The tiny pocket on your jeans
Ever wondered what’s the point of those tiny pockets on your jeans? When they were first manufactured, jeans had only four pockets: one large one at the back, one large one at the front, and two of those curious small pockets at the front. The small pockets were intended to hold a pocket watch – or two!
700 gallons of water
Though it doesn’t contaminate waterways and oceans in the same way that polyester fibers do, cotton is no environmental angel. It’s a thirsty material, taking an average of 700 gallons of water to grow enough to make a single men’s shirt. This a lot, especially when you realise that cotton is typically grown in places where water is often scarce.
The loop on your button-down shirt
Have you ever noticed the small loop beneath the collar on the back of a button-down shirt? Back in the 1960s, the menswear brand GANT named them “locker loops” after Ivy League students who used the loops to hang their shirts to keep them wrinkle-free.
The royal history of your necktie
Neck ties date back to the seventeenth century and Louis XIV of France. The “Sun King” was a lover of flamboyant clothes. He was inspired by the strips of material worn around the necks of Croatian mercenaries, fighting on the French side in the Thirty Years’ War. Louis XIV co-opted the design for the French military, gradually making its way into the mainstream.
The studs on your jean pockets
Originally workwear, jeans had a tendency to rip on the corners of the pockets. This inspired a Latvian immigrant to the US, Jacob Davis, to team up with Levi’s and add rivets to those weak corner spots. They were also added to the base of the fly and anywhere else where the fabric was likely to be put under strain.
Embroidered logos on clothing are commonplace nowadays. Honors for the very first go to Lacoste and its now famous crocodile design. Created in 1923, the design was inspired by a nickname given to René Lacoste by a journalist. The nickname was created thanks to a bet made between Lacoste and his tennis coach over a crocodile skin suitcase.
Pink and blue
You might think that pink has always been associated with girls and blue with boys. However, this wasn’t always so. Until around the time of World War I, it was most common to dress very young children in white because it was easily bleached. In the US, ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ was largely thanks to the whims of big stores.
Did you know that 95% of textiles are recyclable? Sadly, the vast majority are not recycled and discarded clothing largely ends up in landfill. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, recycling 2.3 million tonnes of textiles is equivalent to removing 1.2 million cars from the roads.
The difference between the buttons on men’s and women’s shirts
Why do women’s shirts button up from the left and men’s from the right? There’s no definite answer, but one theory suggests that it relates to the elaborate nature of women’s clothes in Victorian times. Wealthy women would usually have someone to help them dress and, assuming this person was right-handed, it would be easier for them to do up buttons from the left.
40 years to decompose
If you don’t reuse or recycle your clothes but instead send them to landfill, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The average garment takes 40 years to decompose and, in some soils, this process takes much longer. After all, it’s not unheard of for archaeological digs to unearth textile remnants that are hundreds or even thousands of years old.
1000 years to decompose
Shoes take even longer than textiles to decompose. The average pair will take around 1000 years to disappear in this way. This is partly because the midsoles of most shoes are made with ethylene vinyl, which takes a very long time to break down. As it does so, like anything that decomposes, it releases environmentally-damaging methane gases.
Can you ensure that your unwanted clothes get a second life? And can you buy items made from repurposed textiles? For instance, pillow stuffing, baseball filling and jewelry box lining can all be made from repurposed textiles. Alternatively, what about a good old-fashioned patchwork quilt? It might be worth buying something repurposed to help make a small change.
Overseas clothing mountains
It’s a sad fact that most of the clothes the Western world doesn’t want ends up in the third world. Many Western consumers believe the clothes are going to be sold as secondhand garments. While this may be the destination for some items, the majority end up in huge clothing mountains that pollute the environment and take years to decompose.
82 pounds of textile waste per person
If you live in the US, statistically you’re responsible for 82 pounds of textile waste per year. Nationwide, this equates to 11 million tonnes – and most of it ends up in landfill, where it produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. What’s more, much of this waste doesn’t represent worn-out clothes. Instead, it’s fast fashion that someone has worn only once or twice.
