Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Look back in time - post by Oskar

Have you ever wondered about origins of certain items of fashion? After all in the beginning clothes used to be just protection from cold and hostile environment, way to survive, display your tribal or religious allegiance or just to cover your junk in case someone else had it bigger. Nowadays however they mostly became the opposite – way to show that you have more ‘style’, ‘sense of fashion’ or, lacking those, money. It could be quite interesting to discover largely practical origins of some of the everyday pieces of attire.

1. Sleeve Cuffs

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact point in history when adding extra layer of fabric to the end of a shirt became acceptable, it is clear that they were used as early as XV century, with renaissance taking hold and transforming fashion sense.

“Look at her. Her dress is soooo middle ages”

Early examples of dealing with sleeves ends differ considerably from modern elegant shirts, with being worn strictly as a way to distance your expensive outer-worn coats and jackets from your filthy, and I mean bathe-twice-a-year-filthy, sweaty, smelly body. At this point sleeves cuffs where usually tied using pieces of string, often just wrapped around wrists.  

Decorative cuffs were a marriage between practicality and flashiness. First examples of sleeves recognizable by modern audiences were used in soldiers uniforms, when it became quite apparent that waving your sabre and reloading your musket while wearing long puffy sleeves was somewhat difficult.

Weird. It doesn’t seem like laughable matter.

In civilian use point of origin seems to be London and its famous Savile Row, which before it became fashion center it is today used to be occupied by doctors. Their “uniform” was white shirt and trademark coat (distinguishing them from lower order of tradesmen), and they sought a way to tend to their blood and fecal matter spouting “clients” without removing their attire. With cuffs on the end of their sleeves they could just roll them up and get to work.

London tailors to this day make this kind of shirts and coats, often with detachable and replaceable cuffs.

2. Tie

Necktie is an interesting piece of fashion, considering that it serves absolutely no other function apart from visual decoration. It doesn’t hold anything up, offers no protection from the environment, it certainly is not comfortable and not even slightly proportional to dick size, which could at least be informative to the ladies. Yet it is one more of the most prominent element of modern day’s men elegant outfit.

First examples of piece of cloth worn around necks once again come from soldiers. First depictions of modern tie predecessor come from famous terracotta army commissioned by emperor Qin Shih Huang, which depicts emperors honor guard wearing pieces of cloth around their necks.

             And even then they didn’t seem too happy about this “tie” business

However, lacking any other kind of written, painted or sculpted source from this era confirming usage for neckties, it is generally believed, that those were more like insignia of elite unit of emperor’s protectors. Similar is the case with neck wrap depicted on Rome’s emperor Trajan’s column, then again it’s argued that those were used simply as scarfs more than ornaments.

Definitive source of tie being fashion element comes from mid XVII century France, when during 30 years war king Louis XIII commissioned some Croatian mercenaries and brought them to France. 

I’ll resist the urge to point it out with huge arrow.

When Louis XIV came to power this piece of clothing became quite popular amongst ever-so-dandy French courtiers eager to mimic their King who worn lace neckties since he was seven. From there it spread across courts of Europe and just somehow “caught on”.  French called this new element “cravat” which comes directly from words Croatia, Croat, and Croatian pronunciation “hrvati”.

Still it’s weird how popular ties became, to the point in which even high risk (of being strangled) jobs like industrial workers, law enforcement, heavy machine operators etc. prefer to wear clip-ons rather than wearing none at all.  

Come on punk, make my afternoon.

3. High Heels


History of heels is surprisingly ancient, almost as ancient as shoes themselves. They can be seen depicted as early as ancient Egypt when they were seemingly symbol of high social and/or religious status. In ancient Greece approach was more practical, as they were used by butchers that preferred risk of twisted ankles to wading through blood and gore covering shop’s floor, or by actors to better signify importance of portrayed characters
In more modern (read XV century) times it become quite commonplace to wear shoes with wooden and high soles simply to distance yourself from mud, dirt and debris covering the ground, which in times with no plumbing seems far less extravagant than nowadays. Finally they were used by short people not to look so short. Hey, I never promised you’d be amazed by this article.

To compensate – here are freaking 29 inches venetian chopines. Yes, the bit at the top is where you put your feet.

Those were however all more of a platform shoes; in search of more common design of heels, we must visit Persia (today known as Iran), well known in XVI century for its fearsome cavalry. Those soldiers lived and died on horseback and, in order to focus more on living part of that sentence, had to work out ways to make themselves as effective as possible. They quickly noticed, that standard wooden-soled shoes worn while keeping feet in stirrups developed grooves that kept warriors more steady, and able to stand up more surely (to shoot arrows), so they began to put those grooves in from the start.

From there, simple development of the idea led to invention of heeled shoes that remained unchanged in men’s-wear to this day. 

Well, almost.

From there, with expansion of Persian diplomatic relations with Europe, and European fascination with this new oriental culture, this new item merged with already well -established desire to look leaner and taller (for whatever reason) and led to creation of high-heeled shoes we all know and, as I’m told, love. Anyway, if you’re a man, next time you curse your uncomfortable heeled shoes think that at one point in time they served a purpose of making killing easier. And if you are a woman, look again at those venetian monstrosities and stop complaining.

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