Toronto Metropolitan University
Johnston_Pamela_O.pdf (1.2 MB)

From Fashionable Frivolity to ‘Addicted Abandon’: The Changing Moral Discourse on Fashion’s Excess from the Middle Ages to Today

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posted on 2021-05-23, 13:07 authored by Pamela O. Johnston
In Medieval and Puritan times, moralists framed the following of new fashions and the pursuit of novelties as frivolity, pride and excess, while today discourses about overconsumption, unsustainable industry practices, and distance from producers take on ethical and moral tones sometimes being attributed to greed or apathy. This research traces these moralizing discourses and the terms they use, comparing particular fashions or dress behaviours that were considered immoral on the basis of wastefulness of time and resources (including money) in each time period. In Medieval times, long trains and wide sleeves were often considered wasteful and frivolous by moralists. Likewise, in the Puritan era, the extravagant use of time in preparing complex appearances was condemned. Today, the Western world’s consumption patterns are seen to be problematic. This research looks for patterns and similarities among the damned fashion practices, and highlights the differences in ways the discourse is framed. For example, in Medieval and Puritan times, morality was framed in relation to God and sin, while present day discourses assume a common morality that overlooks God or religion.





  • Master of Arts


  • Fashion

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP