9 Pieces of Clothing That Served a Different Purpose in the Past

Over the last tens of thousands of years, some pieces of clothes have transformed significantly, changing their entire purpose. For example, tights were once designed to highlight the beautiful shape of men’s calves and vests were supposed to hide the big bellies of men that liked to eat a lot.

It took us quite some time here at Bright Side to sort out all the mysteries behind the history of clothes so we could share them with all of you. And we’ve also prepared a bonus feature: as it turns out, the extra weight of one person can change the course of fashion forever!

1. Men’s vests used to be corsets.

There’s a theory that vests were invented by the Turks, and the Arabs liked the idea so they spread it to Europe. The prototype of the modern vest is a slim-fitted camisole without sleeves which was about knee-length.

In the 18th century, it was shortened quite significantly. And the main purpose of the renewed vest was to hide a person’s extra weight. This is why these vests were made of very dense fabric and sometimes even contained a carcass build which made them corsets.

2. The long toes on shoes used to be tied to the ankles.

Such long toes on shoes appeared in the East together with the fashion of very wide pants. In the beginning, the shoes were just made longer to make them visible from underneath the pants. But then, the toes were made curved and were even tied to the ankle because they were so long that it was hard to walk without falling.

3. Women’s corsets weren’t designed to make them look slimmer.

Unlike the popular misconception, corsets were not designed to lift up the breasts and make them look bigger or to make the waist look thinner. In the 16th and the 17th centuries, the main purpose of this piece of clothing was to make the female body look cone-shaped.

The chest was flat and right under the belt, there was a big belly. Sometimes, ladies even used a pillow to plump the belly if the lady didn’t have enough of her own fat.

4. Pants without zipper flies were popular among sailors.

The pants of sailors didn’t always have flies. Instead, there was a special valve on the front that was attached to the waist. If a person fell into the water, they just needed to remove the valve and shake their hands in the water to get rid of the pants which were quite wide.

5. Necklaces were worn to highlight small breasts.

During the Renaissance, women’s dresses would contain an enforced bra. It had several layers of thick paper, metal and wooden planks, baleen and some other materials. This is how the corset that made women’s breasts look absolutely flat appeared.

On the plus side: dresses fit perfectly on women that were wearing corsets and the expensive fabric didn’t get crumpled. There’s a theory that the women in the past wore necklaces, the way it’s shown in the picture above, in order to show that they still had breasts.

6. Jeans were specially designed for American workers.

The first jeans were made of sailcloth. The material turned out to be so durable that the pants were sold to American gold miners (at the time, the country was going through a state of gold fever) that really needed clothes that would last.

A bit later, on the seams, the now-famous rivets appeared —they were the same ones that were used in saddlery. The invention was not made for decoration but for comfort: the front pockets of the workers would hold heavy tools and they would tear quite fast. The rivets solved this problem right away.

7. Only comedians could wear socks outside in order to make people laugh.

The women in Ancient Greece spent most of their time at home, on their designated side, of course. In the streets, women wore sandals and at home, they wore very soft shoes made of the thinnest skin — a prototype of the modern-day socks.

Over time, the men that visited the female half of the household also started wearing these shoes. In the beginning, they only wore them in the presence of relatives. They would never show up anywhere wearing them in front of strangers — it would be as crazy as seeing your male neighbor wearing high heels today.

But there were people who were not afraid of shame. For example, comedic actors. They often wore these “socks” in the street, making other people laugh.

8. Men used to wear tights quite regularly.

It’s a well-known fact that in the Middle Ages, any given aristocrat had several pairs of tights in his wardrobe. While women of this time used to hide their legs underneath skirts, men were supposed to wear short culottes, showing off their legs to others.

In the diary of a minion of the King of Spain, it was written that “the silk tights that showed the beauty of men’s calves were an exciting thing to see.”

9. Sailors used to wear marinières to look like skeletons.

There are several possible theories about the origin of a marinière. One of them says that sailors wore striped T-shirts in order to trick the sea spirits. If a sailor went overboard, mermaids, demons and other creatures were believed to start trying to pull them to the bottom. If a sailor was wearing a marinière, the creatures would assume it was a dead man because he looked like a skeleton, so they wouldn’t touch him.

Bonus: Sometimes, one person can change the course of history.

Men never clasp the lower button on their jackets. This is considered to be bad manners. But the history of this rule goes far back to the fat British King Edward VII. It is believed that when he was a prince, he was unable to button up his vest. As a response, the entire royal court unbuttoned the lower button on their vests before other people of England followed suit.

Do you have pieces of clothing in your wardrobe that you’d like to know more about the origins of? Tell us about them and we’ll prepare another article!

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