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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    Everyone In Medieval Times Wore Boots All The Time, Even Indoors

    Photo: Anonymous / Sony Pictures Releasing

    Boots in the halls, boots in the bedroom, boots in the throne room. In medieval movies, men wear their boots everywhere, regardless of what they're doing.

    But in the past, gentlemen put on their boots only for certain outdoor activities like hunting or riding. Indoors, men took off their boots and showed off their calves by wearing stockings and shoes. Heavy boots weren't made for most indoor activities, after all. There's a good reason Hollywood loves boots, though - they're much easier to find and style than authentic medieval hose and leather shoes.

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    Medieval Knights Charged Into Battle Without Helmets

    Photo: Kingdom of Heaven / 20th Century Fox

    Two armies face each other down across a bare field of grass. In moments, their weapons will clash and blood will spill. And beforehand, warriors let the breeze waft through their hair rather than put on a helmet.

    In reality, medieval soldiers, whether they were knights or infantrymen, protected their heads. As the Met Museum points out, a lot of tropes about historical armor are "utter nonsense, devoid of any historical base." You can put helmets in this category. Mercenaries, mounted knights, and even archers made sure to protect themselves before fighting, even if they didn't have much money. At the very least, soldiers wore a helmet of some kind.

    It makes sense that Hollywood would leave out the helmets, or have them conveniently knocked off from time to time - after all, you can't tell whether that's Orlando Bloom running across the field under a thick helmet - but it definitely gives the wrong impression about actual armor.

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    In Ancient Egypt And Greece, Everyone Wore Brightly Colored Robes

    Photo: Cleopatra / 20th Century Fox

    Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra wore a bright emerald-toned dress in Cleopatra. And that's not the only time actors portraying ancient Egyptians or Romans threw on brightly colored robes and dresses. There's just one problem: ancient Egyptians couldn't dye fabrics such bright colors.

    In ancient Egypt, clothes were usually made of linen. Although the Egyptians sometimes used plant dyes to color their clothes, most didn't dye their linen at all. Egyptian men wore loincloths or linen skirts tied at the waist. Men's clothes were rarely sewn at all. And when they did use dyes, they certainly weren't bright. Egyptians preferred white clothes, which appeared cleaner.

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    Royals Didn't Wear Codpieces

    Photo: The Tudors / Showtime

    The Tudors definitely wore codpieces, but the men in The Tudors don't. Most movies or shows set in the 15th or 16th century simply ignore the codpiece, modifying costumes to get rid of it.

    But codpieces were all the rage in the Tudor era. Men stuffed their pants with cloth to create a distinct padded look. Montaigne said the codpiece held "our secret parts," but the codpiece was also about accentuating a man's "privy parts" and drawing attention to them. 

    As for why men wore codpieces, it was all about showing off their masculinity. Fashion changes from the medieval period into the Renaissance highlighted the shapes of men's and women's figures. The codpiece - whether made of cotton, silk, or velvet; whether decked out in jewels or embroidered - drew attention to a man's privates, which was the entire goal. Evidently, the creators of these shows probably felt that codpieces would seem ridiculous and make it hard to take the characters seriously, but it would've been technically accurate.

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