Category Archives: Fashion

Flip flop: the un-Australian history of the rubber thong


Lydia Edwards, Edith Cowan University

The shoe known in Australia as a “thong” is one of the oldest styles of footwear in the world.

Worn with small variations across Egypt, Rome, Greece, sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, Korea, Japan and some Latin American cultures, the shoe was designed to protect the sole while keeping the top of the foot cool.

Australians have long embraced this practical but liberating shoe — but history shows we can’t really claim to it as our own.

Read more:
The erotic theatre of the pool edge: a short history of female swimwear

Geishas, workers, soldiers

Japan is often cited as the pivotal influence, perhaps because the culture features not only the thong’s closest ancestor (the flat-soled zori, traditionally made from straw) but also the chunky geta sandal, famously worn by geisha for centuries in an effort to keep trailing kimono hems out of the mud.

Antique Japanese artwork of umbrellas and traditional footwear.
Umbrellas and Geta by Ryūryūkyo Shinsai, circa 1816.
Wikimedia Commons/Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the late 19th century, Japan started to export aspects of its culture to diverse corners of the world. An early example was the Hawaiian “slipper” or “slippah”, a thong-like version of the zori with roots in the footwear of Japanese plantation worker immigrants in the 1880s. The slipper rapidly became part of the Hawaiian sartorial code (as in Australia, the shoe suited the relaxed outlook and beach lifestyle).

The popularity of the shoe may have spread after US soldiers, stationed in the East Pacific during the second world war, brought back souvenirs — but that claim is contested.

During the 1940s the technology for mass-producing synthetic rubber was developed, and this undoubtedly increased dissemination and influence of the humble flip flop. However, it was not until around the same time Hawaii became the official 50th state of the USA in 1959 that thongs became a globally recognised symbol of leisure.


Despite the thongs’ strong identification with Australia, details of its exact arrival here are not easy to pin down.

From 1907 onwards, for example, advertisements described “Japanese sandals” with “flexible wooden” or jute soles, although the few illustrations that exist do not depict shoes with a thong fastening.

In 1924, Melbourne’s The Herald discussed criticism levelled at Melburnians for walking with a “flip-flop movement, bringing the back of the heel down too heavily on the ground, causing jarring to the body and fatigue”.

Heels were suggested as a remedy for women with this complaint. Nearly a century later, podiatrists still recommend avoiding thongs for long term wear. (These days, they’re not fans of heels either.)

Thongs were standard beachwear by the 60s.
Australian Women’s Weekly

In 1946, department store David Jones promoted “Olympia”, a Greek-inspired thong sandal with additional ankle straps. But it was not until around 1957, when Kiwi businessmen Maurice Yock and John Cowie both claimed credit for what they termed the “jandal” — a portmanteau of “Japanese” and “sandal” — that Australia’s connection with the flip flop became more established and, at the same time, questioned.

In 1959, Dunlop in Australia imported 300,000 pairs of thongs from Japan. They started producing them internally in 1960.

Thong in bin, foot in plaster cast.
A Safety Council of Australia poster consigning thongs to the bin.
State Library of Victoria

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Take a plunge into the memories of Australia’s favourite swimming pools

As Australia’s tourism boomed during the 1950s and 60s, so too did its sartorial image, with thongs taking centre stage as the footwear of choice for an egalitarian, laid-back society.

So widespread did they become, in fact, that by the mid 1960s bans were being sought by state governments to avoid frequent injuries at the workplace — especially construction sites.

In the name of professionalism, in 1978 the Queensland government decreed that schoolteachers not be permitted to wear thongs to work. This year, they have been banned for wear at Australia Day citizenship ceremonies — a decision reflecting a wish for greater “significance and formality” to be represented at official events.

But the rubbery love affair endured, perhaps shown most ardently when Kylie Minogue made her entrance as part of the Sydney 2000 Olympics atop a giant rubber thong carried by lifeguards.

Dressing up, dressing down

Thong-related concerns have not been limited to Australia.

In 2005 members of an American college women’s lacrosse team wore them to the White House to meet President Bush. There followed a furor over whether this brazen act was disrespectful, a distraction from the women’s achievements or signalled a casual shift in attitudes to leaders (and fashion) in the years after the Clinton sex scandals.

Group of young women meet the US President Bush, some are wearing thongs with formal dresses.
The Northwestern University lacrosse team (and their flip flops) go to Washington.
Wikimedia Commons

Since the late 1990s it has been possible to buy more formal heeled versions. Although these were widely mocked as expensive aberrations of the style, they looked to making a Kardashian-led comeback in recent times.

Branded versions are also available, with couturiers like Hermès selling a very unassuming flip flop for a cool A$600.

There is a poignant irony in the fact that thongs are the most popular kind of shoe in developing countries, precisely because of their cheap manufacture (often made from recycled rubber tyres) and consequently, very low purchase cost.

This practice of appropriating “ordinary” or “working class” clothing — transitioning it from the practical to the fashionable — is nothing new. We’ve seen it with singlets and boilersuits. Clogs are another footwear example.

