as Bergamo, Milan, Pis- toia, and Reggio Emilia, granted automatic exemptions to women of high rank. The wives and daughters of knights, noblemen, doctors of law, and physicians were most often exempted (Reggio Emilia 1582:7.1; Ciampi 1815:2, 5; Bistort 1912:328; Pinetti 1917:58; Kantorowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:358-g).

Some earlier studies of sumptuary legisla- tion asserted that these laws were blind to class differences and affected everyone alike. But I would argue on the contrary that the dress codes of late medieval Italian towns not only reflected class differences but sought to reinforce them (Kantorowicz and Denholm-Young 1933:359; Newett 1902:249). In the first place, these statutes only affected, and only could affect, those social groups who had sufficient surplus cash or credit to lavish money on unproduc- tive display. To say that the sumptuary laws applied to all classes alike is much the same as saying that the rich as well as the poor are allowed to sleep under the bridges.

The washerwoman was forbidden just as much as the banker’s wife to use gold but- tons on her silk dresses or to have more than four ermine .coats at the same time. This may be true, but what does it signify? Sumptuary legislation was aimed at the wealthy, and specifically at wealthy mer- chants and tradesmen. Knights, nobles, and prosperous professionals were often exemp- ted en bloc from the statutory provisions.8 The statutes could realistically apply only to those who prospered from commerce, manufacturing, trade, and the professions – including prostitution.

Confirmation of this view is furnished by one type of sumptuary statute that has hitherto not been much dealt with in the literature, namely laws aimed at prosperous whores and the concubines of men of sub- stance. Many Italian cities required women of easy virtue to wear distinctive garb. At Milan, for example, harlots were to sport a black fustian mantle of prescribed dimen- sions whenever they ventured out of the public brothel (Milan 1512:2:146v-147r; Verga 1898:68-70). Venice prescribed a yellow neckband vaziolum zalum circa col- urn), while Cremona required a white cloak (clamydem de pignolato albo) and Bergamo a saffron-colored fustian scarf (menteletum crocei coloris et fustiani) (Venice 1870:35-6; Cre- mona 1578: 114; Bergamo 1490: 10.48; Casanova 1901:59, 71-2; Hughes 1983:92- 3). Other Italian cities followed the example of Perpignan and exempted prostitutes from the operation of the general sumptuary laws. Presumably they expected not only that this would encourage observance and but also that harlots themselves would see to it that they stood out in a crowd, al- though no statute put it quite that way.g


The notaries who drafted these enactments preferred to speak in somber and judgmen- tal terms. An Ancona statute, for example, declared:” NO public prostitute residing in the public stews of the city of Ancona and notoriously making money with her body shall be understood to be meant or included within the terms of the next preceding sta- tute dealing with women’s adornments . . . since be- cause of the squalor of their lives [prostitutes] are not bound by the law’s restraints.

At Bergamo, incidentally, pimps were also required to wear a distinctive costume. Their uniform featured a red hood to which a bell was affixed “so that it can been seen and heard” (Bergamo 1490:10.49).

Sumptuary laws that required prostitutes to dress distinctively received specific sup- port from canon law. Pope Clement III (1187-91) had ruled at the end of the twelfth century that harlots should dress differently from honest women (Friedberg 1879:X5.39.25). At the Fourth Lateran Council (12 15) Pope Innocent III proposed that Jews and Saracens should also be re- quired to wear special insignia when they appeared in public. The Council adopted this measure in a canon that explicitly ad- vanced as its rationale the fear that unless Jews and Saracens were visibly distin- guished from Christians they might have sex with Christian women (Garcia 1981:107-S, c. 68; Friedberg 1879:X 5.6.15). It was inevitable that the two ca- nons should be linked together and thir- teenth-century canonistic glosses and com- mentaries soon did so (e.g. Joannes Teutonicus and Vincentius Hispanus in Garcia 1981:267-68, 378-9 to c. 68 v. distin- guit diuersitas; Hostiensis 1581:X 5.6.15 no. 4; and Bernard of Parma 1605:X 5.6.15 v. distinguit). It seems likely that municipal au-

thorities, or their legal advisers, considered that these canons legitimized their own de- tailed dress codes for prostitutes (Hughes 1986:29-30, 46-7).

The late medieval sumptuary legislation surveyed here suggests six conclusions. First, the content of these laws indicates that the governing bodies of north Italian towns in the later middle ages saw control of dress and other forms of conspicuous con- sumption as a mechanism to make life easier for the male heads of wealthy mer- chant families. Eliminating, or at least in- hibiting, competition over the adornment of the wives and daughters of the merchant classes allowed entrepreneurs to conserve their resources for productive uses. Sumptuary laws also symbolically affirmed parity among families within the group. Second, this type of legislation seems to have been especially common in middle- and large-sized towns, where wealthy mer- chants and tradespeople were most apt to be found. Third, upward of two-thirds of the sumptuary statutes surveyed here date from the years after 1348. This suggests that sumptuary statutes may have reflected ap- prehensions about social cohesion that be- came more acute among successful mer- chants and tradesmen after the Black Death than they had been before. Fourth, the ap- pearance of sumptuary statutes in consider- able numbers coincides fairly closely with a period when the marriage market had begun to turn against the interests ofwomen and, in consequence, the age of females at first marriage began to decline. This suggests that one function of sumptuary legislation may well have been to restrain competition between the families of young women of marriageable age.”


