Ten Worst Fashion Ideas of All Time

headshotgoldjackethairstickingoutI hope you all will help me welcome back a friend of mine, Kate Dolan!


I am not a big follower of fashion, but I have noticed that while the human body has not changed over time, our method of covering it changes constantly, and 99% of those changes have nothing to do with practicality. It’s all in the name of fashion.

Taken to extremes, fashion can be uncomfortable, ridiculous, and even deadly. So I thought it would be fun to explore what I consider to be the Ten Worst Fashion Ideas of All Time.

10) Plucked eyelashes. Although the ancient Egyptians and Romans used cosmetics to enhance eyes and eyelashes, by the Middle Ages, women in Europe were having their eyebrows and even eyelashes plucked out to give more emphasis to their foreheads. The Church had decreed that hair of any kind was too erotic to be shown in public, so presumably the emphasis on the forehead was making a virtue of necessity. But eyelashes serve an important function keeping debris out of the eyes, so not only would the plucking process be painful, the resulting fashion would be pretty uncomfortable, too.

 9) Calf pads. We’re all familiar with padded brasseries, which allow women to enlarge the apparent size of their mammary glands. And there are countless jokes about padding used to enhance male anatomy. But for a time, men decided they needed padding in an area they could have developed themselves had they only bothered to engage in some exercise. In the days of breeches that buckled at the knees, some men had special padding to make their legs look more shapely. Really?

8) The Houppeland – This enormous outer robe from the 1300s and 1400s was a distinct change from previous close fitting garments that showed off the figure and allowed free movement. It was extremely heavy and had long flowing sleeves that would have been impossible to wear while doing any work whatsoever, so it effectively reduced women to ornamental status. And  I can’t help but wonder how many times somebody set their own sleeves on fire.

 7) Patches – I’m not sure why a big dark ugly mole in the middle of someone’s face is referred to as a “beauty” mark, but my guess is that it was started by the courtiers of an insecure king with a big ugly mole on his face. In any case, from the 1600s to the end of the 1800s, fake “beauty marks” called were all the rage. They could be made of black velvet, silk or leather and cut in shapes like stars. Patches could cover up blemishes or small pox scars, but were they really an improvement?

6) Stretching. I’m not talking about stretching hamstrings, but stretching body parts like earlobes way out of proportion. It’s an anciePointed shoesnt practice — an ice mummy from 3300 BC was found to have stretched earlobes–and it’s been found in cultures around the world ever since, most recently in North America. In addition to earlobes, men and women have also stretched their lips, nasal septums, and other body parts, all in the name of fashion. But what do we know about fashion? It changes. And if you’ve stretched your earlobes to the size of tractor tires, they’re not going to shrink back to normal when you’re ready to move on to the next fad.

 5) Long-toed Shoes. We’ve all seen the pictures of court jesters wearing goofy shoes with long pointy toes, and it’s great for comic effect. But in the 1400s, that style of shoes was not meant to be humorous at all but a sign of great wealth. Cobblers started making the toes so long that they had to use a chain tied around the wearer’s knee to hold them up. Supposedly there were even laws passed to regulate the length of the tips of the shoes. The common people were limited to six inches, while nobility and royalty were allowed a full two feet.

 4) Bustles, farthingales, panniers and rump rolls. The question “does this make my butt look big?” takes on a new meaning when the wearer actually hopes the answer will be “yes.” At various times from the late 15th  through the end of the 19th century, fashion dictated that women enhance either their rear ends or their hips to a ridiculous degree. The fashion first began with simple rolls of padding at the waist and expanded to cage-like hoop devices the might prop a gown out two feet or more on either side or in the back. In the mid 1700s, the side hoops called panniers became so unwieldy that woman had to turn sideways to walk through a doorway. In the late 1800s, bustles in the back protruded so severely that women could not sit unless the bustles were constructed so that they could fold up in back. And whoever decided that this was a good look for any woman?