Thongs worn on a seaside pier.
Australians take their thongs seriously. You can tell because they don’t call them ‘thozzas’.

Rather than a form of fashion whimsy, Australians take their thongs seriously. Even the naming of them — after the structural make-up of the shoe’s fastening rather than the onomatopoeic “flip flop” used by other countries — flies in the face of the Australian preference for shortened diminutives and nicknames.

That shows true commitment, but also that thongs are not really so dinky-di, after all.

Read more:
Friday essay: vizards, face gloves and window hoods – a history of masks in western fashion

The Conversation

Lydia Edwards, Fashion historian, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday essay: the singlet — a short history of an Australian icon

‘Shearing sheep, Barcaldine District’, 1948.
Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM1154347

Lorinda Cramer, Australian Catholic University

There’s no denying the popularity of the singlet. The Chesty Bond, Australia’s best known singlet, has notched up more than 350 million sales. At last year’s Deniliquin Ute Muster, more than 3,970 blue singlets were counted.

Donned first as underwear, then for sport and later as the uniform of Australia’s working man, this simple garment has accrued complex cultural meanings over time.

Singlets have been famously worn by rock stars such as Jimmy Barnes and evolved into an item of gay dress.

The blue singlet featured heavily in Village People’s 1978 filmclip for Macho Man.

Now worn by men and women alike, for sport, labour or leisure, they have a long and fascinating history.

From underwear to sportswear: 19th century singlets

The first singlets were concealed beneath clothing. The Workwoman’s Guide, a pattern book and instructional guide for making everyday clothing, was published in London in 1838. Though it contains the details for an extraordinary range of undergarments, it makes no mention of singlets.

Two years later, however, Mr Samuel Lyons advertised an auction of 40 cases of slop clothing in Sydney. Among the slops (relatively cheap, ready-made clothing) were 13 cases of plaid and velvet vests, short fitted coats called coatees and flannel singlets. This may be the earliest reference to the undergarment in an Australian newspaper.

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Australian gold-rush guides of the 1850s advised adventure-seeking migrants on the ideal clothing in which to seek their fortune. One helpfully suggested a digger’s outfit include two or three shirts, three pairs of trousers, a warm jacket and “two or three flannel singlets”.

Axeman competing in an event at the Mt Gravatt Show, Brisbane, date unknown.
State Library of Queensland,7708-0001-0142

These singlets formed a soft, warm, washable layer between men’s torsos and their outer clothing. However shirts, too, were considered underclothing at this time, serving a similar function.

In the second half of the 19th century, singlets emerged from beneath men’s clothes. Athletes, including pedestrians (competitive walkers or runners), wrestlers, wood-choppers and rowers, wore singlets openly for the first time.

This shocked some observers and intrigued others, who commented on the athletes’ magnificent physiques. Yet the benefit of wearing this simple, streamlined garment was clear. Singlets freed the shoulders and arms, enhancing movement.

An Australian work costume

Unsurprisingly, singlets were adopted by Australia’s working men shortly after.

Queensland’s colloquial term for the singlet, the “Jackie Howe”, takes its name from the shearer said to have bared his arms while setting new daily shearing records in 1892. In fact, it’s more likely he wore an undershirt. Later reports suggest he variously cut or tore the sleeves off his shirt, or perhaps did neither, merely inspiring another shearer to do so. At any rate, the name stuck, in Queensland at least.

A group of mates riding in a Model T Ford Double Island Point, 1931.
State Library of Queensland, 34670

Over the following decades, singlets became a distinctive element of the Australian work costume. During the first world war, soldiers were issued two singlets as part of their kit.

In the 1920s and ‘30s, close-fitting cotton “athletic” singlets were donned by timber cutters, construction workers and others involved in outdoor labour, most often paired with trousers and leather boots.

By the second world war, singlets were worn for sport and physical training and at rest.

Artist William Dobell, working for the Civil Construction Corps, painted several wartime images of workers clad in singlets, shorts and little else. One such painting, Concrete consolidation worker, Sydney graving dock (1944), depicts a man in shorts and a loose, white singlet, his body protected by a hat, gloves and work boots.

AIF Physical Training School, circa 1940.
State Library of Victoria, H98.105/4478

As this form of Australian masculinity took shape — strong, bronzed, well-built workers stripped down to their singlets — Bonds developed its Chesty Bond character.

He appeared in regular comic strips in Sydney’s Sun newspaper from March 1940. Slipping on a singlet exposed Chesty’s superhero-like form, but more importantly let his “great muscles work unimpeded”, as one cartoon put it. The image of Chesty Bond, with his distinctive jutting chin, powerful chest and rippling torso, still appears on the singlet’s packaging today.

Beyond the working man

The singlet’s symbolism had solidified as shorthand for the everyday working man by the mid-20th century. In the 1970s and ‘80s, pub-rock musicians drew on this connection, referencing the working-class roots of the music and their singlet-wearing fans.

Rose Tattoo favoured singlets in early promotional images to set off their tattooed arms.

