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History of American Fashion

History of American Fashion

History of American Fashion Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

The word "bra" began to appear as a cool new slang term among young women in the mid-1930s. It was a truncated version of the standard term, brassiere. At the same time, the initials "p.j." were substituted for the pajama.228

The famous nineteenth-century boxer John L. Sullivan wore wool drawers as his boxing outfit, perhaps because he came from the cold climate of Boston—hence the American term "long johns."229

In the 1790s, a "pocketbook" was carried by men; it was the equivalent of a wallet, which men carried in their pockets. Women carried money or other items in pockets that they wore as separate objects, tied around the waist underneath the petticoat. When the pockets went out of style, women began carrying reticules, or small drawstring bags...the antecedent of the modern handbag (but much less expensive)!230

Fashion trends were not always confined to middle- and upper-class white women. During the antebellum period, some young slave girls made their own crinoline hoops from grape vines to spruce up their Sunday dresses.231

The vibrantly colorful bevy of lingerie choices in modern catalogs and stores would have been completely foreign to Americans in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and (for the most part) nineteenth century. It was not until the late 1860s that chemical dyes were introduced for undergarments, and the novelty of underwear in vibrant hues (other than the bland ivory of linen) became available, if not yet widely acceptable. Frilly underwear were also made possible in the mid-nineteenth-century, with the invention of the sewing machine.232

In the 1790s, men's shirts were considered as something akin to the modern notion of underwear; that is, they were not meant to be worn alone in public without a jacket over them. But during the same period, women's petticoats were deemed respectable outerwear, not the undergarments we think of today.233

Clothing remains an integral part of politics all over the world. As The New York Times has reported, "In 1994, 20 Muslim girls were expelled from schools in France for wearing head scarves." In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan during the summer of 2000, "a visiting group of Pakistani soccer players had their heads shaved in public as punishment for wearing shorts instead of long pants." Swaziland has been trying to outlaw miniskirts since 1969, having blamed them and the schoolgirls wearing them for "behaving seductively around their teachers" and for spreading AIDS. Nor is the distaste for miniskirts confined to Swaziland: in 1967, the legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head banned them from the Academy Awards because she "felt they lacked elegance."234 Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin of Russia (during the 1990s) and the notorious dictator Idi Amin of Uganda (in the 1970s) both forbade miniskirts from government offices. When Congo's president, Laurent Kabila, overthrew the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, his first act was to get rid of miniskirts.235

According to legend, the first pair of Levi's jeans (around 1853) cost $6 and was paid for in gold dust.236

The gendered color distinction for babies—pink for girls, blue for boys—did not exist until the twentieth century. Before then, both boys and girls wore petticoat skirts until the age of about five, when boys transitioned into breeches or trousers as a rite of passage into the male domain.237

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