In 1953, Ethel Boone Gant was feeling uncomfortable. While sitting on an overnight train from New York to North Carolina, the expectant mother leaned over to her husband, Allen, and told him that she wasn’t going to travel anymore. At least, not until their baby was born. At the time, women wore stockings held up with girdles or garter belts— annoying when paired with a growing belly. The complaint gave Allen an idea. He asked his wife to clip a pair of stockings to her underwear and try them instead—a crude prototype for the pantyhose was born. Allen, who happened to be the head of a textile company, spent the next six years developing his product, and in 1959 “Panti-Legs” hit the shelves. As spandex got cheaper and miniskirts became all the rage in the ’60s, the product soon became a staple.
2. THE 3-BUTTON SUIT
Growing bellies actually account for a lot of fashion trends. King Edward VII, for instance, was a legendary eater. With an expanding 48-inch waist, he often kept his bottom jacket button undone. Soon, the style became a trend and the “sometimes, always, never” rule (for the top, middle, and lower buttons) became a hard and fast fashion commandment. In fact, many jackets today are designed to leave the bottom button undone.
3. CUFFED JACKET SLEEVES
The buttons on most blazer sleeves are functionally useless, but some jackets still sport a “surgeon’s cuff”—a relic from the 19th century. Back then, a proper gentleman never removed his coat, not even to perform the 1800s version of emergency open-heart surgery. So men tailored suits to their needs, allowing for the possibility that they may need to do an off-the-cuff operation. The buttons allowed men to curl back their sleeves and get their hands dirty while retaining dashing decency.
If ancient Egyptians could tell us anything about living in the desert, it would be that the sun can get unbearably bright. It didn’t help that the pyramids in Cairo were made of white limestone. So the locals rubbed kohl around their eyes to reduce the glare (the same way athletes do today). The eyeliner had a cooling effect, repelled flies, kept dust away from the eyes, and may have prevented infections because it contained lead salts, a bacteria killer.
5. HIGH HEELS
Originally for soldiers, high heels were once the manliest thing a person could wear. A high heel allowed a cavalryman to lock into his horse’s stirrup and keep his balance as he stood to draw a bow. In the 16th century, Persian royals visited Western Europe, and the look caught on; soon elites were flaunting their status by upping the height of their shoes. King Louis XIV (who stood at a modest 5 feet, 4 inches) insisted on parading about in four-inch red heels. At the same time, women started wearing the heels for the opposite reason they do today—to appear androgynous. By the end of the 17th century, the unisex style had become gendered: Men’s heels were square and wide; women’s were pointy and slender. When the Enlightenment ushered in practical dress, men abandoned the style completely.
When it comes to bling, Liberace and Richard Simmons have nothing on King Tut. The boy king had gold disks sewn into his garments, possibly with the hope of using them in the afterlife. Thousands of years later, from Peru to India, sewing gold and other metals onto your clothes became a sign of wealth and a way to protect yourself from evil spirits. Which explains a lot about the 1970s.