6 Weird Fashions From History (With Weirder Explanations)
If you intend to do any traveling in a time machine, you'd better invest a whole lot of money in costumes. After all, people in the past looked ridiculous. Why the hell did they, for instance, wear giant white wigs everywhere?
Actually if you look into it, you find some pretty interesting explanations for ...
Those Ponytails Stuck on the Top of Samurais' Heads
The iconic image of a Japanese warrior (or today, sumo wrestler) comes complete with a weird hairstyle in which the front of the head is shaved while the remaining mullet is bound up in a bun or topknot. The origin of this bizarre haircut, called "chonmage," goes all the way back to the age of the samurai, as it helped to keep a samurai's helmet on his head.
"Nah, I'll stick with the chin strap. I don't want to look ridiculous."
Since the samurai class were wealthy and influential nobility, it didn't take long for the style to catch on among the Japanese public, who longed to be sword-slinging badasses. Over time, it became traditional for boys turning 13 to shave the front of their heads and adopt the samurai hairstyle to signal that they had become men. Hair neatness was so important in Japan that artists usually employed messy hair as shorthand to represent someone who had been in some way disgraced.
"I knew letting Tom Cruise into the country was a bad idea."
The fashion was pretty widespread until globalization forced the Japanese to realize that the rest of the world found their hairstyles absolutely ridiculous -- which is a ballsy claim, considering everyone in the West was wearing powdered wigs at the time (but more on that later).
"... the fuck is this?"
A story from 1863 recounts the adventures of two Japanese students who covered their chonmage hairstyles with hats while visiting Holland. When forced to remove the hats at the theater, they caused such an uproar of hilarity that the play had to be stopped, and the story made the national press the next day. It's just another example of a national pastime ruined by racism.
Unless your national pastime is racism, in which case, go wild.
These days, the legacy of chonmage remains almost solely with sumo wrestlers, who are too fat to be bothered with your criticism of their hairstyles.
Tiny Penises on Greek Sculptures
You probably know at least two things about Ancient Greece -- it was the birthplace of Western culture, and if all those marble statues are to be believed, everyone had really tiny wangs. Given that most men habitually add around three inches to the real size of their packages in the relatively unlikely event that they're asked, we have to wonder why a washboard-chested warrior civilization decided to portray all their manliest heroes with a chronic case of shrinkage. Was it just really cold back then? How well did they expect that sad little thing to please a woman?
"At least I have my children. The ones who didn't die of typhoid."
Actually, pleasing women was about the last priority that any self-respecting Greek hero would have had back then, if you catch our drift.
Experts have actually exhaustively studied the role of dongs in Greek society and written entire books on the subject. Cecil Adams over at StraightDope.com neatly summarizes it: "Long, thick penises were considered -- at least in the highbrow view -- grotesque, comic or both ...". So in art, big dongs appeared on non-human creatures and barbarians, and the perfect penis in those days, "... was small, thin and covered with a long, tapered foreskin." Which is to say that the Greeks preferred their penises to look, uh ... younger.
"Putting a finger puppet on the end and doing a show" kind of young.
See, in Ancient Greek culture, one of the most common and socially acceptable relationships was between a man and a young boy. It was basically the exact society that fundamentalist Republicans imagine right before they shoot bolt upright, whimpering in a cold sweat. The ideal object of beauty and desire was not Jessica Alba in a hand bra but an athletic, clean-shaven male with the neat and unobtrusive genitalia of a boy just coming into puberty.
In the interests of context and open-mindedness -- ewwww.
So, rather than bragging about having a pork missile so huge that they could make a woman climax twice simultaneously, back then they would brag about having a dick so small that they could attract the wealthiest men in Greece by looking like a 12-year-old. We cannot stress enough how much of a different world this was.
As a result, as the ancient playwright Aristophanes put it, what was most sexy in Ancient Greece was "a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks and a little prick."
Actually, most people we know who look like this tend to be massive pricks.
Huge, Ridiculous Powdered Wigs
The fastest way to identify a movie as a period piece is when everyone important in the film is wearing a stupid-looking wig. Kings and aristocrats, presidents, politicians and composers are always decked out in elaborate white/blond curly wigs, often adorned with plaits, ribbons and bows. In Britain and Australia, judges and barristers still wear them. So who the hell thought that was a good idea?
"Tradition overwhelms the fact that I have a huge clump of dyed hair sitting on my sweaty comb-over."
Blame King Louis XIII of France. The French monarchy had long suffered from a hereditary condition of embarrassing male pattern baldness, and so, tired of being mocked by the King of England, Louis wore a badass wig to show that he was the most virile king around. Before long, his unconventional style became a fashion statement in the royal court, with most of the king's men adopting the elaborate hairpieces, whether they were bald or not.
"Apparently he's jumping off a cliff next week. I'm totally going to do that, too."
With France being the center of European culture in the 17th century, anything that was sexy in France quickly spread to the rest of Europe. As aristocrats tried to outdo one another, the wigs, called perukes or periwigs, became more and more fabulous. This led to the creation of a whole industry of wig-makers, who established their own guild in 1665. The wigs became such a part of the culture that you had to wear a wig to move upward in society. By the late 1700s, men were pouring a starch-based powder over their wigs to make them as white as possible.
This had the brilliant effect of making them look like idiots.