75% wear second-hand
It might not be true of the average American but, worldwide, 75% of the population wears secondhand clothing. Once upon a time, the practise was also more common in the US, thanks to hand-me-downs and also the now largely defunct habit of cutting down worn-out garments to utilise the still-good parts and make them into shirts and dresses for children.
One sheep = four wool jumpers
A single sheep produces an average of seven pounds of wool in one shearing. This is sufficient to make four wool sweaters – not a bad ratio. However, not all sheep fleece is ideally suited for knitting and raising sheep can be problematic for the environment, especially where land is deforested to make room for grazing.
One cashmere goat = very little cashmere
It’s no wonder that cashmere is a luxury and very expensive product. Cashmere fibers are obtained by combing cashmere goats to extract their downy undercoats. A single combing produces only around four ounces or 110 grams of cashmere fiber. Consequently, it takes at least four goats to produce enough cashmere for a single sweater.
Environmental impact of cashmere
Although cashmere is a natural and biodegradable product, increased demand for it has led to a growing number of cashmere goat flocks in Mongolia and China. These large flocks are hard on the environment and, in areas that are already suffering from desertification, it’s increasingly tricky for farmers to ensure their goats have enough grass to eat and water to drink.
Purple was the color of emperors
It’s such a rich, regal color that it’s little wonder that purple was once a color reserved only for the most important members of society. In Roman times, only the Emperor, magistrates and other senior figures (all men) were permitted to wear the color. Even now, in monarchist societies, purple is still frequently associated with royalty.
The patch on your backpack
The patch on your backpack is not just for decoration. The original purpose of the little patch – usually made from leather – was to provide a safe, snug space for you to string items to hang off your bag. This might be a pair of shoes or, nowadays, more likely a water bottle.
The YKK engraving on your zipper
Check your zipper. There’s around a 50% chance that it’s embossed with YKK. This statistic is thanks to the success of a Japanese zipper company founded in 1934. The letters stand for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha. Nowadays, the company churns out around seven billion zippers every year.
If you’ve ever wondered where button-down collars originate, the answer lies on an English polo field. When the crowd found the flapping of the players’ shirt collars too distracting, the button-down collar was created. (As an aside, this is why the proper name for a button-down shirt is actually a button-front shirt so as to distinguish it from a button-down polo shirt!)
The first fashion magazine
Forget Vogue and Harpar’s Bazaar, which didn’t appear on the scene until the 1950s. The very first fashion magazine was German, sold in 1586! Details on what it contained are scarce but we do know that the first fashion magazine that was published in France (in 1678) was aimed at men, not women.
The second oldest item of clothing
Although the loincloth is the oldest known form of clothing, its close cousin, the skirt, is the second oldest. In the West, despite the fact that – with the Scottish kilt as an honourable exception – skirts are usually worn by women, they’re normal attire for men in many other parts of the world.
The inventor of the bra clasp
Providing welcome respite from the corset for millions of women, the first modern bra design dates back to 1910 and a New York socialite called Mary Phelps Jacob. Although apparently comfortable to wear, her bra was no more than two silk handkerchieves and a ribbon. It was Mark Twain, author of Tom Sawyer, who subsequently invented the clasp that helped take bras into the mainstream.
Arrested for wearing a one-piece
In 1907, a woman on a Boston beach was arrested for wearing a one-piece swimming costume. The bikini, which was invented in 1946, later faced similar problems. It was banned in a number of places, including that well-known beach resort, Vatican City, because it was “indecent”.
1.85 mile train
Forget Princess Di’s ever-so slightly creased dress, the world record for the longest wedding dress train belongs to a dress with one that was long enough to cover Mount Everest. Produced in Caudry, a French town famed for its lace, the record-breaking garment measured 26,559.71 feet long!