Jimmy Barnes wore a white singlet in the film clip for Working Class Man (1985). Mark Seymour, front man of Melbourne’s Hunters and Collectors, was known for his high-energy, singlet-clad performances in hot, crowded venues.

At the same time, gay men began wearing singlets. The look, which first emerged in America, referenced tough, “macho” men. Combined with tight jeans and plaid shirts, singlets were an assertion of hyper-masculinity.

In the 1990s, singlets were recast again when underwear was embraced at gay clubs and dance parties. The singlet set off hard, smooth bodies, sculpted at the gym.

These examples point to the power of singlets to suggest a strong, rugged, muscular Australian masculinity. But singlets, too, have a darker side. Their ready association with hard-working and hard-drinking men has led to another particularly troubling, colloquial name: “the wifebeater”.

How you wear your singlet is a marker of class. White-collar workers wear singlets as often as their blue-collar counterparts, though theirs often remain unseen (at least at work), under business shirts and suits.

Labourers in their singlets posing with shovels and wheelbarrows, circa 1923.
State Library of Queensland, 2563-0001-0011

Women in singlets

Women’s sleeveless undergarments, including chemises and camisoles, were worn in the 19th century and “ladies’ singlets” were advertised in Australian newspapers by the 1880s.

It took longer for women, though, to bare their arms in the range of settings that men did. Singlets were dotted through the crowds — on both young men and women — at popular music festivals like Sunbury in the early 1970s.

Courtney Barnett rocks a black singlet in 2018.
Bruce, from Sydney, Wikimedia Commons

Melbourne photographer Rennie Ellis, a prolific documenter of daily life and by extension daily dress, captured many singlet-wearing women in his images, particularly during the 1980s.

In 2005 Akira Isogawa, one of Australia’s most creative contemporary fashion designers, remade the humble Bonds singlet, stitching an extravagant panel of vividly embroidered red and purple flowers on its front. The singlet had become high fashion.

Singlets are popular with women too.

Singlets are now as popular with women as with men. Our preoccupation with physical fitness and gym-ready bodies has seen a huge range of Australian and international brands enter the singlet market. Singlets made as active wear have special breathable, sweat-wicking properties.

For our Olympic athletes, singlets have been green and gold. The National Museum of Australia recently acquired 1969 silver medallist Peter Norman’s singlet, while other Olympic singlets appear in museum collections around Australia. But on the local oval or at the gym, in the pub or in the backyard, singlets of all colours reign.The Conversation

Lorinda Cramer, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday essay: vizards, face gloves and window hoods – a history of masks in western fashion


Lydia Edwards, Edith Cowan University

Masks have emerged as unlikely fashion heroes as the COVID-19 pandemic has developed. Every conceivable colour and pattern seems to have become available, from facehuggers to Darth Vader to bejewelled bridal numbers.

Many show how brevity and style can combine to protect the wearer, offsetting the fear the sight of a respiratory or surgical mask usually inspires.

Some, like those produced by not-for-profit enterprises including the Social Studio and Second Stitch, use on-trend fabrics and benefit both the wearer and the makers. Meanwhile, an Israeli jeweller has designed a white gold, diamond-encrusted mask worth US$1.5 million (A$2.1 million).

Yet, masks remain fundamentally unnerving. Mostly intended to either protect or disguise, they are designed to cover all or part of the face. In societies where emotions are read through both eyes and mouth, they can be disorienting.

In many places around the globe, masks have played an important role in conveying style, spirituality and culture for thousands of years. They have been a part of western fashion for centuries. Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of masks as fashion items.

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Silenced by the vizard

“And make our faces vizards to our hearts/Disguising what they are”
– Macbeth

One of the most bizarre accessories in 16th-century fashion was the vizard, an oval-shaped mask made from black velvet worn by women to protect their skin whilst travelling.

A woman wearing a vizard, c.1581, France.

In an age where unblemished skin was a sign of gentility, European women took pains to avoid sunburn or significant sun tan. Two holes were cut for the eyes, sometimes fitted with glass, and an indentation was created to accommodate the nose. Disturbingly, they did not always have an opening for the mouth.

To hold the mask in place, wearers gripped a bead or button between their teeth, prohibiting speech. To the contemporary feminist, the mask raises associations with the scold’s bridle: a method of torture and public humiliation for gossiping women and suspected witches.

During the following century, masks continued to be fashionable although the guise of protection gave way to mystique and desire. The small “domino” mask – seen in a 17th century Netherlands example below and still worn by superheroes from Batman to Harley Quinn – covered the eyes and tip of the nose. It was usually made from a strip of black fabric. For warmer months, a lighter veiling could be substituted.

17th century engraving of woman wearing black eye mask and period clothing.
The look for Winter by Wenceslaus Hollar (1643).

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Masquerade and desire

Venice has long been associated with masks, thanks to its history of carnival and masquerade. Their theatrical nature might lead to an assumption masks were always worn to deceive or seduce. Travellers expecting a masked amoral free-for-all in the early 18th century were surprised at how “innocent” the accessory really was in everyday life.

