Pants were once ‘barbaric’ & other fashion facts you probably don’t know


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Long before fashion, celebrity and the question “who are you wearing?” became an interview staple on the world’s red carpets, clothes were something that stemmed from pure necessity.

In fact, most clothing items were invented to protect humans from the elements.

But over time, clothing became more than just protection; it became a social status marker, an expression of one’s personal style, a statement, and a $1.46 trillion industry.

Here are some cool origin stories of everyday clothing items you probably never knew.

Related: 50 facts about Americans that won’t surprise you one bit

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

Pants were first worn by horse riders 3,000 years ago

While now a norm, pants were once considered ridiculous and barbaric by the toga and tunic-wearing Ancient Europeans and Asians.

Pants were invented out of necessity by nomadic herders in Central Asia to provide bodily protection and freedom for horseback riders. The oldest known example of pants was discovered at the Yanghai cemetery in Turpan, Xinjiang, western China, removed from mummies.

Dating back to the 13th century, the pants were made from wool with straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch and resembled today’s modern riding pants.

Over the centuries, soldiers around the world began wearing pants, and the style soon caught on with civilians.

Image Credit: M. Wagner/German Archaeological Institute.

Socks were designed with split toes for use with sandals

Next time you fashion-shame someone for wearing socks with sandals, you should remember they were designed to be worn like this. The earliest known surviving pair of knitted socks were discovered in Oxyrhynchus on the Nile in Egypt and date back to 300-500 A.D. Made with a technique called naalbinding, these socks have a divided toe and are designed to be worn with sandals.

Socks have evolved quite a lot over the centuries. While ancient Romans and Greeks wore them for functional purposes, among Europeans of the 5th century A.D., socks were usually worn only by “holy” people to symbolize purity.

During the Middle Ages, the nobility considered socks a symbol of wealth.

After the invention of the knitting machine in 1589, socks became common clothing. The struggle to find a complete pair began shortly after.

Image Credit: David Jackson/Wikimedia Commons.

Shoes were ‘foot bags’ of leather to protect the feet from cold, rocks and debris.

Now a $373.19 billion industry, footwear started as a practical venture. A far cry from your Manolo Blahniks, early examples of shoes are described as “foot bags of leather” used to protect the feet from the elements.

The world’s oldest surviving leather shoe was discovered in a cave in Armenia in 2008 and is believed to date to 3500 B.C. The shoe is made from a single piece of cowhide laced with a leather cord along seams at the front and back.

But shoes we used long before this.

According to archeological evidence, shoes were invented approximately 40,000 years ago, around the Middle Paleolithic period. But, it wasn’t until the Upper Paleolithic period that populations consistently wore footwear.

Image Credit: PLoS ONE Journal/ Wikimedia Commons.

Hats date back to the Stone Age

Hats have existed since the dawn of humanity to protect ancient humans from the elements.

In fact, the earliest depictions of hats may belong to the Stone Age “Venus figurines,” which range from 23,000 to 25,000 years old. The head of these fertility figures is believed to depict a woven cap.

Over the years, hats have transcended from being a necessity to being a marker of social status and a fashion statement.

Image Credit: MatthiasKabel / Wikimedia Commons.

Bras were known as ‘breast bags’

Women have been covering their breasts in one form or another since forever. In ancient Greece, women would tie fabric around their chest and secure it with a pin. Roman women wore similar garments to keep their breasts in place when they were playing sports.

These simple garments eventually evolved into stiff and time-consuming garments known as corsets.

The oldest surviving predecessor to the modern bra was found in an early 15th century collection from Lengberg Castle in Tyrol, Austria. The bra, dated to between A.D. 1390 and 1485, has cups made from two pieces of linen sewn with fabric extending to the torso’s bottom with a row of six eyelets for fastening with a lace or string.

While several medieval written sources describe bras as “breastbags,” this discovery gave the idea of what these garments looked like.

Image Credit: University of Innsbruck.

Sunglasses were first worn by Ancient Chinese judges to hide their facial expressions

Eyewear has been around since prehistoric times. Indigenous peoples of North America and northern Asia designed highly effective equipment to protect their eyes from strong sunlight in icy conditions in many different forms and with many different kinds of materials.

The Inuit and the Yupik peoples of the Arctic made snow goggles of caribou ivory or flattened walrus to block the harmful sun rays.

The predecessor to the modern sunglasses dates back to 12th century China when judges in ancient Chinese courts wore eyewear made from smoky quartz called Ai Tai, meaning “dark clouds,” to hide their facial expressions while questioning witnesses.

Talk about ancient poker face!

Image Credit: Jaredzimmerman (WMF)/Wikimedia.

High Heels were used by butchers in ancient Egypt to protect their feet from blood

As it turns out, high heels have a longer and more varied history than one might expect. Platformed footwear has been around since ancient times and was worn by men for function over fashion. In ancient Egypt, butchers wore platform sandals to protect their feet from blood on the floor.

Persian cavalry wore boots with heels to ensure their feet stayed in the stirrups. Persian arrow-shooting riders wore heeled shoes also to stand up safely on galloping horses.

In the early 17th century, Persian emissaries introduced high heels to Europe. They were worn by men to indicate their upper-class status; only those who did not have to work could afford such extravagant shoes financially and practically.

Image Credit: Birgit Brånvall/Wikimedia Commons.

