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History’s 10 Strangest Fashions for Women

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As much as we might regret the return of 80s fashion, women have worn far stranger things than neon colors and acid wash jeans. Dead-animal chic, non-existant sleeves and skirts that won’t pass through doorways are just the beginning. It seems like women have always been willing to go to extremes to look fashionable, but hopefully these 10 bizarre styles are gone for good.

The Tippet

Popular in the 14th and 15th centuries

Tippets evolved from the elaborate, trumpet-shaped sleeves of the middle ages. Over time the hanging part of the sleeve became longer and narrower until it was just a streamer that hung uselessly from a woman’s gown.

The Crackow Shoe

Popular in the 15th century

Crakows were shoes with extremely long, pointed toes. Some of the toes were so long they had to be tied to the wearer’s calf with a string for support. Both the Pope and the King of England spoke out about the excessive footwear and even tried to pass laws forbidding toes over a certain length.

The Zibellino

Popular in the 15th and 16th centuries

The zibellino or flea-fur was an animal pelt worn draped at the neck or hanging from the waist. To make the fashion even more ghastly, some were fitted with bejeweled faces and paws to make the animals more life-like.

The Farthingale

Popular in the 16th Century

A farthigale was a structure of wood, whalebone, or rope(!) used under women’s skirts to make their hips look extremely round and full. Many women wore them at an angle—low in the front and high in the back—to elongate their torsos and make them look thin. In fact, farthingales so minimized the waistline of wearers that Joan of Portugal allegedly used them to cover up illegitimate pregnancies.

The Ruff

Popular in the 16th and 17th centuries

The ruff was a fabric ruffle around the collar of a shirt or gown. At their most extreme, ruffs could be a foot or more wide. But even this extravagant garment originally had a useful purpose: a ruff cut down on washing because it protected clothing but could be laundered without cleaning an entire outfit.

The Pannier

Popular in the 18th century

A pannier extended a woman’s hips while leaving her dress relatively flat in front and back. (The term pannier comes from the French word for wicker baskets slung over a pack animal.) A woman wearing a pannier could show off the fabric and embroidery of her gown, but in a ballroom took up almost three times as much space as a man.

“Leg of Mutton” or “Gigot” Sleeves

Popular in the 1830s

Leg-of-mutton sleeves began at the shoulder, puffed up to an enormous size, and then slimmed down again toward the wrist. The extra weight up top helped women look slimmer in the waist. Some gigot sleeves were so large they needed hoops for support and made it difficult the wearer to walk through doorways. Critics of the style called them “imbecile sleeves.”

Bloomer Suit

Worn in the 1850s

A bloomer suit was a pair of loose trousers over a short dress. Victorian dress reformers proposed bloomer suits as rational alternatives to contemporary styles. In a bloomer suit, a woman could participate in athletic activities without worrying about exposing herself. Unlike our other bizarre fashions, the bloomer suit was never popular.

The Bustle

Popular in the Late 18th Century

Bustles expanded the fullness of the back of a woman’s dress—effectively making their backsides look dramatically large and their waists dramatically small. Some bustles were made like elaborate petticoats while others were made of several sewn together cushions. In the 1880s, women could buy steel bustles that collapsed when they sat down and sprang up again when they stood.

The Hobble Skirt

Popular in the 1910s

A hobble skirt is a skirt with a knee-long corset and a hem so tight it seriously impairs the wearer’s ability to walk. The name of the style comes from the hobbles used to restrain horses.

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2 responses »

  1. Wow, great article! Most of these I’ve never heard of, especially the farthingale!


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