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Top 10 Crazy Facts About Fashion Through History

by Gregory Myers
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Today, we often look at the silly trends people go through in terms of fashion and laugh at the over-the-top craziness we see. Sometimes, fashion trends are only a flash in the pan, and sometimes, they don’t seem to make sense at first. At least until their function is better understood. Things like Crocs may have left many of us standing slack-jawed, but they had their reasons for popularity. As for history, it has had some much stranger and more fascinating trends.

Related: Top 10 Bizarre Fashion Trends In History

10 Peter the Great of Russia Cut Off People’s Beards

The Real Life BEARD TAX | Tales From the Bottle

At the end of the 17th century, Peter the Great, the tsar of Russia, had been to Europe on an incognito tour and had decided to make some serious changes. He had learned from observing how he could modernize his military and navy and make Russia a true force in the world that could defend itself. He also noticed that Europeans were mostly beardless and felt if he was going to copy them, he should just go all the way.

So Peter called a meeting of the Russian court, pulled out a pair of barber shears, and just started shaving off beards. The ruler then mandated that all men must go beardless except for peasants and clergy. The backlash came fairly swiftly, especially from the clergy, who felt all should be allowed to wear beards for religious reasons.

While he refused to back down entirely, he did agree to allow people to keep their beards if they could pay a tax. For the lowest class of society, you only had to pay two kopecks, but a noble could be taxed up to 100 rubles to keep their beard. And while it did not last forever, the tax continued for almost fifty years after the death of Peter the Great.[1]

9 Boots Were Once Huge Because of Horse Manure on Roads

Smelly Facts About London’s The Great Stink of 1858

Today, boots are not exactly a common thing for people to wear. Outside of historical reenactors, they are mostly only seen on the feet of people who have some type of outside job where they really need to worry about specific types of weather and cannot go inside for long periods of time to relieve their discomfort. Some people literally wear them just for fun. Still, outside of the weather, there really are few practical reasons anymore for this type of footwear.

However, as we know from books and historical records, boots were once huge and worn by almost everyone, no matter their profession. This may seem like some sort of bizarre historical fashion trend, but it has a very practical reason. The fact is that the streets back in the day were covered with horse manure. This was because horses did most of the transportation. The better cities might have more cleaning than others, but it would still be impossible to entirely stem the tide. To make matters worse, drainage systems were not always great either, and with storms or sewage backups, you just really didn’t want to be without boots.[2]

8 High Heels Were Designed for Soldiers to Ride on Horseback Easier

How heels started as a men’s shoe

Today, high heels are so synonymous with women’s fashion that you really do not see people wearing them outside of those who are female or wish to, whether permanently or temporarily, identify with said gender. Many women today protest them as a sign of the power of the male patriarchy to control them and force them to wear uncomfortable shoes just to please men’s lust. However, the interesting thing is that the history of heels is way more complicated than that and is quite the opposite of what many think.

For starters, heels were not originally meant for women at all, and they were not meant to be fashionable. The use of heels can first be traced back to the 10th century when the Persian army realized that their riders could better stay in the stirrups and shoot arrows at the same time while wearing high-heeled boots. Hundreds of years later, in the early 17th century, women first started wearing heels in protest of the fact that men’s shoes at the time were more comfortable than women’s. The high heels they started wearing were still more comfortable than the spiked platform shoes that had been typical at the time.[3]

7 Parents Used to Care Little about Gender of Baby Clothing

Why was Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls?

In modern times parents are quite concerned about how others will view their child, as well as how dressing and treating their child will affect their unconscious development into a person. Even more liberal parents that would let a small child choose their own manner of dress or gendered activities would usually stick with normally gendered clothes or at least neural clothing until the child is old enough to decide for themselves.

However, as recently as the early 20th century, it was still fairly common for parents to simply not care that much about what clothes their toddler wore. Clothing that back then many just considered gender neutral and we would consider girly today was common to dress babies in for ease of use. It was even common among the rich and powerful, as you can find pictures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a baby wearing what looks very much like a baby girl’s dress.

While this may seem strange to us today, the people back then just didn’t see how a baby would care what it was dressed in, so they didn’t either. It is also interesting to note that while many didn’t care much about color, those that did had a backward view of what we think of today. Until the 1940s, pink was considered a color for baby boys and blue for baby girls.[4]

6 Those Fancy Ruffled Cuffs Had a Purpose

Why Elizabethan Collars Were Such a Big Fashion Statement

The fancy ruffles that we are familiar with from old paintings defined an era of clothing and society and certainly left a strong impression on many people’s minds. It is certainly crazy to imagine a time were not only women but men had their cuffs and necklines filled with plunging, ruffled cuffs. Most people figure it was just the influence of those crazy French dandies that were so popular at the end of the 18th century. However, they actually did not invent them at all.

