Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

7 Strange Historical Fashion Trends

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Technicolored hair, body piercings, armadillo shoes—you’d think the 21st century had a lock on out-there fashion trends. But baffling sartorial crazes are hardly a modern development. From voluminous wigs to personal air fresheners to a town full of stilt-walkers, you’ll find the history books are filled with eyebrow-raising fashions meant to show off one’s social status. Here are seven trends that will make you grateful for jeggings (well, almost).

1. Scented Cones

British Museum

Tomb paintings from Ancient Egypt—such as the above, from the Tomb of Nebamun, c. 1350 BCE—depict noblewomen with cones atop their heads. In the days before deodorant, these cones acted as their own personal air fresheners. Made of scented wax or grease, the cones were often worn to banquets or indoor ceremonial gatherings, where the hot temperatures would melt the cones to release a sweet smell.

However, lack of archeological evidence (an intact cone has not yet been found) leads some Egyptologists to claim that the cones seen in the drawings are not meant to be taken literally, but are rather symbols that indicate the wearers’ wigs—also en vogue—were perfumed.

2. Powdered Wigs 

Hulton Archive / Handout

It’s no coincidence that the rise of wig-making and -wearing corresponded with the late-16th century syphilis outbreak.

In the Middle Ages, long hair denoted wealth and high social status for both men and women—only the rich could go about their days unhindered by their flowing locks. So, the more follicly-challenged members of the upper and middle classes (predominantly those with the nasty venereal disease) took to wearing horse, goat, or human hair wigs, known as perukes. They were coated with scented lavender or orange powder to mask the inevitable gnarly smells symptomatic of syphilis.

But the trend turned from necessity to the height of fashion when France’s King Louis XIV (above) began wearing wigs. Balding at the age of 17—again, likely from syphilis—Louis hired 48 wigmakers to keep his bare scalp well covered. When his cousin, England’s Charles II, started wearing wigs to hide his salt-and-pepper mop, the fad became a sensation. Powdered wigs were the look du jour until the late 18th century, when the French Revolution and a British tax on hair powder caused citizens to embrace their natural state.

3. Chopines

Wikipedia Commons / Museo Correr dei Veneziani

Popular among Venetians in the 16th and 17th centuries, chopines were a precursor to today’s platform sandals. As with powdered wigs, chopines were originally invented for practical purposes: Their thick, raised soles were meant to help women traverse Venice’s muddy or irregularly paved streets. However, as with the wigs, they came to be associated with wealth and status. The taller the shoe, the more important the person.

The trend was taken to dangerous levels as the platforms reached dizzying heights. The shoes got to be so high—a pair displayed at the Museo Correr dei Veneziani measures in at 20 inches—the wearer required an attendant to help her maintain her balance. (Lady Gaga, take note.)

4. A City of Stilt-Walkers

Hulton Archive / Stringer

The chopine not high enough for you? In the 19th century, the people of Landes, France, incorporated stilts into their daily ensembles. Tchangues, or “big legs,” were created by Landese shepherds to help navigate the brushy, swampy terrain. High atop the stilts, the shepherds could wade through pools of water and quickly scale the countryside without bothering to look for roads, which were few and far between.

An 1891 article in Scientific American, quoted here, described the stilts:

The stilts are pieces of wood about five feet in length, provided with a shoulder and strap to support the foot. The upper part of the wood is flattened and rests against the leg, where it is held by a strong strap. The lower part, that which rests upon the earth, is enlarged and is sometimes strengthened with a sheep's bone. The Landese shepherd is provided with a staff which he uses for numerous purposes, such as a point of support for getting on to the stilts and as a crook for directing his flocks.

But the tchangues weren’t reserved for the shepherds—all the villagers, men, women, and children alike, were skilled stilt-walkers.

5. Bombasting

Bombasting, or padding one’s clothing with extra stuffing, became popular during the Elizabethan era in Britain. At the time, both men and women were known to bombast their sleeves to create the gigantic “leg-of-mutton” poofs we now associate with the time period. Men would also bombast their doublets to create the appearance of a filled-out belly. A man’s Elizabethan doublet could include as much as four to six pounds of bombast, made from rags, cotton, horsehair, or bran.

While bombasting in the Elizabethan sense fell out of fashion in the mid-17th century, padding one’s perceived deficiencies never truly went out of style. Men of the colonial and regency periods in America and Britain were known to pad their calves to make them appear more muscular. And the leg-of-mutton sleeves made a resurgence at the end of the 19th century (just ask Anne Shirley about her love of puffed sleeves). Today, people are more likely to pad their bosoms or derrieres than their legs or arms.

6. Hobble Skirts

Thompson / Stringer / Getty Images

Not unlike high heels, hobble skirts were seemingly designed to slow women down. The name for this tight-fitting skirt, which became popular at the turn of the 20th century, does come from the term for tying a horse’s feet together to keep it from running off, after all.

