When it comes to wardrobe staples, certain items are so ubiquitous that we never stop to think about where they came from. After all, doing a deep Wikipedia dive into the history of socks doesn’t sound like a very exciting Friday night.
Nevertheless, some fashion has its roots in some very bizarre moments from the past, when clothes of all kinds were used for very different purposes. You probably never knew that these clothes and accessories took their names from real people and places!
1. Tuxedo: Every guy looks great in a tux — well, almost everyone. This outfit is the pinnacle of men’s black tie fashion, and its origins are about as classy as you would expect.
Awkward Family Photos
Around the turn of the century, affluent gentlemen wore black-and-white ensembles around Tuxedo Park, New York. Though the attire became associated with this American town, historians determined the Prince of Wales — later King Edward VII — was the one who brought the fashion there!
2. Birkin bag: On one flight in 1983, Hermés chairman Jean-Louis Dumas just happened to be seated next to singer and actress Jane Birkin. She made a bit of a scene when her carry-on bag tipped over and dumped all her possessions out over the floor.
Dumas then decided to craft a luxurious leather bag just for the actress, and the style caught on. Today, the pricey purses are synonymous with heiresses and Kardashians everywhere.
3. Argyle: This diagonal diamond pattern screams preppy to any modern fashionista. However, the reason for its popularity is far too bloody to mention at any respectable garden party.
It began in Argyll, Scotland, with the tartan kilts of Clan Campbell, an unruly family who opposed English rule and instigated violent uprisings. Though argyle long had an anti-establishment reputation, it turned around when the luxury brand Pringle of Scotland incorporated it into their knitwear.
4. Ascot: Nowadays, this spiffy neckwear only shows up on TV and movies to signify a classy bad guy. We say that with sincere apologies to Fred from Scooby-Doo. Still, it was once the height of fashion.
The style came about during the 19th century. Just outside London, rich attendees of the Royal Ascot Race began tying their outfits together with cravats. Before too long, ascots spread to society events far beyond the racetrack.
5. Jeans: Everybody, from royals to everyday joes, owns at least one pair of these denim pants. While certain luxury brands peddle jeans, they had quite a rough-and-tumble introduction to the world of fashion.
In the mid-1800s, jeans became the pants of the working man. Miners and frontiersman favored the rugged fabric and reinforced pockets. Many pairs came in from the Italian city of Genoa, which eventually became bastardized into the word “jeans.”
6. Bikini: We have Jacques Heim to thank for the modern two-piece swimsuit. He knew his controversial design would be like a bomb dropping on the fashion world, so he named it after the Bikini Atoll, where the U.S. military tested the first nuclear weaponry.
While it’s considered to be a more modern swimsuit option, archaeological discoveries indicate that a version of the bikini existed in antiquity. Roman mosaics, for example, show women athletes dressed in a precursor of the bikini.
7. Jersey: Whether you’re a professional athlete or just a pro couch surfer, chances are, you own a sports jersey or two. Of course, these garments weren’t always associated with sports.
They take their name from the English island of Jersey. It became renowned for its knitwear, its shirts a favorite of rugged sailors and fishermen before they evolved into Super Bowl caliber gear.
8. Cardigan: When a sweater is rocked by both Kurt Cobain and Mister Rogers, you know it’s got to be good. Cardigans differentiate themselves from other knitwear with an open front, usually featuring buttons. Don’t tell Fred Rogers, but their origins aren’t too friendly.
James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, led the famous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. He outfitted his doomed troops in collarless, wool army jackets that later become the popular sweater.
9. Capris: Designer Sonja de Lennart introduced these calf-length pants in the late 1940s. She named them after the island of Capri, where Italian women wore shorter trousers during the warm Mediterranean summers.
Ever since the 1950s, capri pants have become a staple of women’s fashion. However, they aren’t just for the ladies. Just ask tennis ace Rafael Nadal, who’s filled out an entire trophy room while competing in the abbreviated pantaloons.
10. Leotard: Anyone who’s ever watched Olympic gymnastics knows all about these spandex wonders. Barely anybody, however, realizes that the garment gets its name from a famous performer.
Jules Léotard wowed French audiences with his death-defying stunts on the trapeze. To keep his clothing from snagging onto anything, he invented this one-piece costume. And, like any circus maestro, he wanted to show off his buff physique.
