Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005
Recycling Luxuries in the First Age of Fashion

Susan Mosher Stuard, Haverford College

The advent of fashion did not produce obsolescence and a throwaway economy, although these features would in time come to characterize robust consumer markets driven by fashion. Instead the fourteenth century fashionable, especially those in Italian towns, closeted away their finery, willed it, recycled it, gave it away, or even sold their material goods to second hand traders. Domestic inventories provide the key to this conserving mentality. Inventories offer unique insights into the consequence of fashion in clothes and accessories, where households bulged with the preserved components of a fine appearance: gilded silver buttons, silver and gold shot ribbons, fine woven fabrics in both good and (more surprisingly) poor condition.

Urban sumptuary laws in north Italian towns offer significant hints about how stored luxury goods reappeared in the guise of new fashions. Apparently married women were the keepers of these stores of goods and employed ingenuity and needle skills to renew their wardrobes. When a bride was allowed four fine dresses for her marriage, as at Venice, dresses that were expected to last her a lifetime, fashion could be achieved by the ingenious use of stored goods in devising new trims and designs on those dresses. These innovations were viewed with increasing dismay by sumptuary lawmakers, particularly those in the fashion capitals of Venice and Florence.

This will be an illustrated lecture stressing the impact of stored goods on the production of home fashions that allowed women, the restricted parties in urban sumptuary law, to join men in the parade of up-to-date, luxurious, and, increasingly, eye-catching, even the shocking fashion.


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