Weird Fashion Styles from the Early 1900s

Humans are complicated. They would design things that they think suit them. The criterion for “looking good” has been a subjective debate since the early days. What was considered a style statement in ancient times would indeed look weird in current times.

There were times in history when humans introduced such trends that could only be called outrageous. The early 1900s gave some of the most epic fashion trends. But it is also responsible for some funky styles that were often painful. The ideas get crazier the more we ponder over them. Let’s take a brief look at some and be thankful that none of them resurfaced:

Hobble Skirts

Hobble refers to the act of tying an animal’s legs so that it won’t go far from its owner. You can guess what hobble skirts would do to the women wearing them. French designer Paul Poiret is credited for the design of such dresses. These were long skirts that were sewn narrow just above the hem. The wearer could barely walk in them hence serving its purpose as a “hobbling” skirt. 

It is said that Poiret once proudly admitted that his designs “freed the bust” but “shackled the legs.” It can be easily seen that the purpose of these skirts was to hinder women’s movements. Ironically, the Pope condemned hobble skirts as they make a woman’s figure more attractive. Hobble skirts were soon replaced by pencil skirts.

Lotus Shoes

The cruel practice of binding the feet of women in China goes way back in time. Since its beginning, it was considered to be a symbol of status and beauty. Young girls between the ages of four and nine would be subjected to immense pain by breaking their toes and folding them under their feet. The arch would be broken next to give the feet a more petite look. 

Next, the feet would be bound by bandages and were left like that until the next unbinding. The process is repeated until the feet get into the abnormal shape permanently. 

This excruciating practice was meant to keep the women’s feet smaller and slimmer. Women with bound feet would wear special shoes known as lotus shoes. They were so small that one could fit into the palm of a hand. Despite protests from feminist groups and other organizations, this practice and the fashion of lotus shoes were common during the 1900s.

Paper Dresses

It was a fine morning somewhere in the 1960s when an interesting idea crossed a paper manufacturer’s mind. He thought of using paper for a purpose other than of writing on. He decided to make mini-dresses out of paper. The dresses were an instant hit among women who were tired of wearing heavy dresses. The paper dresses felt like they were wearing nothing. 

Everything was going smoothly for the paper manufacturer until the women realized that their dresses tore off easily and cannot be sewn again. Guess the paper manufacturer did not think his plan very well. Alas, but he did enjoy his short-lived fame.

Bloomer Suits

Remember the trousers worn by Disney’s Aladdin? Similar baggy trousers with ankle ties were introduced to women in the last 1800s. They were called bloomer suits or simply bloomers. Bloomers were popular in the early 1900s when women decided that they were done with wearing heavy dresses. The men, of course, saw this as an act of rebellion and banned college students from wearing bloomers unless while doing sports. The rule changed in 1930, and women were free to bloom in their bloomers.

Nylon Riot

1340-1 file # 43 1/4/46.standing in line for nylon stockings at millers dept. store

Nylon fabric was introduced to the Americans in 1939. Manufacturers started using nylon to make stockings for women. The women loved nylon so much that up to 4 million stockings were bought in one day. They simply couldn’t resist the comfortable fabric. All this changed during World War II when nylon was used in making parachutes and other military equipment. This caused a shortage of nylon stockings throughout America.

With no new stockings made, the women adapted to other resorts. They would paint patterns of their legs to give the impression of nylon stockings. The scarcity of nylon also triggered crime. Many houses were robbed of nylon stockings between 1945 and 1946. All these events, including the weird fashion of painting stockings on legs, are known in history as Nylon Riots.

Radium Girls

“Ignorance is bliss.” This proverb holds true for the people of the early 1900s who were oblivious of the dangers of a radioactive substance. A watch-making company hired women to paint watches with radium so that they’d glow in the dark. Seeing the pretty glow of radium, the women started using it to paint their nails and hair for fun. Once the cat was out and it was made public that radium poisoning is a thing, the company paid settlements to the working women. However, money cannot undo the damage already done. Many radium girls lost their lives while others suffered severely.

Bullet Bra

Nothing remains unaffected by wars, not even fashion. In 1941, Perma-lift launched its new design for women’s bras. They were pointy in shape, and there were no underwires. The shape was maintained solely by stitching. The design got instantly hit, and every woman wanted a pair in her wardrobe. The design got more attention when actress Lana Turner rocked a pointy-bust look in her movie “They Won’t Forget.” 

Surprisingly, Lana did not wear a bullet bra in the movie but a very tight sweater. Some triggered men targeted this design as provoking to which the women simply started wearing tight sweaters over bullet bras. The whole look got them a name as “sweater girls.”

Ballet Boots

If you have ever paid enough attention, the ballerinas wear laced shoes that allow them to move their feet flexibly. Keeping this in mind, what would a pair of ballet boots look like? 

Unlike the profession of ballet dancing, ballet boots are worn solely for the purpose of satisfying fetishes. Also known as Viennese fetish boots, they have incredibly long heels up to 11 inches, making the wearer’s feet almost perpendicular to the floor. It is obvious that walking in such boots is nearly impossible. The pain of walking in such abominations fulfills the purpose of masochism. Hence, these boots are only popular among BDSM enthusiasts.


We have to thank period movies and dramas for showing us how women of the past carried those big dresses. The inner layer of clothing consisted of a corset that was supposed to keep the upper body of women compact and slim. For that purpose, the laces were woven very tightly in the corset, often resulting in broken ribs and difficulty breathing. 

The 1900s introduced an Edwardian corset for women. This was an S-shape corset that forced the torso forward while making the hips go higher. While this design saved the ribs, it negatively affected the women’s back because of the uncomfortable posture. 


History records everything – from the unpredictable achievements to the times when people hit rock bottom. Between these two lies the gray area where people inflicted strange things upon themselves. While some of these trends were compulsory to follow, others were simply followed in the name of fashion. Luckily, people these days are sensible enough to prioritize their health before following a painful trend.

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