Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Law, Humanities, and the Arts


It is generally considered that sumptuary law is an archaic form of governmental intervention that targeted the personal lives of people living in the early modern period in Europe, and has no modern significance. This thesis examines the post Federation period, between 1901 and 1927, to reveal that the sumptuary impulse was alive and well in modern Australia. This impulse was now transmuted by a new patrician elite into a form of social and legal regulation in order to control the clothing and entertainment choices of working Australians. The impulse was sustained through taxation and fiscal legal mechanisms (ie: tariffs), wage cases, and through the agency of wartime regulations. All of these measures recall the sumptuary laws of early modern Europe.

This period saw the fabric of Australian society undergo enormous social and political change. To a large extent, this change was prompted by the availability of unprecedented economic opportunities and personal freedoms. An increase in the attraction and availability of imported luxuries led the government to increase tariffs as part of their settled policy of protectionism. This thesis argues that, during this period of socio-economic development, protectionism shared many of the discursive features of the sumptuary laws of the early modern period. This association became even more evident during World War I, when government often relied on moral regulation to constrict the consumption practices of the Australian people to address wartime shortages and to provide for the military needs of the Empire.

This thesis accepts that protectionist policies did not aim to control the moral and personal behaviour of the individual but rather sought to protect nascent or struggling domestic industries. It was in the effect of these policies where the sumptuary impulse was apparent. By the beginning of the 1920s, this policy of protectionism, with frequent increases in tariffs on imported clothing, changed the language and method of the sumptuary impulse into one of rationality. These types of measures existed in a direct line back to the early sumptuary laws, one facet of which sought to protect industries. However, by the mid-1920s, the association began to wane when moralisation served a secondary role in protectionist discourse. By 1927, the regulatory objective became pure rational protectionism rather than the moralisation that was evident throughout the first two decades following Federation.