The term ‘T-shirt’ was coined by author F. Scott Fitzgerald

T-shirt — a garment that reaches from the shoulders to the hips— has its roots in Ancient Rome, where men and women wore tunics. However, the cotton shirt that is worn casually today is more directly related to the “union suit” of the 19th century.

This garment resembled a button-down onesie and was worn by both women and men. The long johns were great for working in cold weather but not so great in the heat, so workers would often cut them in half and tuck the top into the bottom. As a result, Cooper Underwear Company began marketing “bachelor undershirts” to men in 1904, and the U.S. Navy adopted them as uniforms in 1913.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first person to use the word “T-shirt” in print was F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1920 book “This Side of Paradise.”

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

The cardigan sweater was named after a British Army major general

That’s right. The cozy cardigan sweater was named after a British Army major general, James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Lord Cardigan’s fame after the war led to the garment’s popularity. It is said that Brudenell invented the cardigan after his coattails were accidentally burnt off in the fireplace.

Coco Chanel is credited with popularizing cardigans for women because “she hated how tight-necked men’s sweaters messed up her hair when she pulled them over her head.”

Image Credit: Erik Holmén, Nordiska museet/WIkimedia Commons.

Jeans were invented for local miners

Today, blue jeans are an American wardrobe staple and the most popular form of pants worldwide.  However, jeans from the past looked very different fro those we wear today; they weren’t even blue!

In 1871, miners from Nevada needed tougher pants that wouldn’t tear during their dangerous work in the mines. To meet this need, Jacob Davis, a local outfitter, made overall pants from duck cloth, a robust cotton canvas.

Davis called Levi Strauss, who owned a dry goods store in San Francisco, and together they patented the first rivet-strengthened pants.

In 1890, Strauss added a more flexible blue denim option called the 501s, which are still sold today.

Image Credit: ozgurdonmaz/iStock.

The white wedding dress was popularized by Queen Victoria

While Queen Victoria was not the first royal bride to wear a white wedding dress, she certainly was the one who popularized this trend.

For her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, the fashion-loving Queen wore a non-traditional dress in Spitalfields cream silk-satin with a flower crown.

Back then, wedding dresses were not a one-time thing and were worn many times during a lifetime; even the Queen was spotted wearing hers for other events.

Queen Victoria was quite the trendsetter of her time, and naturally, when illustrations of her wearing the white dresses started circulating, other European leaders followed suit.

The popularity of white dresses for weddings eventually led to new symbolism as they came to represent purity, innocence and wealth.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

Swimsuits were revolutionized by a 20th century Olympic swimmer

The invention of swimsuits coincides with the creation of railroads back in the 19th century, which increased the ability to travel to bodies of water and, therefore, the need for swimwear.

The early examples of swimwear can hardly be described as swimsuits, as they resembled a full-blown outfit covering the entire body.

Women had to wear long bathing dresses with heavy hems to prevent them from showing anything of their bodies or less cumbersome garments such as billowy pantaloons.

This all changed, around the turn of the 20th century, when swimming became an Olympic sport. An Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman is credited as the first woman to wear a fitted one-piece swimsuit instead of the then-accepted pantaloons.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

Leggings were all the rage in medieval Scotland

Leggings have been around since medieval times and were all the rage in Scotland; they were worn exclusively by men, though.

Made out of chain mail or leather, the original leggings were incredibly uncomfortable.

During the Renaissance, men wore leggings under their clothes made of wool for additional warmth.

Cowboys also wore buckskin leggings during the 19th century to protect themselves from chafing, wear and tear to their pants, and bites from snakes and insects in the scrub.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

Aloha shirts were made by Japanese Women who re-purposed kimonos

In the 1920s, local Japanese women living in Hawaii adapted kimono fabric for use in men’s shirting for their families, resulting in what became an iconic tourist favorite.

In time, Hawaiian shirts became a popular way for Americans to brighten up their wardrobes. Only the super-rich could afford trips to Hawaii in the 1930s, so the Aloha shirt became a symbol of wealth.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor during WWII, the American perception of Japan changed, and so did the prints on the Aloha shirts, from cherry blossoms to hibiscus flowers and palm trees.

Aloha shirts became a staple of American wardrobes by the 1960s.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

Neckties come from Croatian mercenaries serving in France

The modern precursor of the tie appeared in 1636 when Croatian mercenaries hired by King Louis XIV wore cravat cloth bands around their necks to protect them from natural elements and sword slashes.

Parisians quickly adopted the scarf as a new clothing accessory and called it cravate —derived from Croates, French for Croatian. Soon after, the English adapted the cravat, dropping the final “e,” and the American colonies soon stepped in line.

In the early days, ties were made of lace or silk to display the wearer’s wealth, as only the wealthy could afford such fine fabrics. High-end ties are still made of silk, but we rarely see men’s ties made of lace anymore.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

Mini skirts were around long before the ’60s

In contrast to popular belief, mini skirts go back much further than the 1960s — like 7,000 years further.

In 2007, archaeologists discovered figurines in an ancient Serbian village dressed in short skirts, demonstrating that skimpy hemlines date back as far as 5400 B.C.

Ancient Egyptian paintings also indicate that acrobats wore mini skirts while entertaining kings and pharaohs.

Fast-forward to the mid-20th century, and you have your norm-breaking, revolutionizing women’s garment.

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Image Credit: Wikipedia.

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