French fashion designer Paul Poiret is credited with creating the first hobble skirt in 1910. His new narrow silhouette hugged the legs close and cinched in at the ankles. Of his decision to forgo a corset and petticoats in favor of a sleeker design, Poiret is said to have boasted, “Yes, I freed the bust … but I shackled the legs.”

7. The Symington Side Lacer

During the Roaring '20s, fashion trends began to favor a rectangular, boyish figure over an hourglass form. To achieve this straighter silhouette, women enlisted the help of some new-fangled undergarments.

The Symington Side Lacer, invented by corset-makers R. and W.H. Symington, was a type of bra specially designed to flatten, rather than support, a woman’s breasts. The wearer would slip the garment over her head and then pull the straps and side laces tight to smooth out any curves.

Live Smarter
Learn to Tie a Tie in Less Than 2 Minutes

For most men—and Avril Lavigne-imitators—learning to tie a tie is an essential sartorial skill. Digg spotted this video showing how you can tie one the simple way, with a tabletop method that works just as well if you’re going to wear the tie yourself or if you're tying it together for someone else who doesn't share your skills.

The whole technique is definitely easier to master while watching the video below, but here's a short rundown: As laid out by the lifehack YouTube channel DaveHax, the method requires you to lay the tie out on a table, folded in half as if you're about to loop it around your neck.

With the back of the tie facing up, you loop over each end, then twist the thinner of the two loops around itself so it ends up looking like a mini-tie knot itself. You'll end up nestling the two loops together and snaking the thin tail of the tie through the whole thing. Then, essentially all you have to do is pull, and you can adjust the tie as you otherwise would to put it over your head.

Unfortunately, this won't teach you how to master the art of more complicated neckwear styles like the fancier Balthus knot or even a bow tie, but it's a pretty good start for those who have yet to figure out even the simplest tie fashions.

[h/t Digg]

John Firth, BIPs/Getty Images
20 Old Hat Styles Due for a Comeback
John Firth, BIPs/Getty Images
John Firth, BIPs/Getty Images

One thing that illustrated and photographic archives have taught us is that people have always known how to rock a stylish piece of headwear. From squat caps to towering toppers, history has produced a hat for every occasion. Here are 20 old styles that, with a healthy dose of fashion and confidence, could still look just as fabulous today.


A woman wearing a cloche hat decorated with flowers.
Sasha, Getty Images

The sleek, head-hugging cloche was the perfect companion to the bobbed hairstyle worn by flappers in the 1920s. The hats were typically left plain to emphasize their bell-shaped silhouette, though they also offered a blank canvas for embellishment. The cloche was most popular during the Jazz Age but it’s occasionally incorporated into retro fashion styles today.


A drawing of a man wearing an Ottoman headdress.

In Ottoman ceremonial costumes, hats played a starring role. The headgear often featured bright colors, feathery ornamentations, and elaborate designs that signified status. The wearer’s class, religion, gender, and clan could all be gleaned from the way the fabric in their headdress was layered.


Oscar Wilde wearing a bowler hat in 1885.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The top hat was popular in the 19th century but it wasn't always the most practical choice for outdoor activities. When looking for a way to protect the heads of horseback riders from branches, brothers Thomas and William Bowler came up with their namesake cap. The bowler hat was sturdy, compact, and appropriate for most any occasion. Though the bowler hat largely fizzled out by the 1980s, the item's original London manufacturers Lock & Co. still sell thousands each year.


Woman wearing a pillbox hat in the 1960s.
Chaloner Woods, Getty Images

Unlike some hats from history, this one was prized for its simplicity. It could be easily identified by its brimless, round shape evoking that of a pillbox. It began gaining steam in the 1930s before reaching peak popularity with First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s.


Victoria Beckham wearing a fascinator in 2007.
Mark Mainz, Getty Images

Depending on the look you’re going for, a fascinator can be worn as a subtle accent item or a show-stealing statement piece. The hat is defined as an ornamental headpiece that’s secured to the crown using a headband or comb. Once they fit that criteria, fascinators can take the form of flowers, feathers, fabric, or whatever else the wearer can engineer to stay on their head. And though they're still popular in the U.K., Americans don't tend to utilize fascinators outside of Derby Day attire.


A tri-cornered hat from Spain, circa 1780.
Gabriel Bouys, AFP/Getty Images

In 17th century Europe and America, tri-cornered hats, or tricornes, gave men the opportunity to show off their lustrous wigs poking out from beneath the upturned brim. It's no surprise then that the hat style died out with the powdered wig fad, but that doesn't mean it isn't fit for a comeback. Even if wearers don't have wigs to flaunt, they could take a page from our forefathers' book and upgrade the hat itself with feathers, brocades, and fabrics—or maybe just sports insignias.