They were first invented by accident in the 16th century. Back then, it was pretty common for people to wear layers of clothing, and this, of course, meant people could get pretty hot. Spanish soldiers, dealing with some nasty heat while standing around in uniform, thought to slash their layers to create ventilation. Fashion designers took it from there, and it soon spread around the world. As time went on, people also realized they were a great way to wipe their faces discreetly. While this may sound a bit gross, in a world without all the disposable napkins we have today, it likely meant people were able to remain cleaner.[5]

5 Powdered Wigs Were Often Infested by Insects and Very Filthy

The WEIRD History of Wigs | WHAT THE PAST

Powdered wigs are something romanticized by many of us and were the hallmark of the elite of society in the colonial era of the Western World. During the period of powdered wigs, they were so popular that powerful people who had portraits taken had them done with their powdered wigs on, so we don’t really know what many of them would have looked like without one. As silly as they would look on most people today, we cannot imagine historical figures from the time without one.

Unfortunately, what the pictures from history don’t show us is just how horrifically disgusting powdered wigs actually were. While they could likely get infested with other bugs, they were especially vulnerable to lice. Now, of course, it hardly needs to be said that if your wig has lice, you are also at risk for lice. To make matters worse, many of the wigs were not made from human hair but from goat or horse hair. These wigs were often never properly cleaned to start with, much less cleaned on a regular basis. This meant most powdered wigs actually smelled quite horrific, too.[6]

4 Codpieces Became Popular to Hide All the Syphilis

The History of the Codpiece

Many have seen pictures of famous kings like Henry VIII wearing tights, giant codpieces, and long, rich, flowing robes and wondered at the incredibly bizarre dress. Of course, as things often happened, once a king did something, everyone started doing it. And for a time, codpieces became the thing for men’s fashion. Today, most people laugh at the silliness of it and even consider that they might have been trying to compensate for having a small package.

However, the truth is even stranger than that. In the 15th and 16th centuries, codpieces were starting to get big, and at the same time, syphilis was big as well. Kings mostly started it due to vanity, but others caught onto it very quickly for more reasons than just following the trend of their liege lord. They saw it as a perfect way, just as the kings did, to hide the symptoms of their raging syphilis and protect their vanity. This is because syphilis can cause all sorts of nasty symptoms on a man’s package that would be almost impossible to hide if you are wearing tights.[7]

3 In the Time of Happy Days, Leather Jackets Had a Very Bad Reputation

How This Brand Invented The Motorcycle Jacket

The leather jacket has certainly had quite a history. Over the years, it has gone from a garment that was incredibly useful due to it hardly ever needing to be cleaned and its durability. Of course, this was back in the days when people had almost no extra clothes. Since then, it has become popular among bikers and has even been associated for a time with the criminal element. It is this last part that some people became particularly stuck on just a few decades ago.

Now, we actually aren’t talking about their more recent controversy, where they first gained popularity with the movies and then lost it after Columbine. Rather, we are talking about how censors back in the days of the show Happy Days were so worried about having a teenager wear a leather jacket and what it might imply that they wouldn’t allow him to wear it unless his motorcycle was on screen. This led to silly scenes where he had his motorcycle in places like a school hallway, which probably just made him seem all the more cool and rebellious.[8]

2 Original Point of Men’s Neckwear Was to Protect Lungs from Cold

Where Did Neckties Come From?

Neckties are certainly not as popular as they once were. Even in many of the more formal professions, people are trying to find ways to get around them. Mark Cuban is famous for not wearing them with his suits, and there are those who prefer bow ties or clipons, at the very least, for comfort reasons. Some people feel the necktie does little more than constrict them and is a part of men’s high fashion that needs to go away. Others, of course, still romanticize it.

However, the truth is that due to modern technology making them more a fashion item than a utilitarian garment, neckties have evolved far from what they once were or were meant to be. The truth is that men’s neckwear originated from items like the cravat, which are a bit closer to a scarf than a regular necktie today. This was because the original point of men’s neckwear was actually to keep people’s lungs warm in a function similar to a scarf. Especially in rainier climates, something that wasn’t quite as thick or bulky as a full scarf, but could keep your neck warm, would be very important in the days before modern heating.[9]

1 People Used to Always Wear Hats; Now the Hoodie Is Bringing It Back

Why Did Men Stop Wearing Hats?

Today hats are just not particularly common and are seen as more of a side fashion thing than anything else. Sure, some people still wear baseball caps, mostly for their sun-blocking capability. But the practice has certainly gone down from the days when no one went out without a hat. For those who romanticize hat wearing, it wasn’t even that long ago they would need to travel back in time, as most men still considered them mandatory at the turn of the 20th century.

However, for a variety of factors, including better modern heating and air conditioning, hats started to greatly fall out of fashion. However, as the environment has worsened, even as technology improves, it seems people are looking to cover their heads again. While hats may not be making a big comeback, hooded sweatshirts and other hooded garments have become insanely popular since the ‘1990s. And while rain hats may not be a big thing, no raincoat would be sold without a hood to wear with it. While the form may change, this shows that often the utility of fashion comes full circle.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen