In fifth-century Europe, socks were usually worn by “holy” people to symbolize purity

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The earliest known surviving pair of socks Author: David Jackson  CC BY-SA 2.0

Although nowadays socks seem to be nothing more than just a simple detail of one’s outfit, the fact is that they have come a long way and dramatically evolved over the centuries. Socks are considered by many as being the oldest type of clothing to have ever existed, dating back to the Stone Age when our ancestors first started using animal skin for the purpose of covering their feet and ankles in order to provide much-needed warmth and comfort.

The oldest known surviving pair of socks was discovered in the city of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. They date back to 300-500 A.D. and were created by needle-binding. Today, these strange looking ancient socks are on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The museum explains that:

“The Romano-Egyptian socks were excavated in the burial grounds of ancient Oxyrhynchus, a Greek colony on the Nile in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. They were given to the Museum in 1900 by Robert Taylor Esq., ‘Kytes,’ Watford. He was the executor of the estate of the late Major Myers and these items were selected among others from a list of textiles as ‘a large number of advantageous examples.”

It appears that humans have embraced the benefits of wearing socks since the earliest cultures and civilizations, including people of Ancient Greece. The famed Greek poet, Hesiod, gives us one of the first written accounts of the importance of keeping our feet warm by using “piloi,” ancient type of socks made from matted animal hair.

 In his didactic poem entitled Works and Days, Hesiod advises his brother Perses to protect himself by using this particular type of ancient socks: “Around your feet, tie your sandals made from brutally hunted oxen skin and, under these, dress them in piloi.” 

They came, they saw, they wore socks with sandals. As you might have already guessed, we are talking about the Ancient Romans. Several years ago, an archaeological dig in North Yorkshire brought archaeologists to a conclusion that Roman legionnaires wore socks with sandals. Although one can rarely see an Ancient Roman sculpture that features socks, the fact is that Ancient Romans, similarly to the Ancient Greeks, also wore socks for protection against cold weather.

While Ancient Greeks and Romans used socks for functional purposes, among Europeans of the 5th century A.D., socks become known as puttees and were usually worn only by “holy” people to symbolize purity.

Status symbols, both financial and cultural, have existed for quite a long time throughout our history with every era being defined by a different one. We all know the status symbols of our own era, but one might be surprised to find out that around 1,000 years ago a rather strange object was considered a mark of social standing, and that was, believe it or not, a pair of colored socks.

It was not until 1000 A.D. that socks became a prominent object in everyday life and a symbol of wealth among the nobility. However, this changed with the invention of the knitting machine in 1589, which made it possible for socks to be knitted far faster than knitting them by hand as people did before. A strange new substance known as nylon was introduced in 1938 which caused a revolution in the entire textile industry and changed sock production forever.

 

Today in the 21st century, socks can be found for any kind of need, purpose, or style; the only thing that remains a struggle is to keep one pair of socks complete.

 Alex .A

Crinolinemania: This deadly Victorian fashion garment killed around 3,000 women

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Observed from today’s perspective, crinolines look utterly uncomfortable and unattractive to the point of absurdity. Why would anyone want to wear something that resembles a gigantic whipped-cream cake around their waist? Yet fashion trends have shown that comfort and attractiveness often have little in common, so it can be said that crinolines were just what any fad is–a way to get all eyes on you even if the cost is being a real (fashion) victim.

One of the fashion trends of the 19th century Victorian Era that stirred lady fashionistas was the so-called “Crinolinemania,” a craze that referred to the fashion obsession with the crinoline, a stiffened underskirt made using horsehair and linen or cotton, invented in the early 1840s.

These skirts were the followers of the “panniers” women’s underwear worn in the 17th and 18th centuries that enabled extending of the skirt at the side, thus creating a large side-squared dress that properly displayed the garment’s decorations.

Comic photograph, c.1860.

However, according to some fashion historians, the real predecessor of the crinoline was the 16th-century Spanish “farthingale.” These wide, full skirts were much adored by the Spanish ladies even back in the 15th century. The queen consort of Castile, Joana of Portugal, copied their style and introduced it to court, attracting admiring attention, although court rumor had it that the main reason she wore the style was to hide her illegitimate pregnancy. England became acquainted with the crinoline when Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, wore a Spanish farthingale made of linen and cane sticks.

In the first half of the 1800s, skirts became bigger and adopted a round shape. The ladies created an illusion of a large circle at the bottom part of their attire by wearing numerous layers of petticoats. This layered clothing often disabled the ladies’ movement and comfort, so when the crinoline was finally invented, they felt a relief. Crinolines weighed less and fit more easily to the body.

The name of the fashion fad first appeared in the 1800s in the magazine Punch, which mocked the crinoline craze and published humorous cartoon illustrations about Crinolinemania. The root of the garment’s nickname originates in the French words crin (horsehair) and lin (linen), which describe the materials of which the initial versions of the crinoline were made. The horsehair crinolines supported the weight of the layers of petticoats under the full skirts and provided more convenience.

Inflatable crinolines. Caricature, Punch, January 1857.

One of the most widely known models is the cage crinoline which was first patented in 1856 by R.C. Milliet in Paris. His agent brought it to Britain and it became popular overnight. These crinolines were made of spring steel with lightness providing flexibility and enabled women to walk and sit while wearing them.

