“Battle Hymn of the Republic” author Julia Ward Howe complained to her sister in August 1846 about the death of her sister-in-law: “My mourning has been quite an inconvenience to me this summer. I had just spent all the money I could afford for my summer clothes and was forced to spend $30 more for black dresses,” Howe wrote. “The black clothes, however, seem to me very idle things, and I shall leave word in my will that no one shall wear them for me.”
A Japanese shogun in 1615 attempted to eradicate the popular fashions of the kabuki-mono, young men from the fringes of samurai communities who favored long hair with shaved foreheads and temples, large swords with showy red scabbards, imported velvet collars, and short kimonos with lead weights sewn into the hem. “Clothing should not be confusing,” stated a new samurai dress code.
In 1876 Dr. Gustav Jaeger, zoologist and physiologist at the University of Stuttgart, began advocating the wearing of rough animal fibers, particularly undyed sheep wool, close to the skin; early customers of his “Sanitary Woollen System” included Oscar Wilde and Henry Stanley, who brought them on his expedition to Africa to search for Dr. Livingstone.
Winston Churchill claimed the soft texture of woven silk underwear was vital to his well-being; “I have a very delicate and sensitive cuticle which demands the finest covering,” he said. His wife, Clementine, told a friend that his pink underclothes “cost the eyes out of the head.”
In the days after a July 1917 German air raid on London that killed forty civilians, Harry Gordon Selfridge, the American-born owner of Selfridges department store, took out ads declaring he would award $5,000 of life insurance on behalf of anyone killed by such an attack while shopping at his store. His building, he noted, was made out of concrete.
“For the first time in my life I saw the ‘library’ public in the mass!” wrote Arnold Bennett after attending an H.G. Wells lecture in 1911. “It appeared to consist of a thousand women and Mr. Bernard Shaw. Women deemed to be elegant, women certainly deeming themselves to be elegant! I, being far back from the rostrum, had a good view of the backs of their blouses, chemisettes, and bodices. What an assortment of pretentious and ill-made toilettes!”
A king in twelfth-century-bc China enjoyed women wearing dangling pearls and jade in a “Hair-knot Which Sways at Every Step”; the emperor who built the Great Wall favored the “Hair-knot Which Rises Above the Clouds”; Tang women wore the “Hair-knot of the Homing Bird”; and a writer in the last years of the Manchu dynasty offered the name “Hair-knot of Disintegration and Homeless Wandering” for a style of the day. “The times are indeed out of joint!” he wrote. “I tremble to think of what is to come.”
As a member of a Cherokee delegation to Washington, DC, Sam Houston wore traditional loincloth and blanket to an 1818 meeting with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who was offended and chastised Houston for his dress. Twenty-two years later, between terms as president of the Republic of Texas, Houston wore such a blanket to meet Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois, comte de Saligny, in Austin.
Julius Caesar was criticized for his loosely belted toga. “Beware the badly belted boy,” said Sulla; Cicero sneered at Caesar’s habit of “trailing the fringe of the toga on the ground like an effeminate.” His political rival Cato the Younger made a point of wearing a short toga with no tunic underneath, as was considered masculine. But a decade later it was common for young Roman men to grow goatees, wear flowing togas, and use “loosely belted” as a catchphrase.
A greenish-brown, diamond-twill, boat-neck wool sweater woven between 230 and 380 and worn by a reindeer hunter was discovered by researchers in 2013. The tunic, which was mended with two patches, had been preserved in the Norwegian Lendbreen glacier and would have fit a slender man of about 5'9". “The hunter,” said researcher Lise Bender Jørgensen, “looked after his clothing.”
When Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in June 1928, the New York Sun ran an article with the headline MISS EARHARD SPURNS FASHIONS: SHE CARES LITTLE ABOUT CLOTHES, DOES NOT USE LIPSTICK—LIKES TO FENCE AND DRIVE CAR. “Flying is a perfectly natural thing in her opinion,” it read, “and requires no special togs: a dress is as good air equipment as trousers.”
A Spanish gallant in the sixteenth century who followed the contemporary fashion of padding his trunk-hose with quantities of bran was surprised to learn while entertaining ladies that a nail on his chair had opened a hole in his hose, and bran had started trickling out. The ladies laughed. He continued, encouraged, but bran soon was pouring forth. The ladies’ laughter increased. Finally, the gallant noticed the bran, bowed, and left in shame.