3) Gravity Defying Pants. They don’t actually defy gravity, and that’s a big reason this men’s fashion from the late 20th and early 21st Centuries is near the top of my list. Not only do men look ridiculous when their pants look like they’re about to fall down at any moment, they look even more ridiculous when the sensation of their pants being about to fall causes them to stop and pull them up every ten to fifteen seconds. Fashion students of the future are going to be laughing over this one for centuries to come.

 2) The Corset. Yes, a small waistline is desirable. But even back in the days before x-rays showed that cinching women’s waists too tight could squash the ribcage and displace internal organs, people referred to corsets as “the deadly artifice” that could lead to lung disease. Men wore them for a brief period in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but they quit before the corsets got seriously painful in the Victorian era.

 1) Lead Cosmetics. For hundreds of years, upper class Europeans sought to have the palest skin possible in order the demonstrate that they did not have to work in the sun like the common people. One way to achieve the pale complexion was to smear white lead paste on the skin, perhaps accented with red (also lead-based) makeup on the cheeks. Some people liked to use a preparation based on arsenic instead of lead. Continued use of this makeup could cause muscle paralysis, skin lesions, hair loss and in extreme cases, insanity or death.  The modern equivalent would be like smearing nuclear waste on your skin to give you a healthy glow.

 So those are my top ten.  I should say that some ideas that I personally consider horrible, such as wigs and high heels, were not included in this list because their enduring popularity leads me to believe they appeal to enough somebodies to make them senseoftheseason_msr low resat least a halfway decent idea. In other words, I have been outvoted by history. And there have been many painful debilitating procedures inflicted (especially on women) over the years such as foot binding, but I don’t consider those fashion, so while they were definitely bad ideas, they didn’t make the list either.

But I’m sure there are things that you think should have been included that I’ve missed. So what do you think are some of the worst fashion ideas in history?


Kate Dolan writes Regency romance and other historical fiction under her own name and contemporary stories under the name K.D. Hays. Her next release is a Traditional Regency Christmas novella in which the heroine is a reformed bully. Sense of the Season is due out November 28. For more information on this and other stories and historical blogs, visit www.katedolan.com.

Here’s the website link:http://katedolan.com/



  • Helen says:

    Is he staying with me ?

    Have Fun

  • Helen says:

    Hi Kate

    I have to agree with your list and even though high heels are very popular at the moment I think that a lot of them are very dangerous and seriously I have watched some girls walk in them and they really must be throughing their backs out 🙂 and as for plucking eyelashes that is monsterous doesn’t it take 9 months for an eyelash to grow back.

    Love the sound of the Christmas novella I do love Christmas stories

    Have Fun

    It is raining and cool here at the moment and quiet after yesterdays family BBQ so the GR and I will sit quietly and read 🙂

  • ki pha says:

    Wow, great list!!!! Ummm Shoulder pads, I never liked them on my coats and dresses. Hmmm I can’t think if any others at the moment.

  • flchen1 says:

    Wow, Kate! Those are some real doozies! My addition is that horrid looking trend, “sagging,” where the guys let their pants hang down somewhere around their knees while exposing their underpants to the world. I especially cannot stand it when the guys BELT their pants somewhere around their lower thighs… why? WHY??

    And I’m intrigued by the description of your heroine–a reformed bully?? Must read more!

    • I’m right there with you with the saggy pants. I also loved the picture of the pointy shoes. I would have tripped all the time.

    • Kate Dolan says:

      Actually, that was the look I was trying to describe with my term “gravity defying pants.” I do think it is the most ridiculous idea and people will be making fun of our society about that one for years to come.
      By the way, my reformed bully never saw herself as a bully, so really, it’s all in the eye of the beholder (in this case, the hero that she used to bully as a child!)

  • Becke Turner says:

    People can be rather foolish. I think the silliest fashion goes to shoes. What is the point of killing your feet, wrecking your back, and risking a broken bone to wear ridiculously high shoes? Sorry folks but the length of our legs doesn’t change no matter how high the shoes!

