5 Articles of Clothing That Caused Riots

iStock
iStock

The clothes may make the man, but sometimes it's what the clothes make the man do that makes the story. Throughout history there have been more than a few instances of an article of clothing actually inciting a riot. Here are some examples.

1. Straw Hats

Over several nights in September 1922, gangs of hundreds of young thugs terrorized Manhattan, destroying any "unseasonable straw hat" they found. According to contemporary New York Times reports, these fashion vigilantes were armed with sticks, some with nails at the ends, and forced men in straw hats to run "gauntlets" of fists and boots. The streets were littered with broken and trampled straw hats and the remains of straw hat bonfires, the police were called in to disperse the unruly hat-haters, and hat stores were forced to stay open late to accommodate the newly hatless.

According to the Times, the hat-smashers were gangs of mostly young boys who took very seriously the September 15th end of straw hat season.

While Magistrate Peter A. Hatting (no, really) upheld the inalienable right of a man to wear a straw hat "in a January snowstorm if he wishes," the hat-smashers disagreed, choosing instead to attack any straw-hatted person and destroy their hat for them. Dozens were arrested and fined over the course of the riots and people, including several off-duty and presumably straw hat-wearing police officers, were injured.

Oddly, this same scenario had unfolded only eight years earlier, in Bridgeton, New Jersey, when the official end of hat season was September 1. The hat-snatching started as a fraternity prank, but quickly turned violent as people got rowdy and hat-wearers began to fight back. Eventually, the police and fire department had to be called in to subdue the rioters and a good number of them were hauled into court.

2. A Soccer Jersey

roose.jpg Soccer fans have never had much difficulty finding things to riot about, enjoying a reputation as some of the most rabid of sports fans. But back in 1910, it was an article of clothing that reportedly prompted a riot at a soccer match. Evidently, famous goalkeeper Leigh Richmond Roose caused a fracas when he played as a guest for the Port Vale team in a reserves match against his former club, Stoke—and insisted on wearing his old Stoke City jersey. Even though he won Man-of-the-Match, that didn't stop the rioting fans and players.

3. Trouser Skirts

Paris takes its fashion very, very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that wearing the wrong thing has actually caused a riot.

In 1911, two rival Parisian couture houses launched their "trouser skirts," an innovation in fashion that trod the very fixed line between the genders and seemed to promise greater flexibility for women in general. There were two different versions of the trouser skirt: One was a sort of baggy pant with a very low hanging crotch, described as "a sack with holes made for the legs to go through," not unlike the fashions on high streets today, and the other a pair of the same kind of pants topped with an over-skirt, again, not unlike high street fashions of today. Both versions were launched by models at the opening day of racing season to general revulsion and disgust, but thankfully, no violence.

It wasn't until the ladies attempted to promenade their future fashions on the boulevards that the fisticuffs started—at the Place de l'Opera, the poor models were attacked by a jeering mob of fashion Philistines, who pulled their hair, trampled their hats, and reduced them to tears. A squad of police officers on bicycles were dispatched to rescue the girls and escort them to safety.

4. Sheath Skirts

Riots in Paris we get—people in Paris love any excuse, good or not, to riot—but at anything-goes Coney Island? Bizarre, but true.

In 1908, two women clad in daring sheath, or Directoire, skirts—very tight, though long, skirts—were forced to take refuge in an automobile from an angry, pressing crowd until they were rescued by police. According to a contemporary report from the New York Times, the two women, attired in "steel gray" and "livid purple" respectively, in front of a restaurant with their dates. The couples were attempting to go to dinner when a crowd began to form around the women, "craning their necks and making remarks that did not please the wearers of the skirts."

The women were forced back into the car by the several hundred men and women crowding around them; the local policeman had to call in reserves in order to disperse the mob.

5. Any Clothes at All

In March 2009, a tourist was blamed for a "mini-riot" at a swinging sex party at an Australian nudist camp after he refused to remove his clothing. Really.

According to the owner of the White Cockatoo Resort in North Queensland, where the fracas occurred, the fight started when four female guests were confronted by one clothed man. The women complained that if he was going to see them naked, they ought to get to see him naked as well. The owner asked the man to remove his clothes, the man got angry, some "argy-bargy" (whatever that means) followed, the man was kicked off the premises, and the police were called.

