A few hundred years from now, there’s no doubt that people will look back on our current fashion trends with disdain. After all, no style is truly timeless – just ask anyone who had a mullet. Still, despite the horrors of 1970s fashion, the past few decades are still nowhere near some of the weirdest fashion trends that have emerged through the ages – from flammable dresses to facial tattoos.
20. Neck rings
Neck rings are thought to have originated in the European Iron Age, and they have endured throughout the centuries. Indeed, the rings – which contort the ribs and collarbone to produce the impression of a longer neck – are still a feature of certain African and Asian cultures. They’re usually worn to indicate status or uphold beauty ideals.
19. Smile tattoos
If you’d ever met a woman of the Ainu people in the 19th century, undoubtedly the first thing you’d have been struck by were the large, black smile tattoos that surrounded her lips. Thought to ward off evil spirits and ensure her place in the afterlife, the tattoos were done over the course of a decade, usually from about age five to 15.
18. Teeth dyed black
The custom of dyeing one’s teeth black was so popular in Japan that there was even a specific term for it: ohaguro. That is, at least, until it was outlawed in 1870. The practice arose because dark black objects were regarded as beautiful, so, as a fashion statement, teeth naturally followed. And it even had health benefits, counteracting tooth decay in the same way as modern sealants.
17. Eyelash removal
In medieval times, the Catholic Church deemed that women daring to show off their head hair in public were committing a sin. And while that edict didn’t extend to eyelashes and eyebrows, many women of the period removed both of those features anyway. Apparently, a hair-free face gave more prominence to a woman’s forehead, regarded back then as her greatest asset. We can’t imagine the pain involved in the whole removal process, though…
16. Extremely long fingernails
Fingernails have been the focus of many a fashion trend over the centuries, but arguably the fiercest-looking fad of them all came from ancient China. Specifically, “nail guards” were a status symbol for those in society’s highest echelons. Reaching up to six inches, they showed that the pampered wearer had never needed to perform any hard manual work. And the vicious-looking talons virtually ensured that she wasn’t going to buck that trend any time soon.
15. Face tattoos
The Ainu aren’t the only indigenous people to have had a penchant for facial tattoos. Indeed, the M?ori, who are native to New Zealand, are renowned to this day for their face and body art. However, their markings – known as t? moko – were traditionally applied by carving into the skin with a chisel. The pain was apparently worth it, though, as the t? moko not only denoted the wearer’s social status but was also thought to make the bearer more good-looking.
14. Very long hair
Many people across the world have long hair, it’s true. However, not all of them can boast of locks just like the inhabitants of the Chinese village of Huangluo. There, Yao women have their hair trimmed just once in their lifetimes and so often grow it to as long as four and a half feet. They also wash their hair in fermented rice water in order to keep it healthy and lengthy well into old age.
13. Male beauty contests
Traditionally, beauty contests and pageants have mainly focused on women. The Wodaabe people turn the tables with their competitions, though, as in them men with painted faces dance their hearts out to win over female judges. Characteristics like facial symmetry, wide eyes and white teeth are prized in these contests, while the colors the male competitors daub themselves with also carry heavy symbolism.
12. Female unibrows
The ancient Greeks were partial to one fad that, today, might seem rather odd – that is, the female unibrow. It was only unmarried women, though, that used powder to give the impression that their eyebrows had grown into a single entity. And if that still didn’t cut it, then they used fake brows made using goat’s hair and held on with tree resin. Sounds like we have the next bizarre Instagram beauty trend…
11. Accentuated veins
In the 18th century, accentuated veins on a woman’s chest were so popular that many took to using make-up to emphasize their blue coloring. Not so attractive, though, was the way in which this preening sometimes inflamed the skin – perhaps due to the amount of lead contained in powders of that period.
10. Self-harm as make-up
A heavily painted face was ostensibly frowned upon in Victorian England. Indeed, excessive make-up – or even any make-up at all – was principally seen as the sole reserve of prostitutes or actors. That didn’t stop women from attempting to give their faces some color, though. And for those with no cosmetics to hand, that meant pinching their cheeks and biting their lips. It certainly wasn’t a painless time to be alive…
9. Whitening skin with arsenic
Pale skin was all the rage in the 18th century, though the means of achieving the look sometimes weren’t pretty. Lead-based white powder, for instance, often poisoned its users with ill side-effects. And, horrifyingly, arsenic was also used as a quick fix. This gave women a fair complexion by destroying their red blood cells and so could lead to death – or baldness, if one was lucky.
8. Foot binding
Like long fingernails, foot binding among Chinese woman was a symbol of high standing: specifically, a woman with bound feet was wealthy enough not to have to use them to work. And while the origin of this practice is largely lost in folklore and myth, it’s thought that it may have been popularized by 10th century emperor Li Yu. He implored his concubine to bind her own feet, and the elegant way in which she was then able to dance inspired others to follow suit.
20. Elongated skulls
Artificial cranial deformation, to give it its technical term, has been practiced for longer than humans have been writing things down. Indeed, it’s thought to have originated as far back as 8000 BC, across dozens of cultures, including the Maya, Inca and tribes in Africa. The process, which involved applying force to the skull, was usually performed during infancy to signify social status.
6. Stiff, high collars
In the late 19th century, men’s shirt collars became stiffer and higher. That doesn’t sound like much of a problem at face value. And, indeed, it wasn’t – until it was found that this choice of clothing could have fatal consequences. Indeed, in one instance, a man was choked by his collar after indigestion had caused his neck to inflate.
The crinoline was integral to 19th century women’s fashion: often made from steel and covered in muslin or silk, it rested underneath hoop clothing, creating that insane dress diameter so famous of the period. But it carried numerous dangers to the wearer, not least of which was its flammability. Indeed, at least one woman burned alive after her dress caught fire and the crinoline instantly went up in flames.
4. Fragrance cones
The ancient Egyptians were all about elaborate fashion statements and styles. Perhaps one of their most outré ways of preening themselves, though, was through the “fragrance cone.” Made of wax, these shortcuts to sweet smells were a form of headgear that would melt under the hot sun and release perfume as a consequence.
3. Stilt walkers
If you’ve ever complained about the state of your local roads and highways, just be grateful that things aren’t as bad as they were in one region of 19th century France. Indeed, traveling conditions in the Landes area were so bad that several people opted to use stilts to make their way around the harsh, marshy terrain. One man, Sylvain Dornon, even became so proficient in this method of transport that he made the trek, on stilts, from Paris to Moscow – a feat he achieved in just 58 days.
Long-toed shoes have come in and out of fashion at various points in history, but perhaps no style in this mold quite compares to crakows. So-called because they were assumed to have come from Kraków, Poland, the shoes became popular in 15th century Europe. What’s more, crakows were so extravagantly long-toed that their ends often required stuffing to hold their shape.
Platform shoes of the 1970s may have looked ridiculous, but they’ve got nothing on chopines. The bizarre footwear was all the rage in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, when the shoes served a practical use: their height allowed women to protect the hems of their clothes from dirt in the street. In addition, chopines served as an indicator of a woman’s status, with the tallest examples typically belonging to the most important in society.