La mode de France

France’s sumptuary laws also seem to have been laxly enforced and thus frequently reiterated. In 1576, Henri III issued an edict enforcing the sumptuary laws of his predecessors, and he passed laws of his own in 1577 and 1583. French laws were similar to those of England, restricting luxury materials to the upper classes, clergy, and judges, in hopes of alleviating the confusion arising from being unable to discern at a glance the difference between commoners and nobles.

Essayist and philosopher Michel de Montaigne, writing around the time Henri III’s laws were passed, found the concept of sumptuary laws to be counterproductive and proposed an alternative means of convincing the populace to dress more frugally:

For to enact that none but princes…shall wear velvet or gold lace, and interdict these things to the people, what is it but to bring them into a greater esteem, and to set every one more agog…to wear them? [….] Let kings but lead the dance and begin to leave off this expense, and in a month the business will be done throughout the kingdom, without edict or ordinance; we shall all follow.
—Michel de Montaigne, Of Sumptuary Laws (Essay XLIII) in ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE, at 64 (William Carew Hazlitt, ed., Charles Cotton, trans., London, 1902)