5 Old (And Odd) Origins Of Common Fashions

Sometimes being fashionable wasn't about being frivolous.
5 Old (And Odd) Origins Of Common Fashions

Seeing fashion trends clog up our newsfeed for the nth time within an hour makes us scream about how pointless fashion is. But trends don't always take shape for frivolous reasons. Sometimes, there are weird yet logical reasons behind them catching on ...

Syphilis caused a surge in wigmaking

From the long, long list of diseases plaguing humanity in years past, syphilis called dibs on 1580. Symptoms and effects of syphilis include nasty rashes, sores, blindness, dementia, and baldness. Let's focus on the most serious one -- baldness. 

Back when having long hair was one of the most baller of status symbols, losing said hair was worse than death to a wealthy nobleman, and more so to a king. To highlight the gravity of the seriousness of baldness, one egocentric English parliament member, Samuel Pepys, wrote, "If lives, he will not be able to show his head -- which will be a very great shame to me."

Under the law of supply and demand, the surge in syphilis cases also prompted a surge in wig making. But during those times, wigs were just used as a cover-up. It was made from goat, horse, or human hair and scented with lavender or orange to hide the foul smell of syphilis ridden scalps. Thus, wigs were by no means made to be stylish. They were more of a practical necessity than demand for beauty.

But in 1655, then King of France, Louis XIV, was showing signs of baldness, likely from syphilis, at the young age of 17. Faced with its horrors, he rounded up 48 wigmakers to save his image from the pits of alopecia. Lucky for him, the wigmakers didn't try concocting a realistic wig that only smart people could see past. Instead, they made him a stylish, glammed-out peruke. And when King Charles II of England's (Louis' cousin) hair turned gray, he did the same. 

Claude Lefebvre, John Michael Wright
Both of whom decided "kingly" meant looking like they were in Guns N' Roses.

People eventually imitated the two kings and started paying to get their hands on tailored wigs. When the two ancient Kardashian kings died, the wig stuck and conquered the world.

Platform shoes were all about keeping literal shit away from feet

Before platform shoes became an item for strippers to exude sex appeal and short actors to exude not being 5'5'', they were used for a shitty reason. Literally. Prior to the disco, they became the go-to footwear of various periods to avoid the feces clogging up the road. During the Heian Period in Japan, men would put flat boards with stilts on their shoes to avoid the mud from soiling their socks ... 

David Tran Photo/Shutterstock
We guess socks with sandals was considered a refined look before being co-opted by your dad.

... but it was during the Medieval Ages, when the whole world was a giant toilet, that the shitty tale began. Back then, the streets were paved by dust, mud, and feces from animals and people since proper plumbing was nonexistent. To cope with this, they created pattens, wooden or metal platforms strapped on shoes. For obvious reasons, pattens were strictly for outside use only.

Half a millennia later, women's dresses had gotten a lot longer, but the lack of plumbing systems and the shitty problem caused persisted. So what's the best way to keep the crap on the hems? Better roads, you say? Nah, bring out those detachable platforms! Still no answer for how platform boots worked their way to cyber-goths though.

Neckties were originally worn by Croatian mercenaries and was adopted by French nobilities

Tying a cloth around the neck dates back to third century B.C., not as some sort of torture or execution device, but rather as some sort of armor. The earliest use of neck scarves comes from the Terracotta Warrior statues excavated in the Chinese city of Xi'an. They didn't wear scarves to swag up as they vanquished another foe, nor did women use it to crossdress their way into a chance to fight some Huns. The warrior's scarves served to protect what they believed was their source of power, their Adam's apple. 

"Yeah, keep moving.  You know you can't handle all this."

But most experts say the origins of full-on neckties started around the 1600s. During the Thirty Years' War, King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries to aid France. These mercenaries came to do two things: kick ass and wear cravats. (They ran out of gum on the trip there). Akin to the Terracotta Warriors, the Croatian mercenaries wore cravats as neck armor, which makes us question just how the concept of armies was able to survive with soldiers that stupid. Then again, we haven't heard of a cravat not breaking a sword, so the jury may still be out. By the end of the war, French noblemen took a fancy to the mercenaries' scarves. They made the cravate, which was further adapted by the English who called them cravat (subtly changing the word as is shitty British tradition).

By the mid-1600's, European noblemen were getting themselves painted wearing those fancy cravats. It took from then to the 1920s before they became the ever strangling reminder that you're stuck at work that they are today.

During the Cold War, makeup was the best propaganda Americans had

During the Cold War, the differences between communism and consumerism spread to almost every aspect of both sides' lives. Part of the propaganda machine used to fight the Red Scare in America was women and cosmetics. 

In America, women were treated as housewives, whose main purpose was to serve the family and pretty up. But for the Soviets, women were considered as part of precious manpower and were encouraged to work. The government so valued their service that they even pushed husbands to take their wives to restaurants to avoid spending their time doing household tasks like cooking and cleaning. Thus, Soviet women were painted as haggard, old, and ugly. In a televised mudslinging battle between Richard Nixon and then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Nixon boasted of domestication as a sign of individuality, security, and abundance. 

Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock
If there's one name that screams "Makeup advice," it's Richard Nixon.

Buying makeup, participating in other acts of consumerism then became acts of patriotism. Housewives, armed with their compacts and donning atomic hairstyles, became romanticized soldiers. To add insult to injury, an American magazine stated, "A woman in Russia has a chance to be almost anything, except a woman," as if being a woman revolved entirely around beauty and makeup.

With all that sensationalism and media aggregation, it was no wonder the propaganda worked. Soviet women craved for the newest fashion trend, even rumored to spend a week's wage to get their hands on some American apparel sold in some black market.

Eyeliner was sunglasses and eye treatments at the same time

It's no secret that ancient Egyptians were big on using eyeliner. In fact, eyeliner wasn't even in modern use prior to 1920, when an archeologist opened Tutankhamun's tomb and found Nefertiti's bust. When the rest of the world saw Nefertity's beauty -- or at least, a sculpture depicting her beauty, it found the black outlines on her eyes quite fashionable and started revitalizing its use.

Philip Pikart/Wikimedia Commons
Sadly, gigantic flat hats failed to experience an equal rise in popularity.

Before Fenti, M.A.C, or whatever socialite-owned makeup brand you're using, the Egyptians used kohl, a mixture of galena (lead's mineral form), other minerals, oil, and water. Beautification was the least of their worries. They only applied high-quality kohl when worshiping their gods, hoping to be fancied by Horus's eye and graced with some blessing. Other than that, they were commonly used to battle the sun's glare and treat eye diseases.

When a few ancient Egyptian kohl samples were analyzed in the lab, they found two specific types of lead salts that don't naturally exist. More so, lead salts weren't particularly easy to produce, which meant that ancient Egyptians prioritized its eye use. Were they crazy? Probably, as lead poisoning tends to cause that, but it did help with the eye ailments. When the same people who analyzed the kohls content applied lead on lab-grown skin cells, the lead's stress prompted it to produce more hydrogen peroxide, nitric acid, and all those other things our immune system uses. But before you start adding lead to your eyeliners, do remember that ancient Egyptians rarely passed the age of 30.

Top image: Claude Lefebvre

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