16th-century fashion police for barristers | Letters

The Middle Temple passed a dizzying range of sartorial diktats in the 16th century, writes Barnaby Bryan of the Middle Temple ArchiveYou suggest with alarm that trainee barristers’ dress code is “extremely conservative” and “highly prescriptive”. But such restrictions on student (and practicing) barristers are nothing new. The Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court mentioned in your article, passed a dizzying range of sartorial diktats in the 16th century, governing its students’ and members’ dress from head to toe. Between 1556 and 1558 members of the Inn were forbidden from wearing beards of more than three weeks’ growth, breeches “of any light colour”, and any “great breeches in their hoses made after the Dutch or Spanish fashion”. In 1584 things were even stricter, with the Inn’s passing an order that members must not wear “great ruffs”, “white colour in doublet or hose”, “velvet facings”, “hat nor long nor curled hair”, and that all gowns must be of “sad colour”. A ten shilling fine was imposed in 1596 on anyone coming to breakfast in boots, and in 1668 one Mr John Hanham was fined the same for coming to supper in a white hat, described as an “indecent habit”. Evidently, while the fashion choices of young barristers may change, their curtailment can reliably be counted upon!

Barnaby Bryan

Assistant archivist, Middle Temple Archive, London

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