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.

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon

Cosori/Amazon
Cosori/Amazon

When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76

Ultrean/Amazon

Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120

Cosori/Amazon

This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90

Innsky/Amazon

With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62

Secura/Amazon

This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60

Chefman/Amazon

For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100

Ninja/Amazon

The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100

Dash/Amazon

Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52

Bella/Amazon

This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

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

10 Fast Facts About Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Robert Riger/Getty Images

Wilma Rudolph made history as a Black female athlete at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. The 20-year-old Tennessee State University sprinter was the first American woman to win three gold medals at one Olympics. Rudolph’s heroics in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4 x 100-meter events only lasted seconds, but her legend persists decades later, despite her untimely 1994 death from cancer at age 54. Here are some facts about this U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member.

1. Wilma Rudolph faced poverty and polio as a child.

When Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee, she weighed just 4.5 pounds. Olympic dreams seemed impossible for Rudolph, whose impoverished family included 21 other siblings. Among other maladies, she had measles, mumps, and pneumonia by age 4. Most devastatingly, polio twisted her left leg, and she wore leg braces until she was 9.

2. Wilma Rudolph originally wanted to play basketball.

The Tennessee Tigerbelles. From left to right: Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph, and Barbara Jones.Central Press/Getty Images

At Clarksville’s Burt High School, Rudolph flourished on the basketball court. Nearly 6 feet tall, she studied the game, and ran track to keep in shape. However, while competing in the state basketball championship in Nashville, the 14-year-old speedster met a referee named Ed Temple, who doubled as the acclaimed coach of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track team. Temple, who would coach at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, recruited Rudolph.

3. Wilma Rudolph made her Olympic debut as a teenager.

Rudolph hit the limelight at 16, earning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. But that didn’t compare to the media hype when she won three gold medals in 1960. French journalists called her “The Black Pearl,” the Italian press hailed “The Black Gazelle,” and in America, Rudolph was “The Tornado.”

4. After her gold medals, Wilma Rudolph insisted on a racially integrated homecoming.

Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, who supported racial segregation, intended to oversee the Clarksville celebrations when Rudolph returned from Rome. However, she refused to attend her parade or victory banquet unless both were open to Black and white people. Rudolph got her wish, resulting in the first integrated events in the city’s history.

5. Muhammad Ali had a crush on Wilma Rudolph.

Ali—known as Cassius Clay when he won the 1960 Olympic light heavyweight boxing title—befriended Rudolph in Rome. That fall, the 18-year-old boxer invited Rudolph to his native Louisville, Kentucky. He drove her around in a pink Cadillac convertible.

6. John F. Kennedy literally fell over when he invited Wilma Rudolph to the White House.

President Kennedy, Wilma Rudolph, Rudolph’s mother Blanche Rudolph, and Vice President Johnson in the Oval Office.Abbie Rowe/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum // Public Domain

In 1961, Rudolph met JFK in the Oval Office. After getting some photos taken together, the President attempted to sit down in his rocking chair and tumbled to the floor. Kennedy quipped: “It’s not every day that I get to meet an Olympic champion.” They chatted for about 30 minutes.

7. Wilma Rudolph held three world records when she retired.

Rudolph chose to go out on top and retired in 1962 at just 22 years old. Her 100-meter (11.2 seconds), 200-meter (22.9 seconds), and 4 x 100-meter relay (44.3 seconds) world records all lasted several years.

8. Wilma Rudolph visited West African countries as a goodwill ambassador.

The U.S. State Department sent Rudolph to the 1963 Friendship Games in Dakar, Senegal. According to Penn State professor Amira Rose Davis, while there, Rudolph independently met with future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, a nationalist youth movement. She visited Mali, Guinea, and the Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as well.

9. Denzel Washington made his TV debut in a movie about Wilma Rudolph.

Before his Oscar-winning performances in Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001), a 22-year-old Denzel Washington portrayed Robert Eldridge, Rudolph’s second husband, in Wilma (1977). The film also starred Cicely Tyson as Rudolph’s mother Blanche.

10. Schools, stamps, and statues commemorate Wilma Rudolph’s legacy.

Berlin, Germany, has a high school named after Rudolph. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp celebrating her in 2004. Clarksville features a bronze statue by the Cumberland River, the 1000-capacity Wilma Rudolph Event Center, and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard. In Tennessee, June 23 is Wilma Rudolph Day.