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Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History (Paperback)

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A “sharp and entertaining” (The Wall Street Journal) exploration of fashion through the ages that asks what our clothing reveals about ourselves and our society.

In Dress Codes, law professor and cultural critic Richard Thompson Ford presents a “deeply informative and entertaining” (The New York Times Book Review) 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. After reading Dress Codes, you’ll never think of fashion as superficial again—and getting dressed will never be the same.

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A “sharp and entertaining” (The Wall Street Journal) exploration of fashion through the ages that asks what our clothing reveals about ourselves and our society.

Dress codes are as old as clothing itself. For centuries, clothing has been a wearable status symbol; fashion, a weapon in struggles for social change; and dress codes, a way to maintain political control. Merchants dressing like princes and butchers’ wives wearing gem-encrusted crowns were public enemies in medieval societies structured by social hierarchy and defined by spectacle. In Tudor England, silk, velvet, and fur were reserved for the nobility, and ballooning pants called “trunk hose” could be considered a menace to good order. The Renaissance-era Florentine patriarch Cosimo de Medici captured the power of fashion and dress codes when he remarked, “One can make a gentleman from two yards of red cloth.” Dress codes evolved along with the social and political ideals of the day, but they always reflected struggles for power and status. In the 1700s, South Carolina’s “Negro Act” made it illegal for Black people to dress “above their condition.” In the 1920s, the bobbed hair and form-fitting dresses worn by free-spirited flappers were banned in workplaces throughout the United States, and in the 1940s, the baggy zoot suits favored by Black and Latino men caused riots in cities from coast to coast.

Even in today’s more informal world, dress codes still determine what we wear, when we wear it—and what our clothing means. People lose their jobs for wearing braided hair, long fingernails, large earrings, beards, and tattoos or refusing to wear a suit and tie or make-up and high heels. In some cities, wearing sagging pants is a crime. And even when there are no written rules, implicit dress codes still influence opportunities and social mobility. Silicon Valley CEOs wear t-shirts and flip-flops, setting the tone for an entire industry: women wearing fashionable dresses or high heels face ridicule in the tech world, and some venture capitalists refuse to invest in any company run by someone wearing a suit.

In Dress Codes, law professor and cultural critic Richard Thompson Ford presents a “deeply informative and entertaining” (The New York Times Book Review) 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. After reading Dress Codes, you’ll never think of fashion as superficial again—and getting dressed will never be the same.

More Information
ISBN 9781501180088
Length (cm) 14.0000
Width (cm) 3.8000
Height (cm) 21.2000
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication Date Jan 18, 2022
Pages (number) 464
Genre History, Politics, and Social Sciences
Author Richard Thompson Ford
Signed No
Format Paperback
Editorial Reviews

"We all abide by dress codes, whether required to do so or not. The author’s discussion embraces a vast body of knowledge, from what might be called fashion anthropology to a philosophy of sartorial splendor, and he’s an assured, genial narrator. He has an acute eye for detail, too...For the clotheshorse and the jeans-clad alike, a lucid, entertaining exploration of how and why we dress as we do." ― Kirkus 

“An intriguing history of formal and informal rules governing what people wear…. [Ford] makes a convincing case that dress codes reveal much about the social order and the pursuit of individual liberty. This jam-packed history casts its subject in a new light." ― Publishers Weekly

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