15 Delightful Obsolete Garments Fashion Should Bring Back
Your wardrobe already has plenty of shirts, sneakers, and jeans in it. What you really need is for a sharp pair of spats to come back into style.
From the 15th century onward, the smartest bet in keeping your hands warm was a muff, a cylindrical piece of fur, leather, or fabric that provided a cozy resting place for chilly fingers. Although muffs were originally unisex garments, by the 19th century only women were sporting muffs. While you’ll still occasionally see a muff as part of a very formal outfit, the muff has yet to return to the absolute apex it enjoyed during the 17th and 18th-century reign of Louis XIV of France, when every classy lady had a muff dog—a tiny pooch that she carried around in her muff!
2. Top Hats
Until the early 20th century, the top hat broadcast a powerful message of prosperity and was the finishing touch on any gentleman’s formal outfit. However, as cars became more common, wearing giant hats stopped being practical, and they disappeared from the wardrobes of everyone except magicians.
How could button-up fabric covers that go over your shoes and socks to protect them from rain ever go out of style? Spats were originally meant for this practical purpose, but by the 1920s they had become the height of fashion and a crucial element of a formal outfit. On behalf of splashed-shoe wearers everywhere, bring them back!
The pointy caps associated with Ebenezer Scrooge weren’t just dapper—they were functional. In the days when heating was hit-or-miss, the long nightcaps helped sleepers keep their heads warm, and the long pointed ends could be wrapped around the wearer’s neck like a scarf. As a hilarious visual that also keeps you warm and toasty on cold winter nights, these caps are due for a comeback.
5. Boudoir Caps
After the utilitarian nightcap faded from fashion, women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries slept in more elegant headwear. Intricately decorated boudoir caps stylishly protected a woman’s hair while she slept and disguised any sleep-mussed locks as she went through her morning routine. These small decorative caps made of soft, light fabrics were considered an essential part of a woman’s pajamas. Boudoir caps disappeared during the Depression and haven’t really been seen since, but why shouldn’t modern women have the option of pulling on a stylish cap to disguise a case of bed-head?
Throughout the 15th century, many of Europe’s classiest women preferred ludicrously oversized platform shoes called chopines. The platforms on some chopines soared over two feet tall, and although they were very fashionable, they didn’t get any points for practicality—wearers had to be accompanied by attendants to steady them as they walked on the stilt-like shoes. By comparison, getting around town in modern high heels looks like a breeze!
7. Detachable Pockets
Before women started carrying handbags in the early 19th century, many used the next best thing, an accessory called a “pocket.” A pocket was a small bag on a string that could be tied around the waist and hidden under a woman’s skirts to give her a discreet hiding spot for any cargo she needed to carry. Sure, modern garments come with built-in pockets, but the persistent popularity of cargo shorts proves that you can never have too many pockets.
Formal attire for late 19th and early 20th century men included a shirt with a stiff, heavily starched front that was uncomfortable and difficult to maintain. To make things a little easier, many men wore dickeys—false shirt fronts made of fabric or rigid plastic to make it look like they were wearing complete shirts. As attire became less formal, dickeys fell by the wayside, but anyone who’s attended a summer wedding in a rented tuxedo knows that a dickey revival would be an excellent thing.
When women’s hats rapidly faded in popularity after World War II, they took the hatpin with them. In the early days of women’s hats, ladies couldn’t count on their complex, heavy hats to stay put on their heads, so they affixed them to their hair using ornate pins. Many of the hats they helped keep in place may seem ridiculous in retrospect, but these small pieces of beautiful jewelry are missed.
10. Union suits
These all-in-one long-underwear/jumpsuit hybrids first hit store shelves in the late 1860s, and they were a hit with men and women alike. Men liked the warmth and convenience of the soft underwear, while women preferred union suits to the restrictive corsets and undergarments of the day. Union suits eventually gave way to more practical two-piece long underwear, but they can still be a nice option on chilly nights or any time you want to feel like an Old West prospector.
11. Shapeless Swimming Smocks
Sick of worrying about achieving the perfect beach body? In the 18th century, any body was beach-ready. Women went for dips in long smocks that protected their modesty as they splashed around. The outfits weren’t the most streamlined attire, but female swimmers were probably less self-conscious than their male counterparts—during this era men generally swam in the nude.
When you see a man in full Highland garb, it’s easy to be distracted by the majesty of his kilt. Look closer, though, and you’ll see a sporran, the traditional pouch of leather, fur, or horsehair that hangs from his belt. Although they’re now mostly worn as part of costumes, sporrans originally served as handy cargo space for anyone wearing a pocket-free kilt. Think of a sporran as the manliest possible variation of the fanny pack—they would make the average tourist dad look 40 percent tougher.
13. Motoring Bonnets
Passengers in early open-air cars often ended their rides in a bit of a mess—whipping wind and dirt roads left them with grimy faces and tousled hair. Fashion-conscious women countered this problem with “motoring hoods,” more or less fabric bags with eye-holes cut in them. As automobiles became more sophisticated, so did fashions. By 1910 women were sporting “motoring bonnets,” decorative headwear that protected their hair, necks, and shoulders from dirt. Sounds like something that could still come in handy for convertible owners!
Men really knew how to lounge in the 17th and 18th centuries. For members of the upper classes, casual wear consisted of a banyan, a long-sleeved, ankle-length dressing gown. While men had to don formal suits when they left the house, they could slip into the more comfortable banyan during their leisure time, and the long gowns became associated with scholars, merchants, and other worldly thinkers. The world would be a more relaxed place if loose-fitting nightgowns were once again the height of sophistication.
15. Western Bow Ties
It’s impossible not to smile when you see someone wearing one of these long ribbon bows around their collar. Are they a fried chicken magnate? A 19th-century riverboat gambler? An old-time saloon keeper? Add one to your wardrobe and delight everyone you meet.