In all honesty, you don’t have to be a catwalk-stalking fashionista to enjoy States of Undress. It’s a fascinating look at how people all around the world dress themselves, as well as an exploration of the planet’s different industries. But as anyone who has looked a photo of themselves 10 or so years ago knows, fashion is best enjoyed with a retrospective cringe.
Here are five trends from history that seem almost entirely ridiculous now.
Codpieces proved that clothes didn’t make the man
Back in the Elizabethan era, everyone who was anyone went around with their clothes stuffed in various areas: sleeves, thighs, bellies (it was called “bombasting”, hilariously). But there’s something deeply psychological about the evolution of this trend towards the crotch – codpieces swelled to frankly ludicrous size, which no doubt set a lot of women up for disappointment once they were invited into the wearer’s bedchamber.
Chopines started out as a good idea, then became ridiculous
If you’ve ever been to Venice, you’ll know the walkways can get muddy, if not flooded. In the 16th and 17th centuries, local geniuses solved this problem by inventing chopines – the fancy equivalent of walking around on tin cans. Unfortunately, things got out of control when they became a fashion trend, with “the higher the better” becoming the motto of the day. This led to women who couldn’t even walk down the street without holding the hands of an attendant or two, thanks to their 20-inch footwear.
Foot binding – even less practical than stiletto heels
Still, at least chopines had a reason for existing. Breaking the feet of little girls and folding them into tiny shoes is less defensible, unless you’re really, really into the idea of small tootsies (or you’re charmed by the more whimsical name for the process: Lotus Foot. Outlawed in 1949, foot binding played a big role in shaping social status and marriageability. At least hobble skirts didn’t do any permanent damage.
Neck rings still attract tourists, if not male attention
Back in the day, wrapping brass rings around the necks of young ladies to concertina their clavicles and rib cages was seen as a great idea to make them more attractive (or, according to some sources, to make them less enticing to the kidnapping chancers of rival communities). These days, there’s a more practical reason the girls of Myanmar’s Kayan Lahwi tribe do it: tourists pay to get their photo taken with girls as young as five who wear the rings.
Frosted tips were a blight on humanity
Who’s to blame for the turn-of-the-century trend whereby young men would walk into a hairdressing parlour and emerge with their ends of their spiky hair bleached? Joshua “Pacey from Dawson’s Creek” Jackson, that’s who. He will never be forgiven.
States of Undress airs on SBS Viceland every Sunday night at 8:30pm. Catch up on previous episodes on SBS On Demand: