The Surprising Origins of 12 Popular Fashions

fortton via iStock/Getty Images Plus
fortton via iStock/Getty Images Plus

As you toss on your coziest flannel button-down and slip on a pair of your comfiest jeans, do you ever think about their origins? Many popular fashion trends had meaningful beginnings. Let’s explore why we wear—or once wore—socks up to our knees, cloth around our neck, and pants down to the floor.

1. The Bowtie

This nifty neckwear was once more than a fashion statement—they literally brought an outfit together. Bowties likely trace their origin to 17th-century Croatia, and were inspired by knotted neck scarves. This rectangular cloth accessory, often called a cravat, was folded and tied to hold the tops of mens’ shirts together. Over time, and perhaps due to the French interest in and eventual popularization of the style, they evolved into the ascots, neckties, and bowties we know today.

2. Knee-High Socks

In yesteryear, “acceptable” women’s fashion had a certain expectation of how much leg could be shown and implemented methods for concealment—from requiring women to wear hose to measuring to dress length by yardstick. But when wartime rationing called for nylon and silk to be used elsewhere, department stores experienced a stocking shortage. Around the same time, it became more acceptable for women to wear shorts or skirts during leisure activity, but this often still meant putting a pair of ankle socks (also a growing trend) over the hose. In time, knee socks became an acceptable substitute. Between the pants or skirts ending at just about the knee, and the sock beginning, flesh was still out of sight.

3. The Buffalo Check Flannel Shirt

While the black-and-red flannel shirt is ubiquitous in the hipster community today, the iconic Woolrich “buffalo check” shirt goes back to the 19th century. The company began with an intent on keeping Pennsylvania lumberjacks warm. Flannel is an economical fabric, made from twilled wool or worsted yarn, usually brushed to give it that extra soft and snuggly feel—so whether you’re an actual lumberjack or are just ordering the Lumberjack Breakfast Special at your local diner, wearing this cozy, fashionable top is appropriate.

4. Cuffed Jeans

Rolling up your jeans may be reminiscent of '80s and early '90s fashion fads, but the practice dates back to the late 1800s when people bought longer pants because they knew the pants would shrink—when Levi Strauss got his start, pre-shrunk cotton wasn’t a thing yet. So, until their pants fit properly, men cuffed the bottoms, which created a handy storage space for things like tobacco, money, or gum.

5. The Choker Necklace

From a simple piece of lace to an extravagant string of diamonds and from a studded dog collar to an ornate beaded piece, choker necklaces have been in and out of fashion for centuries. Archaeology tells us that ancient people, from Africa to the Americas, wore chokers, and it’s said this was not just for adornment, but also to protect the delicate neck. (In fact, bracelets and anklets were born from this notion as well.) As we do today with plastic wristbands, French women supposedly wore chokers after the Revolution for a cause: They tied red ribbons around their necks as a memorial to the beheaded (though this may be a later invention). It’s also thought that during the 19th century, prostitutes would wear black chokers. Every few decades, the trend was revived, from Mary of Teck, Princess of Wales in the early 1900s to Mick Jagger in the '70s to Gwen Stefani in the '90s.

6. An Unbuttoned Bottom Suit Jacket Button

Young men wearing their first suit may quickly learn that just because that bottom button’s there doesn’t mean you should use it. This fashion rule is said to date back to the early 1900s when King Edward VII had a little trouble fitting into his waistcoat, so he left the final fastener unfinished for comfort. Out of respect for his majesty, the royal court—and, soon, the rest of Britain—followed, well, suit; soon, the tradition spread across the Atlantic. Alternately, it's been said that, specifically with suit coats, the bottom button rule may have originated as a holdover from the more casual riding jacket. While its wearer was on a horse, the coat lay better when the button is open.

7. The High Heel

The dressy shoes we know today did not become popular while on the female foot. In the late 1500s, Persian horsemen wore heeled shoes to help feet stay in stirrups. As Near Eastern ways influenced European aristocrats, high heels became a status symbol. One of those most famed early adopters was France’s King Louis XIV, who preferred a red heel to show his wealth (the dye was expensive). The extra height added also some inches to his short stature. By the late-1700s, the trend—for men and women—died out mostly due to practicality. But in the mid-19th century, they made a comeback thanks to French erotic photography.

