Measurement of Cultural Differences of the Eastern and Western Cultures Through Sumptuary Laws


Sumptuary Laws is a cross-cultural phenomena as a way to restrict access to specific commodities and preserve social hierarchy by visual dressing appearance.

People from different background or ethnicity sees the world differently. Thus, Westerners and East Asians treat same things in different ways as well. For instance, some specifc sumptuary laws appearaed to be similar while the way rulers impose the laws or the level of strictness could be totally different. Thus, Sumptuary laws can be used as a measurement of how different cultures emphasis similar sumptuary laws differently.

In this project, I will discuss women’s roles and differences of reactions under sumptuary laws. Besides, two rulers from the East and West had opposite personal consumptions on costumes on two extremes. They used their absolute powers in two opposite ways for sumptuary laws, which reflects how cultures could influence people’s views on similar things. In addition, the color red was once popular in courts in England and China. However, because of the lack of technology in the West, red clothes were rarer as a symbol of royalty. At the same period in the East, red court clothes were more like a symbol of high status.



Primary Source:
“Nicolosae Sanutae matrona bonoiensis ad Reverendissimum in Christo patrem dominum d. Legatumbononiensum ut mulieribus ornamentur resituantur” (Biblioteca Bertoliana vi Vicenza. Cod. G.7.1.2; Miscellanea B.205 [ant. segn. 6, 8, 22])

Ban, Zhao. Disciplines for Women. N.p.: n.p., Han Dynasty Yongyuan 12. Print.

Figure 1. Nicholas Hilliard (attributed), Elizabeth I, c. 1590. Oil on canvas. Jesus College, Oxford
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Principal, Fellows and Scholars of Jesus College, Oxford

Figure 2. Unknown artist, Elizabeth I, c. 1590. Oil on canvas. Jesus College, Oxford Reproduced with the kind permission of the Principal, Fellows and Scholars of Jesus College, Oxford

Figure 3: Gower, George. Armada Portrait. 1588. Bridgeman Art Library, Woburn Abbey.

Figure 4, unknown imperial artist, Wanli’s Dragon Robe, around 1600. Capital Museum, Beijing, China.

Figure 5: Henry VIII in parliament, from The Wriothesley Garter Book, c. 1532, RCIN 1047414.
The Royal Collection © 2007, Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II.

Figure 6: Flenish School, Edward VI. c. 1546 Oil on Panel. The Royal Collection. Her Majesty The Queen

Secondary Source:

Yin, Zhirui. Women’s Clothing in Ming Dynasty. Baidu Wenku. N.p., 20 Apr. 2012. Web.

Killerby, Catherine Kovesi. “‘Heralds of a well-instructed mind’: Nicolosa Sanuti’s defence of women and their clothes.” Renaissance Studies 13, no. 3 (September 1999): 255-282. Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed December 8, 2014).

Hayward, Maria. “The ‘Empresse of Flowers’: The Significance of Floral Imagery in Two Portraits of Elizabeth I at Jesus College, Oxford.” Costume 44.1 (2010): 20-27. Web.

Lawson, Jane A. “Rainbow for a Reign: The Colours of a Queen’s Wardrobe.” Costume 41 (2007): n. pag. Web.

Qin, Aishu. “Chongzhen’s Disposition Flaws and the Perish of an Empire.” Journal of Inner Mongolia Agricultural University (Social ScienceEdition) 50th ser. 12 (2010): n. pag. Web. <>.

Huang, Ray. 1587, a Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Print.

“Sumptuary Law.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2014.

Stillo, 2014 Fall, Fashion in Global History, Class lectures. Lecture conducted from Washington and Lee University.