Cage crinoline underskirt, the 1860s, MoMu.

 The ladies felt liberated in comparison to their previous layered petticoats and praised their experience in the Lady’s Newspaper in 1863: “So perfect are the wave-like bands that a lady may ascend a steep stair, lean against a table, throw herself into an armchair, pass to her stall at the opera, and occupy a further seat in a carriage, without inconveniencing herself or others, and provoking the rude remarks of observers thus modifying in an important degree, all those peculiarities tending to destroy the modesty of Englishwomen; and lastly, it allows the dress to fall in graceful folds.”

These positive reviews stimulated a massive production of crinolines led by the most successful producer, Douglas & Sherwood’s Hoop Skirt Factory in New York. The mass-production made crinolines affordable to women who stood at different levels on the social ladder. On daily occasions, most of the women wore small crinoline versions while the large bell-shaped models, some up to six feet in diameter, were worn on special occasions such as balls.

Three women showing dresses in blue with black lace and white with red stripes and brown color with queue de Paris

Nevertheless, due to their heaviness and robustness, crinolines had disadvantages that completely outweigh the advantages. Wearing them in the summer meant spending the day in hot, unhygienic conditions. The biggest issue, however, was a fatal one.

The enormous size of the crinolines was often too challenging for the women in specific surroundings, and thus there were thousands of reported cases of ladies being severely injured or burned alive when a candle or a spark from the fireplace would accidentally flame by touching the crinoline. Sometimes the hoops would also get caught in machinery or be run over by carriage wheels, causing serious consequences to the wearer.

 Brad Smithfield

“We want pockets”: The Rational Dress Society and its campaign for practical clothing for women

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Striding along with your hands in your pants pockets is often associated with being carefree–unless you are a woman. Then you might be lucky if your pants even have pockets. And if they do, they are likely to be flimsy and shallow. They seem to be for ornamentation and not much else.

In contrast, men’s garments seem to be full of pockets–secret pockets tucked inside the lapels of their jackets, pockets in their work shirts and T-shirts, sometimes pockets within other pockets. And most of these pockets are sturdy and deep, made for real utility.

There’s a gender divide when it comes to clothing and pockets, and there’s good reason why many women fume –or ought to–about the situation.

Centuries ago–think the 17th century–what passed for “pockets” were actually pouches, tied around the waists of both men and women. The large skirts of that time period meant that women could wear the pouches on the outside or hide them by tying them on their waists under their skirts.

As the Industrial Revolution swept the world, people had more to carry. But while men’s pouches became incorporated into the clothing itself, women’s were not. And with full skirts falling out of fashion, the hidden pouch option became less viable. Women were forced to carry larger external purses, which also meant at least one hand was needed to hold or secure the purse, often while the other struggled with children.

That loss of freedom did not go unnoticed, and pockets of resistance began to emerge.

In 1891, the Rational Dress Society was founded in London to lobby against corsets and other restrictive clothing and push for more comfortable and utilitarian options for women.

Its self-described mission was this: “The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming….[It] requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.”

Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, a member of the Rational Dress Society, managed to get added to the speakers list of the 1889 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. She educated them on the inequities, danger, and discomfort of women’s wear at the time. Her speech, in which she talked about combining grace and beauty with comfort and convenience, was carried by newspapers throughout Britain. Her message was the biggest news to come out of the event.

And in 1905, Charlotte P. Gilman of the New York Times also pointed out the discrepancies: “One supremacy there is in men’s clothing … its adaptation to pockets.”

Some have attempted to make changes. Famed designer Coco Chanel began sewing pockets into her distinctive jackets in the 1920s.

Changing roles also influenced the movement. During World War II, when many women had to take on jobs that were traditionally male, they took on their more practical clothing, as well. They found themselves practically swooning with the freedom offered by pants with pockets.

In the 1960 and 1970s, many women began wearing pants more regularly – adopting the sturdy, multi-pocketed Levis blue jeans that had long been worn by working men. But by the 1980s, even blue jeans were sexualized and corrupted. Tight-fighting, flimsier “designer” models emerged, with pockets a woman could barely put her hands in. Women also were charged a premium price for the lower quality product.

More and better clothing with useful pockets is emerging, but as most women could tell you, these items are the exception. Anthropologists who study the issue put the blame on male dominance in the fashion industry. The designers complain pockets get in the way of a product’s “clean lines,” but some women complain clothing should be more about function, rather than presenting the woman as a form to be appreciated for appearance only. Others say the lack of pockets is a ploy to sell purses.

These days, the argument is spilling into new ground. Much of what passes for women’s workout gear has been pared down to minimal sports bras and yoga pants. And in the outdoor industry, where utilitarian clothing can be matter of life and death, gender differences are still clear.

In general, the fabrics in men’s clothing is of higher quality, and the pants and shirts have bigger, stronger pockets and more of them. With the pace of change moving at a limp, many women are responding in the only way they know how: picking up more practical clothing from the men’s lines.

 Terri Likens

Terri Likens‘ byline has appeared in newspapers around the world through The Associated Press. She has also done work for ABCNews, the BBC, and magazines that include High Country News, American Profile, and Plateau Journal. She lives just east of Nashville, Tenn.