Nicola here, wondering if there are any fashion items from centuries gone by that are so outrageous they could never make a come back. Last week I read a very interesting article about the hot new trend for feather hair extensions. Peacock feathers are especially popular and as the trend grows from simple feathers to grand pieces, I'm reminded of those extraordinary creations made with ostrich plumes that ladies wore in the 18th century. It might not be long before we see those again.
But surely there are some things that could never come back into fashion. Take the codpiece, for example. A codpiece is defined as a pouch attached to a man's breeches or close-fitting hose to cover the genitals, worn in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here is a picture of Henry VIII wearing one of his; this is relatively modest. There are some truly frightening images out there.
Originally the codpiece was designed specifically to hide the genitals when a man was mounting his horse. It’s a pouch, richly embroidered and lavishly upholstered, its shape deliberately designed to suggest virility. The codpiece was not anatomically correct (!) but the large size was intended to intimidate other men rather than impress women. A huge codpiece suggested that here was a man who could stand up and sport a pair of well-filled hose. Not only that, but it had a practical use as well. A man could keep his keys or coins in it.
Inevitably, there are records of men childishly competing to see who could create the best codpiece shadow until this was banned after ladies complained of what a chronicler of the time called "a very long and lewd codpiece of a barbarous and very impolite shape.” The codpiece died out in the 16th century but I doubt it's ever going to be forgotten.
The ruff evolved as an item of clothing designed to protect the gown or doublet from becoming dirty. It was a universal item of clothing worn by men, women and children. The largest ruffs, cartwheel ruffs, were a foot or more wide and required a wire frame to keep them stiff. Basically the rule was the more aristocratic you were, the bigger your ruff. Some noblemen even wore several at once, which must have been both hot and heavy.
Here is an image of Sir Walter Raleigh wearing his gorgeous lace embroidered ruff. He even has matching lace in his hair – and he still manages to look very manly.
In England the ruff went out of fashion by the end of the 16th century but in Holland they remained in fashion until into the 17th. They are still optional wear for choirboys and for Danish bishops.
From the early 16th century, when Catherine of Aragon introduced the Spanish farthingale into England, women wore a variety of hooped undergarments to support their skirts in a fashionable shape. In the 18th century the pannier, named after the wicker baskets slung on each side of a pack animal, was all the rage. Panniers were side hoops designed to leave the skirts relatively flat at the front and back whilst extending the width. By the mid 18th century a woman in a fashionable pannier took up three times the amount of space a man did with some panniers extending several feet to the side. By the late 18th century however they were only worn on very formal occasions. The pannier wasn’t out of favour for long, though. By the 1820s hooped undergarments were making a comeback in the shape of the crinoline and these in turn evolved into the bustle. My wedding dress had a crinoline and that was in the 1980s!
High heels for men
The male heel originated in Persia on riding shoes – when archers stood up in the saddle, heels gave them extra security for shooting. The style of high heels was adopted as a status symbol in the early 17th century Europe. The less practical a shoe, the more a man boasted the fact that his footwear had no utility at all. They weren’t made for tilling the fields or even for walking in. If you were an aristocrat you could wear the most outrageous heels.
The style maven for this particular fashion was Louis XIV of France. He introduced shoes with red heels and soles. This fashion was adopted by Charles II who at over six foot tall certainly didn’t need the extra height but did love a gorgeous pair of heels!
Are there any particular historical fashions you would like to see make a comeback, or any styles you have tried and enjoyed wearing? Do you think the codpiece or pannier will ever be back in fashion?