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History of Western Clothing


  • 1st known buttons were worn as ornaments in the Bronze Age. They were 1st used as fastenings as a loop fastening (much like we use toggles on heavy coats) by the ancient Greeks & Etruscans, and were in wide use by 300 BC among these peoples.
  • 13thC: buttonholes were invented in the 13thC which enabled clothes to be cut in more close fitting & intricate designs
  • Middle Ages: current custom arose that men's clothes have buttons attached to right whilst women's have buttons attached to the left. This was to allow men to undo their coats quickly with their left hands whilst leaving their right hand free for their swords.
  • 1800: 1st mass-produced metal buttons started after the Industrial Revolution with the 1st button factory in USA established in 1800.
  • late 19thC: Japan & China, in addition to making ceramic buttons, made lacquer & laquered papier mache for buttons which became popular in Europe.
  • 1891: American mechanical engineer, Whitcomb L. Judson patents his 'clasp fastener', the 1st zipper, to replace laces, buckles & boot buttons on boots.
  • 1913: Sunback patents a commercially viable slide fastener, which is essentially the present day zipper, was adopted by B.F.Goodrich Company in 1913 who named it the zipper and used it in galoshes marketed as the Mystical Boot, and by the US Navy in 1917 in windproof flying suits, before it started appearing in garments in the 1920's.
  • 20thC: synthetic plastics used for buttons starting with celluloid, then polystyrene, cellulose & polyvinyl resins with ~80% produced in the USA.


  • before the bra - cloth bindings & corsets kept things in place until the late 1890's
  • 1883 - although nobody knows who really invented the bra, the 1st patent for a breast supporter went to a woman called Mary Tucek
  • 1907 - the word brassiere appears for the 1st time in an American magazine
  • 1922 - Ida Rosenthal, one of the founders of Maideform, invents brassiere cups
  • 1935 - Warner's introduces cup sizes A through D
  • 1937 - Dupont invents nylon - immediately becomes standard bra material
  • 1943 - Howard Hughes hires aeronautical engineers to design a bra for Jayne Mansfield
  • 1948 - 1st push-up bra marketed. Sports bras introduced in US & UK after WW2.
  • 1950s - the conical bra introduced creating the '50's pointy sweater girl silhouette
  • 1964 - 1st “invisible bra” designed - sheer net fabric, no detailing. Lycra incorporated into most bra designs.
  • 1968 - 1st Wonderbra introduced with slogan “makes 34 look 36, makes 36 look pow”. Meanwhile, at a protest outside a Miss America pageant, bras & girdles are thrown into a rubish bin (but contrary to urban myth, no bras were burned).
  • 1970's - the bra-less years for many. Mesh tubes introduced for wearing under boob tubes.
  • 1980 - era of clingy, fitted all-in-one “teddies” with press studs down below. Short-lived stick-on swimsuit top to cover the nipples only, but few bought them.
  • 1990 - Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour features famous Gaultier cone bra and a fashion for wearing underwear “on the outside” so it becomes part of the fashion.
  • 1994 - Wonderbra relaunched with “Hello Boys” campaign
  • 1990's - G-string underpants become popular
  • 2000:
    • Charnos introduces the Bioform Bra, with the underwiring replaced by flexible “hubcaps”. 
    • Julia Roberts popularises the Ultimo silicon gel filled bra in Erin Brockovich film but these were hot and heavy and most were discontinued by 2001.
    • Australian scentists in Wollongong announce invention of “smart bra” prototype.
    • Wonderbra falls out of favour as uncomfortable as fashion still is for breast to be on show with good cleavage but comfort is an important factor.
    • fashion for very low cut jeans results in exposed G-string underpants, then hidden, low cut underpants, then a tendency by many not to wear underpants at all
  • 2003 - Berlei releases supertech sports bra.
  • 2004 - computerised studies show that whilst the average breast moves vertically 8cm whilst running, a 16DD breast moves a painful 16.5cm emphasizing the need for well-fitted & designed sports bras for the well-endowed who wish to exercise.


