chapter  6
30 Pages

Sumptuary Codes, Taste, and Distinction in the Built World

In simple terms, contemporary sumptuary codes regulate the perceived status of an individual in a social context. The example of a uniform is the easiest way to introduce the idea. Military officers, for example, can be identified, not only by the color of their uniform and the style of its tailoring, but also by medals and emblems that indicate the individual’s rank and achievement. The primary purpose of uniforms is to make rank, and thus authority to take certain kinds of action, legible to people in that particular social system and thus maintain the order of command in constantly changing contexts. Individuals from other systems, or of different ranks, are prohibited from wearing the same uniform. As in the military, similar customs are practiced in religious orders, among academics, and less formally in the international world of business. However, because we tend to think of these dress codes as a matter of contemporary style, we forget their cultural origins and how the same principles operate in other fields, such as architecture.