It's hard to predict exactly what will inspire a trend. Sometimes a designer launches a style that becomes iconic but just as often it will be something weird that captures the popular imagination and the Next Big Thing is born. Fashion is fickle, fun, creative and often a little bit random. Here are some trends with bizarre origins. By Ruth Spencer.
Corsets as outerwear
It's said that women never stopped wearing corsets, we just internalised them with diet and exercise. Maybe that will explain our middle-aged spread: it's just our internal corsets riding up. In terms of ludicrous inspirations for fashion, the idea that the uncorseted bodies of 90s women would want to crawl back into laced prisons seems incomprehensible but Jean-Paul Gaultier made a cool one. Madonna wore it and here we are. The sausage-casing sheerness of shapewear has quietly taken the place of foundation garments but the corset as evening top will never be out of fashion in certain dimly lit, karaoke-filled corners of the country.
Have you ever used charcoal toothpaste? Have you considered just, you know, not rinsing it off and going for kind of a Goth mouth vibe? These days we're expected to strive for a shiny-white Hollywood smile. We glue ceramic veneers to the stubs of our natural teeth, burn away stains with UV lights, even paint literal Twink-like paint on our smiles whenever we need a little dental highlighter. But in Queen Elizabeth I's day, black teeth were all the rage. Back then only the richest could afford sugar, brought in by ship from warmer climes, so only the richest could display really avant-garde tooth decay. The less fortunate had to paint on their cavities, so they did. Ironically, coal was considered toothpaste in those days as well, so maybe things haven't changed as much as we think.
Bikinis were famously named after Bikini Atoll, the tiny Pacific island where America was testing its nuclear weapons because, like the bomb they were "small and devastating". The bomb didn't actually inspire their creator, auto-engineer Louis Reard. The Bikini test, which was getting a lot of press, took place only four days before the swimsuit launch, so it was more a successful attempt at tie-in marketing. Reard was French, which is probably why he didn't think to call his new swimsuit the Atoll - as in, barely anything Atoll. Bikinis were slow to take off. Not literally, they're very quick to take off but in terms of sales they took a while to get going. They're marketed to women whose bottom is a different size to their top, which is to say, women. Strangely, no one has managed to adequately justify why they cost twice as much as a one-piece.
If your only exposure to 80s dance musicals is the recent trailer for Cats, you might not be aware of the leg warmer craze that swept the world. People actually – and you're going to have to trust me on this - liked 80s dance musicals. More than that, we wanted to be in 80s dance musicals – yes, even Cats. Especially Cats. Jazz ballet dancers were fashion icons. They had a whole vocabulary of dance-related clothing that regular people couldn't get enough of: tight, wraparound cardigans that tied under the bust - as long as you didn't have one; little thin elastic belts that went perfectly with leotards; and leg warmers. Leg warmers were a knitted lower-leg sleeve designed to prevent a warmed-up dancer's leg muscles from cramping. Suddenly every teenage girl's ankles were freezing and prone to cramping. Young women at my high school campaigned for the right to wear leg warmers. I think there was a petition. This caused great hilarity among 90s high school students. Our bare legs were perfectly warm enough. Until we found out about slouch socks.
Currently in again, prairie chic is inspired by the home-made calico dresses of the American pioneer days. You won't be sewing your own though - like the current trend for dressing infants like 1930s orphans, it costs a lot to look this destitute. Originally big in the 70s, the most famous brand of these faux-Victorian nighties was Gunne Sax – a play on the words "gunny sack", a coarse burlap bag. Note: if your clothing label is a blatant pun on potato sack, you may be a fashion victim. Prairie chic is an update on boho festival style, combining cowboy boots with floaty printed frocks and it's best kept for the outdoors. No clomping down Ponsonby Rd like you're headed for a shootout at the SPQR Corral.
I wish I'd never started the ridiculous 'gender reveal party' trend
Woman's sweet revenge on boyfriend who hates her clothes
The original platform shoes were made for a very sensible reason. In a time before sewers, before street-sweepers - but certainly not before horses - the platform shoe got you slightly above the worst of the muck. They had the unfortunate side effect of making it tricky to walk, so not much has changed. In medieval times only the rich could afford servants to prop them up while they tottered through the filthy streets and being a bit helpless at walking became something of a status symbol, so the shoes, of course, got ludicrously high. Spice Girls high. In the 70s the platform worked beautifully with the overlong bell-bottom to give the illusion of endless legs; in the 90s they gave us the word "flatforms", which we'd quite like to give back.
The origin of the necktie goes back to the 17th century, when Croatian mercenaries closed their shirts with a neck cloth tied at the front. Where it gets interesting is the adoption of the look by Regency dandies like Beau Brummel. Brummel had many starched neck cloths prepared every day so that he could discard any failures on the way to perfection. That's the kind of thing you can get away with only if you have a valet. Brummel, who spent five hours a day getting dressed and whose boots were polished with champagne (again, valet), was famous for his style. Popular cravat ties included the Mathematical, the Mail-Coach, and the Trone d'Amour, most of which look pretty much identical and like the wearer had a serious neck injury. Neckties are still required formal wear today though, so perhaps it's time to consider getting a valet.
Buying jeans that come pre-ripped is the essence of fashion: the function of the garment comes second to the style. The very origin of jeans is anti-rip, made from heavy canvas with rivets at stress points to withstand heavy goldfield work. But the idea of slashing your clothes pre-dates jeans by hundreds of years, so perhaps it was inevitable. As early as the 15th century people would slash their outer garments to show what was underneath. It became a way of displaying wealth, so that quality underthings could be on display. If only they'd known about Madonna. It got so intense that the Puritans made a law that you could only have one slash per sleeve and one on your back, because honestly, stop it. These days slashing doesn't reveal fancy underclothing but instead the equally impressive bodies beneath. After all, why shave a knee if no one's going to see it?