When worn at a masquerade, masks encouraged “safe” contact between the sexes – bringing them close enough to mingle but maintaining the social distance between strangers that etiquette required. In this scenario, masks also encouraged a kind of egalitarianism by allowing people of disparate social classes to mix – a freedom never allowed in normal social gatherings.

The gnaga mask, with its cat shape, allowed men to dress as women and skirt Venetian homosexuality laws. Venetian prostitutes were at various times prohibited from wearing or required to wear masks in public, yet married women were required to wear masks to the theatre, fostering an association between masks and sex.

Venetian masks
Masquerades encouraged contact between the sexes while maintaining acceptable social distance.
Unsplash/Llanydd Lloyd, CC BY

Conversely, the infamous Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, published annually between 1757 and 1795, provided a catalogue of prostitutes to hire in London. One entry from 1779 described a woman who …

by her own confession has been a votary to pleasure these thirty years, she wears a substantial mask upon her face, and is rather short.

John Cleland’s controversial 1748 book Memoirs of Fanny Hill describes Louisa, a prostitute, being made “violent love to” by a “gentlemen in a handsome domino” as soon as her own mask was removed.

Charming possibilities

“A mask tells us more than a face”, wrote Oscar Wilde in his 1891 dialogue Intentions, yet by the 19th century the mask as fashion accessory was démodé. Masks were generally only mentioned in newspapers and fashion magazines when referring to fancy dress and masked balls, which still took place in the homes of the wealthy.

“Society is a masked ball”, wrote one American columnist in 1861 mirroring Wilde’s famous quote, “where everyone hides his real character, and reveals it by hiding”.

Although masks were no longer recommended for maintaining a pale complexion, women’s faces were still covered by veiling in certain situations: including, for the first time, weddings. Ironically, one Australian fashion column in 1897 decried the fashion, stating:

Veils are largely responsible for poor complexions … This fine lace mask – for it is nothing else – hinders the circulation … but does far more injury by keeping the face heated.

As if this were not enough, veils blew dust from the street into “open pores” and retained dirt, redistributing it onto the skin every time it was worn.

Advertisement for Rowley's Toilet Mask shows woman with rubber face shield.
A precursor to today’s sheet beauty treatments.

Veiling still had some fans, who touted its health and beauty benefits, and connotations of intrigue and excitement. “It suggests such charming possibilities beneath it”, a columnist in The Australasian wrote in 1897.

Fashionable or not, some masks were still worn behind closed doors. Enter the most bizarre masked accessory since the vizard: the toilet mask or “face glove”.

Devised by a Madame Rowley in the 1870s-80s, the rubberised full-face covering was advertised as an:

aid to complexion beauty … treated with some medicated preparation … the effects of the mask when worn at night two or three times in the week are described as marvellous.

Advertisements for these precursors to today’s sheet mask beauty treatments contained testimonials from women who claimed to be cured of freckles and wrinkles.

Veils and visors

The advent of the automobile in the early 20th century brought a whole new fashion range into the public arena. Motorists needed protection from weather, dust and fumes, so accessories had to be practical. For women, protection took the fashionable form of coats and face coverings.

Veils and hoods were wrapped around stylish large hats of the day, and fastened under the chin so that the entire face was safely covered.

Advertisements in the early 1920s describe a “complete face mask” for drivers – ostensibly men as the accessory “buttoned to the cap and [is] equipped with an adjustable eye shield against glaring headlights”.

A design for women in 1907 was described as a “window hood”, which completely engulfed the hat beneath and closed with a drawstring around the neck. It had a gauze “window” for the eyes and another smaller opening at the mouth.

By the swinging 1960s, the cultural and sartorial landscape couldn’t have been more different – and yet, masks made an unlikely appearance in “space age” fashion championed by designers such as André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin. Metallic mini dresses and one-piece suits were topped with “space helmets” that left an opening for the entire face or eyes.

More commonly adopted were plastic visors worn separately or as part of a hat, sometimes covering forehead to chin and taking on the appearance of a welders’ shield – or indeed, the face shields worn by health workers today.

Plastic fantastic looks of the sixties.

Sunglasses, a kind of mask in their own right, were taken to the extreme by Courrèges with his infamous solid white shades with only a slit for light. Life described this as a “built-in squint” in 1965 – a design that “dangerously narrows the field of vision”.

Read more:
The fashionable history of social distancing

What goes around …

Discussions during the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic around whether masks would be a fad, how long they would be required, and how to create your own at home, seem eerily prescient now.

This darkly comic mask from 1918 demonstrates the same wish for ingenuity and levity that exists today:

Man wears white face mask with black skull and cross.
The skulls and cross bones embellishment was a joke, rather than standard issue in 1919.
State Library of NSW/Flickr

Lebanese fashion designer Eric Ritter has sported a similarly macabre aesthetic. He was already thinking and writing about masks on Instagram in January before coronavirus spread around the world …

On growing up without a mask

On being forced to wear a mask

On ecstatically removing a mask

On picking a mask back up

Person in pink hood with decorative face covering
Beirut designer Eric Ritter.

