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A Fashion Career Fashion Mysteries Explained

Aug 17, 2007
Those with a career in fashion are certainly content to ride along with the whims of their contemporaries. But, perhaps in the odd moment in the stock room or pausing over your designing template, you paused to wonder, "Why do we do this this way anyway?" So here we'll have a round-up of all those fashion quirks that you always wondered about in the course of your fashion career, but never dug deep enough to explain:

Where does the stitching on the back pockets of Levi's jeans come from?
The stitching originally because Levis featured cotton-lined back pockets, and the stitches were intended to keep the lining from buckling. The color of the thread was also orange, to match the distinctive rivets. The rivets themselves were another innovation - riveted seams were a dramatic advance in work clothes technology that doubled the durability of the product. The lining was dropped soon afterward, but the stitches lived on; they had become such a distinctive part of the Levis look that the company was able to register them as a trademark in 1942.

What is the original purpose of men's neckties?
The wearing of neck cloths dates back at least to the time of the Roman Empire, when soldiers wore a neck band to catch the sweat or block the cold, depending on the weather of the season. In the seventeenth century, the Croatian regiment of Louis XIV also wore neck cloths, from which we derive our word "cravat". Cravats, which were cloths wound around the neck and often tied at the ends, gradually evolved into the bow tie, and by the nineteenth century into the modern long tie. As with many fashion accessories, this one lost it's function in pursuit of style.

Why do we say a "pair of pants" when there's only one unit?
That's actually more of a vagary of the English language than any important clothing history. It is true that originally separate articles of clothing for each leg, such as stockings, evolved to mean a pair of any leg-covering item, as in "a pair of hose". But years later, when the two pieces of hose was joined at the top to make pants, the plural identity stuck. English has a lot of these nouns which were once dual but now singular: eyeglasses, scissors, tweezers, shears, and pliers.

Who invented Velcro?
Most fashion mavens probably wish the answer were "nobody" and then they wouldn't have to nag people not to wear it. But velcro was invented by one George de Mestral. He got the idea while hunting game birds in the ancient Jura mountains of Switzerland. Doing so, he had to pull sticky cockleburrs clinging to the dog's coat and his own trousers. He examined the cockleburrs and decided that they'd make good clothing fasteners. The fashion police never forgave him.

Why is a man's billfold pocket on the left side?
It seems odd given the right-handed dominance that most men's clothing are designed with. However, the wallet on the left makes perfect sense when you consider that it takes less dexterity to retrieve a wallet than it does to open it and take out bills in the right amount. Try having a right-hander take out their wallet with the right hand, then have them take money out - they'll shift the wallet to the left hand and open it and take the bills out with their right.

Where did the extra-long pinkie nail com from?
Originally it was an organic means of scooping snuff, cocaine, and other inhalant drugs up to be sniffed. Later it became a symbol of belonging to a counter-culture, currently amongst Goths. Some Goths claim that they use it to hold the sugar when they pour their Absinthe. OK, whatever. Independent of this development is the custom in various parts of the word for keeping one long and sharpened nail to open envelopes.

Where did cotton T-shirts come from?
Originally these started out as underwear carried home from France by World War one "doughboys", becoming a statement of youthful rebellion after James Dean wore one in "Rebel Without a Cause". Next T-shirts were then adopted as outerwear that doubled as personal billboards in the 1960s. Today T-shirts as outerwear all by themselves are a sign that the wearer has absolutely no interest in talking to anybody in the fashion industry. And it works like a charm.

Where does "throwing your hat in the ring" come from?
Once upon a time in eighteenth century England, men's hats were each uniquely made by hatters, who took great care to customize each piece to it's owner. Thus a hat was as good as your calling card. Next in early nineteenth century America, when public boxing contests were a popular participatory sport (as opposed to the spectator sport of today), you signified that you were joining the contest by throwing your hat into the boxing ring. You'd then have to fight the champ to get it back or presumably go home bare-headed.

Where did the trenchcoat come from?
The trenches of World War one! The trenchcoat was originally combat wear, meant to be a water-proof and warm covering for a shivering night in the trenches. Later use brought it alongside the raincoat in utility. Raincoats are not a fashion item; trenchcoats are. And these days a trenchcoat isn't even always water-proof.

Where does the concept of having a "bad hair day" come from?
We're all familiar with the experience of waking up with hair that just doesn't behave right for no fathomable reason. Actually, it is caused by tossing and turning in your sleep the night before, twisting and flattening the hair into shapes so that it's still kinked in the morning. Thus a "bad hair day" became synonymous with being in a bad mood, since the afflicted obviously hadn't slept well the night before and was grumpy. The exact phrase "bad hair day" can be traced the phrase to the "Gary Shandling Show" of 1991, when the comedian would ask his audience "Is my hair alright? How's my hair?". This became one of his taglines, and later the response "bad hair day!" entered the culture.
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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