Wearing blue jeans and flashing tattoos may be the hip image associated with the modern man, but you’d be surprised to know that some fashion fads have been around much longer than you thought.
Blue jeans came into the limelight with Hollywood heartthrob James Dean in the 1950’s, whose casual flair captured fashionistas’ imagination. However, Levi Strauss developed the durable trousers for miners following the California Gold Rush in 1850s . But wait, jeans go back even further… a 17th century Italian painter’s work shows working-class people wearing trousers made of indigo-blue cloth, resembling the ones part of your wardrobe today.
In medieval Europe, both women and men wore ‘pattens’, high-heeled wooden or metal clogs worn over soft shoes to protect them from the mud and horse-manure on the roads. According to Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, high heels found their way to Europe through 16th century Persia. Shah Abbas had the world’s largest cavalry, and his horsemen’s spike-heeled boots helped them grip the stirrups. Aristocrats in Western Europe adopted the fashion, wanting to don the macho-man image of the Persian cavaliers.
The fashion bombshell, the bikini, was introduced by Frenchman Louis Reard in 1946. Named after US nuclear testing that shook Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, the audacious swimsuit created quite a few waves. More sensational, though, is the fact that in a Roman villa built in 4th century AD, there are mosaics showing women athletes discus-throwing and lifting weights in brief bandeau tops and bikini bottoms… Talk about being ahead of the times.
Before platinum blonde aka Marilyn Monroe changed our concept of beauty forever, followed by burgundy, ash, aubergine, purple plum and so on, dyeing hair was already old hat. Ancient Mesopotamians and Persians used indigo, chamomile, henna and walnut shell powder to darken their tresses.
The ‘body as landscape’ trend did not start in Camden Town, nor will it end with David Beckham. Humans have and will always use their skin to express their inner artistic yearnings. Egyptian carvings show both men and women with extensive tattooing. ‘Iceman’, a frozen European corpse dating back to 5,000 years ago, has tattoo marks on it.
So before you start feeling cocky about being ‘with it’, remember you already may be ‘history’.