    I’m all for flats and flipflops!!!

    • I love high heels and always have, Becke…but then again, I’m short. I get tired of stretching to reach everything. So for me, it’s about the height not how long my short legs look. 🙂

    • Kate Dolan says:

      I really do hate high heels, too. But SO many people love them (and seem to be able to wear them) that I didn’t think it was fair to rule them a “worst” idea. But a bad one, heck yeah!

  • Welcome back, Kate. I loved your list.

  • Shannon says:

    Panty hose. I know my white legs look like plump pale worms in winter, but I love that in the summer that no one wears them any more. So pants in winter and skirts the rest of the year.

    High heels are fun and painful. Before I had minor knee pain, I always thought heels added inches and made my legs look slimmer. Now that I can only wear flats, they seem stupid and painful. But I loved them when I was young, and I envy the girls in the office who have really great shoes.

    I am an evil person. I enjoy guys in low pants, just betting when they are going to fall down.
    The poor things are rather embare-assed.

  • Connie Fischer says:

    Panty hose! I’ve always hated those things and couldn’t wait to get home from work to get them off of me!

  • Deb says:

    My husband would say my own fad in the 90’s of having the color of my socks match my shirts or blouses. Seriously, I had a fetish about it. Raspberry pink t-shirt…I looked high and low until I found a pair of raspberry pink socks. One day, soon after we were married, he said, “Honey, life is simpler with just plain white socks.” HA, he’s right.

    That list is amazing and makes me wonder how those fads even began. I used to do the big shoulder pads thing, but realized soon that I didn’t like the look of a linebacker. I never wore my hair poofed up, but hairstyles of the early 80s are laughable.

  • catslady says:

    I am going to go with the jump suit. Not that they looked bad but just try going to a public rest room in those things.

  • CateS says:

    That whole hair powdering thing… and wigs…
    PS did you see on the Today Show about the woman & her husband living the Victorial Life?

  • Minna says:

    Shoes (practically any shoes) and that stupid narrow tip of the shoe where almost nobody’s toes fit. Certainly not my toes! I recall seeing some documentary about history of shoes and why that particular shape is considered pretty. I think was actually the ancient Greeks who are to blame. Apparently they thought a foot shaped like that as pretty. Unfortunately, most peoples feet are not shaped like that, but everyone is obviously expected to stuff their toes to shoes with narrow tips. =P

    • Kate Dolan says:

      When the men were wearing insanely pointed shoes in the middle ages, they sometimes had to stuff the toes to keep the shape. But at least they didn’t have to deal with high heels AND pointed toes. So many modern stylish shoes have both, so it’s pretty impossible to walk.

    • I’ve never like the extremely pointed shoes for women. I just don’t think they look good, but that’s just me.

      • Cassondra says:

        Christie I call those Wicked Witch shoes. I refuse to buy those. Just flat refuse.

        Nobody’s foot is shaped like that.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Congratulations on your recent release, Kate, and welcome to the Lair. What an interesting and fascinating post.

    The high heels trend is deadly today. And when one reaches my age, it’s simply not an option. I have trouble enough keeping my balance in flats!

    I have to mention BIG HAIR, not because it was so awful, or even the damage caused by teasing the hair into these giant clouds around our faces, but because I can’t look at an 80’s picture without giggling.

    Men’s beards and mustaches have changed over the ages, from mutton-chops to soul patches. Not particularly harmful (there’s a REASON men grow hair on their faces and women (hopefully) don’t, but the evolution of facial hair is interesting.

  • Kate Dolan says:

    I’m not a big fan of any facial hair, but it was WAY better than piercing…

  • Becke Turner says:

    I think one of the reasons for pointy toes is for riding horses. A pointed toe makes it easier to pick up the stirrup.

  • Annie West says:

    Hi Christie,

    I loved this list. I didn’t know about the eyelash plucking. Gives me shivers just thinking about it.