The wig craze died in England when the government sensed a money-making opportunity and imposed a hefty tax on hair powder. At the same time, a minor incident in France called the French Revolution made it kind of uncool to be seen in public wearing a symbol of the aristocracy. But until then, the peruke phenomenon had been one of the most long-standing and weirdest fashion crazes in European history. All because the King of France was self-conscious about his bald spot.
That Dark Eye Makeup Egyptians Wore
The Egyptians produced so much art in their time that you can almost certainly reproduce your average Egyptian fresco from memory with a pencil and paper -- everyone in profile, standing around and staring out with one giant eyeliner-ringed eyeball.
Get the look: Apply makeup, down 15 shots of gin, call the ex and pass out on face.
There was a practical purpose behind the distinctive Egyptian chic. It turns out that the Egyptians' affinity for eyeliner served the same purpose as the black smears on a modern football player's cheekbones -- it helped to reduce glare from the oppressive desert sunlight.
"Dude, we know you're the sun god, but do you have to carry the damn thing around with you?"
Not only was the Egyptian desert bright enough to begin with, but as we've pointed out before, the pyramids were originally covered in a white limestone coating so that every venture outside your hut was like someone shining a spotlight directly into your eyes for 10 hours. Slapping a thick layer of black gunk around their eyes was a minor but welcome relief from the constant light assault the Egyptians were subjected to.
Presumably why they went around in single file.
Also, see those little cone things on their heads? They really served as the Egyptian method for dealing with the fact that they all reeked like nothing you could imagine. The lifestyle of a desert environment comes prepackaged with the reality that most of your daily activities are going to revolve around contact with somebody else's sweat. The cones were actually composed of animal fat and perfume, which would melt during the day and produce an aroma to offset their intolerable stench.
After the melted deodorant glued their eyes shut, they painted eyes on straight over the eyelids.
Those Terrifying Old-Timey Bird Masks
If you've seen any film or documentary dealing with the Black Death, chances are you saw glimpses of people dressed in weird steampunk crow costumes and carrying orchestra conductors' batons. This wasn't just a 14th-century goth fashion statement.
"Oh, the overwhelming incessancy of my own existence. Poor me, caw caw."
Back in the 1300s, we didn't really know what caused disease, so advice about how to prevent it was about as reliable as advice on how to ward off Bigfoot. This was really inconvenient when the worst pandemic in human history strolled into Europe and said "What up?"
The very least we were able to discern back then was that breathing the same air as a sick person was likely to make you sick as well. Because rotting food, feral animals and other things that made people sick all shared the feature of smelling really bad, the medical consensus was that disease was caused by bad smells. The "miasma theory" of disease was the best theory about why people were dying by the tens of millions in medieval Europe -- they stank like shit.
That's the only reason they buried corpses; otherwise, they'd just prop them up for decoration.
The people dressed in bird masks were freelance doctors hired by villages that were hit hard by the plague. What look like beaks were actually cavities stuffed with spices, rose petals and other sweet-smelling stuff that they hoped would offset the odors they figured were the source of the outbreak -- in short, a kind of medieval gas mask. They carried batons to lift up clothes and blankets so they could make their diagnosis without touching anything.
Sadly, they couldn't raise an eyebrow and rub their chin in thought.
Since a competing theory about disease was that it was caused by evil spirits or something, as an added precaution the costumes were designed to be really freaking scary in the hope that they would just scare the ghosts right out of you. And they made them look like giant crows because they presumably confused ghosts with worms.
Pale and Chubby Renaissance Women
Given today's culture of enforcing tanned, size-zero models as the standard of female beauty, it's kind of confusing that all the women in those famous paintings from the Renaissance are lovingly portrayed as plump, pale and happy. How did the cultural ideal of female beauty change so radically in only a few hundred years? After all, men think with their dicks, right? Isn't what we find attractive just animal instinct?
Is she comfortable in her own skin? Disgusting.
The chubby, white women you see in these paintings kind of prove otherwise. What society finds attractive about women is tied to how well-off they are, socially and economically. And it was the Industrial Revolution that changed everything.
So nowadays, pale skin tends to signify someone who spends too much time indoors playing World of Warcraft. But in earlier times, it was fashionable for women to pile on makeup in order to make themselves as white as humanly possible. Back then, having a tan was a giant fashion faux pas, a sign that you were destitute enough to have to go out and till your own fields. The paler you were, the surer it was that you had enough slaves to do all that for you.
We're sure we've seen these women in The Matrix.
The pale-skin trend didn't really let up until influential women like Coco Chanel started taking extravagant vacations, reinventing bronze skin as a sign of wealth and comfort. A pale complexion became a symptom of spending all your time working indoors.
As for the love handles those girls were sporting, before the Industrial Revolution and the era of easily accessible fatty foods, people who carried a few surplus pounds were those who simply had enough money to afford the extra food. Back then, the women who today adorn the front pages of fashion magazines would have been seen as poverty-stricken charity cases, much more objects of pity than desire.
Now, the dynamic is completely reversed -- being thin requires more wealth and spare time, since an organic vegan diet and a personal trainer are more expensive than a daily diet of fried meat.
So while guys can claim that status doesn't matter when it comes to women, it really does -- just on a subconscious level. And of course, the one thing to take home from all of these fashion trends is that we've always been shallow and superficial. Just for different reasons.
Read more of Yosomono at his headquarters at the GaijinAss Web page or follow him on Twitter @GaijinAss.
For more on fashion, check out 6 Popular Fashion Trends (That Killed People). Or learn about why senors act the way they do in 6 Obnoxious Old People Habits (Explained by Science).
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