8. The Little Black Dress

It wasn’t always an old standby for a cocktail party, and its origins go back much further than Coco Chanel. In the late 19th century, wearing a black dress indicated a wealthy woman was dressed down (or in mourning). Soon, the standard uniform for the elite’s domestic help became a black dress. This way, there’d be no confusing the lady of the house and her maid. Later, the LBD also became standard dress code for working women, such as New Jersey telephone operators. However, as clothing prices dropped, lower class women could now afford to dress more stylishly after work. According to The Atlantic, "Thanks to the sewing machine, the paper pattern, and affordable fabrics, the working classes could finally, feasibly, dress like high society—even if they were now only permitted to do so after work hours. ... Society matrons exacted their revenge by dressing like shopgirls and maids, reappropriating their little black dresses for the upper crust."

9. Ruffles

Way back in the 16th century, soldiers wore multiple layers of clothes and slashed the top garment to reveal what was underneath. According to Racked, "The natural wrinkles that appeared were then appropriated by garment makers, who sewed flexible strings into their clothes. These could be pulled tighter to give a fashionable ruffled appearance."

10. Footie Pajamas

Footie pajamas are most often associated with toddlers, but these practical PJs are likely related to the union suit, a one-piece undergarment meant to keep people warm. One of the most famous examples of this children’s wear was produced by Michigan-based Dr. Denton Sleeping Garment Mills; the “blanket sleeper” was marketed to parents as “covers that can’t be kicked off.” Perhaps the most iconic feature of the classic footie pajama is the butt flap (also called drop seat), a helpful feature allowing wearers to go to the bathroom without taking off the entire garment.

11. Bermuda Shorts

Bermuda shorts are cut for comfort—literally. In World War I, Bermuda became a hotbed of activity. As the legend goes, one of the few tea shops on the island saw a boom in business thanks to the influx of British soldiers (the Brits love their tea, after all). But the crowded quarters and summer heat didn’t create the best working conditions. Rather than buy new uniforms, the owner trimmed his workers’ pants to just below the knee. A naval officer was inspired by this style, so much so that he and his fellow officers mimicked the look, dubbed them Bermuda shorts, and eventually adopted the style as a standard summer uniform, which quickly caught on.

12. Bell Bottom Jeans

The bell bottom pants we fell in love with in the '60s and '70s were inspired by the flared legs of sailor uniforms (1800s to the 1990s in the U.S.!). The story goes that seamen could easily roll up these belled legs to make way for deck swabbing. They also have a safety feature: if someone fell overboard, the design allowed for pants to be pulled over shoes so that they could then be turned into a life preserver. (Though some Naval historians dispute this, saying, “There is no substantive factual reason for their adoption” and that they “appear to be a tailored version of the pantaloon, designed for a bit of flair which set the sailor apart from his civilian counterpart.”) Although Coco Chanel designed loose-fitting, sailor-inspired trousers in the '20s, the style really hit in the mid-'60s, and it was DIY at first. Civilians would purchase sailor pants at surplus stores, and did so at first out of thriftiness. Others, who liked the idea of bell bottoms but didn’t have an Army-Navy store nearby, made their own by cutting the seam and sewing in a triangle of patterned fabric. Clothing companies, including Levi’s, finally gave in to this counterculture style.

10 Facts About the Winter Solstice, the Shortest Day of the Year

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Amid the whirl of the holiday season, many are vaguely aware of the approach of the winter solstice, but how much do you really know about it? Whether you're a fan of winter or just wish it would go away, here are 10 things to note—or even celebrate—about the shortest day of the year.

1. The winter solstice HAPPENS ON DECEMBER 21/22 in 2019.

Sun setting behind a tree in the winter
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The date of the winter solstice varies from year to year, and can fall anywhere between December 20 and December 23, with the 21st or 22nd being the most common dates. The reason for this is because the tropical year—the time it takes for the sun to return to the same spot relative to Earth—is different from the calendar year. The next solstice occurring on December 20 will not happen until 2080, and the next December 23 solstice will not occur until 2303.

