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12 Fascinating Moments in Winter Clothing History

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Nowadays, people have access to all sorts of high-tech fabrics to stay warm and dry in inclement weather. But people faced the elements without the aid of nylon for thousands of years. From cloaks banned by Augustus Caesar to dog-toting hand muffs, here are some of the more interesting moments in the history of winter wear.

1. The Inuits created the parka predecessor.

Faced with a harsh Arctic climate, the Inuit were experts at creating insulating clothing. They made the original waterproof parkas using the intestines of whales or seals. According to the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, two parkas would often be worn at once to improve insulation and air circulation in subzero temperatures. Much like today’s parkas, Inuit parkas included drawstring hoods.

2. Augustus Caesar hated cloaks.

Ancient Romans wore a woolen cloak called a lacerna, made in a variety of colors, that was fastened at the shoulder using a pin or buckle. First used by soldiers, the coat gained enough popularity in the city to catch Augustus Caesar’s attention. Fed up with seeing too many citizens wearing the dark cloak in assembly, he issued an edict banning its use in the forum or circus.

3. Large fur muffs symbolized status.

Just as some of today’s starlets enjoy toting their dogs in status bags, French women during the reign of Louis XIV would stash small dogs in large hand muffs. According to the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, the hand covering gained popularity in the 16th century and originally went by many names, including “snuffkin” in English. Muffs made of fur imported from North America were popular objects used to display wealth in Europe. Some muffs were even adorned with accessories such as a bejeweled animal skull attached with a chain.

4. The Mayans made latex boots.

In CentralAmerica, the Mayans took advantage of rubber trees to create a sort of customized boot. According to Scientific American, they made cuts in the rubber trees to extract latex. Then they coated their feet in the latex several times, until the coating formed a thick covering that functioned like a waterproof boot.

5. Vulcanized rubber boots helped advance rubber technology.


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In the early 1800s, people began using rubber shoe coverings to protect their shoes from the water. But rubber at the time had a tendency to crack, and people began to lose interest. Tire manufacturer Charles Goodyear was determined to find a way to improve rubber, although his many failed experiments left him in debt. Undeterred, he continued experimenting. One day in 1839, spilled rubber, sulfur and white lead onto a hot stove. According to Scientific American, the substances, when mixed together, did not melt. He tweaked the combination of sulfur and rubber and named the process vulcanization after the Roman god of fire. The new formula was used to create waterproof boots.

6. The waterproof raincoat was invented to create a use for an industrial by-product.

Charles Macintosh invented a wearable waterproof fabric while trying to find a use for naptha, a by-product of coal-tar distillation. When he used naptha as a solvent for rubber, he was able to use the rubber solution to glue two layers of wool together. He patented his invention in 1823. Unfortunately, the fabric stiffened in cold weather and became sticky in hot weather. This problem persisted until vulcanized rubber provided a temperature tolerant solution.

7. Ushankas keep Russian heads and ears warm.

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The famous Russian fur hat’s name literally means "hat with the ears." While fur hats have been in use since the middle ages, University of Chicago professor of Russian Valentina Pichugin told the Chicago Tribune that ear flaps originated in the 19th century and became popular in Russia in the 1920s. The quality of fur used in the hat revealed social status in the Soviet Era. According to Pichugin, some people even tried to pass off cat fur as rabbit fur. In a 1994 article, the Times of London reported that some Moscow residents bought ushankas lined with steel cages to provide protection from gangsters' bullets.

8. Pashmina shawls are valued as investments.

True pashmina shawls are made from the fur of pashmina mountain goats in Nepal, India, and Tibet. The fur comes from the neck and underbelly of the goat. According to The Christian Science Monitor, a single handmade shawl takes 98 workers an entire day to complete on wooden looms. In India and Nepal, pashminas are often part of dowries and are seen as an investment like gold.

9. The down coat was created after Eddie Bauer's brush with death.

In 1936, Eddie Bauer almost died of hypothermia when his wool coat froze on a fishing trip in Washington. This experience inspired him to create a lightweight down coat. His coat, patented in 1940, utilized goose down for its warmth and breathability. To keep the down in place, he used a diamond quilting pattern.

10. Up until the 18th century, sleeved coats were strictly working class wear.

According to the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, sleeved outercoats only surpassed capes in popularity for men in the 18th and 19th centuries. The coat began to take its modern shape when the English tailored it to be worn over men’s suit coats. Jackets only gained popularity with the upper classes after they began using the coats for hunting in the late 18th century.

11. Polar fleece was invented in the 1970s.

Wool was a great source of insulation, but its tendency to absorb water and become heavy could be problematic. According to Gizmodo, Malden Mills Industries, which got its start making woolen swimsuits in 1906, began experimenting with plastic yarns. In the late 1970s the yarn was woven into a thin fabric and then brushed to separate the fibers into the thin loops that give the fabric its cozy texture without adding weight.

12. There's a poncho that doubles as a tent.

The U.S. military is equipped with a poncho that's the Swiss Army knife of outerwear. When the head hole is sealed with Velcro, the garment can be used as a sleeping bag. It can also be rigged up as a tent or worn as an anorak. The basic premise of the multi-function garment has been around since the Civil War, but today’s ponchos are lighter weight and provide better protection from the elements.

