As our fashion tastes ebb and flow throughout the seasons, we’re always keen to find our next favorite fashion trend. But while we scramble to wear the latest trends, do we ever stop to consider where these booming fashion statements came from?
It’s no secret that the world’s fashion trends blend together now more than ever, with social media linking us to the prettiest clothes from across the globe. Little do we know, many of the stylish trends we follow are derived from the aesthetics and traditions of these many cultures outside the West, all which integrate and enrich our sense of fashion. But exactly how many of our most beloved clothing pieces and accessories come from a different culture? Check out where 6 of the style world’s most prized pieces originally came from.
Up until a few years ago, when you heard of a “kimono”, you probably only associated the word with the traditional Japanese garment worn by women on special occasions and holidays. Now, popular department stores and malls ring their racks with the floral printed, daintily thin and wide-sleeved cardigans known as the new “kimonos”. They are definitely not the long straight skirted, high collar loose sleeved silk traditional garments Japan is known for, but rather a casual outfit cover-up people love to sport in the spring and summertime.
The Western “kimono” has become quite popular for its elegant everyday casual appearance. Japanese kimonos, on the other hand, were symbols of Japanese class dynamics and keeping the Japanese tradition alive after the West infiltrated Japan. Traditional kimonos are seen as one of the most beautiful pieces of cultural wear around, for their delicate sleeves, silky fabrics and threaded flower detailing. These elegant elements of the kimono inspired Western designers to create the kimono cardigan we all know and love.
Practically everyone’s closet staple, blue jeans seem about as American as apple pie. However, the name “jeans” and the materials used to make the first pair of jeans were all European inventions. Jeans cloth derives its name, “jeans” from the city it was first made, Genoa, Italy. After Italians created jeans cloth, it was later dyed with indigo to get the classic blue denim look. Actually, the word “denim” comes from the French term, “de Nîmes”, referring to Nîmes, France where they attempted to reproduce the jeans cloth. With denim’s French moniker, many people believed denim was solely a French invention.
England was the primary producer of denim. However, after gaining independence from England, the United States began mass producing their own denim and therefore making the denim market much more competitive. Enter Levi Strauss, a Bavarian fabric seller in San Francisco who sold denim in the states, and Jacob Davis, a Reno tailor, who wanted to create sturdy, breathable workpants for factory workers.
The two partnered together to create the first pair of blue jeans. Working men on the Western frontier typically wore blue jeans, giving the article of clothing a very rugged appearance. Now, blue jeans are a must-have for everyone across the globe, making them probably one of the most worn articles of clothing of our modern age.
Ponchos and poncho capes have circulated in and out of style for the past few years, but it’s no secret that they’re truly unique statement pieces. They originated in South America, from places like Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina.
Again, fashion was just as fluid as it is today as historians still debate the exact origin of the poncho. Most agree though that the poncho came from a number of South American civilizations. The Mapuche civilization, however, were the ones who really popularized the poncho. Originally weaved meticulously by the Mapuche as an article of clothing to keep warm in the colder seasons, ponchos have evolved into fun layers to wear for winter.
The Mapuche didn’t weave ponchos only for their functionality against the cold; the designs etched into the ponchos sometimes held significant meaning. A poncho’s step-diamond pattern, for example, meant that the wearer had authority. Ponchos now, however, are versatile as raincoats and fashionable clothes. When you throw on your poncho on your next chilly day, don’t forget the ingenious South American civilizations that weaved it into existence.
Henna tattoos adorn the hands and feet of many from all over the world. Known for their intricate designs, henna is a growing trend among people in the West. In case you didn’t know, these spectacular spirals originated in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Malls may carry temporary tattoos of henna designs on sheets you make wet with water then apply to the skin, but genuine henna is done very differently.
Henna comes from the leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant, commonly known as the “henna tree”. People gather henna leaves, then mash them into a paste used for dyeing skin/hair a brilliant-reddish brown color. People use henna as a natural hair dye, commonly done in India and Bangladesh. The world knows henna as the beautiful designs on the hands and feet that can last up to two weeks.
Henna came from many places, from Morocco to Malaysia, so it’s hard to say who made the pretty paste first. However, across many Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures, henna application is done as a prenuptial ritual for the bride. Adorning the bride’s hands and feet is essential to making them look extravagant for their wedding day. Since so many different regions adopt this practice, it’s considered appropriate for anyone to wear henna as an extravagant decoration. We recommend you get your henna done by someone who’s culturally familiar with it though, as they will give you the most authentic experience and possibly the most magnificent henna designs.
Unconventional piercings are no longer exclusive to just Western alternative culture as they’ve gained serious traction in mainstream fashion. Nose rings are a hot accessory to an eclectic range of styles, from complimenting streetwear looks to suiting bohemian outfits. While nose rings gain widespread appeal from all realms of fashion, they have a very complex cultural history. Nose rings originated in many regions, from South Africa to India, with each region having their own meaning for them.
Indian nose rings are full of religious and cultural significance. According to some Indian women’s Vedic beliefs, nose rings increase fertility and reduce menstrual pain. The modern Indian bride’s wedding attire also includes the nose ring as the focal point of the bridal look. Indian brides often wear the nose ring as a symbol of intimacy and chastity. Most notably, according to Hindu practice, brides wear the nose ring to honor Parvathi, the goddess of marriage. South African Berber and Beja tribes wore jeweled nose rings as a symbol of wealth; the bigger the jewel, the wealthier the wearer. Aztec tribes also wore the nose ring as a sign of wealth and authority. Even though the nose ring didn’t come exclusively from one culture, it’s stood the test of time as the small accessory packed with a plethora of varying cultural histories.
Older trends have been rising back up in the fashion world, and corsets are no exception. Known for giving women the ideal “hourglass” figure, corsets have been gaining rapid popularity recently for their hourglass silhouette. Corsets are stiffened garments for your torso, with back/front laces for adjusting your body to the corset’s desired shape.
The corset, however, is a more recent invention. Another garment called “stays” preceded the corset though. Unlike the corset, stays had a more tube-like silhouette instead of a curvier one. French women in the early 15th century wore stays to achieve their desired tube-like body shape. Stays blew up across Europe in the 16th century, becoming the supplementary garment for French, Italian and British women.
People began using the word “corset” after the 19th century to refer to a stay-like underwear that could cinch the waist and accentuate the chest. Desired for their cross-lace detail and hourglass shape, it’s no wonder corsets are becoming the next big thing in fashion. And while women aren’t donning corsets casually (yet), modern fashion has adopted the corset’s essences in newer pieces like Spanx. Women nowadays wear unstructured, flexible pieces body shaping garments called Spanx. Spanx and other body shaping undergarments have become wildly popular. Corsets are a niche trend that style-lovers are on the lookout for as today’s fashion harken back to the past. Corset-style bodices for wedding and evening gowns are always in too, making the European corset top a timeless style tradition.
It turns out much of the clothing and accessories we adore came from other countries with enthralling cultural histories. As you could tell with most of the trends on this list, no one place ever singlehandedly invented these pieces; there were always complex cultural interactions which eventually brought these clothes into the mainstream market. Fashion had one metamorphosis after another until we arrived at the trends we have today. Where do you think our fashion will go in the next century? Fingers crossed we invent pieces like these, unique and full of rich cultural history.