-- simple tubes of cloth to keep your feet warm or rampaging instruments of death? The answer is "simple tubes of cloth" -- really, were you going to fall for that? -- but sometimes it's a little more complicated.
Like shirt fasteners for mercenaries.
Or Imperial anti-snot devices.
Or hermaphrodite head coverings.
Read on for more in the secret history of what you wear every day ...
The bow tie
was not always the pencil-necked nerdwear it is today. (Need we say more?
) Once it was the hallmark of savage Croatian mercenaries, ready to sell boutique disemboweling services to the highest bidder. Hanging out in Paris during the Thirty Years War
, the mercenaries would tie up the collars of their shirts with scarves, which the Paris fashionistas thought was dead sexy.
Because the Parisians couldn't tell the difference between "Hrvati
" (what the mercenaries called themselves) and "Croat
" (what everyone else called them), the scarves became "cravats" and took Europe by storm. (Considering what they were replacing,
they didn't have much competition.) As things do when they get to be more than 100 years old, the cravat eventually shrank and withered into the bow tie we know and mock today.
wore one. So did Bogie
, Joey, Dino
, gamblers, detectives, the Blues Brothers
-- everyone who's ever been truly cool has rocked a fedora. Such is the power of the hat that it even makes rabbis look cool
. (Almost.) But the fedora harbors a dark secret: It was once a chick hat.
The time: 1882. The place: Paris. Sarah Bernhardt, Europe's first pop diva, wows her audience in a custom-written play by Victorien Sardou. Her plucky character wears a creased-crowned, felt hat with the brim pulled low over her eyes. The title of the play? "Fédora."
And for the next 40 years, the fedora hat is the style -- for women. But, as air gunk and industrial soot increase in cities like Chicago, men start to catch on to the crushable and relatively inexpensive hat as a snappy way to keep their heads dry and their necks clean.
It only goes out of style as cars get too small for the relatively wide-brimmed hat, and we start to take our fashion cues from hat-negative California, the same state that would give us casual Fridays and zucchini-flower pizza. Some people claim that JFK
sealed the deal by going hatless to his inauguration. It turns out that's bunk
. The fedora's real death knell? In our opinion, the appearance of its narrow-brimmed poser cousin, the trilby
You might think they're just linen squares for tea parties and mama's boys, but no. Ever since King Richard II used one to wipe his nose, kerchiefs have been associated with sex, blood and death. (OK, and mucus.)
When the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, Europeans walked the streets with "plague bags," kerchiefs wrapped around sweet-smelling herbs to ward off disease.
In the Victorian era, kerchiefs were all about sex. A woman would drop her handkerchief in front of a man to give him an opportunity to pick it up, return it to her and make his move. Kerchiefs moved back to sex again in the 1980s, when gay men created the "hanky code
Biker gangs also used them in California as a way to keep the sun off their heads while stomping someone else's. Crips and Bloods, on the other hand, used them as badges. The Boy Scouts wear a kerchief not just to look goofy, but as an emergency tourniquet in case someone loses a leg while birdwatching. And of course, even their names come from everywhere: "Kerchief" comes from the French "couvre-chef,
" or "head covering," but "bandanna
" is Hindi for "to tie up."
The Greeks and Romans thought trousers were only for barbarians. Well, who's laughing now, Aristotle? It turns out even togas were better than what we were wearing pre-1800: breeches, the creepy, end-at-the-knee short pants
that make you look like a plate of frog's legs. It took the French Revolution to bring the world to its senses. The guillotine experts who ran the country associated knee breeches with the aristocrats whose heads they were shortening; but ankle-length "pantaloons" were the uniform of the working man. From there, they spread to Britain and then the world, making it a more calf-friendly place for everyone.
ve Buttons on Jackets
Maybe it was Napoleon. Maybe it was Frederick the Great
. Maybe it was the Duke of Wellington. We may never know, but one of these guys thought it would be a good idea to put buttons on coat sleeves to keep his soldiers from wiping their noses on them. (Or maybe the whole thing is just a big lie, and the buttons are there because coat sleeves used to open and needed buttons to stay fastened. But isn't the Napoleon story better?)