the wedding ring:

  • originally rings were worn for a vast number of reasons. The ancient Egyptians wore them as a form of adornemt, the Romans & Greeks wore them to establish class & status; as early as 17thC, the ring appeared in Egyptian hieroglyphs as a symbol of eternity, marriage & a permanent bond; some primitives believed that the ring was a kind of magic circle, that it would entrap a woman's spirit; equally the ring became a symbol of a woman captured and enslaved to her husband.
  • given these rather disturbing pagan connotations, it is hardly surprising that the early Christians were reticent about introducing the ring into their wedding ceremony. However, by the 9thC AD, objections had been overcome, and thus the tradition of the gold or silver Christian wedding ring was established, although medieval rings tended to be elaborate jewelled inlays until the 17thC when it became customary to wear a plain wedding ring.
  • the modern wedding ring is actually a direct descendant of the annulus pronubus, a Roman betrothal ring. The 1st existence of this was in the 3rdC AD, at first it was made from iron, but gold became popular.
  • until the 16thC, Christian wedding rings were worn on the 3rd finger of the woman's right hand, directly against the pagan tradition of wearing the betrothal ring on the 3rd finger og the left hand. The explanation for this was the belief created by an incorrect reading of Aulus Gellius in 2ndC AD that there was a vein that flowed from the 3rd finger on the right hand directly to the heart (he in fact stated that this magical vein was on the left hand!). The Pagans saw the right hand as being a symbol of authority and power, whilst the left hand symbolised servitude & submission, so the assumption was that the man was the master and the woman the slave. As well, they realised that the 3rd finger on the left hand was extremely prominent and a ring there was easily seen and gave notice that the wearer was not available and totally committed. in spite of all these connotations, the Christian church changed to the left hand in the 16thC, and that the invented rationale for the 3rd finger was that it was “associated with the Holy Trinity”. In the medieval wedding, it was customary for the bridegroom to place ring on the thumb and say, “in the name of the Father”, then place on 1st finger and say “in the name of the son”, then place on 2nd finger and say “and of the Holy Ghost” then place it on the 3rd finger and say “Amen”. Such customs led the Puritans to ban the wedding ring in England, arguing it was Pagan & superstitious & had nothing to do with Christianity. They did not succeed. The modern custom of exchanging wedding rings had come from the Lutherans who simply borrowed the idea from German folklore.
  • all these religious interpretations are somwhat undercut by the Freudian psychologists who see the ring in sexual terms. The finger representing the male organ, the ring, the female organ, and in marriage they are joined together.
  • in Oriental societies, the ring is often worn on the toe - married woman on the big toe of left foot, married men wore rings on their big toe & the 2nd & 3rd toes.

body piercings:

  • male genital piercings were popular in Victorian era in the late 19thC 
  • ear-rings popular in woman throughout most of history, although banned by Puritan Christian groups.
  • initially only homosexual males wore ear-rings in the 1980's but in the 1990's, increasing numbers of heterosexual males also started wearing ear-rings.
  • a fashion for body piercing developed in Western society in the 1990's such that by the late 1990's, umbilical piercings were extremely common and to a lesser degree, eyebrow, nose, tongue, pinna and genital piercings.


  • initially largely associated with the bikie culture of Western society, started to become fashionable for woman in the 1980's, then as circumferential upper arm tatoos in the early 1990's popularised by Pamela Anderson, then with the fashion of low cut jeans in the late 1990's, it became fashionable for women to tattoo the sacral region.
  • in the 1st decade of the 21st century, tattoos could be seen in a wide variety of body parts, with a substantial portion of the young adult population having at least one tattoo
  • unfortunately, most of the tattoo fad cycles end and become unfashionable leaving the wearer deciding on whether it should be removed and leave a permanent scar or hide it.
history/h_clothing_western1.txt · Last modified: 2013/01/14 21:21 by gary1

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