Master of the Blue Jeans, Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie
Master of the Blue Jeans, Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie

10 Fashion and Beauty Items That Are Older Than You Think

Master of the Blue Jeans, Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie
Master of the Blue Jeans, Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie

1. Blue jeans

Maybe you think blue jeans started in the 1950s, with too-cool-for-school rebels like James Dean. Or you may have heard that they began in the 1850s, when Levi Strauss developed durable pants for miners following the discovery of gold in California. Mr. Strauss did help clothe the miner-forty-niners and make Levi’s synonymous with jeans, but the hardwearing trousers go back much further. Around 2004, a Parisian art dealer and a Viennese curator independently chanced upon the work of an anonymous-17th century northern Italian painter. He (or she?) depicted working class people wearing an indigo blue cloth, which was often ripped, revealing white threads. In The Barber Shop, a shaft of light penetrates the darkness to reveal the classic blue-jean indigo of the customer’s pant leg. Curator Gerlinde Gruber dubbed the artist “Master of the Blue Jeans.”

2. Bikini

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When French mechanical engineer Louis Réard introduced a revealing two-piece women’s swimsuit on July 5, 1946, he called it the “bikini”—after the atomic bomb that rocked the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific a few days earlier in peacetime nuclear tests initiated by the U.S. But navel-baring two-piece athletic wear for women is much older. Villa Romana del Casale is a Roman villa in central Sicily built early in the 4th century AD. The palatial complex holds a rich trove of mosaics, including a remarkable one on the floor of a room called “Chamber of the Ten Maidens,” or informally, “the bikini girls.” Young women show off their athletic skills, running, lifting weights, throwing discuses and playing ball. In their brief bandeau tops and bikini bottoms, they appear ready to hit the beach in Malibu.

3. High heels

Despite the pain and restricted gait high-heeled shoes inflict on their wearers, many women crave them for the long-legged look they impart. Early elevated shoes served a much less glamorous purpose. In medieval Europe both men and women would slip “pattens,” high wooden or metal clogs, over their thin-soled shoes when they ventured outdoors to protect themselves from mud and excrement. According to legend, women began wearing high heels after Catherine de Medici arrived in France in 1533 to marry Henry, the future king. The petite fourteen-year-old Florentine supposedly wore specially made high heels to increase her stature and status.

But Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto tells a different story. She traces the high heel back to 16th century Persia, where Shah Abbas I commanded the world’s largest cavalry. The horsemen’s spiky heels helped them grip the stirrups, just as cowboys’ raised heels do today. Persian style swept through the courts of Western Europe. High-heeled shoes gave aristocratic men the look of virile horsemen. In the 1630s, fashionable women adopted the masculine style with short hair, epaulettes, pipes and high heels, Semmelhack told the BBC.

4. Lipstick

The first known lipstick was discovered in the Sumerian region of Ur, in what is now southern Iraq. It is believed to date from 3000 BC. Ancient Egyptians, including fashionable men, painted their lips. The most popular color was bluish black, followed by orange and reddish magenta. Women of ancient Greece reddened their lips too, with respectable wives showing more restraint than prostitutes. And in Rome, both sexes colored their lips.

5. Eyeliner

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If you’ve seen the bust of Nefertiti (ca. 1370 BC – ca. 1330 BC) or a movie depiction of Cleopatra (69 BC –30 BC), you know the ancient Egyptians wore eyeliner. And if you’ve checked out some Egyptian tomb paintings, you know that men and children also painted dark, dramatic outlines around their eyes. The inky cosmetic was kohl, a sulfide of antimony or lead.

6. Eye shadow

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What about the vivid blue-green eye shadow Elizabeth Taylor sported as Cleopatra? Next to hers, the eyelid shadings of movie Cleopatras Claudette Colbert (1934) and Angelina Jolie (2014) look downright tasteful. La Liz may have gotten it right: Ancient Egyptians used sparkling eye shadow made from ground malachite and beetle shells.

7. Nail polish

Punk rockers weren’t the first to flaunt scary nail colors. According to one source, a solid gold manicure set containing nail coloring made of green and black kohl and dating from 3200 BC was uncovered in the royal tombs of Ur. Several sources claim, without further elaboration, that the Chinese invented nail polish about 3000 BC. The ancient Egyptians stained their nails with orange henna, a more appealing polish than the Romans’ mixture of sheep fat and blood.

8. Hair coloring

Thousands of years before platinum blonde bombshells exploded onto the movie screens of the 1930s, both men and women colored their hair to cover gray. Plant products such as chamomile, indigo, logwood, henna, and walnut hull extract, as well as fruits and flowers, made up the first dyes. The ancient Mesopotamians and Persians dyed their long hair. Greek gods were envisioned as blond and ancient Greeks lightened their hair with a mixture of potash water and yellow flowers. The hair lightener used by the Romans often made their hair fall out, so they made wigs from the fair hair of slaves brought from Gaul. Around the same time, Saxons were dyeing their hair blue with the extract from the leaves of a plant called woad.

9. Skin care

Facial masks are nothing new. The ancient Egyptians used egg-white masks and smoothed and tightened their complexions with cucumber juice. The Romans prepared a pungent night cream, the ingredients of which included sweat extracted from sheep’s wool. Women in pre-Columbian Latin America moisturized their faces with avocado.

10. Tattoos

Customizing one’s body with inked words and pictures may be a global trend now, but tattooing is far from new. Egyptian figurines dating from about 5,500 to 6,000 years ago show women with tattooed thighs. But until the 1990s the earliest examples of tattoos found on actual bodies were on several mummified women about 4,000 years old. In 1991, the frozen body known as the Iceman was discovered on the Italian-Austrian border. Carbon dating showed the tattooed body to be about 5,200 years old.

So, if you think you’re fashion-forward, look over your shoulder. The ancient Egyptians may have had your look first.

Additional Sources: “Mystery of Denim’s Origins Solved by Art,” Discovery.com;  Kremer, “Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels?,” BBC News Magazine; Lineberry, “Tattoos: The Ancient and Myterious History,” Smithsonian.com; Nails Magazine; Lipstick: A Celebration of the World’s Favorite Cosmetic; various articles in Daily Life through History; Chemical Composition of Everyday Products; “Villa Romana del Casale,” Wikipedia.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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iStock

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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