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

10 Fashion and Beauty Items That Are Older Than You Think

Original image
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

Getty Images

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

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Getty Images

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.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image
iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES