At various times through history, civil and religious bodies in different societies have laid down "sumptuary laws," which are essentially limitations on the amount of material goods any class of society may own or use. Conquering peoples have used this device to make all the good stuff theirs after a conquest, decreeing that the losers must forfeit everything over a certain amount. Often it's the church that sets a limit on conspicuous consumption, either for the good of its flock's souls or the fattening of its own purse. Sumptuary laws can be used to try to stop inflation and waste during a time of rapid economic growth, or to keep the newly wealthy merchant class from trying to outdress and outlive the king and his court. This can result in interesting social developments (which are adequately covered in a number of large, heavy books without pictures or conversations).

Our historical concern for sumptuary laws rests on the fact that these laws, as applied by the English in Ireland, give us some of our best ideas of what Irish life was like in the 16th century. The English were quite comprehensive in their descriptions of what was not allowed, which of course meant that's what people were doing. Without these details, we would have much less information about period costume, for instance.

Steven Gillan, Chief of Clan MacColin, has updated a great deal of the Clan costume information, and in the process has developed what amount to sumptuary laws for our own dress. These rules are based partly on historical considerations and partly on the Chief's preference for certain things; the overall impact of these guidelines will be a more "related" appearance of our group.

Here are the "Clan MacColin Sumptuary Laws," as published by the Chief:


All those within the sound of my voice witness that I,
Stiofan A Giollain Maccolin, Ceann Cinnidh na Clanna Maccaolinn, An Baran Gleannadoire,
do hereby declare and decree on this day, July 8, 1998, these laws.



Wool, and blends with a high percentage of wool, are the best choices for all outer garments. The weight and texture must be suitable to the type of garment and to the station of the wearer. For most applications, the chunkier the better. If the garment is a Highland one of tartan plaid, that plaid may not be a modern one associated or registered with any family, regiment or association. Highland items need not be of tartan plaid at all but may be striped, herringbone, checked, or of irregular sett. Most tweeds are also acceptable for these uses as well. Solid colored wools, in appropriate shades and textures are also desirable for garments both Irish and Highland .

No piled fabrics, i.e., corduroy, velour, velvet, or velveteen, are acceptable, period. I have heard all the arguments about the value, durability, availability etc.. They were, in our period, just too dear.


Linen is the first choice for all shirts, sarks, leines, kirches, stocks, etc. Of course, I realize that it is difficult to obtain, and often expensive. It is however, the fabric of choice. Coarse cottons, such as Osnaburg, canvas, "linen look," and heavy muslin have been and continue to be desirable. No smooth finished cottons or polyesters (i.e. bedsheets) are acceptable. A good rule of thumb: If you can see through it, it's too fine or too loose a weave. Here again, the lumpier the better. The finer grades of shirting will still be permitted to the duine uasail for special occasions. As always, consult first with swatch in hand.


Color selections are based on historical information, theatrical considerations, and the personal preferences of the Chief. With this in mind...

All body linen will be "white." By white, I mean natural color, bleached or unbleached (not blindingly white) or various shades of "saffron" yellow. Please note: The use of this color requires individual approval. There will be no use of blue, black, pink, green, etc. for body linen. .

All outerwear colors must stay within the "muted," non- aniline dye type ranges that resemble well-worn, often- laundered, natural dyes. I realize that very bright, even startling shades can be accomplished with native dyestuffs. This rule is subject to one of the controlling considerations above. There shall be no pastels, no true red, no purple. This does not preclude the existence of these colors in tweed type fabrics. Be safe: don't assume.


Decoration, Trim, Embroidery, Etc. The extent , material, and volume of decoration on one's raiment defines social and economic placement. History tells us that the "foreigner" saw this as abuse in Ireland, and vigorously legislated against what was seen as an excess of Irishness and a damned foolish squandering of resources by these savages. Therefore, they limited and reserved to each, according to his station, his portion of the frou-frou. The ancient "Brehon" codes did the same sort of apportioning. In the spirit of these traditions, I will attempt to do likewise.

1. Persons of this family who hold a position in the duine uasail, i.e. officers and gentlefolk, may decorate their garments with two colors. The choice of materials for these are "bias tape" and yarn. In the case of officers, this rule extends to their spouses, should those persons not be "gentle" in their own right. The patterns for these decorations, should they entail more than a horizontal, diagonal, or vertical band, must be individually approved. These trims may be applied with a thread of another color altogether, if hand sewn. It is preferred that all trims be hand-applied. If they can be hand-produced, all the better.

2. No person other than a "tacksman" (read Sgt.) shall have more than one base color to their individual outer garments, nor use any embroidery on them. This does not prevent the use of the various blanket stitch or overcast embroidery to decorate seams, nor does it prevent the use of these same seam closures on body linen. Shirts, sarks, leines, etc. may also be decorated in embroidery about the collars, cuffs, and sleeve openings. (The design and colors used in these decorations require attention to economy of scale.) There are some general exceptions. Men of any rank, after one year of satisfactory service, may wear a one-color "couched yarn," "bias tape," or fringed design on the sleeves and body of their ionar. (See costume designs for this, then consult with Wardrobe Mistress.) A woman of any station, after one season of similar satisfactory service, may wear a single horizontal band three inches above the hem of her overskirt. This band is not to exceed 1/2" in width, and should be of a color slightly darker than the base color to which it is applied. Those Clansmen who wear the brat may wear a collar of sheepskin or dense yarn fringe; it may also be self- fringed at neck and hem. All other furs are reserved.

3. With regard to insignia, badges, etc.: All Clansmen may wear a sprig of oak, and use its leaves and fruit (acorns) as a decorative motif on their goods. Also, all may wear the principal colors of green, white and brown in a rosette on their bonnet or clothing. They may not, however, wear the Silkie or the Oak Tree, as these are my badges as Chief.

4. Persons of my immediate family, that is, the Beantigherna and the Tanist, will wear what I approve for them. I will wear what I approve for myself.

5. Feathers are worn only by the duine uasail of the clan. Vertical feathers denote officers, and horizontal ones indicate the gentlefolk. Deer hair hackles denote non- commissioned officers, and may only be worn by them.

6. With regard to the various accessories: All jewelry must be individually approved. All weapons and arms are to be approved by An Marscall Teig. All lavish inventions of persona must be approved by the Chronicler. And all their decisions are overseen by the Chief.


Copyright © Clan MacColin 1998 All Rights Reserved.