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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.

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Big Questions
Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
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iStock

Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Musee YSL Marrakech
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Design
A Pair of New Museums Will Honor Fashion Icon Yves Saint Laurent
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Musee YSL Marrakech

In 2008, the legendary Yves Saint Laurent—the 20th century fashion luminary whose designs were inspired by fine art, menswear, Moroccan caftans, and peasant garb, among other influences—passed away at the age of 71. Now, nearly a decade after his death, fashion fans can pay homage to the iconic designer by visiting two new museums dedicated to his life and work, according to ARTnews.

Morocco's Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech pays homage to the designer in a place he famously loved. (He first bought a house in the city in 1966, and his ashes were scattered there after his death.) In 1980, he and his partner Pierre Bergé bought Marrakech's Jardin Majorelle to prevent its destruction by developers, turning it into an immensely popular public garden. Located near the garden—along a street that is named after him—the new museum's permanent and temporary exhibits alike will feature clothing items like the designer's influential safari jackets and smoking suits along with sketches, accessories, and other archival items.

The Moroccan museum will serve as a sister institution to the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which is located at the site of Saint Laurent’s historic atelier and office in France. Following an extensive renovation of the building, the Paris institution will house thousands of sketches, photos, and fashion items related to the designer. The first exhibition will be a themed retrospective, “Yves Saint Laurent’s Imaginary Asia."

Both museums are scheduled to open in October. We’re already donning our smoking jackets.

[h/t ARTnews]

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