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 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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22 Creepy Cryptids From Around the World

Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx's interpretation of the Mongolian death worm.
Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx's interpretation of the Mongolian death worm.

According to Merriam-Webster, a cryptid is an animal "that has been claimed to exist but never proven to exist." But as Bigfoot believers and Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts are often quick to point out, it’s pretty difficult to prove that something doesn’t exist. Plus, it’s much more fun to indulge in the idea that giant sea monsters and hairy humanoids are roaming the uncharted corners of the planet.

On this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is taking viewers across time and space to unearth legends about lesser-known monsters that, again, haven’t been proven to not exist. Take the Mongolian death worm, a lamprey-like nightmare that supposedly lives in the Gobi Desert and radiates a poison so strong that you could die just by standing near it. If you’re an ill-behaved child or a Catholic who scarfs down steak every Friday during Lent, watch out for the Rougarou, a Louisiana-based werewolf that sniffs out those two demographics.

Learn about more fearsome, fascinating cryptids of all kinds in the video below, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for future episodes of The List Show.