Crazy fashion trends from history teach contemporary clothes horses a few things. One, people will go to ridiculous lengths to prove their station in society. They’ll nearly break their necks by teetering on towering platform shoes, hobble themselves with skirts, and bind themselves up in an organ-shifting corset, all in the name of style. And two, exaggeration is key. From hugely padded sleeves to large embroidered codpieces, true devotes of trends believed that bigger was better.
Weird fashion trends from history were frequently dangerous as well. Vivid dyes could be made with toxic arsenic, while voluminous crinolines could easily catch on fire. Even if the clothing wasn't fatal, a lot of these crazy fashion trends from history seriously impaired a person’s ability to live a normal life. People who wore bliauts couldn’t really use their arms. Men who donned crakowes found walking a bit problematic. And extra wide panniers kept women from fitting through narrow doors.
Whether they're deadly or just plain nuts, you can be thankful these fashion trends are in the past.
Panniers (from the French word "panier," meaning "basket") were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. The boxed petticoat expanded the width of skirts and dresses, and stood out on either side of the waistline. Panniers varied in size and were made of whalebone, wood, metal, and sometimes reeds. Extremely large panniers were worn mostly on special occasions and reflected the wearer’s social status. Servants wore smaller hoops. Two noblewomen, however, couldn’t walk through an entrance at the same time or sit on a couch together. The device was also uncomfortable, limiting movement and activity.
The expansive pannier sparked ridicule. A satirical article in The Gentleman’s Magazine, written in 1750, portrayed women as being sick of the burden of the style. "We pass along, as it were, balancing between two scales. Every person we meet, every post we pass, and every corner we turn, incumber [sic] our way, and obstruct our progress. We fit in a chair hid up to our very ears on either side, like a swan with her head between her lifted wings. The whole side of a coach is hardly capacious enough for one of us," a passage read.
Also known as the poulaine, this super long shoe reigned supreme with men across Europe in the late 14th century. The shoes were named after Krákow, Poland because they were introduced to England by Polish nobles. Once the shoes were seen at court, they became all the rage - even though the shoes were six to twenty-four inches long. But they were a quick indicator of social status: the longer the shoe, the higher the wearer's station.
Chains were sometimes strung from the toe of the crakow to the knee to allow the wearer to walk. Sometimes the toes were stuffed with material for the same reason. They were considered ridiculous, vain, and dangerous by many conservatives and church leaders, who called them "devil's fingers."
In the 1910s, French designer Paul Poiret - dubbed "The King of Fashion" in America - debuted the hobble skirt. The long, close-fitting skirts forced women who wore them to adopt mincing, tiny steps. True, Poiret's design liberated women from heavy petticoats and constricting corsets.
But as he said, "Yes, I freed the bust. But I shackled the legs."
15th and 16th century men sought to accentuate their packages with codpieces. They were often made of padded cloth or embroidered fabric, though metal codpieces were also worn. Held in place with buttons, strings, or ties, the codpiece was designed to draw praise and raise a man’s profile. Even the name was knowingly bawdy - "cod" was slang for scrotum.
But French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wasn’t having it, calling out the hypocrisy of the device. In the 1580s, he deemed the codpiece "an empty and useless model of a member that we cannot even decently mention by name, which however we show off and parade in public."
Codpieces eventually fell out of fashion as doublet styles changed and breeches became more billowing.