Victoria & Albert Museum
However, fitness gurus of the ’80s completely twisted Jules Léotard’s vision. People all over, both men and women, were wearing leg warmers, spandex, and sporty underwear over their clothing. Yikes!
While these clothes are closet staples, other fashion trends have died or changed over time. For instance, contemporary Amtrak employees may wear “military-inspired” blazers and ties, but they weren’t always as straight-laced. In the 1970s, they wore colorful berets, and women employees rocked hot pants!
2. McDonald’s: Besides updating their short-sleeved, collared shirts, the fast food giant totally updated their hats over the years. Employees now sport classic baseball caps. Those paper monstrosities only get used to package their burgers.
3. Nurses: In the early 20th century, nurses’ bulky outfits definitely made them recognizable. Still, the large dresses and caps — inspired by nuns’ habits — encumbered movement. These days, most nurses have adopted sleek and simple scrubs.
British Red Cross
4. Zookeepers: Back in the day, animal handlers dressed more like military officers, with blazers, trousers, and peaked caps. Wisely, their modern counterparts switched to khaki outfits better suited to the rough-and-tumble nature of their job.
5. Gymnasts: In the early 1900s, women’s gymnastics garb was anything but athletic. The billowy dresses looked like they belonged at a tea party, not on the parallel bars. The skin-tight leotard became the dominant fashion by the 1970s, allowing competitors a full range of movement.
6. Waitresses: If you visit any trendy restaurant, you’re likely to spot servers in black t-shirts and pants. Decades ago, you’d almost always see waitresses rushing around in collared, gingham dresses. Only throwback diners — think jukeboxes and polyester seats — still keep these duds around.
7. Firefighters: Before the advent of flame-resistant garb, firemen had to rely on nothing but woolen clothing and rubber boots for protection. Fortunately, they now utilize state-of-the-art uniforms, complete with masks and air tanks for easy breathing.
8. Tennis players: Today’s top pros make a racket in hi-tech shirts, shorts, and skirts — or a “catsuit” in Serena Williams’ case. But in the early 1900s, tennis aficionados wore formal dresses, sweaters, and ties that belonged more at a garden party than a Grand Slam.
9. Park rangers: Up until the 1970s, female rangers had no choice but to wear skirts with heeled boots — not the easiest outfit when trekking through mountains and forests. They later won access to the practical version donned by their male colleagues.
National Park Service
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: It must really sting whenever the Steelers have to take the field in their vintage bumblebee uniforms. The stripes are glaring, and the numbers in white boxes look like pieces of paper glued on to the jerseys. At least they skipped the leather helmets!
11. Postal workers: Bring out the shorts! The postal service forced employees to sweat in long, heavy pants but did allow women in their ranks to wear skirts. The guys got so jealous that a few actually cut off their pant legs. Once their superiors figured out that this move made sense, they embraced shorts with open arms — and legs.
12. Police: If the cut and fabric of older police uniforms come off as militaristic, it’s for good reason. Many of them arrived from a surplus of army gear. Modern police have kept the formality, but added more utility, with holsters and clips for equipment.
13. Doctors: For generations, doctors clad themselves in formal attire, usually darker colors. After all, a black jacket and pants were more appropriate for patients’ high mortality rate. As medicine advanced, however, docs swapped out their funeral wear for white coats or scrubs.
14. Pilots: Aviator fashion has evolved quite a bit, largely based on the fact that pilots used to be exposed to the air. While they once needed googles, leather hats, and heavy scarves, they now opt for classy suits and caps.
15. Dunkin Donuts: The commercials say that America runs on Dunkin, but in the 1970s, Dunkin workers weren’t running very far in these mini dresses. Luckily the DD execs dropped the cutesy outfits for functional brown and white clothing.
16. U.S. Marines: Since their formation in 1775, the Marines’ uniforms have undergone a series of changes to keep up with the times. They introduced their famous globe, eagle, and anchor symbol in 1859, and moved away from wool fabric.
17. Ballerinas: Dancers around the turn of the century had to pirouette across the stage in wide, heavy skirts to protect their modesty. In the present, ballerinas usually appear in more form-fitting, athletic clothes that bring more attention to the human form.