In Australia, entertainer Todd McKenney has launched an online marketplace for costume designers to make and sell one-of-a-kind masks directly to the public.

Face masks don’t have to be created by artists, designers or couture fashion houses to make them appealing. But a look through our fashion history shows that ingenuity and humanity have long influenced our face wear – whether for the purposes of allure, space travel or pandemic protection.The Conversation

Lydia Edwards, Fashion historian, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The fashionable history of social distancing

Crinolines, by design, made physical contact nearly impossible.
Hulton Archive/Stringer via Getty Images

Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Case Western Reserve University

As the world grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, “social distancing” has become a buzzword of these strange times.

Instead of stockpiling food or rushing to the hospital, authorities are saying social distancing – deliberately increasing the physical space between people – is the best way ordinary people can help “flatten the curve” and stem the spread of the virus.

Fashion might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of isolation strategies. But as a historian who writes about the political and cultural meanings of clothing, I know that fashion can play an important role in the project of social distancing, whether the space created helps solve a health crisis or keep away pesky suitors.

Clothing has long served as a useful way to mitigate close contact and unnecessary exposure. In this current crisis, face masks have become a fashion accessory that signals, “stay away.”

A copper engraving of a plague doctor in 17th-century Rome.
Wikimedia Commons

Fashion also proved to be handy during past epidemics such as the bubonic plague, when doctors wore pointed, bird-like masks as a way to keep their distance from sick patients. Some lepers were forced to wear a heart on their clothes and don bells or clappers to warn others of their presence.

However, more often than not, it doesn’t take a worldwide pandemic for people to want to keep others at arm’s length.

In the past, maintaining distance – especially between genders, classes and races – was an important aspect of social gatherings and public life. Social distancing didn’t have anything to do with isolation or health; it was about etiquette and class. And fashion was the perfect tool.

Take the Victorian-era “crinoline.” This large, voluminous skirt, which became fashionable in the mid-19th century, was used to create a barrier between the genders in social settings.

While the origins of this trend can be traced to the 15th-century Spanish court, these voluminous skirts became a marker of class in the 18th century. Only those privileged enough to avoid household chores could wear them; you needed a house with enough space to be able to comfortably move from room to room, along with a servant to help you put it on. The bigger your skirt, the higher your status.

A satirical comic pokes fun at the ballooning crinolines of the mid-19th century.
Wikimedia Commons

In the 1850s and 1860s, more middle-class women started wearing the crinoline as caged hoop skirts started being mass-produced. Soon, “Crinolinemania” swept the fashion world.

Despite critiques by dress reformers who saw it as another tool to oppress women’s mobility and freedom, the large hoop skirt was a sophisticated way of maintaining women’s social safety. The crinoline mandated that a potential suitor – or, worse yet, a stranger – would keep a safe distance from a woman’s body and cleavage.

Although these skirts probably inadvertently helped mitigate the dangers of the era’s smallpox and cholera outbreaks, crinolines could be a health hazard: Many women burned to death after their skirts caught fire. By the 1870s, the crinoline gave way to the bustle, which only emphasized the fullness of the skirt on the posterior.

Women nonetheless continued to use fashion as a weapon against unwanted male attention. As skirts got narrower in the 1890s and early 1900s, large hats – and, more importantly, hat pins, which were sharp metal needles used to fasten the hats – offered women the protection from harassers that crinolines once gave.

As for keeping healthy, germ theory and a better understanding of hygiene led to the popularization of face masks – very similar to the ones we use today – during the Spanish flu. And while the need for women to keep their distance from pesky suitors remained, hats were used more to keep masks intact than to push strangers away.

Today, it isn’t clear whether the coronavirus will lead to new styles and accessories. Perhaps we’ll see the rise of novel forms of protective outerwear, like the “wearable shield” that one Chinese company developed.

But for now, it seems most likely that we’ll all just continue wearing pajamas.

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read our newsletter.]The Conversation

Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Visiting Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The erotic theatre of the pool edge: a short history of female swimwear

Women at Brisbane’s Oasis Swimming Pool, January 1950.
Brisbane City Council, CC BY-NC

Lydia Edwards, Edith Cowan University

Human beings have a surprisingly long relationship with the concept of swimwear. After all, the first heated swimming pool is believed to have been built by Gaius Maecenas of Rome in the 1st century BC.

Before the early 1800s, it was relatively common to swim either nude or simply in your underwear. When communal swimming baths became more popular and prevalent in the mid-19th century, decorum demanded men and women cover their modesty with garments made specially for the purpose. Women covered up with cotton or wool bathing dresses, drawers, and sometimes even stockings.

A women’s swimsuit from the 1870s.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

While seeming ungainly today, these impractical garments must have been liberating for women used to corsets and long, hampering skirts worn over multiple petticoats. By their very nature these “swimming suits” also threatened entrenched ideas around feminine activity (or lack thereof), perhaps suggesting women who swam energetically could no longer be considered “the weaker sex”.

