10 Bizarre Fashion Trends from the Past

The 21st century has been filled with bizarre fashion trends. From body piercing to wearing underwear as outerwear, this century has seen some of the most outrageous fashion choices among the youth. But bizarre fashion is not just a thing of the modern world. There have been fashion trends in history that were equally outrageous. We bring you 10 such bizarre fashion trends from the past.

1. The “Alexandra Limp” originated from the Princess of Wales whose fashion decisions were respected by women. So when she acquired a limp from an illness, women copied that too. 

The Alexandra Limp
Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales who was responsible for the Alexandra Limp. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Fabrics and Color

During the 1860s, a new fashion trend became prevalent in the streets of London. Known as the  “Alexandra Limp,” women were intentionally limping while walking on the streets. The trend came from Alexandra of Denmark, the bride of the Prince of Wales. Alexandra was a fashion icon of the 19th century. Her styles were copied by women across Britain. Everything from her clothes to the choker necklaces that she wore to cover a childhood scar on her neck became the fashion statements of the 19th century. Her styles reigned over the fashion world for almost 50 years.

In 1867, Alexandra gave birth to her third child. But during the birth, she suffered from rheumatic fever which almost threatened her life. The fever left her with a stiff left leg which made her limp when she walked. This is where the Alexandra Limp came from. All the ladies started copying it by deliberately wearing mismatched footwear with one show having a higher heel. (1, 2

2. In the 19th century,  green dresses made from arsenic were all the rage. Women who wore them suffered severe medical consequences and even death from arsenic poisoning.   

Arsenic green dresses
Green arsenic dresses. Image Credit: Town&Country, H. Churchyard via Wikipedia, Cheeky Cognoscenti

There was a time when fashion took lives. In the 19th century Victorian era, there was a fad of wearing the color green. The green was a unique emerald shade and was achieved in fabric by using arsenic. Although unknown to people at that time, arsenic is extremely poisonous. Apart from being used in dresses, it was also used in floral headdresses. According to a report, a 19-year-old artificial flower maker, Matilda Scheurer, lost her life due to “accidental” poisoning. Matilda’s work involved dusting the artificial flowers she made with green dust that contained arsenic.

The British Medical Journal called the women who wore the green dresses “killing femmes fatales.” The journal further added, “Well may the fascinating wearer of it be called a killing creature. She actually carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet within half a dozen ball-rooms.” The women who wore the fabric suffered from severe ulcers on their skin. But it was the manufacturing workers who suffered more than the wearers. (source)

3. “Crakows” were shoes with extremely long toes popular in the 14th and 15th century. Eventually, the pointy toes became ridiculously long to designate one’s class in a society and became a controversial fashion statement. 

Crakows
Crakows. Image Credit: Mararie via Flickr

The shoes were called “Crakows” because it was believed the style originated in  Kraków, Poland. The shoe consisted of a long pointed beak. Such shoes first appeared in Europe in the 12th century. They fell out of fashion only to reappear again in the 14th century. The fashion made its way to England when Richard II married Anne of Bohemia in 1382.

The length of the toes was so long that it was hard to walk wearing them. Moreover, the length came to be associated with the wearer’s societal status. This led to ridiculously long shoes that faced criticisms from many people. Charles V of France banned the shoes in 1368. Edward IV banned shoes with a length of more than two inches in 1463. In 1465, they were banned in England as well. (source)

4. The “Hobble Skirt” was a short-lived fashion trend in which the hem of the skirt was so narrow that it impaired the wearer’s movement. 

Hobble Skirt
Hobble Skirt. Notice how narrow it is towards the end. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

The lower part of the “Hobble Skirt” was so tight that it made it impossible for the wearer to take big strides. There is a possibility that the skirt must have been inspired by the first woman to travel on an airplane. During a demonstration by the Wright brothers, Mrs. Edith Berg requested to fly on their aircraft. She became the first woman to fly on a plane. While getting on the plane, she tied the lower part of her skirt with a rope near her ankle to avoid it blowing from the wind. When she got down from the plane, she walked away with the rope still tied, thus giving birth to the Hobble Skirt.

There were other designers who sought credit for the Hobble Skirt. The trend died out during the World War I when such minimal mobility was not acceptable. (source)

5. Nicknamed “father killers,” the stiff, starched, detachable collars were a common accessory for men in the 19th century. They were so stiff and tight that they could cut off a man’s blood circulation. 

Grafton starched-stiff detachable wing collar
Grafton starched-stiff detachable wing collar. image Credit: Charlie Huang via Wikipedia

Starched, stiff, and detachable collars were one of the most common fashion accessories of the Victorian era. The collars were starched to have the stiffness of cardboard. The collars were so stiff and tight that they had the potential to asphyxiate the wearer. On September 1888, John Cruetzi was found dead in his apartment. The coroner believed that Cruetzi was drinking when he fell asleep on the couch. His head dropped over on his chest and the stiff collar he was wearing crushed his windpipe. This stopped the blood circulation which ultimately led to his demise.