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20 Old Hat Styles Due for a Comeback
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One thing that illustrated and photographic archives have taught us is that people have always known how to rock a stylish piece of headwear. From squat caps to towering toppers, history has produced a hat for every occasion. Here are 20 old styles that, with a healthy dose of fashion and confidence, could still look just as fabulous today.

1. THE CLOCHE

A woman wearing a cloche hat decorated with flowers.
Sasha, Getty Images

The sleek, head-hugging cloche was the perfect companion to the bobbed hairstyle worn by flappers in the 1920s. The hats were typically left plain to emphasize their bell-shaped silhouette, though they also offered a blank canvas for embellishment. The cloche was most popular during the Jazz Age but it’s occasionally incorporated into retro fashion styles today.

2. THE OTTOMAN HEADDRESS

A drawing of a man wearing an Ottoman headdress.

In Ottoman ceremonial costumes, hats played a starring role. The headgear often featured bright colors, feathery ornamentations, and elaborate designs that signified status. The wearer’s class, religion, gender, and clan could all be gleaned from the way the fabric in their headdress was layered.

3. THE BOWLER HAT

Oscar Wilde wearing a bowler hat in 1885.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The top hat was popular in the 19th century but it wasn't always the most practical choice for outdoor activities. When looking for a way to protect the heads of horseback riders from branches, brothers Thomas and William Bowler came up with their namesake cap. The bowler hat was sturdy, compact, and appropriate for most any occasion. Though the bowler hat largely fizzled out by the 1980s, the item's original London manufacturers Lock & Co. still sell thousands each year.

4. THE PILLBOX HAT

Woman wearing a pillbox hat in the 1960s.
Chaloner Woods, Getty Images

Unlike some hats from history, this one was prized for its simplicity. It could be easily identified by its brimless, round shape evoking that of a pillbox. It began gaining steam in the 1930s before reaching peak popularity with First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s.

5. THE FASCINATOR

Victoria Beckham wearing a fascinator in 2007.
Mark Mainz, Getty Images

Depending on the look you’re going for, a fascinator can be worn as a subtle accent item or a show-stealing statement piece. The hat is defined as an ornamental headpiece that’s secured to the crown using a headband or comb. Once they fit that criteria, fascinators can take the form of flowers, feathers, fabric, or whatever else the wearer can engineer to stay on their head. And though they're still popular in the U.K., Americans don't tend to utilize fascinators outside of Derby Day attire.

6. THE TRI-CORNER HAT

A tri-cornered hat from Spain, circa 1780.
Gabriel Bouys, AFP/Getty Images

In 17th century Europe and America, tri-cornered hats, or tricornes, gave men the opportunity to show off their lustrous wigs poking out from beneath the upturned brim. It's no surprise then that the hat style died out with the powdered wig fad, but that doesn't mean it isn't fit for a comeback. Even if wearers don't have wigs to flaunt, they could take a page from our forefathers' book and upgrade the hat itself with feathers, brocades, and fabrics—or maybe just sports insignias.

7. THE DEERSTALKER HAT

British actor Peter Cushing wearing a deerstalker hat circa 1960.
Keystone/Getty Images

If you’ve seen this hat anywhere, it was most likely on the head of someone portraying Sherlock Holmes. The headpiece has been tied to the character since the books were published in the 19th century (it was the illustrations—not the story—that did it, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never mentions the cap in the text). It’s peculiar that an urban detective would be wearing a deerstalker hat in the first place, considering they were designed for hunting game and not tracking clues, but the smartly styled hat's comeback should be ... elementary.

8. THE HENNIN

Illustration of a French woman wearing a hennin in the 15th century.
plaisanter, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

These striking hats were a clear sign of royalty in the medieval era. Reinforced with wire or padding and draped in fine fabric, the cone-shaped hennin is still synonymous with the stereotypical princess today. English hennins were fairly modest in height, but the French version reached up to to three feet and the hat's Mongolian predecessor towered five to seven feet high.

9. THE NEWSBOY CAP

Newsboys in St. Louis in 1910.
Lewis Hine, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This hat goes by many names (the big apple, the eight panel, the Gatsby), but its strongest association is with newsboys at the turn of the 20th century. The floppy, brimmed cap wasn't just popular with the younger working class. It was worn by men across the social ladder and was a common sight on the golf course.

10. THE PEACH BASKET HAT

Actress Marion Davies in a peach basket hat.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The origin of this hat name isn't too hard to figure out: It resembles a bulky, over-turned fruit basket. The peach basket hat first appeared at the start of the 20th century, but it was shunned by many for being an "unpatriotic" display of vanity during the first world war. It was revived in the 1930s and experienced a popularity streak until the 1950s.

11. THE PORK PIE HAT

Actor Buster Keaton wearing his signature pork pie hat in 1939.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This hat is known for having a domed crown inside a pinched rim, creating a shape similar to that of a certain savory pastry. The style was originally worn by women in the 19th century and was later embraced by men’s fashion in the early 1900s (thanks in part to Buster Keaton). It’s not as popular as it was in the 1920s but it recently enjoyed a brief return to the spotlight by way of the Heisenberg character on Breaking Bad.