18. Lifeguards: With all due respect to the Parkway Beach hunk, full-body wool swimsuits aren’t so chic anymore. Today’s pool and beach guards go for suits made of synthetic fabric. They also utilize better sun protection, while still getting their tan on.
Flickr / Craig Moe
19. Umpires: Top pitchers can hurl a fastball around 100 miles per hour, so it’s no surprise that umpires need a little more padding behind the plate. Instead of hoping their snazzy suits will repel any wild pitches, umpires don masks, guards, and chest protectors either inside or outside their shirts.
20. Flight attendants: Taking a look at Delta Air Lines’ apparel, stewardesses once strode up and down the aisles with pencil skirts, blazers, and pillbox hats. A modern makeover has replaced that look with sleeker dresses and suits, available in red or purple.
Delta / Flickr
Uniforms aren’t the only items of clothing that have changed with time. In fact, so much of what people used to wear is almost too bizarre to be believed. Take the “Speed-Limit” skirt for example.
21. The “Speed-Limit” skirt (1910): Long ago, skirts were designed to be very narrow, and they would often rip when women took wide steps. To avoid tearing the fabric, ladies started placing special loops around the base of their clothing to prevent them from taking broad steps. However, it made them look like they were hobbling when they walked.
22. The bullet bra (1940-1950s): This trend was actually kind of funny-looking when you think about it. Still today, women all over the world want bigger busts, and this was a very unique way to achieve it. Your fashion was on point, ladies!
23. Beehive hairdo (1960s): Many women during the ’60s believed this updo (a hairstyle where the hair is fastened up away from the face and neck) was elegant-looking. In reality, it kind of made it look like they were hiding watermelons in their hair.
24. Psychedelic patterns (1960-1970s): It’s no surprise the psychedelic clothing trend started in San Francisco, California. San Fran was the mecca for hippie culture in the United States at the time. Vibrant colors and ornate patterning were all the rage.
25. Men’s fashion (1970s): The ’70s was a bizarre time for men’s fashion; there were turtlenecks, oddly shaped suits, and whatever the heck the guy is wearing in the picture on the bottom right. Luckily, not every man at the time followed these strange trends.
26. Mullets (1970-1980s): This “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle came from the 19th century when fisherman wore their hair long on their necks so they wouldn’t catch a cold from the cool temperatures while out at sea. Then, David Bowie decided to rock out with one in the ’70s… and everyone else followed suit.
27. Padded shoulders (1980s): Broad shoulders seemed to be all the hype in the ’80s, and large pads were added to both men’s and women’s tops to accentuate the look. The trend has since faded, but celebrities like Lady Gaga still rock them occasionally.
28. Aerobic workout clothes (1980s): The female fitness gurus of the ’80s sure knew how to start a strange trend. People all over, both men and women, were wearing leg warmers, leotards, and sporty underwear over their clothing. Yikes!
29. Insanely teased hair (1980s): Teasing wasn’t only done among friends in the ’80s—it was also done to hair! What was once a fashionable hairstyle now looks like the result of sticking a metal fork in an electrical outlet.
30. Bright blushes (1980s): Bright blushes may have been popular years ago, but nowadays, when people wear too much vibrant makeup on their face, they come across looking a little clownish. A gentler application has become the norm these days.
31. Fanny packs (1990s): This item is actually a very handy way to hold all of your accessories in a convenient spot, but they look a little less than cool. They’re more appropriate for people like street vendors or workers who need to keep things on hand at all times.
32. High platform shoes (1990s): Some people in the ’90s seemed to crave footwear that would allow them to loom over others, so they wore high thick-soled platform shoes, even though many people hurt their ankles in the process.
33. Low-rise jeans (2000s): Low-rise jeans are still around today, but most men and women who sport them don’t let their low-rise look get this darn low!
34. Spray tans (2000s): Advertising tells us tan skin is desirable, and people will go to all sorts of bizarre lengths to achieve the look, including turning themselves orange in the process. Going to the beach to soak up some natural rays is one thing, but it’s completely different when you drench your skin with the contents of an aerosol canister.
35. Harem pants (2010s): The extremely low crotch in harem pants might make them comfortable, but they’re not exactly flattering. They look like the ultimate lounge pants, and the designs are pretty cool. Still, they leave a lot to be desired in the appeal department.