Fashion is constantly changing and reflects the unique socio-political realities of an era. However, some fashion trends in history could definitely be called ‘weird’, and we’re here to talk about them. Curiously, some of these would likely fit into a more modern idea of fashion, even if they were flatly out of place in their own time periods.
10. Disposable Paper Dresses
Paper dresses were a huge – even if short-lived – fashion trend in the 1960s, and it was exactly what it sounds like. Made only with a type of paper, these dresses were popularized by brands like the Scott Paper Company and Kleenex, as they tried to cash in on the ‘sustainability’ trend of the time. Of course, these dresses were marketed with over-the-top hype and elaborate advertising campaigns, while doing nothing to solve the inherent problem of making clothes with paper.
While they were inexpensive and disposable, making them appealing to young women looking for trendy and affordable fashion options, they were also wildly impractical. Apart from being prone to tearing at all the inappropriate moments, these dresses were hardly meant for the wear-and-tear of everyday life. The trend fizzled out soon enough, though paper dresses were still worn as statement pieces at parties and other social events throughout the ’60s.
Macaronis were a subculture that emerged in the urban areas of late-18th century England, primarily among young, upper class men. The style was intentionally-exaggerated, with bright colors, frilly shirts, and elaborate hairstyles, making it perhaps one of the first few ironic, hipster subcultures in all human history. Macaronis defied the established conventional boundaries of class, gender, race, and even nationality, though mostly as a joke instead of any serious statement on the socio-political conditions of the time.
It was also a highly-ridiculed subculture, as Macaronis were often at the receiving end of jokes by media personalities and cartoonists. The subculture eventually declined in popularity in the late 18th century, as the more conservative and traditional styles of dressing became fashionable again. Their influence, however, could be still felt in certain undercurrents within modern fashion, particularly in the use of bold patterns and androgynous styles.
Crakows – also called poulaines – derive their name from the city of Krakow in Poland, where they became popular and spread to other parts of Europe some time during the 14th century. They were essentially shoes with excessively-long and obviously-uncomfortable pointed toes, extending for well over a foot in some designs. Crakows were popular among men of wealth, as it was (correctly) assumed that only someone with money could afford to extend their shoes to such an extent.
By the end of the 15th century, however, the fashion for comically-long toes began to wane, likely due to their obvious impracticality and discomfort. Crakows soon fell out of fashion across Europe, even if they still enjoy occasional bouts of resurgence in some alternative fashion subcultures. According to a relatively-recent archeological study, crakows may even have permanently disfigured the feet of at least 200 Europeans from that time, which must have further accelerated their decline.
7. Mercury Hats
Felt hats were all the rage in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Primarily made with hare and rabbit fur, they were a massive improvement over previous hat designs, as they were far sturdier and retained their form for much longer periods of time. Sadly, that was only possible due to an all new workshop improvement used to stick the fur together – powdered mercury.
As you can expect, prolonged exposure to mercury vapors severely affected the health of hatmakers across Europe, resulting in a condition we now know as Mad Hatter’s Disease. Symptoms included tremors, memory loss, extreme mood swings, psychosis, cardiorespiratory issues, and even early death, in some cases. While the trend didn’t strictly affect those wearing the hats, it was a huge occupational hazard for the makers. Demand for the hats remained high, however, especially in Britain, where they only went out of fashion some time in the 1960s.
6. Black Teeth
For some reason, black teeth emerged as a popular fashion trend during Tudor-era England, from 1485-1603. It was largely due to excessive consumption of sugar-based food items, thanks to the recent surge in supply from the Americas. Black and rotting teeth were common and prized as a status symbol among British royalty, especially Queen Elizabeth I, who was known for her sweet tooth.
The trend was so popular that according to some sources, British surgeons might even have used blackened teeth from corpses as implants. As sugar was still an expensive and rare resource, people from lower classes would find DIY ways to blacken their teeth instead, as they saw it as a sign of wealth and class.
Black teeth were popular among men and women for several decades, though the trend began to decline in the waning years of the Tudor dynasty, as people realized that rotting, smelly teeth were probably not as fashionable as they thought.
Bombasting was a Renaissance-era trend that became popular some time around the late 16th century, particularly in England, with Queen Elizabeth I again being one of its early pioneers. It was characterized by excessive use of padding inside regular clothes to make the wearer look larger – or more ‘bombastic’, if we may – than they were. The padding, usually made of materials like wool or horsehair, was used to create a large and imposing figure, particularly in the chest and shoulder areas, which was inexplicably assumed to be a sign of wealth and high status.
Bombasting remained popular across Europe – especially Spain and England – throughout the late 16th and 17th centuries. The trend would come to an end in the 18th century, however, as popular fashion shifted to more comfortable and less-exaggerated looks around that time.
4. Alexandra Limp
Alexandra of Denmark married the British Prince Edward VII in 1863, and before long, she was a fashion icon in London and other urban regions of the country. Everything she did somehow turned into a popular fashion statement among the British masses, including a kind of choker she wore to hide a scar on her neck. By far the most ridiculous of them all, though, was the Alexandra limp.
Due to a condition that left her with lasting issues in 1867, Alexandra developed a pronounced limp and slow manner of walking, which could happen to anyone, really. That turned into the next big thing in British fashion, too, as people across England and its colonies began to find it fashionable to walk in the exact same way. Surprisingly, it was only one of the many silly walking trends going around in England at the time, including the equally-ridiculous-but-less-popular stooped Grecian bend.
3. Insect Jewelry
Jewelry shaped in the form of insects like beetles and ants is common even today, though how about making it with real insects? While the idea doesn’t sound very fashionable or hygienic today, it was a surprise fashion hit during the Victorian era, thanks to their famous obsession with natural history and specimens of faraway, exotic living beings.
Jewelry and accessories made from insects were everywhere in England during this time, especially among the upper classes that could afford the more fashionable bugs. That included live insects held down by pins or strings, though still free enough to roam about on the various Victorian-era pieces of clothing. The trend was further fueled by the “discovery” of new species in the Americas, coming to a peak some time in the 1870s and 1880s.
Some time during the 12th century, rich people across Europe decided that their hands were a bit too free for someone with a lot of money, as it could be mistaken for having a job or other peasantly pursuits. To really drive the point home, they started wearing clothes with really long sleeves, which would eventually develop into what we now know as bliauts.
These outfits featured excessively long sleeves – sometimes even reaching the floor – and tight waists, though the designs varied depending on where you were. In Germany, for example, people preferred bliauts that were a bit looser around the waist and held together with a belt, combined with long, floor-length sleeves that widened very close to the wrists. In Poland, on the other hand, the sleeves started widening around the elbows, with a looser and more relaxed look around the waist. The trend lasted for about five decades, though one can see its far-reaching influence on European fashion for many more centuries to come.
The Victorian era was famous for bizarre and out-of-the-box fashion trends that could also be classified as high-level industrial hazards. Arsenic was one such trend, used in pretty much everything from dresses to cosmetics to wallpapers. It was especially abundant in this time period, as the improvements of the Industrial Revolution allowed it to be produced at a much faster rate.
Perhaps the most dangerous of all arsenic substitutes popular at this time was Scheele’s Green – a pigment made with copper arsenite that could perfectly mimic the vibrant green found in nature. It was everywhere – from eye makeup to dresses to even children’s toys – giving the whole period a definitive green tint. As you can guess, prolonged use of the substance often resulted in debilitating life-long conditions, and sometimes even death.