Fashion Legalism

Legalism noun le·gal·ism \ˈlē-gə-ˌli-zəm\ strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code

Legalism exists in many places. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, it is rampant as it relates to fashion. Here are some interesting instances of fashion legalism through the years:

In 1682 Peter the Great became Tsar of Russia and with him he brought decidedly European dressing styles. He outlawed the long caftans, loose trousers and large boots characteristic of Russian culture. He even imposed a mandatory beard shaving on Russian men. Some defied this law, however, favoring the long beards that honored Russian tradition.

Fast forward to France in 1804, where the newly crowned Napoleon enforced his own clothing standards. In an attempt to revive the French textile industry, Napoleon demanded that women not wear the same dress to court more than once. (Not cool Napoleon, unless of course you’re going to pay for all the Frenchwomen’s closets.)

Then later in Europe and the United States, policemen patrolled beaches armed with rulers. They scoured the sand for men without skirts over their swim trunks (yes skirts), and women whose skirts were too far above the knee.

Speaking of hemlines, in the 1920s a bill was proposed in Utah that could fine and imprison a woman whose skirt was more than three inches above the ankle. Similarly, in Virginia there was a bill that forbade women to expose more than three inches of her throat. These bills, fortunately, did not pass.

In China during the cultural revolution of the 1960s another example of legalism emerged. Chairman Mao aimed to destroy the “Four Olds” old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Therefore, he banned any pants with a leg narrower than eight inches for women and nine inches for men. High school students marched around stuffing beer bottles up pants’ legs. If the bottle could not be stuffed into the leg, they were considered “four olds” and were cut open to shame the wearer.

When those in power try to mandate the choices of others it never ends well. None of these practices survived the fall of the specific government or leader. They died, yet fashion legalism is still rampant today.

What examples of legalism have you come across in the fashion world and beyond? Share your own examples in the comments.

Stay fly friends!


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