Making and breaking order via clothing

Making and breaking order via clothing

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Making and breaking order via clothing: Clothing regulation, cross-dressing, and the ordering mentality in later medieval and early modern England

By Brett Seymour

B.A. (Hons) Thesis, University of Sydney, 2012

Abstract: Following the events which disrupted social stability in fourteenth and fifteenth-century England, individuals from a variety of social contexts demonstrated a particular necessity to see order visibly displayed in society. This thesis examines sumptuary regulations and cross-dressing side by side to demonstrate clothing’s relationship to both making and breaking order. In the act of revealing this relationship, this thesis will argue that the two cases demonstrate clothing‘s importance in creating a visible confirmation of social order which ultimately brings to the surface an underlying collective ordering mentality that equated a sense of security with arranging everyone in society in their rightful place.

This thesis originated from an initial interest in how medieval society responded socially and culturally to instances of large-scale disaster that threatened or disrupted social order. It has become, however, an investigation into what the particular mentality was behind the need for order in the first place. To begin such an investigation, I first needed to understand just what medieval social order was before I could begin to discuss any challenge, response, and ultimately, mentality. To clarify what I mean by these terms, when I refer to ‘order’ and to systems of order, I refer to various methods of organisation in which a collection of components are arranged in a particular and comprehensible way. Therefore, when I speak of order in society, I am speaking of the ways in which individuals and groups were arranged in comprehensible ways to that particular society. Medieval and early modern England had a particularly keen sense of social order and organisation and of identifying and putting everything in its place, and so the focus of this thesis is not only on how later medieval and early modern English society achieved order, but why.

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