Dress, the Wool Supply and Industry Regulation
Woollen cloth went from expensive and exclusive to everyday clothing for all but the wealthiest who moved to silks. As clothing became more fashionable, it increased demand, providing status at all levels of society. Clothing became more colourful and many went from wearing homespun to commercially made cloth. England made the finest wools. The wool in cloth exports passed wool exports in the mid-fifteenth century. The quality of the wool supply declined as a result of both demand and supply factors. The average quality of wool for domestic cloth was lower than for exported wools. Farmers were forced to reduce investment in sheep management practices as the price of wool declined after 1380. England’s wool-in-cloth advantage came from the wide availability of wools from fine to coarse that enabled each clothmaking region to specialise. England benefited from relatively light regulation of the cloth industry. Free trade and low taxation on production and export of cloth allowed market forces to shape the industry. England also gained from the high levels of duties on wool exports, immigration of alien clothmakers, freedom of aliens to trade cloth, and the monopoly given to the Merchant Adventurers Company.