chapter  1
26 Pages

Introduction

This series of essays investigates the uneasy relationship between the discourses of control and excess, regulation and sensual abandon, in which clothing was figured in the medieval and early modern periods. Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, sumptuary legislation repeatedly attempted to define the proper and fitting way in which clothing should demarcate social status, thereby representing dress as a crucial tool in the delineation of social order. Simultaneously, however, moralists decried the sins of pride and vanity which were daily flaunted upon the body by those who, unwisely following the Biblical precedent discussed in the homily, 'walked with stretched out neckes and wandering eyes, mincing as they went, and nicely treading with their feet'. In social, economic, political and religious terms, the years 1350-1650 were ones of enormous change. Nevertheless, although the precise nature of sumptuary preoccupations altered, there remained an

Famous Memory, London: S.P.C.K, 1851, p. 328.