Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History


Publish Date:
February 9, 2021
Simon & Schuster
Place of Publication:
New York
Book, Whole
  • Richard Thompson Ford, Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.


From the publisher:

For as long as we’ve worn clothing, we’ve had rules about what to wear and when to wear it. As fashions became more sophisticated at the end of the middle ages, the rules got more elaborate: in Tudor England, there were dozens of laws against dressing above one’s station; during the Renaissance, laws in scores of countries, cities, and towns assigned attire according to social rank, occupation, age, sex, marital status, and religion.

These dress codes have continued to evolve to reflect the social and political ideals of the day. As the rules that set the fashions of aristocracy faded, emerging canons of elegance and propriety made the full skirts of the Victorian era and the business suit mandatory; later, form-fitting flapper skirts and voluminous zoot suits became targets of moral and legal censure. Today, many workplaces ban braids and dreadlocks, long fingernails, large earrings, facial hair, and tattoos and require suits and ties, make-up, and high heels. On the other hand, tech CEOs wear t-shirts and flip flops and some venture capitalists refuse to invest in a company run by someone wearing a suit. Whether written rules requiring conservative attire or the unspoken expectation of casual wear, dress codes still determine what we wear, when we wear it—and what it means.

In Dress Codes, law professor and cultural critic Richard Thompson Ford presents an insightful and entertaining history of the laws of fashion from the middle ages to the present day, a walk down history’s red carpet to uncover and examine the canons, mores, and customs of clothing—rules that we often take for granted.