Fashion staples have an interesting history. Stilettos, bikinis, bras, handbags and sunglasses were born out of necessity and desire. And it seems they are here to stay.
Trends have a beginning but not everything stays relevant thereby becoming a classic wardrobe staple. Fashion, sometimes, just vanishes. Oversized shoulder pads, chunky platform shoes and catsuits are just a few trends that have had their moment in the closets of the most fashionable icons. However, their claim to fame was only momentary. There are styles though that never seem to go out of fashion–these are the classics. What is interesting is how these classics came about.
There is some confusion as to what constitutes a stiletto and who invented this sensual shoe. A true stiletto is a thin long heel whose stem is made of steel or various alloys. Its name is taken from the stiletto dagger. Shoe designer Roger Vivier is mostly credited for creating this classic heel just after WWII but Savador Ferrengamo has also been given credit—the jury is still out. However, there have been other examples of the stiletto throughout history.
Parisian André Perugia (1893-1977) who began designing shoes in 1906 created incredible heels which were very similar to the stiletto. The stiletto was only made possible through technology that allowed for a slim piece of metal to be embedded and then attached to the heel.
Heels though have been around forever and were famously worn by both men and women even before the time of Louis XIV.
The bikini first debuted in France and was designed by Parisian engineer Louis Réard in 1946. He named it after the island Bikini Atoll where nuclear testing had taken place. The story goes that models refused to wear the risque bathing suit so they had to hire a stripper to model the now ubiquitous 2-piece bathing suit. By 1957 the bikini was everywhere on the French Riviera but it wasn’t until the 60s that it became popular in the US. The 50s were still the era of our prudish society when Modern Girl Magazine wrote,”It is hardly necessary to waste words over the
so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.” Oh, how times have changed!
Some historians suggest that bras might date back to ancient Greece when women would strap their breasts down with a piece of cloth. The word “brassiere” was first used sometime in the early 1900s and comes from the French for upper arm or haut du bras. These were more like camisoles made with whalebone supports. It was out of necessity that Mary Phelps Jacobs successfully designed (and eventually patented) the bra in 1917.
Fashion in the 20s was liberating for women as they stepped out of the Victorian age into the age of the Flapper. Designs of the 20s were slim and cut for women who were flat-chested. Plunging necklines were also quite popular during that era and the corset was outdated for the sensibility of the Flapper. And Mary Phelps Jacobs was NOT flat-chested. Needing something to support her bustline she constructed her first bra using ribbon and two handkerchiefs improving on it along the way. Necessity really is the mother of invention.
From the beginning of civilization men and women used several different inventions to handily carry their small stuff around. Pouches were quite popular until the 16th century when
women often wore their purses on a chatelaine. This necklace was designed with chains to which small utensils could be attached, such as keys, scissors and sewing tools. It was at the end of the 16th century with the invention of pockets that men ceased to wear handbags. Pockets in women’s clothing did not appear until much later but by then the handbag had become an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe and that is still true today.
Because of the voluminous nature of styles up to and through the Victorian era handbags were not always visible. Bags could be pinned to corsets and placed in the folds of fabric. It was the Flapper era that introduced us to the modern handbag as we know it. The streamline silhouettes of the 20s left no hiding places for pouches filled with necessities. Consequently, women began carrying a more decorated accessory that is more familiar looking for us today.
Sunglasses have been around since prehistoric times. The inuit people wore them for practical reasons. Today we wear them to protect our eyes from the sun but also we wear them because of the cool factor. Sunglasses have been a fashion staple since they were mass-produced by Sam Foster in 1929.
The glamor of wearing sunglasses was first brought to us by the stars in Hollywood who wore them to avoid being recognized by their fans. However, another reason they may have worn sunglasses was to hide their bloodshot eyes. In 1938 Life Magazine anointed them as the latest fad. Each season delivers a newish frame. For years now the popular style has been the large frame brought to us by Jackie O in the 60s.
Sunglasses, like bikinis, bras, handbags and stilettos show no signs of disappearing as they have carved a place in our wardrobes as essential pieces. What will change, however, is the style. And that is how history is made!