6. Not a Top Hat 

According to the Hatter's Gazette, in 1797, a London haberdasher named John Hetherington was hauled into court on charges of breaching the King's peace, found guilty, and ordered to pay a £500 fine. His crime? Wearing a silk top hat, or, as it was supposedly described in court, "appearing on the public highway wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shining lustre and calculated to frighten timid people." It's said that people booed, dogs barked, women fainted, and a small boy suffered a broken arm after a crowd formed around the hapless Mr. Hetherington.

Unfortunately, this popular story—one we've mistakenly published previously—is likely untrue. There is no contemporary evidence to back this account up, and there are no records in Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England, to suggest it ever happened. Furthermore, tall men's hats were already cropping up across Europe at the time of Hetherington's purported faux pas. The heightened headgear might have attracted awkward glances, but incite a riot? Unlikely.

This story originally appeared in 2009.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

When a Long Island Housewife Handed Out Arsenic to Kids on Halloween

This Halloween procession in Massachusetts was poison-free.
This Halloween procession in Massachusetts was poison-free.
Douglas DeNatale, Lowell Folklife Project Collection, American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

On October 31, 1964, 13-year-old Elsie Drucker and her 15-year-old sister Irene returned to their Long Island home after an evening of trick-or-treating and dumped their spoils onto the table. Among the assortment of bite-sized sweets were two items that looked like bottle caps and bore the warning: “Poison. Keep away from children and animals.”

It wasn’t an ill-conceived, Halloween-themed marketing ploy—the tablets were “ant buttons,” which contained arsenic and could help rid a house of insects and other pests. They could also seriously threaten the life of any small child who accidentally swallowed one.

Alarmed, the girls’ father called the police.

A Criminally Bad Joke

The authorities notified the community, and people immediately began spreading the word and inspecting their own candy bags, unearthing another 19 ant buttons around town. Meanwhile, Elsie and Irene helped the police trace the toxic treats to 43 Salem Ridge Drive, where a 47-year-old housewife named Helen Pfeil lived with her husband and children.

Once other trick-or-treaters confirmed that Pfeil had indeed doled out the poison—and police discovered empty boxes of ant buttons in her kitchen—she was arrested. Fortunately, none of her would-be victims ingested any hazardous material, which meant that Pfeil was only charged with child endangerment. If convicted, however, she could still face prison time.

At her arraignment on November 2, Pfeil tried to explain to a baffled courtroom that she “didn’t mean it maliciously.” After having spent most of Halloween bestowing actual candy on costumed kids, Pfeil had started to feel like some of them should’ve already aged out of the activity.

“Aren’t you a little old to be trick-or-treating?” she had asked the Druckers, according to the New York Post.

So Pfeil had assembled unsavory packages of ant buttons, dog biscuits, and steel wool, and dropped those into the bags of anyone she deemed “a little old” to be trick-or-treating. She maintained that it was a joke, and her husband, Elmer, reiterated her claim to reporters at the courthouse. While she had been “terribly thoughtless and she may have used awfully bad judgment,” he said, she hadn’t planned to cause harm. Elmer himself wasn’t in on the scheme; at the time, he had been out trick-or-treating with their two sons—who, ironically, were both teenagers.

Her spouse may have been sympathetic, but Judge Victor Orgera was not. “It is hard for me to understand how any woman with sense or reason could give this to a child,” he said, and ordered her to spend 60 days in a psychiatric hospital.

Dumb, Not Dangerous

The following April, Pfeil went on trial in Riverhead, New York, and switched her plea from “Not guilty” to “Guilty” when proceedings were already underway. With about two months until her sentencing date—and the possibility of up to two years in prison looming overhead—Pfeil’s neighbors got busy writing character references to send to the judge.

Though Judge Thomas M. Stark was just as bewildered by Pfeil’s indiscretion as everyone else, the letters convinced him that she was not a danger to society, and he suspended her sentence. “I don’t understand why she had done such a stupid thing as this,” Stark said, “but I feel incarceration is not the answer.”

So Pfeil got off with nothing more than a guilty conscience, and Long Island teenagers continued to pound the pavement for Halloweens to come. But the misguided ruse did scare at least one child into giving it up forever: Little Elsie Drucker never went trick-or-treating again.