The Edict of 1634 – A look at French Sumptuary Laws (CoBloWriMo #17)

As promised earlier this month, I have taken a look at the French sumptuary laws of 1634 for the CoBloWriMo “Written Source” theme. Since I am in the middle of making a 1620s-30s costume for a French persona, they were a must for my research, to make the outfit credible for the time period. When I looked around for sources and information on sumptuary laws in fashion, I mostly stumbled across accounts of Tudor or Elizabethan laws. For example you can find good summaries of these two legislations here, here and here.

There is much less material on the French Edict of 1634 to be found online. To be fair, the earlier English versions comprised large rule books of “who wears what”, much like they existed in the Middle Ages. Compared to them, the French sumptuary laws look almost puny. There are a whole of eight articles in the edict, mainly but not only dealing with clothing. For this post I worked with the latest version that was issued under Louis XIII on May 9th, 1634. You can find the original print here on Gallica. Other edicts that were more or less similar were in place before, with the first ones dating back to the regency of Marie de Medicis.

Around 1633, engravings appeared depicting the effects of the latest edict. Like this courtier discarding all the fancy rags he is no longer allowed to wear. In practice, however, sumptuary regulations were handled relatively laxly. This is no surprise, seeing how they were notoriously hard to police or enforce. The general rule of thumb seems to have been that, the higher your social status, the more you got away with. But, of course, others could report you if they wanted to get you in trouble. Though, somehow, I cannot see this happening much. ;)

Bosse_Edict_1633

“Le Courtisan suivant le dernier édit” by Abraham Bosse (c. 1633)

What follows is a brief lowdown on the eight main articles, loosely translated and with some commentary for those of you who are interested in fashion laws and those looking to dress their French 1630s persona in the proper style. I just went ahead and translated everything, also those parts irrelevant to fashion itself, just to show the full scope of the edict. Comments are in round brackets (), additions for better understanding in square ones []. Here we go:

I) No cloth of gold or silver, no gold or silver ornaments.

All subjects are forbidden to wear clothing or accessories, such as belts, baldricks or sword belts, hat bands, garters aglets, scarves and laces (rubans, best understood as ribbon ties in this context) in cloth of gold or silver; with fringes, trims or embroidery of pearls or precious stones, [gold or silver] embossed patterns, cords, filigree (cannetilles) [or] buttons. [V]elvet, satin, taffeta or any other  silk fabrics, [such as] crepe or gauze, linens, striped, intermixed, laced or covered in gold or silver.

All those were forbidden on pain of confiscation although I wonder what they did with them then. In my mind I have this naughty image of the king playing dress-up. Though, probably not… ;)

II) Fine clothing was to be made of silks with no more than two rows of embellishments, each no more than 1 digit (approx. 3/4″) wide. Men could only wear trims in few places.

The finest clothing is to be made of silk fabrics, unadorned except for two rows of silk embroidery or trim (the later articles also mention braids as a third option). Each row cannot be wider than 1 doigt (digit, approx. 3/4″).
On men’s clothes, the embellishment cannot be placed around the collar or the bottom of a cloak/mantle, the shaft or side of their shoes, sleeve seams or upper sleeves, at the center back, around button closures or at the basque (this most likely refers to the bottom of doublets).

And yes, these places could NOT hold any embellishments. I double checked this. But, looking at the engraving above, almost completely unadorned male clothing was the aim of the edict. For women and children, more embellishments were allowed; see the next article.

III) Women’s, girl’s and children’s clothes could hold the prescribed two rows of embellishments in more places than men’s clothes.

The aforementioned braids (galons), embroideries and trims are only to be attached to the tops or bottoms of gowns and skirts as well as in the middle of the sleeves, also around the body or basques of gowns.

IV) No other ornaments as those mentioned before are allowed.

Other ornaments like Italian lace (broderie de Milan) or other satin embroideries (here, “broderie” most likely refers to needle lace, though) […] are forbidden on pain of confiscation.

The list goes on, spanning most of the items already mentioned under the first article, like filigree or buttons, so I left them out here.

V) No silk clothing is to be given to servants. They are supposed to wear wool, trimmed with minimal braiding.

No silk clothes are to be given to pages, servants or coachmen. They ought to be clad in wool, without velvet trim or embroidery, except for two rows of braid on the sleeves or outside of the garment.

VI) Strict punishment for those producing forbidden items of clothing.

Dressmakers, embroiderers [lace makers], doublet makers, shoemakers or others are forbidden from producing any of the banned items on pain of denouncement and exclusion from their trades.

To us this may sound harmless, but being put out of their trade meant losing their entire livelihood since it was not possible to simply enter into another trade. This was indeed a very harsh punishment.

VII) Certain metallic items could still be gold or silver.

In spite of the aforementioned ban on gold and silver ornaments, sword guards, scabbards and buckles on belts, sword belts, baldricks or hatbands can still be in gold or silver.

VIII) Material restrictions for coach builders with strict punishment of violations.

Coach builders are prohibited from using gold embroidery or embellishments inside coaches or on [seat] cushions, […] to gilt wood or line coach interiors with silk fabrics on pain of denouncement and exclusion from their trade.

With this one, I keep wondering what triggered it. Gut feeling tells me that some nobles rode in coaches more lavish than the royal ones. Looking at this article, they were probably on par with the later imperial train carriages… oh my!

In summary, the Edict of 1634 is brief and concise about its restrictions. Officially, class differences as existed in earlier sumptuary laws were not given. Though court wear has still to be seen as separate from these laws, especially as far as high nobility is concerned. A lady of quality would try and dress like the young woman in this 1634 engraving.

La_dame_réformée_suivant_l'édit_[...]Couvay_Graveur_btv1b8402352f

“La Dame reformée suivant l’édit dernier” by Grégoire Huret (c. 1632-34).

For my persona *cheerful wave at Mademoiselle Désirée*, who is from a distinguished noble family but also more modest than most, it means less is more. Sadly, we will have to say good riddance to the super cute linen waistcoat with the silver stripes. However, nothing speaks against some good-quality embellishments. And, of course, the high nobility got away with wearing their gold and silver pretties. At least, according to period painters…

Full_length_portrait_Gaston_of_France_in_1634_van_Dyck_Musée_Condé

The king’s brother rocking some serious gold and bling in 1634 (“Gaston de France” by Antony van Dyck, 1634; Musée Condé).

Nessa

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Edict of 1634 – A look at French Sumptuary Laws (CoBloWriMo #17)

  1. Kara says:

    I’d heard of such laws, but never read any before. Thank you for taking the time to translate. Were such laws just the fancy of the king, or were there more political reasons behind them?

    • Nessa says:

      No problem! A bit of both I think. Bans on foreign lace and other textiles existed in various countries at the time, to further the local economy. But some of it was definitely also a fancy as you say. The high nobility sure tried to set themselves apart by not following these laws. ;)

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s