2. The winter solstice hAPPENS AT A SPECIFIC, BRIEF MOMENT.

sun setting through the trees
yanikap/iStock via Getty Images

Not only does the solstice occur on a specific day, but it also occurs at a specific time of day, corresponding to the instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. This is also the time when the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. In 2019, this moment occurs at 4:19 a.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on December 22. For those on Eastern Standard Time, the solstice will occur at 11:19 p.m. on December 21. And regardless of where you live, the solstice happens at the same moment for everyone on the planet.


sun setting over Central Park
rmbarricarte/iStock via Getty Images

As most are keenly aware, daylight hours grow shorter and shorter as the winter solstice approaches, and begin to slowly lengthen afterward. It's no wonder that the day of the solstice is referred to in some cultures as the "shortest day of the year" or "extreme of winter." New York City will experience 9 hours and 15 minutes of sunlight, compared to 15 hours and 5 minutes on the summer solstice. Helsinki, Finland, will get 5 hours and 49 minutes of light. Barrow, Alaska, will not have a sunrise at all (and hasn't since mid-November; its next sunrise will be on January 22), while the North Pole has had no sunrise since October. The South Pole, though, will be basking in the glow of the midnight sun, which won't set until March.


snow on tree branches
Eerik/iStock via Getty Images

The seeming death of the light and very real threat of starvation over the winter months would have weighed heavily on early societies, who held varied solstice celebrations and rites meant to herald the return of the sun and hope for new life. Scandinavian and Germanic pagans lit fires and may have burned Yule logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months. The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan reveres the death of the Old Sun and birth of the New Sun.


Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on December 21, 1620, to found a society that would allow them to worship freely. On the same day in 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium, ushering in an atomic age. And on December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.


colorful sunset
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Solstice derives from the Latin scientific term solstitium, containing sol, which means "sun," and the past participle stem of sistere, meaning "to make stand." This comes from the fact that the sun’s position in the sky relative to the horizon at noon, which increases and decreases throughout the year, appears to pause in the days surrounding the solstice. In modern times, we view the phenomenon of the solstice from the position of space, and of the Earth relative to the sun. Earlier people, however, were thinking about the sun's trajectory, how long it stayed in the sky and what sort of light it cast.


Stonehenge sunset
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The primary axis of the megalithic monument is oriented to the setting sun, while Newgrange, another structure built around the same time as Stonehenge, lines up with the winter solstice sunrise. Some have theorized that the position of the sun was of religious significance to the people who built Stonehenge, while other theories hold that the monument is constructed along natural features that happen to align with it. The purpose of Stonehenge is still subject to debate, but its importance on the winter solstice continues into the modern era, as thousands of hippies, pagans, and other types of enthusiasts gather there every year to celebrate the occasion.


Saturnalia parade
A Saturnalia celebration in England in 2012.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The holiday, which began as a festival to honor the agricultural god Saturn, was held to commemorate the dedication of his temple in 497 BCE. It quickly became a time of widespread revelry and debauchery in which societal roles were overturned, with masters serving their slaves and servants being allowed to insult their masters. Mask-wearing and play-acting were also part of Saturnalia's reversals, with each household electing a King of Misrule. Saturnalia was gradually replaced by Christmas throughout the Roman Empire, but many of its customs survive as Christmas traditions.


Snowy woods
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The Iranian festival of Yalda is celebrated on the longest night of the year. In pre-Islamic times, it heralded the birth of Mithra, the ancient sun god, and his triumph over darkness. Zoroastrian lore holds that evil spirits wander the Earth and the forces of the destructive spirit Ahriman are strongest on this long night. People are encouraged to stay up most of the night in the company of one another, eating, talking, and sharing poetry and stories, in order to avoid any brushes with dark entities. Beliefs about the presence of evil on the longest night are also echoed in Celtic and Germanic folklore.