    I have to say some of the really exaggerated efforts from the 80s – when you see the combination of ultra big hair with ultra big ruffles and ultra big shoulder pads make me so glad we’ve moved on. However, my least favourite has to be the gravity defying pants. Fortunately it seems to be a fad that’s losing popularity. Or maybe they just all lost their pants.

  • Cassondra says:

    Okay the gravity-defying pants are my least favorite EVER in modern times..

    BUT….I gotta say…hoop skirts.

    Really? Why would you want clothing so wide that you can’t easily get through a doorway–or walk beside your guy as you go down the street?

    Excellent blog on fashion. I learned some stuff. Calf pads. Wow.

  • Pat Cochran says:

    For me, it is what I call extreme tattooing! The all-
    over, entire-body tattooing! Ugh! Yuck!

    Pat C.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Actually, Kate, for most women the corset was a necessity, partly for supporting the bust but mainly for supporting the back muscles for all the heavy lifting in the housework of the day. Just go to a Lodge cookware store and try lifting an 18-inch cast-iron kettle and you’ll see what I mean. The corset was the equivalent of that black brace the guys in Home Depot wear. Yes there were women who were into tight-lacing, but they were mostly showgirls and celebrities who, like our modern actresses and models who starve themselves for the camera, did it because they were expected to conform to an ideal.

    And this is where the panniers, hoops and bumrolls come in. For women with normal-sized waists, the extra volume of fabric around the hips made the waist look smaller. Also, especially in the case of panniers, the size of the skirt indicated how wealthy you were, and how much of this expensive fabric you could afford. It was more about the fabric than about the figure.

    And I agree with Pat above, the current fad for tattoos is absurd. These kids have no idea how ridiculous they’re going to look when they get old. The other day I ran into a Wal-Mart greeter on the shady side of sixty who had ladybugs tattooed all over her withered chest. Not pretty.

    • Kate Dolan says:

      I agree that stays can be very helpful when lifting cast iron– I have a set of full boned and at set of half boned stays that I wear for 18th C. living history events. If I have them laced tightly, it’s hard to do anything strenuous but if not, they’re pretty comfortable (except while driving–not a concern for most 18th C women). However, the later corsets squeezed the waist in more and I think would be more uncomfortable. I don’t know because I’ve only worn the 18th C. version which really stops at the hips. Any Victorians have an opinion on this one?

  • Mozette says:

    Worse fashion ideas? Okay… just watch those poor models wobbling down the cat walks and you’ll see what I think is a bad idea – HIGH HEELS! They’re bad for you back, bunch up your calf muscles, you can’t run in them and the only thing they’re good for is to kill the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz…:P… oh, and to break your ankles and put your hips out.

    HAIR SPRAY – now who here had put on that toxic stuff and ended up gassing themselves out of the bathroom? I used to until Ifound out I was allergic to it… yeah, now I haven’t used hair spray, gell or anything to hold my hair in place in over 20 years… and my scalp feels better for it.

    SCARVES – they can be pretty, lovely, and sometimes a downright health hazard! If you lose your favourite one, you’ll never see it in the stores again and nobody will run after you to hand it back. People are constantly telling you how to wear a scarf, they can get caught in everything from doors to your ear-rings… so, I don’t wear scarves often unless they’re nice, woolly and I can tuck them into my jacket in Winter.

    MAKE-UP – okay, we all wear it. Men complain we spend far too much time putting it on… but if they had to wear it every day they went out in public just to make themselves look nice, to make their blotchy skin not blotchy, to hide a blemish, to hide the oily bits… well, they’d be fighting for mirror time with us. Or we’d be complaining they’d be obsessed with themselves… and once we have that crap on our skin, it’s a horror to get it off – especially that waterproof mascara … jeez don’t get me started on that stuff!

    There are my problems with fashion… otherwise, I’m not one to follow trends; as I make my own up. 😀