Women's fashion trends have changed throughout history just as much as society's values have. The definition of shocking has changed just as frequently, and certain styles of clothing have gone out of style only to come back even stronger hundreds of years later.
These examples of historical women's clothing showed some serious skin, broke tradition, made women more comfortable, and turned the idea of what fashion could be on its head. For as long as humans have been wearing clothes as something more than just protection against the elements, women have used their clothes to express themselves and what they wanted, even if there were periods where covering up was the order of the day.
We might believe that we're the most sexually open generation, but these revealing clothes and styles from the past speak loudly as to the freedom women had in the past and the risks they took to break free from convention.
Getting A White Dress Wet Created A "Grecian" Look
During the Regency Era in England (think Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Thackeray's Vanity Fair), women favored dresses with high empire waists that were made from very thin and delicate fabric. They usually had thin petticoats underneath for modesty and as a protective layer between sweaty, unclean skin and the delicate gowns. While most women who considered themselves "proper" or were actively seeking a husband would never consider making their gowns more revealing, some (usually either courtesans or aristocrats who were beyond reproach) would occasionally wet their white dresses with water. This made the flowing - and translucent - gowns cling to their skin and gave them a more "Grecian" look. Sort of like a historical wet t-shirt contest.
Showing An Ankle Used To Cause A Scandal
In the Victorian Era, it was incredibly easy to cause a scandal with your clothing. The coverage and length of dresses was a big focus, with skirts needing to cover the woman's entire leg. Younger girls could wear shorter skirts (though not too short, obviously), but by the time they reached maturity even a small peek at an ankle was considered too revealing. People even covered table legs, because apparently they looked too much like human legs.
Bloomers Were Synonymous With Women's Rights
In the mid-1800s, women made history by wearing "bloomers"- basically billowy pants, also known as Turkish trousers. They were worn under short dresses and allowed a lot more range and freedom of movement for women as they went about their daily activities. They were named after their biggest champion, journalist Amelia Bloomer. Women insisted that they wore bloomers for comfort, not because they were trying to dress like men, and it became a pivotal moment where fashion and politics were critically linked.
Bathing Suits Have Undergone A Massive Transformation
Amazingly, old-timey bathing suits have come full circle. Two piece bathing suits were worn by the Romans all the way back in the 4th century, but in recent centuries, people became a lot more conservative. Bathing suits became full-body garments, with some even including small weights in the hem to keep the suit from riding up and showing too much skin.
As time progressed, more skin started to appear, and eventually a French designer named Louis Reard changed the game. He called his tiny new swimsuit the "bikini" after Bikini Atoll—where atomic bomb tests were carried out.