snowy woods with sun through the trees
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December 21, 2012 corresponds to the date in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Maya, marking the end of a 5126-year cycle. Some people feared this juncture would bring about the end of the world or some other cataclysmic event. Others took a more New Age-y view (literally) and believed it heralded the birth of a new era of deep transformation for Earth and its inhabitants. In the end, neither of these things appeared to occur, leaving the world to turn through winter solstices indefinitely, or at least as long as the sun lasts.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

11 Gifts for the Curious Kids in Your Life

The Play Gym by Lovevery
The Play Gym by Lovevery

No matter their age, you want to find gifts that will keep the kids in your life entertained, stimulated, and give them a sense of accomplishment—even during playtime. Luckily, these 11 gifts will do all of that, and will encourage their curiosity to grow.

1. The Play Gym by Lovevery; $140

Baby playset
Lovevery / Amazon

Specially designed by experts to stimulate infants for their first year, this play mat grows with your favorite baby. It has five developmental zones and multiple activities—like teethers, mirrors, and colorful flash cards. And, when baby becomes a toddler, the mat converts into a tent fort for further imaginative play.

Find It: Amazon

2. Real Insect Superpowers Comic Book; $18

Follow the adventures of the Supersonic Assassin, the Malevolent Mimic, and other insect superheroes as they smash, zap, hypnotize, and sting in this 88-page book that's part comic, part nature encyclopedia.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

3. Droid Inventor Kit; $100

This is definitely the droid you’re looking for. Recommended for kids in grades eight years and up, this customizable robot comes with an app that defines more than 22 missions as well as easy block-based coding activities. And for any Star Wars fans, the Droid makes 20 different sounds, just like from the movies

Find It: Amazon

4. Solar System Chalk; $40

Solar system chalk
Uncommon Goods

This nine-piece chalk set features all the planets in the solar system, along with Pluto. Each piece has multiple colors, which represent the planets' cores, layers, and crusts. And for each set sold, $2 will be donated to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to support autism research.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

5. Jr. NASA Rocket Scientist Lab Coat; $20

Jr. NASA coat
Aeromax / Amazon

Get kids excited about science early with this lab coat, which comes in sizes for boys and girls. Alongside three pockets, the jacket also has the NASA logo and the words “Rocket Scientist.” When your astronaut-in-training is done playing, the coat can be tossed in the washing machine.

Find It: Amazon

6. 3Doodler 3D Pen Set; $50

This wireless pen allows kids to freestyle draw in the air—the eco-plastic filament cools in place quickly, giving kids plenty of practice with spatial reasoning without the costs of a full 3D printer.

Find It: Amazon

7. Giant Coloring Poster; $19

Giant coloring poster
O'Kroshka / Amazon

If your kid is going to color on the wall, you may as well give them a designated place to do so. Children can use pencils, markers, and paints on this 33''x 45'' poster that depicts all types of animals in a zoo. This gift will not only encourage creative expression, but it can also help kids work on their motor skills.

Find It: Amazon

8. Root-Vue Farm; $39

A little girl poses behind the Root Vue farm
Young Explorers

Whether they join FFA or not, kids can get a head start on understanding horticulture with this indoor garden system. Plant the included seeds—for carrots, radishes, and onions—and watch them obsess over the underground view of their harvest.

Find It: Amazon

9. Geosafari Jr. Kidnoculars; $9

Kid-proof and specially designed for tiny hands and faces, these binoculars can help preschoolers get to know the world around them. Play a game like “I Spy” and have them find squirrels in trees, clouds in the sky, or all those Cheerios they spilled behind their bed.

Find It: Amazon

10. Dimpl Baby and Toddler Learning Toy; $13

This brightly colored sensory toy holds a young one's attention with 100% food-grade silicone bubbles they can press and poke—perfect for keeping kids occupied in a stroller or car.

Find It: Target

11. Otamatone; $30

The face on this highly kawaii ribbon synthesizer is made of rubber, and by manipulating it with one hand you can make cool sounds (the other hand controls the pitch along the ribbon controller). With a bit of practice, you can even play real music—check out this entertaining cover of "Take On Me."

Find It: Amazon

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