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.
Lotus shoes were worn by Chinese girls with bound feet. For centuries, families repeatedly broke and folded the feet of their young daughters to create the tiny feet that epitomized femininity. The foot was bound with long ribbons to prevent growth. If the toes withered and fell off, even better. The process usually took between two to three years, and the girl’s feet were bound for the rest of her life.
Women with bound feet wore Lotus shoes, cone or sheath-shaped footwear that resembled a lotus bud. The shoes were made of silk or cotton and were usually ornate, embroidered with flowers, animals, and other traditional patterns.
There were many attempts to ban foot binding throughout history. It was officially outlawed in 1912, though the practice was still carried out in secret in some areas of China for years after.
Bottle-green dresses were all the rage in the Victorian era, and they had price tags to match. To achieve this lovely shade of green, the fabric was dyed using large amounts of arsenic. Some women suffered nausea, impaired vision, and skin reactions to the dye. But the dresses were only worn on special occasions, limiting exposure to the arsenic in the fabric.
The garment makers were the real sufferers - many died to bring this trend to the fashionable set.
In the 1760s, aristocratic British men donned large wigs with a small hat or feather at the top. The young men who took up this fashion trend reportedly brought it back from their "Grand Tour" across Continental Europe in which they intended to "deepen cultural knowledge." The style is, in fact, named after the Italian pasta dish, signifying sophistication and worldliness.
In the popular rhyme, "Yankee Doodle," the British would sing:
Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.
The lyrics were meant to satirize the idea that any commoner could stick a feather in his hair and consider himself as valuable as "macaroni." Regardless of the rhyme, however, the style became a trend, and lived on well into following decade.
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."