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16 Batshit Historical Fashion Facts That'll Blow Your Damn Mind

I mean, why wouldn't you want to wear a hat made from perfumed animal grease?

1. Medieval shoes could be up to 2 feet long.

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From the 1330s onward, men considered long-toed shoes to be the height of fashion, and by the late 14th century toes were so long they had to be reinforced with whalebone. Men wore very short, corset-like tunics that showed off the wearer's "assets" too. TL;DR: England briefly turned into a nation full of Labyrinth-era David Bowies in clown shoes.

2. And 17th-century shoes could be up to 2 feet tall.

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These extremely tall platform shoes were all the rage in Venice in the 16th and 17th centuries, as they helped women walk through the muddy streets without getting their dresses dirty. Being tall was also seen as an attractive characteristic, too. The shoes were called "chopines", and eventually became so lofty and hard to walk in that wearers needed a servant to help them balance.

3. Victorian boys wore dresses until they were around 4 or 5 years of age.

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Wealthier families used to dress their young children mainly in white, frilly dresses (the wealthier the family, the lacier and frillier the dress) regardless of gender, and both boys and girls would wear the same type of bonnets as well. Sounds like a sensible idea.

4. French noblewomen wore hairstyles inspired by ships.

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In 1778, the French navy (who, at the time, were allied with the fledgling United States against Britain) badly damaged a British ship. In a flurry of intense national pride, Parisian women invented the "coiffure à la Belle Poule", a combination of elaborately sculpted hair, ribbons, and other decoration designed to look like a tall ship in full sail. Et pourquoi pas?

5. Not to be outdone, British women wore huge hats.

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The trend was started by Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (pictured), in the late 1700s. Called a "Gainsborough" hat (as she was sitting for portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough when she first wore it) the huge hat was pinned on top of her wig of powdered curls, was made of felt or beaver skin, and had ostrich feathers at the crown to make it seem even taller. Society ladies loved it and flocked to order massive hats of their own.

6. Don't worry: Men looked ridiculous too.

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The wig craze of the 1700s got more and more towering and ridiculous, with wealthy French and British noblemen (and women), competing to outdo each other with increasingly creative and extravagant designs. Starch and wooden frames were used to hold the gigantic hairstyles in place, and many men chose to adorn their huge, wiggy coxcombs with gold and silver accessories as well. Fancy.

7. And both English and French noblewomen looked like they were smuggling wardrobes under their dresses.

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The "pannier" dress – like this example from 1760 – was reinforced with long, flat side hoops that extended the width of the skirt without making it any longer at the back. The large, oblong area at the front became a place where wealthy women could show off their fanciest embroidery. They were like great big walking paintings, essentially.

8. In the 1860s, dresses became so wide that women would frequently get stuck in doorways.

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The "crinoline period" ran from 1850 to 1870, and involved layering several (increasingly ornate) skirts over a large wooden hoop to create truly massive outfits. As well as obstructing doors, crinoline-clad women frequently set themselves on fire by brushing against candles, so the trend didn't last that long.

9. Elizabethan women used to bare their bosoms.

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Nipples and all. In 1593 the French ambassador André Hurault described a meeting with Elizabeth where she “kept the front of her dress open, [so] one could see the whole of her bosom". Another time, she wore a petticoat that was so low-cut he "could see all her belly ... to her navel." Well, if you've got it, flaunt it.

10. Romans wore penis good luck charms.

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They were known as "fascinum" and represented something called the "fascinus populi Romani", a sacred phallus that was tended by the Vestal Virgins and was considered a symbol of the safety of Rome. A phallic image was paraded around the streets at the annual festival of Bacchus as well. On a little trolley. Aww.

11. And New Yorkers went through a (cruel) phase of wearing chameleons as living jewellery in 1894.

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They were fastened to cushions, scarves, and women's bodices with tiny chains and collars as little "jewelled playthings", but thankfully the trend was shut down by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who banned sale of the "little lizards" and stores stopped selling them, but not until over 10,000 were on the loose in the city.

12. Tudor men wore overly stuffed codpieces, as it was all the rage to look like you had a massive erection.

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During Henry VIII's reign, and up until shortly after the coronation of Elizabeth I, overly large codpieces stuffed with wool and made to look like "alert and erect" penises were all the rage. Funnily enough, the "virgin queen" wasn't that into the trend, so a new fashion for more polite codpieces took over.

13. And neck ruffs grew so large they acted like sails.

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At the height of the "ruff craze" in the 1580s and '90s, ruffs could include up to 6 yards of material, starched until stiff, with up to 600 pleats supported by a wire, a wooden frame, or a board. Writer Philip Stubbes said that in bad weather, “people's ruffs strike sail and down they fall like dishcloths fluttering in the wind”.

14. People really couldn't get the hang of bathing suits.

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Victorian and Edwardian women wore long, heavy woollen dresses with capped sleeves to swim in, as well as bloomers, caps, and stockings. Which sounds like a truly efficient way to drown yourself as quickly as possible. Later, in the 1920s, people experimented with other materials...like, er, wood, apparently.

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15. Before the invention of dry cleaning, it was impossible to wash some types of clothes.

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During the Elizabethan period, there was no washing process for silk, satin, and similar materials, so people would just brush down their used clothes, perfume them with orris root, rose powder, or ambergris, then pack them away. Victorian women tended to own two or three woollen dresses that they wore in rotation, and which were sponged down to remove stains and replaced once a year when they finally became too grim to be worn in public.

16. And in Ancient Egypt, women wore "hats" of perfumed animal fat to disguise their body odour.

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The cones of fat would gradually melt as they became warmer, coating the wearer in perfumed oils to disguise the smell of sweat, dirt, and unwashed clothes. Because being covered in lotus-scented lard is better, I guess?

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