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Sumptuary Laws

classes purpose regulate luxury

Rules made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance.

Sumptuary laws are designed to regulate habits, especially on moral or religious grounds. They are particularly directed against inordinate expenditures on apparel, drink, food, and luxury items.

These laws existed in Rome and were enacted in a variety of forms in England during the Middle Ages to regulate the ornateness of dress and to impose dietary restrictions. Sumptuary laws varied according to classes, with peasants being subjected to a different set of rules than the gentry. The primary purpose of the laws was to distinguish the different classes of people, and often, a person's social class could be determined by something as simple as the style or length of his or her coat.

Today sumptuary laws are ecclesiastical in nature and not part of the U.S. legal system.

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