Nonetheless, modesty presided above all else during this period, and it wasn’t until women began to swim competitively that change began.

A scandalous arrest

Water, particularly the beach, has been described by fashion scholars Harold Koda and Richard Martin as the “great proscenium of twentieth-century dress” – a statement that encourages us to rethink the importance of swimwear in our everyday dress and lifestyles.

In 1907, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested on Revere Beach, Massachusetts, for wearing a one-piece bathing suit in public. This garment was a sporting necessity, and fellow athletes successfully championed a skirtless, sleeveless one-piece for the 1912 Olympics.

Annette Kellerman demonstrating her diving skills at Adelaide’s Glenelg baths, 1905.
State Library of South Australia

Kellerman’s incredible figure was admired as much as her actions were berated, and she was known to strip down to her bathing costume in all-female public lectures, proving a healthy lifestyle (rather than a corset) was to thank for her silhouette.

“If more girls would swim and dance and care for athletics”, she commented in 1910, “instead of rushing into matrimony as the only joy in the world, there’d be fewer divorces”.

The new one-piece contributed hugely to what has been described as the “erotic theatre” of the pool edge: swimwear is an item of both form and function, and so the pool or sea is an acceptable space to bare all.

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie

The introduction of elastic yarn in the 1930s created a fabric that clung to the body and enabled risqué designs.

The influence of the Hollywood starlet, lying immaculate (and dry) by a sparkling pool sowed the seed swimwear need have nothing to do with exercise. It could instead suggest leisure and luxury: the embodiment of a society now used to annual holidays.

The 1940s introduced what we now recognise as the bikini, and the 50s saw iconic portrayals of swimsuits worn by the likes of Esther Williams and Marilyn Monroe.

A young Marilyn Monroe.
Wikimedia Commons

The swinging 60s opened with Brian Hyland’s Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, and further promotion through the Bond franchise firmly cemented the bikini’s erotic prowess.

Soon, swimwear’s eroticism was being used by some to promote ideals of gender equality and acceptance.

In 1964, Austrian-American designer Rudi Gernreich introduced his notorious “Monokini”, a bathing suit featuring two skinny straps just grazing the breasts.

Gernreich hoped the suit would challenge existing prudishness and shame around the nude female body. His plan backfired. From its birth, the press described the monokini as controversial – and, although it sold well, it never became conventional swimwear.

The 1970s and 80s welcomed fashionable suits and bikinis with less internal structuring, fitting the silhouette of the decade. Fashionable first and practical second, they could still withstand a certain amount of sun, sand and chlorine.

A protest symbol

Swimming, fashion, and baring all are not mutually exclusive.

“Rashies” or “rash guards” (so-called because they protect the wearer from rashes and sunburn), are long-sleeved waterproof shirts that first originated as surfwear. In countries like Australia with prominent beach culture and harsh weather the garment has grown in popularity.

In 2004, Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, inspired by the increasing presence of Muslim women in Australian sports (especially swimming), created the “burkini”. Acting as a kind of lightweight wetsuit, the garment covers the entire body and comes in a variety of styles and colours.

The burkini in action.
Aheda Zanettii

The style came under intense scrutiny in 2016 when several French municipalities banned the burkini in line with the country’s secular laws (it had banned the wearing of a burqa and niqab three years earlier).

It doesn’t seem to matter whether women’s swimsuits bare-all or cover-all: those wearing them will still be judged. But much as the shift from bulky dresses to lean one-pieces opened up new opportunities for women in the water, this latest suit also makes the beach lifestyle more accessible, with wearers remaining both cool and UV-protected.

With our “house on fire”, as Thunberg eloquently put it, we may be seeing more swimsuit innovation heading our way as a matter of necessity.The Conversation

Lydia Edwards, Fashion historian, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A brief history of briefs – and how technology is transforming underpants

File 20180712 27039 16jn52t.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Underpants have a long history and, it seems, a bold future.

Alana Clifton-Cunningham, University of Technology Sydney

Underpants. We tend not to talk about them but they are a fact of life (unless you go commando). Briefs have a fascinating history and are now being transformed by technology, with high-performance undies that claim to do everything from filtering flatulence to emitting soothing vibrations.

An Egyptian loincloth.
Wikimedia Commons

The first type of underpant was the loincloth worn by ancient Egyptians. Known as a schenti, it was made from woven materials, commonly cotton and flax, kept in place with a belt. The lower classes and slaves were almost naked, so technically this loincloth was often “outerwear”. But Egyptian art from 1189 BC to 1077 BC in the Valley of the Queens shows pharaohs wearing sheer outer garments, rendering the loincloth a type of underpant.

In Europe, during the Middle Ages (500-1500 AD), underwear consisted of a shirt made of fine linen or cotton for both men and women. A form of underpant returned during the 15th and 16th centuries, when men’s leg-hose were bifurcated (split in two).

