The fashion catwalk sometimes features strange outfits, with designers vying to invent the most edgy creations. These are not necessarily the outfits that catch on – at least, I’ve never seen women wearing dresses made of plastic garbage bags or men wearing crochet tights.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, although I can’t help noticing the expressions on the faces of the models. Pouty and sullen, they look like 13-year-olds who have just been grounded or had their iPhones confiscated.
What we consider to be ‘ugly fashion’ is really what we’re not used to seeing or not in the mainstream. The young have a need to shock, as my generation probably did, with our miniskirts, bellbottoms, psychedelic prints and long hair on men.
My parents thought at the time that we were all on a path to hell, although later conceded that our fashions weren’t morally corrupting after all, once they had got used to them.
Similarly, older generations raise an eyebrow about some of today’s fashion choices, such as tattoos, piercings, ripped jeans or designs shaved onto the head.
Throughout history, people have grown bored with the status quo of accepted attire. During the Elizabethan era, women padded out their sleeves to make large ‘leg-of-mutton arms, while men padded their doublets to create a larger belly, a symbol of prosperity at the time.
Panniers, hoop skirts and bustles were sometimes so wide, two women couldn’t pass each other in a corridor. Women became entangled in traffic or were even blown off cliffs thanks to their voluminous skirts.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, hobble skirts had a short life in the early 1900s, so tight around the legs a woman had to mince along, often falling over.
Elizabethan neck ruffs were sometimes more than a foot wide, making eating difficult. Later, in the 1800s, detachable collars for men could be deadly. Starched to the point of being nearly unbendable, the collar could slowly asphyxiate a man, particularly if he fell asleep or passed out while drinking.
I haven’t even mentioned codpieces, powdered wigs or corsets. Strict adherence to fashion was expected by society, although these fashions only applied to the upper classes – the peasants were far more sensible.