Another similar case took place in 1912 with a certain Mr. Dillon. He was suffering from indigestion which led to a slight swelling of his neck. His stiff collar choked him to death! (1, 2, 3)

6. The upper class of England often had black teeth due to overuse of sugar. This became a fashion among the lower classes to “show” that they were rich. 

Black Teeth
Black Teeth fashion trend. Image for representational purposes. Image Credit: Ancient Origins

Sugar became an excessively consumed commodity in 18th century England. In Britain, the consumption increased by 5 times in 1770 as compared to 1710. Similarly, in Europe, sugar surpassed grain in being the most valuable commodity in trade. People started consuming jams, tea, candy, coffee, processed foods, cocoa, and other sweet treats more than ever.

But like spices, sugar was expensive and was consumed mostly by the rich. Rotten and black teeth became a common occurrence among the rich. So, in short, the richer a person was, the more the rotten and black teeth they had. It is said that Queen Elizabeth loved sugar so much that all her teeth were black!

Having black teeth became a sign to distinguish the rich from the poor. This immediately caught on among the poor and the middle-class people. They started deliberately blackening their teeth to give the impression of being rich. (source)

7. “Chopines” were platform shoes for women with platforms as tall as 20 inches! The height of the platform became a symbolic reference to the social standing of the women wearing them. 

Chopines
Chopines. Image Credit: Arne Hendriks via Flickr, Wikipedia

“Chopines” are shoes with platform heels that were popular in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. They started as overshoes that were worn to protect the actual shoes from mud or street dirt. Eventually, the basic reason for the origin of the shoes gave way to something that determined a person’s societal standing. Basically, the taller the platform of a person, the higher the person was considered to be in the social hierarchy.

During the Renaissance, chopines became a fashion statement among women. The platform on the shoes acquired ridiculous heights. Some were as high as 20 inches. Seeing the increase in height of the chopines, a Venetian law was brought into effect that allowed the height of the chopines to only be up to three inches. This law was discarded by people.

Considering the height, it was evident that walking in those shoes was a problem. Noblewomen wearing them were accompanied by many servants to help her walk steadily. (source)

8. “Macaroni” was a term used in the mid-18th century to describe a guy who had an extraordinary fashion sense. Such men used to adorn themselves with curls, spy-glasses, and tall wigs with a tiny hat on top that could only be removed by a sword. 

Macaroni fashion trend
Macaroni fashion trend. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

“Macaroni” in the 18th century was a word used to describe a fashionable person who dressed in an out-of-the-world fashion attire and accessories. Basically, he was a person who has “exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion.” This trend was started by young men who have been to Italy on tour and brought back their love for macaroni, a type of pasta. Macaroni was not commonly known at that time around England. So, these men who developed an Italian taste came to be referred to as being a part of the “Macaroni Club.”

The fashion trend was constituted of men wearing fashionable clothing with frills and coats with a pointed, tail-like feature at the back. They wore curls and spy-glasses. They also wore powdered wigs that were ridiculously tall with a small cap at the top known as a “chapeau” that could only be touched with the tip of a sword. That’s how high the wigs were!

The Macaroni style was more than just a fashion trend. It defined a completely new personality that earlier did not exist among English men. There was a verse that describes a Macaroni man as, “It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.” (source)

9. “Bombasting” or padding clothing was a fashion trend among the upper-class people to make their clothing look voluminous. Men resorted to this technique to look more muscular. 

Bombast Clothing
Bombast Clothing. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

“Bombasting” is yet another classic fashion statement that was widely prevalent in the Victorian era. Thankfully, it did not last long. Bombasting involved stuffing one’s clothes with stiff padding, known as “bombasts,” to get the desired body shape. It was basically used to create an illusion of having a muscular body. The stuffing was made from either cotton, wool, horsehair, or sawdust.

Bombasts were used to pad and add shape to a number of garments puffing up the shoulders, chest, and stomach of the garments. They were also used to bulk up the legs of men’s bottoms to give a defined, muscular leg shape. Women used bombast to puff up their sleeves, chest area, and the hips. Today we use the word “bombastic” to refer to a person who exaggerates in his speech or writing. (1, 2)

10. Ancient Egyptians used to wear scented wax cones on top of their heads. As the day went by, the wax would melt and perfume the wearer.

Egyptians wearing scented cones
Egyptians wearing scented cones. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

Egyptian fashion is quite unique when it comes to their fabric, decorative accessories, and wigs. Hygiene was of equal importance to the Egyptians as much as fashion. They took utmost care of their body by bathing frequently and applying essential oils for beautiful skin.

Apart from the usual hygiene routine, the Egyptians were known for adorning fragrance cones. The cones were made of scented wax and were worn on the top of the head. The wax would melt as the day went by and spread beautiful fragrance around the wearer. (source)

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