Fifth, the striking similarities between late medieval sumptuary enactments and the ancient Roman statutes that sought to curb extravagance and ostentation in dress suggest that the legal elite in fourteenth- an,d fifteenth-century Italian towns may have consciously imitated the earlier pre- scriptions. If one accepts Alan Watson’s ar- gument that the culture of lawyers plays a central role in the development of legal sys- tems, it seems likely that the appearance of elaborate sumptuary legislation in this period may also have reflected develop- ments in jurisprudence among the succes- sors of Bartolus (Watson 198513: 115-l 9).

Sixth, and last, although some towns made serious efforts to enforce their sumptuary laws, implementation must have been difficult and costly and it cannot often have been effective (Kantorowicz and De- nholm-Young 1933:359-61; Hughes 1983:69-70 and 1986:47). Enforcement, however, may not have been the primary goal of legislators. Late medieval sumptuary laws resemble modern legisla- tion on sex and gambling. Statutes banning fornication, adultery, pornography, pros- titution, off-track betting, numbers games, and slot machines have rarely been enforced with rigor for very long. Medieval sumptuary legislation, like these modern statutes, sought at least as much to al&-m values as to modify behavior. Sumptuary laws, like sex and gambling laws, proclaim our collective devotion to moral values by defining immoral behavior as a crime. It need not follow as a consequence, however, that we will therefore change our habits and forego our pleasures by enforcing these bans vigorously. l2 Sumptuary laws allowed urban authorities to visit exemplary punish-

ment from time to time on blatant trans- gressors of communal morality. Perhaps episodic pursuit of offenders may have added a flavor of adventure to dressing up, while at the same time it reassured mem- bers of the bourgeois upper classes that they shared a common devotion to morality.

Notes * A shorter version of this paper was presented at the Twenty-first International Congress of Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University on 9 May 1986. I am grateful to the Newberry Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities for the fellowship that enabled me to complete the larger research project on medieval sex law from which this work draws. I also wish to thank Professors Stanley Chojnacki, Diane Owen Hughes, John F. McGovern, and Donald Queller for many helpful suggestions. I Livy 1919:34.1 .l-34, 8.3. Unless otherwise noted, references to classical Greek and Latin texts are to the numbered divisions of the editions in the Loeb Classical Library. Likewise, references to legal texts are to the numbered divisions in the editions cited. 2 Kiibler 1894:901-8. 3 Ulpian, Ad edictum 77 = Dig., in Mommsen 1872 and Watson 1985a. At least this is what the fragment seems to mean, but the text is enigmatic and may well be corrupt; Guarino 1974: 126-9. 4 For example Jerome, Epist. 54.7 Ad Furiam, in MPL 22:553. For a discussion, with numerous refer- ences, of the types of dress, makeup, and perfume favored by Roman prostitutes see Herter 1960:89-94. 5 On clerical dress see the Decretum Grutiani D. 41 c. 5, 8 and C. 21 q. 4 throughout, in Friedberg 1879. The Fourth Lateran Council (12 15) c. 16 (incorpo- rated in the Liber extra at X 3.1.15) laid down further ipecific guidelines on this subject; Garcia 1981:64-5.

Le Pilleur 1908:2. The list of articles of clothing that Avignon’s prostitutes were forbidden to wear was greatly expanded in statutes of 1372 and 1458; LePil- leur 1908:4, 11-12. For the text of the Marseille sta- tute see Mireur 1882:365-6. 7 Genoa apparently included a sumptuary provi- sion in its first law code, the Breve della campagna, in 1157; but omitted that section from the reissue of 1161; Hughes 1983:72-3.


8 Hughes 1983:74 argues that sumptuary legisla- tion was primarily designed to curb ostentation by the aristocracy, but the frequency with which nobles were exempted from the regulations seems to under- cut this contention. 9 Lecoy de La Marche 1886:414-15 quotes a vivid thirteenth-century description of saucily clad Parisian strumpets adorned with bouncing curls, gold jewelry, and strings of pearls from a sermon in B.N. lat. 16498. See also Jacques de Vitry 197282-3 and Hughes 1986:25-6, 51-4. An exemplum much used in sermons described a prostitute ridiculing the simple un- adorned dresses of respectable women (Tubach 1969:194, no. 2453). 10 Ancona 1566:3.55. Statutum et ordinatum est, quod nulla publica meretrix stans in prostribulis pub- licis civitatis Anconae & notorie quaestum sui cor- poris faciens, includatur vel comprehensa intelligatur proxime praecedenti statuto loquente de ornamentis mulierum, net in aliquibus aliis statutis, loquentibus de ornamentis & indumentis aliquibus, cum vilitas vitae illarum non sint ipsas legum laqueis innodari. The last clause is an allusion to Cod. 9.9.28(29), in Kruger 1877; cf. Hostiensis 1581:X. 3.30.23 no. 3 and 4.1.20 no. 5. II On the marriage market and related issues see especially Herlihy 1985:100-10. 12 Slovenko 1967; Joplin 1970. The late medieval sumptuary laws, like many modern sex and gambling laws, in other words, were attempts to legislate what Lon Fuller calls “the morality of aspiration” (Fuller 1969:5-g).

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