For a quarter century, the term ‘class’ has been anathema for most writers of premodern urban history. The term's associations with discredited forms of analysis – forms often dubiously but persistently associated with Marxism – continue to hamper its reintroduction. In the absence of ‘class’, or a term like it, however, meaningful discussion of ‘horizontal’ divisions in urban society has dwindled. The present article suggests that ‘class’ can and should be reintroduced into our analysis, but that this should be done in an informed way, which takes into account the principal possible meanings of the term. To this end, we analyse the ways in which urban historians have employed the term ‘class’ and find four principal usages. Two of these are ‘material’ and two are ‘institutional’. It is further suggested that certain institutions, such as the nobility and town governments in Europe, can be ‘class determining’, insofar as they channel economic and productive differences into effective political, legal and ideological ‘classes’. This insight, and the typology it is based upon, open the possibility for integrating ‘class’ analysis with recent work in both European and Global contexts.