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The Strange Origins of 5 Iconic Fashions

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Many of the basic fashions we take for granted today were popularized by people who were just a little bit bonkers.

1. The Necktie

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The tie can be traced back to Croatian mercenaries at the court of Louis XIV. In order to stand out in the crowded court at Versailles, they wore cravats (from “Croate"). Some Frenchmen thought this look was stylish and adopted it themselves. But it was a Regency dandy named Beau Brummell (above) who really made it compulsory for men to wrap a piece of fabric tightly around their necks, a style which has never died out in the past 200 years.

Brummell was the ultimate fashion icon. If he dressed a certain way, everyone did as well, including the then-Prince of Wales, the future George IV. He took hours to get ready every day and it was considered an honor to be invited to watch him. He cleaned his boots in champagne and introduced hygiene to the upper class with his weird obsession of bathing and brushing his teeth daily. He was probably the first personal stylist, and aristocrats would come to this common man and ask his opinion on what they should wear. But his expertise didn’t come cheap; Brummel once said that if you were very careful with your money, it might be possible to dress appropriately for a year on a mere $160,000.

He also invented most of those complicated neckerchief styles seen in portraits of the period, many of which took numerous servants, yards of cloth, and upwards of an hour to do correctly. Doing this once a day would be bad enough, but a true gentleman would change his tie at least three times a day, and if a new one wasn’t knotted perfectly he would be expected to start over from scratch.

2. The Suit Jacket

One hundred years later there was a new leader of style in London. Queen Victoria's son and heir Albert ("Bertie") wanted to be more involved with her reign and was constantly asking for things to do. Victoria didn’t comply, not liking her son very much and thinking he was kind of stupid, so he had to look for other things to fill his days. At a young age he became the leader of the “fashionable set.”

With nothing else to occupy his mind he became obsessed with appearance—his and everyone else’s. On a cruise to Scotland he asked his servants to dress a little bit more “ethnic” as they got closer, but of course not dressing completely Scottish until they actually landed. He once started a fight with his mistress and refused to talk to her for days because she wore the same dress twice in one week.

From a very young age his looks were influential. If you have a picture of yourself as a child wearing a variation on a sailor suit, you can thank young Bertie (or whoever was dressing him). And the style of creasing trousers down the middle is also credited to the prince.

But one of the most enduring styles he created was completely by accident. Bertie was extremely fat, and one night he either forgot to do up the bottom button of his suit jacket or it popped open because of his girth. All of his friends immediately started wearing their jackets the same way, and to this day that is considered the correct way to wear one.

3. The Bra

Despite the stereotype, no 1970s radical feminist ever told women to burn their bras—but in the 1870s, a radical feminist did tell women to "burn [their] corsets." The binding metal underwear was starting to fall out of favor as they kept women tired and, quite literally, tied up.

Some of the earliest women’s rights campaigners, like Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, went after the painful undergarment. An alternative, the bra, developed in various stages by men and women in Europe and America, owes its popularity to women like Phelps who laid the groundwork for the new undergarment by fighting for the end of the old one. Pro-corset/anti-bra crusaders worried that women would start having terrible figures, take up hobbies, do more exercise, and generally be unladylike if their clothing stopped limiting their ability to move.

And, thankfully, they were right. Phelps herself married a man 17 years younger and had a writing career, including turning out a few saucy romantic novels based on Bible stories.

4. The High Heel


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While they may be a hindrance these days, heels were originally created for practical reasons. High heels on boots were first worn by men so that their shoes stayed in the stirrups while riding horses into battle. Then women in Italy started wearing huge platform shoes to raise them above the garbage and feces in the streets. While they kept the muck off of their dresses, the platforms, which could be up to a foot high, did make it virtually impossible to walk around unaided. But it was a tiny princess who gave us the high heel as we know it today.

While her exact height is lost to history, we know that Catherine de Medici was short even for her time period. (Centuries of royal inbreeding will do that to you.) And when her marriage was arranged to the French King Henri II in 1547, this became a problem. Her hubby-to-be had a really beautiful, really tall mistress named Diane who he was besotted with, and Catherine wanted to look better than her at the wedding. She couldn't do anything about her looks, but she could do something about her height. She ordered her shoemaker to make an entirely new type of shoe, one that had a platform that was shorter in the front than in the back. This new high heel added inches to her height and allowed her to walk around on her own. But in the end it was all for nothing, as Henri still favored his mistress over his wife until the day he died. (The shoe above is circa the 1760s.)

5. The Bikini

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Today’s go-to swimsuit for anyone who wants to show off her body, the bikini has fallen in and out of fashion through history. There is written evidence that women in Ancient Greece wore two-pieces, and the Romans actually memorialized the display of flesh in mosaics. Women during that time period wore them to work out, making the small scraps of cloth surprisingly modest when you consider what male athletes of the time were wearing.

When Pompeii was excavated they in the early 1800s, workers discovered a perfectly preserved statue of Venus wearing only a gold bikini. The King of Naples was so shocked by this find that he had it hidden away in a secret room, where only "mature persons of secure morals" were allowed to view it.

When bathing suits started coming back into fashion for women, even head-to-toe one-pieces were considered scandalous. But by 1913, Carl Janzen had introduced the two-piece. Suits continued to get skimpier, but it wasn’t until 1946 that the bikini as we know it was truly born. Louis Réard bet one of his friends that he could make the tiniest swimsuit in the world. His creation was so risqué that no model would wear it, and he had to hire a stripper to show it off on a beach. Soon people were clamoring for their own bikinis and Réard received over 50,000 fan letters, mostly from men.

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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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Adidas Collaborates With Artists to Create Sneakers for All 50 States
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Iowa
Adidas, Mari Orr

For a recent project from Adidas and Refinery29, artists were given a women’s running shoe to use as their blank canvas. Their only prompt: Design the sneaker to represent one of the American states. The results are as varied and colorful as the nation itself.

As Adweek reports, the initiative, dubbed BOOST the Nation, takes an all-American look at Adidas’s UltraBOOST X footwear line. Refinery29 selected several artists—all women—to put their regional stamp on the plain white shoe. Some have been decorated with state flora. For instance, the Florida sneaker sports a tropical frond and the shoe for North Carolina is embellished with Venus flytraps. Food is also a popular theme: Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, and Tennessee barbecue have all been incorporated into sneaker designs.

Each sneaker is one-of-a kind and only available through auction. All proceeds raised will go directly to Women Win, an organization dedicated to bringing sports to adolescent girls around the world. The auction runs through Tuesday, July 11, with current bids ranging from $110 to $2000. Check out the artists’ handiwork that's for sale below.

Sneaker designed to look like a peach.
Georgia

Checkered running shoe.
Indiana

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Yellow running shoe with cracker tag.
Wisconsin

Sneaker designed to look like a mountain.
South Dakota
Adidas, Mari Orr

Sneaker decorated with wheat.
Oklahoma

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Sneaker embellished with fake roses and leaves.
Kentucky

Pink running shoe with lobster claw.
Maine

[h/t Adweek]

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