June 2, 2012

Extreme Fashion

You think that Alexander McQueen’s notorious Armadillo shoes or Dita Von Teese’s tight corsets are the most extreme things in fashion? Just take a look at what women used to do in the name of beauty for the last couple of centuries.

Lotus Foot

Thought to have been inspired by a Chinese prince’s concubine who graciously danced on her toes, wearing shoes shaped like a Lotus flower bud, sometime during the 10th century, the Lotus foot, also known as the technique of foot binding, quickly caught on, becoming a symbol of beauty and even eroticism. In order to replicate the shape of the Lotus flower, Chinese women would break and bind the feet of girls aged as young as 2, keeping them from growing more than 3 inches in length. It was considered that this made a woman’s movement more feminine, even erotic, as well as being the ultimate status symbol. The appeal of this technique was further enhanced by the fact that men were not allowed to see a woman’s bare feet, as it was thought that it would destroy the mystery encircling her. This could also have been triggered by the fact that a bare Lotus foot, presented without the dressings and the tiny shoes used to cover it, would look disturbing, as well as emit a foul odour, due to the bacteria accumulated in the unwashable folds. Moreover, because of their limited mobility due to their deformed feet, women with bound feet would marry wealthy men, which would support them. The practice lasted well into the 20th century, having been outlawed in 1949.

 Hairless Face

During the 11th century, European women used to remove the hair from their faces and heads, leaving them looking expressionless and a bit alien-like. A good portion of the hairline, along with eyebrows and eyelashes, would be carefully plucked, sometimes as often as daily. The resulting unusually high forehead was thought to distinguish a woman of high status form the lower classes, who still had all their hair. The practice, however, was not new, as women had been doing this since 500 AD. The curious trend lasted well into the Elizabethan era.



During the 15th century, women in France used to elongate their face with the help of elaborate headdresses, made out of wire and covered in silk and jewels. Wearing a headdress was a symbol of wealth, as well as one of marriage. Single women were allowed to wear their hair long, often braided or piled up in a bun on top of the head, but once married, it was unacceptable for a woman to have her tresses showing. Women would construct gravity-defying headgear, often in the shape of one or two cones (hennin), as well as butterflied or dome-shaped adornments. Veils were hung from various parts of the headwear as decoration, as well as a bourrelet, a thick padded roll meant to add bulk and make the structure tower over the wearer’s head, elongating it even more. Although spectacular, this type of headwear was highly restrictive and uncomfortable, but nonetheless, the trend lasted a whole century.


Big Wigs

Thought to have originated from the fact that Louis XIV, the ruler of France for most of the 17th century, started going bald during the mid-1600s, and as a result, began wearing big wigs. Members of the court started to adopt this type of fashion, and soon, everybody who was anybody wore a big wig (hence the term “bigwig”, describing an important person). Judges, lawyers, politicians – all the aristocracy wore large, curly wigs, as well as women, who by the end of the French Revolution in 1799, sported elaborate wigs as high as 2 feet, adorned with gems in the shape of ships or castles. Towards the end of the century, the wigs had a neater styling, with tight curls encircling the face of the wearer, or pulled in a mass over one shoulder, while the rest fell down the back. As well as being restrictive, the big wig trend also meant that, given the fact that wigs were expensive, the wearer would rarely take it down to be washed, which led to infestations by lice and even rats.

Panniers & Crinolines

During the 18th century, women started wearing skirts that resembled panniers, consisting of a split hoop that widened the hips, exaggeratedly extending the garment sideways.The hoops were often so wide that women had to go through doors sideways, as well as having difficulty getting out of carriages and being careful not to stand too close to a fireplace or candle, as the hazard of being accidentally burned was quite high.

By the 19th century, the enormous skirts were supported by a crinoline skeleton, a stiff petticoat meant to enhance the skirt to a certain width. During the 1830s, women started wearing crinolines made from whalebone for extra support, before evolving into the bustle, a skirt flat at the front and sides, but with a cascade of fabric hanging at the back, in the form of a bustle and train.

Corsetry & Tightlacing

The practice of corsetry started in ancient Greece, but did not come back in fashion until the late 1500s. However, it was the tightlacing technique that started gaining popularity in the 18th century, both in Europe and America, that had women truly suffer in the name of beauty. Tightlacing describes a technique in which a corset that was flared out below the hips, ending several inches below the waist, in an exaggerated funnel-shape, was cinched as tight as possible to the waist of the wearer, to reduce its thickness. The exceedingly-tight corsets led to problems breathing, eating, as well as misshapen bodies and even miscarriages. Although doctors advised against them, women continued to lace themselves up in order to achieve the ultimate hourglass figure up until the 1920s.

Photos courtesy of: atelierbasil.com, badcontrol.com, fanpop.com, it.paperblog.com, lemraq.wordpress.com , suusstyle.blogspot.com, twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com, sevenstarwheel.wordpress.com, standarddeviationclothing.blogspot.com

Source: fashionforrealwomen.com