The price of a pair of jeans
Never mind dollars, in 1853 the budding jeans maker, Levi Strauss, was clear about the identity of one of his target markets. Gold miners in search of the precious metal needed sturdy work pants – and successful miners could pay for their jeans in gold dust. It’s said that the first pair of Levi’s sold for six dollars worth of gold dust.
High heels for children
Many small children enjoy teetering around in their mom’s high heels. However, once upon a time – back in the eighteenth century – high heels were normal everyday wear for many children. This was especially true of boys, who copied their fathers to wear elevated heels to give themselves extra height and so their heels clicked into the stirrups when they rode.
A young wedding dress designer
Proving that you don’t necessarily need to have age or experience behind you to design a fabulous outfit, the putative designer Michael Kors helped redesign his mother’s wedding dress when he was just five years old. According to Kors, the original dress was too fussy, with too many bows.
Red ruby slippers
No, we don’t mean the ones Dorothy wore for her expedition along the Yellow Brick Road, but these were inspired by exactly that. Instead, we’re referring to a pair designed by Harry Winston, which hold the record for being the world’s most expensive pair of shoes. They sold for an impressive $3 million!
The first white wedding dress
In the Western world, white wedding dresses are the norm rather than the exception. However, this wasn’t always the case. We can date our fondness for the color to Queen Victoria of the UK, who wore it when marrying Prince Albert in 1840. Prior to this, white was reserved as a color for mourning, and still is in much of the world.
Jeans come from Genoa
All right, they’re not literally Genoese – but the word itself derives from the Italian city and, specifically, from its sailors. Once upon a time these sailors were known as “Genes”, and they wore cotton pants. Eventually, the word was given to the tough denim pants we know and love today.
Napoleon was a fashion designer
Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military commander and political leader, had buttons added to the sleeves of his soldiers’ uniforms. It’s said this was to stop them using their sleeves to wipe their noses. However, if the buttons were made from the same tin as those securing the soldiers’ uniforms, they probably suffered from the same flaw and turned to dust in the sub-zero Russian winters.
Gloves to show wealth
In the Middle Ages, wealthy people in Western Europe wore gloves to show that they were wealthy. Meanwhile, poorer folk stuck with mittens, which were easier, quicker and cheaper to make. It’s perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that gloves subsequently became important signifiers of correct etiquette for certain social classes.
A Roman mall
If you love a trip to the mall to buy some new clothes, you can thank the Romans for the idea. Like so many of our modern-day institutions, malls have Roman origins. The very first one is thought to have been Trajan’s Halls, which was situated on Rome’s Via die For Imperiali, opposite the Colosseum.
Doc Martens were made from tires
Whether you call them Docs, Doc Martens, DMs or Doctor Martens, this German-founded British footwear brand produces iconic boots and shoes that are as stylish as they are durable – at least once you’ve broken them in. We have to wonder, however, what it was like breaking in the very first pair of DMs, which were made not from leather but from old vehicle tires.
Fined for not wearing a hat
Elizabeth I of England was such a big fan of hats – and her country’s wool trade – that she made them compulsory for large numbers of her subjects. However, her dictat didn’t relate to just any hat but specifically to woolly (or Monmouth) caps. Anyone to whom the law applied that was caught not wearing one on a Sunday faced a sizeable fine.
Designed for average heights
If you’re a woman who’s ever bemoaned the difficulty of finding clothes that fit, you probably already blame clothing manufacturers – and you’d be right to do so. Even today, women’s clothes are still generally designed for women between 5’4″ and 5’8″. Women taller or shorter than this frequently pay a premium for a poorer choice of garments that actually fit them.
Boys in dresses
In the Western world, from the mid-sixteenth century until the early years of the twentieth, young boys wore dresses just as their sisters did. “Breeching” – which meant transitioning from dresses to pants – typically took place at around two years old, although could be at late as eight.