By Otto Cruz Jr.

What is fashion?  

When I think of fashion, I picture clothes, colors, and expressions that show off one’s own style. I think about the freedom that one has to be expressive and wear, not only makes you feel comfortable, but anything that visually shares your thoughts and feelings. Fashion can be, and in many cases is, an identity.  I would have never thought, however, that fashion was an oppressive ideology.

Pondering the question of what fashion is (and isn’t), I decided to do some research.  I found that, throughout history, many oppressive fashion trends existed that placed several generations of women through very uncomfortable and even dangerous clothing styles. Some historical fashion trends were even deadly.  I was shocked to discover how much pain and suffering women endured, all for the sake of fashion.  Many so-called fashion trends, that not only oppressed women and their personal style, but nearly placed their lives at risk.

I came across ten bizarre fashion trends from eras where fewer rights existed for women, which reminded me of the freedom women get to enjoy now. I wanted to talk about the most bizarre ones that stood out to me.

The Corset

Although still used today, modern corsets are nothing compared to what the garment used to be in the 16th century.  Those corsets were made of whalebone and were extremely uncomfortable and restrictive, to the point that women were not able to raise their arms above their heads or move too quickly without having difficulty breathing.  While they did provide for great posture, this came at a price. It was considered a fashion staple, but doctors eventually warned women about lacing up too tightly. As this warning perpetuated, it became a lesser undergarment of choice.

High Heels

Can you believe that high heels were at one point three feet tall? Today, high heels are still seen as a strong fashion trend, but they measure nothing like the 15th to 17th century heels which were basically a meter in height. When women wore these, they often used walking sticks or escorts to assist in preventing them from falling over. Besides being uncomfortably high, can you imagine trying to run in an emergency, or bend down and pick something up?

Enlarged Eyes

Yep, eye drops that would enlarge eyes. . .from a lethal belladonna plant. LETHAL. I’m sorry, just wanted to make sure that you understood it was not a typo. During the 16th century, Italian women used drops made from the belladonna plant as a cosmetic to dilate their pupils, for the look of having larger eyes. Keep in mind that ingesting large doses of this plant is considered to be lethal. And people thought that gluing longer eye lashes are a pain!

Smaller Feet

I’m sure you all have heard of how Chinese women were made to have smaller feet. Although it happened a very long time ago, 618 to 906 AD, we can’t forget about the terrifying trials and tribulations that women have had to endure with this fashion practice. During this time, small feet were highly prized and the practice of “foot binding” was used to improve the marriage prospects for daughters. Girls as young as five would have their four smaller toes bent underneath their foot and bound to impede the growth and deform their feet. I mean, why was this done to only women? Why not men as well? Come to think of it, why was it done to anyone at all? Not only was it concerning having difficulty walking, but what about the infections and amputations that may have been rampant during that time.

Lead-Based Makeup

Primer, concealer, foundation, and boom—we have make-up for the enhancement of beauty and maybe even confidence.  Nowadays it seems to be the norm and different companies and products are available for the masses, but do we take a moment and even think about what is put into these products?  Apparently throughout much of history, it didn’t seem to be important either.  Lead-based makeup was widely used to cover up scars and beauty imperfections.  So much so that it led to hair loss, inflammation, and welts in the skin.  Having long exposures to the lead-based makeup ended up claiming several lives during many years. Almost sounds like a gimmick a sales person would use. . . “great complexion, for a limited time only. Act now[JH3] !”

Lighter Skin

Well, if poisoning yourself with lead was not enough, there were two additional methods that were sure to give you what you wanted: approach and enter at your own risk.  Throughout history, lightening of the skin, or the “pale” look was always very much in, and what was done to achieve this look will have you saying “uh-uh!”  Swallowing arsenic and having leeches suck out blood. Yep, either almost committing suicide or having blood “vampired” out of you, was the way to go if you wanted to fit in and show your beauty. I wonder… how many dates were ruined because not everyone showed up to the party?

Reading about these historical trends was very eye opening for me. I started my research simply looking for trends, difficulties, maybe even wonders that arose from fashion, but I was not expecting to come across this.  Killing yourself, literally, killing yourself for the sake of fashion and style, or having yourself submitted to torture and pain made me realize how lucky and fortunate we are to choose and feel free with our fashion sense today.

Now I know what you are saying, these fashion trends happened many years ago, but the actual highlight of this is not necessarily the fashion statements themselves, but rather the oppression and the suffering of women that led to and resulted from them.  The ideology is key, thus why I wanted to bring this to the forefront.  Still today, women are submitted to having to look a certain way, having to respond to certain criticism, and have to submit to certain personas.

Well, enough is enough!  At Northern Fashion, we have taken our freedom of style and are working to #ElevateTheConversation to bring forth a new era of fashion that changes the way women are viewed, spoken to, and talked about. We do this through the simplicity of a t-shirt.  Wear it with jeans, wear it with a jacket, shorts, or in your own personal way.  Make your fashion statement symbolize the change and say that history will not repeat itself.  

Further Reading

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