A 17th Century Toilet Pendant

Wellcome Library, London // CC BY 4.0

When Henry VIII began courting Anne Boleyn, he gave her a small gold pendant, attached to which were an ear scoop and two toothpicks. While the gift of two toothpicks and a scoop to remove ear wax might not seem romantic to 21st century couples, Boleyn would have likely appreciated the toilet pendant, since it would have been highly fashionable in the 16th century court.

The ornamental wearing of toilet sets, in particular toothpicks, became increasingly popular in the Renaissance and the practice continued well into the 18th century (toothpicks in particular fell by the wayside upon the invention of the toothbrush). Toilet pendants, like this 17th century example held by the Wellcome Collection in London, were status objects made out of expensive materials such as gold and silver. The wearing of a toilet pendant was an expression both of the personal hygiene of its wearer as well as knowledge of court etiquette practices. According to Renaissance scholars, the wearing of such pendants “embodied and communicated not only an individual’s identity, but the social relations of a class.”

But this particular pendant, with both the toilet instruments and an intricately worked pomander on top, was firmly entrenched in two traditions that both signaled a deep interest in personal hygiene. Derived from the French pomme ambre or pomme d’embre, which translates to “amber apple,” the pomander was a small charm that would have been stuffed with fragrance. Usually worn around the waist or neck, the pomander would have dampened many of the unwelcome, pungent smells of the Renaissance, but it also had a medicinal purpose of sorts.

Until the acceptance of germ theory in the 19th century, Europeans believed that disease was caused by miasma, or foul smelling air. Perfumes, like the kind contained in pomanders, were believed to be a defense against disease. As pomanders became more popular throughout the Renaissance, the term was used more broadly to encompass nearly any charm or pendant that contained fragrance.

The Wellcome’s pendant is one of the numerous examples of pomanders that survive. Like the toilet set, examples span multiple centuries showing increasingly whimsical and elaborate approaches. Stand-alone pomanders were, apparently, more common; numerous 16th century portraits depict aristocratic or wealthy sitters holding pomanders, again pointing to their relative commonality as a fashionable accessory.

Pieter Janz Pourbus via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Though both pomander and toilet sets were incredibly popular during the same time span, the Wellcome’s pendant, which combines the two trends, seems relatively unusual. It’s a testament to a moment in which haute couture, personal hygiene, and medicine seamlessly blended into one noticeable object.

Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pop Culture
Glove Story: The Freezy Freakies Phenomenon of the 1980s
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Kids who grew up in the northeast in the 1980s were pretty invested in a fad that might have gone unnoticed in warmer parts of the country. Cajoling their parents at department stores during shopping trips, hundreds of thousands of them came home sporting a pair of Freezy Freakies—thick winter gloves that came with a built-in parlor trick. When the temperature dipped below 40°F, an image would suddenly appear on the back part of the material.

Swany America Corporation, which made, marketed, and distributed the gloves, released more than 30 original designs beginning in 1980. There was a robot, a unicorn, rocket ships, ballerinas, rainbows, snowflakes, and various sports themes, though the “I Love Snow” image (below) may have been the most popular overall. At the height of Freezy mania, Swany was moving 300,000 pairs of gloves per year, which accounted for about 20 percent of their overall sales.

A Freezy Freakies glove before and after the temperature change
Freezy Freakies

“Boys loved the robot design,” Bruce Weinberg, Swany’s vice president and a former sales director for Freezy Freakies, tells Mental Floss. “Above 40 degrees, the image would disappear.”

The secret to the $13 Freakies was thermochromic ink, a temperature-sensitive dye that's been used in mood rings and heat-sensitive food labels and can appear translucent until it's exposed to warmer temperatures. Swany licensed the ink from Pilot, the Japanese-based pen company, after Swany CEO Etsuo Miyoshi saw the technology and thought it would be a good fit for his glove-focused operation. (Though they experimented with making luggage in the 1990s, Swany has predominantly been a manufacturer of higher-end ski gloves.)

Weinberg isn’t sure how Miyoshi settled on the “Freezy Freakies” name—the president is now retired—but says Miyoshi knew they had a hit early on. “After a few seasons, they could tell they had a winner product,” he says. Swany even put advertising dollars into TV commercials, a rare strategy for glove-makers not named Isotoner.

Pilot was able to adjust the temperature at which the ink would become transparent, or vice versa. If kids were impatient, or if it happened to be during the summer, Weinberg says it wasn’t uncommon to find Freezy Freakies stuck in the freezer so they could materialize their art design. “At trade shows, we’d do something similar with some ice or a cold soda,” he says. “All of a sudden, some ice cubes would make it change, and buyers would think that was really cool.”

The Freakies were such a hit that Swany licensed jackets and considered changing the name of the company to the same name as the glove. It’s probably just as well they didn’t: While Freakies lasted well over a decade, by the 1990s, things had cooled. In the new millennium, Swany was down to selling just a few hundred pairs a year. Color-changing ink for coffee mugs or beer cans was more pervasive, wearing down the novelty; knock-offs had also grabbed licensed cartoon characters, which Swany was never interested in pursuing.

The brand was dormant when a company named Buffoonery approached Swany in 2013 to license Freezy Freakies for a crowdfunded revival. This time, the gloves came in adult sizes for $34. The partnership has been successful, and Weinberg says Buffoonery has just signed an extension to start producing kids’ gloves.

“Parents will probably want matching ones for their kids,” Weinberg says. And both might still wind up in the freezer.

Live Smarter
The Very Disgusting Reason You Should Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them

It’s sometimes assumed that clothing with a price tag still dangling from the sleeve can skip an initial wash. Someone else may have tried it on, sure, but they didn’t run a marathon in it. Why not just throw it in the closet as soon as you get home?

One big reason: lice. As The Independent reports, Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC's Today show recently that clothing fresh off store racks can harbor infestations of lice, scabies, or fungus.

You might be familiar with head lice as the dreaded insects that occupy the scalp and give school health monitors cause for concern. Head lice can be transmitted via clothing and other fabrics, and anyone who tried on a shirt or dress before you did can be a carrier. While they only live for one or two days without a blood meal, that’s still enough time to cause problems if something is being tried on frequently.

Scabies is far more insidious. The mites are too small to see, but the allergic reaction they cause by burrowing into your skin to lay eggs will be obvious.

Both scabies and lice can be treated with topical solutions, but it’s better to kill them by washing new clothes in hot water. A good soak can also get rid of formaldehyde, a common chemical used in fabrics to help ward off mold in case stock gets wet in transit. Formaldehyde can cause allergic skin reactions. For all of these reasons, it’s best to hit the washing machine before those new pants ever hit your hanger.

[h/t Independent]


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