Weird History
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The Dumbest Things We Believe About Historical Clothing Thanks To Pop Culture

Updated May 11, 2021 7.8k votes 1.1k voters 105.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the inaccurate clothing cliches that don't make historical sense.

Ancient Romans always wore togas, Scottish men always wore kilts, and 19th-century women stuffed themselves into painful corsets. At least, that's the impression historically inaccurate costumes in movies and TV shows give about past fashion trends. The worst historical movie costumes just ignore history completely - no, William Wallace didn't wear a kilt, even if Mel Gibson does in Braveheart.  

Sometimes bad historical costumes make sense. If every film set in the 19th century used historically accurate bonnets, for example, they'd be hard to watch. But even these understandable choices leave viewers with some pretty silly beliefs about the past.

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    The Medieval Scots Charged Into Battle In Kilts

    Photo: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures

    Before fighting, medieval Scots sharpened their swords and threw on their kilts. At least that's what you'd assume after watching movies like Braveheart or Highlander. But this is one movie trope that gets history completely wrong.

    In the 13th and 14th centuries, when Braveheart is set, Scots didn't wear kilts at all. Even into the 16th century, Scottish warriors weren't wearing kilts. In fact, the Scottish clan tartans that pop up in many historical movies are mainly a 19th century invention. Clans didn't name their official tartans until 1815, and for decades in the 18th century, it was even illegal to wear a kilt.

    (Also, medieval Scots didn't wear blue face paint. Ancient Roman accounts of Pict warriors describe body-painting, but that was a thousand years before Wallace's time.)

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  • 2

    Pirates Wore Eye Patches To Cover Up The Eyes They’d Lost In Fighting

    Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Buena Vista Pictures

    Hollywood loves a pirate in an eye patch. Just check out the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, The Goonies, or pretty much any pirate movie. And in Hollywood, pirates wear eye patches to cover a missing eye lost during a bloody pirate fight. 

    But there's another reason pirates may have worn eyepatches: to fight in the dark.

    Pirates had to go from the bright conditions above deck to dark conditions in the hold. Rather than wait for their eyes to adjust, it's theorized that some pirates wore eye patches to maintain their night vision. When pirates went below deck, they would switch the eye patch to the other side so they could keep fighting. Mythbusters confirmed that the switching eye patch trick could help one to see in the dark, although this use isn't definitively supported by historical evidence.

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  • 3

    Medieval Women (And Men) Were Always Showing Off Tons Of Chest Cleavage

    Photo: Shakespeare in Love / Miramax Films

    Heaving bosoms are a mainstay in historical movies, and even men in historical films show off a lot of chest. Just look at Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love

    But the loose garments in many of these films never would have walked the streets of 16th century London. Fiennes's white shirt is actually his underwear - and people generally didn't show off underwear on the street. As Sarah Lorraine at Frock Flicks puts it, "this would have been the 16th century equivalent of leaving your fly unzipped."

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  • 4

    Puritans Always Dressed In Black

    Photo: The Scarlet Letter / Buena Vista Pictures

    According to movies, Puritans were very serious people, so they dressed in very serious colors: black with maybe a pop of white. And they often wore identical outfits. Just look at The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible for examples of this historical costume trope.

    In reality the Puritans didn't wear matching outfits, and they didn't only wear black. In fact, black dye was so expensive that only wealthier Puritans could afford it. Instead, most Puritans wore brown or dark blue, because those dyes were the cheapest. As for luxuries, Puritans incorporated fur and leather into their clothes because they were inexpensive and common in New England.

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