12. THE CARTWHEEL HAT

Actress Fanny Brice wearing a cartwheel hat circa 1910.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Out of context, a cartwheel hat could be mistaken for an hor d'oeuvres platter or a tiny landing pad. The hat was worn slightly askew for an eye-catching look and was often crafted from luxurious materials. But after catching on in the 1930s, the broad hats have since fallen out of fashion.

13. THE CHAPEAU BRAS

Bicorne hat.
Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

With the chapeau bras, gentlemen in the 18th century proved you don't need to compromise style for convenience. The bicorne shape of the hat was designed to both sit comfortably on a head and fold flat when tucked beneath an arm. The French name roughly translates to "hat arm." It was a popular hat style among military men in the 1800s, including U.S. admiral George Dewey.

14. THE BOUDOIR CAP

Hat on mannequin.

For a brief period at the turn of the 19th century, hair nets were fashionable. Women used boudoir caps to protect their hair while getting dressed in the morning or at night, though more stylish designs also worked as statement-making loungewear. Typically made from silk, muslin, or other lingerie fabric, the cap was the perfect companion to the kimono negligee, which was just beginning to gain popularity in the West at the time.

15. THE EUGÉNIE HAT

Illustration of Victorian woman.

The Eugénie hat is named after Empress Eugénie de Montijo, one half of France’s last reigning royal couple. It’s traditionally made from felt or velvet and worn tilted forward slightly to cover the wearer's eye. The hat saw an initial popularity spike in the mid-19th century, then a second after Greta Garbo worse a version of it in the 1930 film Romance.

16. THE GAINSBOROUGH HAT

Portrait of woman wearing hat.

Gainsborough hats, or picture hats, were popularized by 18th-century artist Thomas Gainsborough, who often depicted the society women in his portraits beneath massive headwear. The hats are known for their wide brims and over-the-top embellishments. It wasn't uncommon to see women walking around with stuffed birds perched on their hats during the style's peak.

17. THE PAMELA BONNET

Woman wearing bonnet.

Named for the protagonist of Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel, the Pamela bonnet was an elegant hat option for women in the 19th century. It's crafted from straw and tied with a ribbon in such a way that folds the wide brims against the wearer's cheeks. The sides of the hat slope down and away from the head, allowing the woman’s fashionable ringlets to peek out.

18. THE HALF HAT

The Queen wearing a half hat and waving from a car.

The sleek, close hat trend reached its peak in the 1950s with the half hat. Part-hat, part-hair accessory, the half hat cups the back of the skull and curves across the crown, stopping just short of the ears. Milliner Lilly Daché received an American Designer award for the hat in 1941.

19. THE WHOOPEE CAP

Actor wearing a hat.

The whoopee cap is best known as the crown hat Jughead wears in the Archie comics. Instead of buying a professionally-made version from a hat shop, wearers fashioned caps of their own by tattering the brims of old fedoras and turning them inside-out. The style appeared recently on Riverdale, the gritty Archie reboot, so a comeback may be on the way.

20. THE HOMBURG

British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden (right) with Neville Chamberlain, Leader of the Conservative Party, wearing Homburg hats while walking in London in 1937.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Homburg isn't a household name like the top hat or the fedora, but the men’s hat is still a classic. The style is distinguished by a curled brim and a dent depressing the center of the crown. King Edward VII launched the trend in the late 19th century. When he brought a hat back with him following a visit to Bad Homburg, Germany, the rest of the world noticed his new look and started wearing Homburg hats of their own.

A shorter version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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Big Questions
Why Did We Start Wearing Pants?
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It’s a question that has plagued Donald Duck for decades: Who decided pants were necessary? Did the motivation stem purely from modesty, or was there another reason we started climbing into trousers?

Over at Discover, author Sarah Scoles has offered a plausible explanation by describing a 2014 archaeological find in China’s Tarim Basin. Researchers with the German Archaeological Institute excavated what is believed to be the oldest example of pants ever unearthed, made from wool and dating back 3000 years.

The pants themselves held no clue as to why they were made, but their location did. The research team found them buried at the Yanghai cemetery along with a number of other artifacts, including horse-riding gear that was in the same grave: a wooden bit, a bow, and an axe. The pants-wearer was surely someone tasked with galloping around and slaying animals for food—likely necessitating apparel that would allow him to mount a horse without being encumbered by clothing.

A screen shot of Donald Duck near a door
Disney

That idea eventually bled into Greek and Roman culture, where those on horseback sought out a comfortable and practical way of avoiding chafing. (The grave’s proto-pants also appeared to be an early example of being fashion-conscious. While mostly practical, each leg had cross-stitching that appeared to be purely decorative.)

Whether the Yanghai discovery is considered the earliest example of pants depends on how one defines pants. Ötzi, the European iceman first discovered in 1991, lived roughly 5300 years ago and died wearing goatskin leggings. We know a cartoon duck who has a lot of catching up to do.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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