British actor Peter Cushing wearing a deerstalker hat circa 1960.
Keystone/Getty Images

If you’ve seen this hat anywhere, it was most likely on the head of someone portraying Sherlock Holmes. The headpiece has been tied to the character since the books were published in the 19th century (it was the illustrations—not the story—that did it, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never mentions the cap in the text). It’s peculiar that an urban detective would be wearing a deerstalker hat in the first place, considering they were designed for hunting game and not tracking clues, but the smartly styled hat's comeback should be ... elementary.


Illustration of a French woman wearing a hennin in the 15th century.
plaisanter, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

These striking hats were a clear sign of royalty in the medieval era. Reinforced with wire or padding and draped in fine fabric, the cone-shaped hennin is still synonymous with the stereotypical princess today. English hennins were fairly modest in height, but the French version reached up to to three feet and the hat's Mongolian predecessor towered five to seven feet high.


Newsboys in St. Louis in 1910.
Lewis Hine, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This hat goes by many names (the big apple, the eight panel, the Gatsby), but its strongest association is with newsboys at the turn of the 20th century. The floppy, brimmed cap wasn't just popular with the younger working class. It was worn by men across the social ladder and was a common sight on the golf course.


Actress Marion Davies in a peach basket hat.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The origin of this hat name isn't too hard to figure out: It resembles a bulky, over-turned fruit basket. The peach basket hat first appeared at the start of the 20th century, but it was shunned by many for being an "unpatriotic" display of vanity during the first world war. It was revived in the 1930s and experienced a popularity streak until the 1950s.


Actor Buster Keaton wearing his signature pork pie hat in 1939.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This hat is known for having a domed crown inside a pinched rim, creating a shape similar to that of a certain savory pastry. The style was originally worn by women in the 19th century and was later embraced by men’s fashion in the early 1900s (thanks in part to Buster Keaton). It’s not as popular as it was in the 1920s but it recently enjoyed a brief return to the spotlight by way of the Heisenberg character on Breaking Bad.


Actress Fanny Brice wearing a cartwheel hat circa 1910.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Out of context, a cartwheel hat could be mistaken for an hor d'oeuvres platter or a tiny landing pad. The hat was worn slightly askew for an eye-catching look and was often crafted from luxurious materials. But after catching on in the 1930s, the broad hats have since fallen out of fashion.


Bicorne hat.
Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

With the chapeau bras, gentlemen in the 18th century proved you don't need to compromise style for convenience. The bicorne shape of the hat was designed to both sit comfortably on a head and fold flat when tucked beneath an arm. The French name roughly translates to "hat arm." It was a popular hat style among military men in the 1800s, including U.S. admiral George Dewey.


Hat on mannequin.

For a brief period at the turn of the 19th century, hair nets were fashionable. Women used boudoir caps to protect their hair while getting dressed in the morning or at night, though more stylish designs also worked as statement-making loungewear. Typically made from silk, muslin, or other lingerie fabric, the cap was the perfect companion to the kimono negligee, which was just beginning to gain popularity in the West at the time.


Illustration of Victorian woman.

The Eugénie hat is named after Empress Eugénie de Montijo, one half of France’s last reigning royal couple. It’s traditionally made from felt or velvet and worn tilted forward slightly to cover the wearer's eye. The hat saw an initial popularity spike in the mid-19th century, then a second after Greta Garbo worse a version of it in the 1930 film Romance.


Portrait of woman wearing hat.

Gainsborough hats, or picture hats, were popularized by 18th-century artist Thomas Gainsborough, who often depicted the society women in his portraits beneath massive headwear. The hats are known for their wide brims and over-the-top embellishments. It wasn't uncommon to see women walking around with stuffed birds perched on their hats during the style's peak.


Woman wearing bonnet.

Named for the protagonist of Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel, the Pamela bonnet was an elegant hat option for women in the 19th century. It's crafted from straw and tied with a ribbon in such a way that folds the wide brims against the wearer's cheeks. The sides of the hat slope down and away from the head, allowing the woman’s fashionable ringlets to peek out.


The Queen wearing a half hat and waving from a car.

The sleek, close hat trend reached its peak in the 1950s with the half hat. Part-hat, part-hair accessory, the half hat cups the back of the skull and curves across the crown, stopping just short of the ears. Milliner Lilly Daché received an American Designer award for the hat in 1941.


Actor wearing a hat.

The whoopee cap is best known as the crown hat Jughead wears in the Archie comics. Instead of buying a professionally-made version from a hat shop, wearers fashioned caps of their own by tattering the brims of old fedoras and turning them inside-out. The style appeared recently on Riverdale, the gritty Archie reboot, so a comeback may be on the way.


British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden (right) with Neville Chamberlain, Leader of the Conservative Party, wearing Homburg hats while walking in London in 1937.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Homburg isn't a household name like the top hat or the fedora, but the men’s hat is still a classic. The style is distinguished by a curled brim and a dent depressing the center of the crown. King Edward VII launched the trend in the late 19th century. When he brought a hat back with him following a visit to Bad Homburg, Germany, the rest of the world noticed his new look and started wearing Homburg hats of their own.

A shorter version of this story originally ran in 2017.


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