To provide extra protection for the male genitalia, a padded codpiece was added. The codpiece also served as a symbol of sexual energy, designed to enhance rather than conceal the genital area.

Jakob Seisenegger’s Portrait of Emperor Charles V with Dog (1500-1558) also features a prominent codpiece.
Wikimedia Commons

The arrival of drawers

In the early to mid 19th century, both men and women wore bifurcated drawers with separate legs – a loose type of knee-length trousers suspended from the waist. This simple style of underpant made relieving oneself more manageable, especially if several layers of petticoats or breeches were worn.

Woman’s batiste lace-trimmed drawers, circa 1896.
Wikimedia Commons

Closed crotched underpants for women (pantalettes) emerged in the mid to late 19th century. In 1882, dress reformer Dr Gustave Jaeger argued that wearing natural woollen fibres next to the skin would help disperse bodily poisons by allowing the skin to breathe. He also felt the elasticised qualities of knitted garments were more likely to promote exercise.

Woollen all-in-one, cream woman’s long johns; made in England, date unknown.
Wikimedia Commons

Also in the 19th century, the popularity of long-legged trousers for men led to a change in men’s underpants, with hose (long johns) extending to the ankle. These were made of silk for the wealthy and flannel, or later wool, for the masses.

For women in the early 1900s, getting dressed involved multiple layers of undergarments including chemise and drawers followed by a constrictive corset. During the first world war more women undertook physical labour in factories, mines and farms, and thus needed utilitarian garments. The silhouette of outerwear such as loose trousers and boiler suits paved the way for knickers, which women began wearing from around 1916. From the 1920s, the corset was gradually replaced by less restrictive elasticated versions such as the girdle and “step-ins” gradually replaced the corset.

Latex, a rubber yarn introduced in 1930, allowed stretch undergarments to become more figure-hugging. These eventually evolved into underpant styles similar to those worn today. In 1938, after the invention of the synthetic fibre nylon, lightweight easy-to-launder underwear started to appear.

Shorter, crotch-length underpants or trunks for men appeared after 1945. In 1959, a new man-made elastomeric fibre called Lycra™ was invented. Combined with cotton or nylon, it was strong, stretchable and recovered well. The result was more body-conscious underpants for men and women.

Underpants have become more form-fitting.
BishopA4 XTG_Extreme_Game/Wikimedia Commons

In the more permissive 1960s, underpants became briefer for both sexes and the Y-front was largely eliminated from men’s undies. By the 1970s, underpants were virtually seamless. (The thong, or G-string, I would argue, is hard to define as an underpant – its chief popularity seems to be that it offers wearers an invisible pant line.)

Undulating futures

With advancements in fibre technologies and knitting manufacturing, underpants today can be as unassuming as a pair of Aussie Bonds briefs, or high-tech with the inclusion of haptic communication.

Union Jack briefs.
Wikimedia commons

For instance, Sydney-born, NY-based company Wearable-X has teamed with condom manufacturer Durex to create interactive underwear called Fundawear. Fundawear has a “vibrating touch” that can be transferred from anywhere in the world through a smartphone app. The underwear contains actuators (which are similar to the devices that make smart phones vibrate). Couples wearing it converse via the app, transferring sensations to each other’s undergarments.

Meanwhile, brands Modibodi and Thinx have developed reusable underpants for women menstruating or experiencing incontinence. Manufactured from bamboo, merino wool and microfibre fabrics, the breathable and moisture-wicking layers draw fluids away from the body, securing them in a waterproof outer layer. The fabric technology allows the underpants to be rinsed in cold water, machine-washed and, once dry, ready for reuse. Since launching in 2014, Modibodi has become an Australian market leader for reusable period underwear.

Shreddies’ ‘flatulence-filtering’ underpants.

UK brand Shreddies has even developed “flatulence-filtering” underwear for men and women using carbon-absorbing cloth. According to its website, the underwear uses “the same activated carbon material used in chemical warfare suits”. Which is good to know.

Medical underwear for postoperative and postnatal patients is also widely available in Western hospitals providing infection control and wound care.

Advances in material manufacturing, additive fabric coatings and body-centred smart textile applications have the ability to monitor patient physiological conditions and offer personalised care and direct user feedback to medical specialists. Researchers at the University of California have developed a textile-based, printable electrochemical sensor, which has the capacity to be used for a variety of medical and safety applications. The flexible textile sensors, for example, when printed onto the elastic waistband of underpants, can recognise chemical substances secreting from the skin.

The ConversationScience is adding functions to underwear that could scarcely have been envisaged 50 years ago. The loincloth has come a long way.

Alana Clifton-Cunningham, Lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How fashion adapted to climate change – in the Little Ice Age

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Hendrick Avercamp’s ‘Ice Scene’ (c. 1610).
Wikimedia Commons

Lane Eagles, University of Washington

One could say the consequences of the planet’s warming climate can be seen on fashion week runways and the shelves of Anthropologie and H&M. Silhouettes shrink as midriffs and backs open. Sheer fabrics, breathable textiles and flowy draping are in. And in response to climate change’s rapid pace, some corners of the fashion industry are moving toward implementing sustainable business practices and incorporating more flexibility within their designs.

