IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Pearls worth Rds4000 or less: Reinterpreting eighteenth century sumptuary laws at the Cape

  • Stan Du Plessis

Governor Ryk Tulbagh promulgated sumptuary laws at the Cape in 1755. Umbrellas could no longer be carried freely by all classes, silk dresses of a certain length could not be worn by ladies without regard to rank, and the value of pearl necklaces was strictly limited. These laws have often been interpreted as an attempt to maintain a social hierarchy (e.g. Ross 1990), a “defence against emulation†in the words of De Vries (2008). But the standard explanation leaves something to be desired: it does not engage with the economic motivation for sumptuary laws that influenced similar regulations in Europe and Asia at the time, nor does it explain why the VOC would legislate in the Cape what the Dutch never tolerated at home, and it seamlessly extrapolates the explanation for laws in Batavia to a different social and economic setting in the Cape. An alternative interpretation of Tulbagh’s sumptuary laws is developed in this paper, which draws on evidence from the Cape and from Batavia. Their economic causes are sought in the East, where the laws originated, while their social reception and their impact are sought in the records of the Cape. In this way the paper provides a new interpretation of the causes underlying the sumptuary laws of 1755 and their role as instruments of economic and social policy.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Economic Research Southern Africa in its series Working Papers with number 336.

in new window

Length: 15 pages
Date of creation: 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rza:wpaper:336
Contact details of provider: Postal: Newlands on Main, F0301 3rd Floor Mariendahl House, cnr Campground and Main Rds, Claremont, 7700 Cape Town
Phone: 021 671-3980
Fax: +27 21 671 3912
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:rza:wpaper:336. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Charles Tanton)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.