Today people may see global warming as a modern phenomenon, but fashion has a long history of responding to worldwide climate change.

The only difference is that while we sweat, early modern Europeans froze. The Little Ice Age was an interval of erratic cooling that ravaged the Northern Hemisphere roughly between the 14th and 19th centuries. And like today’s designers, Renaissance fashion designers were forced to contend with shifting temperatures and strange weather.

A menacing chill settles on Europe

Scientists have yet to determine the primary cause of the Little Ice Age, and historians are still pinning down its exact chronological parameters. But voices from the era describe a rapidly cooling climate.

“At this time there was such a great cold that we almost froze to death in our quarters,” a soldier wrote in his diary while traveling through Germany in 1640. “And,” he continued, “on the road, three people did freeze to death: a cavalry-man, a woman, and a boy.”

The entry was from August.

Scholars do agree that the Little Ice Age impacted our shared global history in myriad traceable ways. Its unpredictable temperature fluctuations and sudden freezes devastated harvests, escalated civil unrest and left thousands to starve. It may have inspired the menacingly chilly settings of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Darkness and clouds haunt the skies of paintings created during the period.

And the Little Ice Age also altered the history of fashion. As the cold ramped up in the 16th century, fashion championed warmer styles: Heavy drapery, multiple layers and sleeves that trailed on the floor became more common across the visual and material record, while examples of the oldest surviving European gloves, hats, capes and coats from the era populate museum costume collections today.

“No one in Egypt used to know about wearing furs,” a Turkish man traveling through northern Africa wrote in 1670. “There was no winter. But now we have severe winters and we have started wearing furs because of the cold.”

Staying fashionably warm

This change can be observed by comparing medieval and Renaissance dress.

In one French medieval manuscript (illustrated between 1115 and 1125), the knight’s skirt is slit to the hip, and his squire’s hemline stops above the knee. There are no capes, fur or headgear; the garments are light and loose – especially compared to what men wore 400 years later, when the Little Ice Age was in full swing.

Take Hans Holbien’s iconic 1553 painting “The French Ambassadors,” which depicts two courtiers to King Henry VIII. The man on the left, wearing thick, dark velvets and a heavily fur-lined overcoat, is the French ambassador to England, Jean de Dinteville. Georges de Selve, the bishop of Lavaur, stands on the right.

Hans Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors.’
Wikimedia Commons

The cleric has donned a floor-length coat befitting his godly station. But it would have also been very effective against cold. Both men sport fashionable caps and undergarments. The laced collar of De Selve’s undershirt peaks above his robes, and those white slashes in de Dinteville shiny pink shirt show off his hidden layers.

As with all portraits from the era, these men dressed to impress for the sitting – meaning their fanciest clothes were possibly their warmest.

A c. 1545 portrait of Catherine Parr.
Wikimedia Commons

Women’s clothing also had to sustain temperature fluctuations that tended to range colder during the Little Ice Age. In a 16th-century portrait of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, Parr wears a headdress and a multi-layered gown with billowing sleeves.

Several petticoats would have been required to sustain the bell shape of her skirts. If you look closely, you’ll see a thin, translucent layer of fabric that shields her exposed skin where the neckline ends. Meanwhile, a large fur mantle – at the time, an essential accessory – is draped over her arms.

A removed opulence

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has a surviving collection of clothes from the late 16th century, some of which could point to the cold’s influence on Renaissance clothing.

For example, one Spanish dress is outfitted with a cape atop the thick fabrics that make up the bodice, skirt and stacked sleeves. Beneath this densely layered gown, the wearer would have also needed to don several tiers of skirts and undergarments.

A late 16th-century Spanish ensemble features thick fabrics.

A British lady’s jacket from around 1616 also may hint at cold weather. Tailored from linen, silk and metal, this tight bodice probably kept its wearer very warm. (Early modern clothing often featured cloth-of-gold thread, which was made from actual thin strips of gold metal and painstakingly wrapped around sewing thread.)

Portraits and preserved garments from the Little Ice Age tend to have one thing in common: They are all the pictures or products of elites who enjoyed the means to have a likeness made of themselves. Their wealth is evident in the very existence of these images and the expensive clothes they wear.

Knit wool caps are perfectly suitable for fending off freezing temperatures, but the wealthy women of the era instead opted for elaborate, pearl-lined headdresses that trailed yards of gauzy veils.

Their opulence ignores the various crises of the era. While countless peasants were displaced from their homes and died from starvation or rampant disease, the rich simply transitioned to sable-lined sleeves and mantels threaded with gold.

It’s dangerous to oversimplify historical narrative. But the parallels to our current situation are hard to ignore. Climate change is a looming threat, with deep social and political ramifications.

The ConversationYet for many, it remains a distant phenomenon, something that – beyond buying lighter, looser clothing – is easy to dismiss.

Lane Eagles, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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