Fashion throughout history: wearing clothes “incorrectly”

“Handmade White Chaperon” image from an article by Vicky Binns on the Modern Medievalist blog:

It can be all too easy to look at people who wear their clothes incorrectly, to make a disapproving face, and say something like: “kids these days… Back in my day, we wore our trousers properly.” While I don’t mind people wearing their baseball caps in whatever direction (the brim does help to keep the sun from burning skin), some other fashions do annoy me a little.

However, looking back in history, there are examples of people wearing clothes “incorrectly”, and apparently they must have done so often enough to create new fashions. This article will look briefly at a few of these examples.

The Chaperone

In the 14th century, a common item of clothing was the hood. This was a separate garment; unlike the hoods on clothing today, which tend to be attached to another garment, the medieval hood could be worn or removed independently from other pieces. This gave it a certain flexibility for fashion, so people had the opportunity to make or buy different hoods in different colours, fabrics, and textures, with different decoration.

There were also different types and shapes of hood garments, just like today there are different types and shapes of hoodies or jackets. One common type was the liripipe hood, which had a long tail or pipe that would hang down the back. While there are many theories about why this was the case, quite probably the most convincing (to my mind at least) is that in this period, showing that you had the money to buy the additional material required for unnecessary pieces or designs of clothing was very much a status symbol. So, the longer the pipe of your hood, the wealthier you could show yourself to be, or pretend to be.

The 15th century chaperone was a hat, for want of a better description; it was an item of clothing worn on the top of the head. However, it evolved from the liripipe hood. Normally, to wear the hood, you would put your head through the neck hole, and your face could peer out of the face hole, with the pipe hanging down behind the back of your head. Instead, people began to put just the top of their head in through the face hole, letting the neck hole hang unused to the side. The pipe would then be wound around the crown of the head several times, to create bulk and shape, and the end of the pipe might hang down to the shoulder beside what had previously been the neck hole.

The chaperone hat was, in fact, a liripipe hood that was worn very differently to the traditional method. It is easy to imagine how much people must have complained about the “kids these days, wearing their liripipe hoods upside down and incorrectly! Back in my day, we knew how to wear our hoods properly…”

The Pelisse

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a fashion amongst cavalry officers in Europe to wear a pelisse. The fashion could easily have begun in central or eastern Europe, but it spread throughout the continent, and was somewhat common in the armies of the Napoleonic period.

Cavalrymen would wear a jacket, often made from fine material of a bright colour, and usually with shiny buttons or lacing for decoration. A pelisse was simply another jacket, worn over one shoulder. So an officer wearing a pelisse would be wearing his normal jacket, as usual, and would be wearing a second jacket on his shoulder.

Again, it is quite easy to imagine that people could have thought to themselves: “what is the point in that? Why wear a full jacket on just one shoulder? That’s just silly.” However, because the fashion came from another country (quite possibly from Hungary and the surrounding area), it was seen by western European cavalry officers as exciting, new, and the height of continental fashion – it was therefore “cool” and not “silly”, because it was what was done by the fashionable individuals in another country, and because it was another way to display wealth.

“Slashed” Jackets and Trousers

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the landsknechts in the Holy Roman Empire often wore jackets and trousers that were somewhat “puffy” in nature, made from an “inside” material of one colour and an “outside” material of another colour, with “slashes” in the outer layer to allow the inner layer to show through.

There are various theories about why this fashion developed. One suggestion is the fashion was an attempt to simulate “battle damage” in civilian dress. Another theory is that Swiss mercenaries looted the Burgundian baggage train after defeating the Burgundian army in battle, but were unable to fit into the slim clothing, so added slashes and gussets to make the garments fit.[1] Whatever the explanation, the fashion was popular in civilian dress for a century, and some harnesses of plate armour were also crafted to bear a similar look. Perhaps the military fashion was following civilian fashion, or maybe the other way round.

There seems to be a remarkable parallel between the “slashed” fashion of the landsknechts and the modern “ripped jeans” that all the kids these days seem to be wearing…


These are just a few brief examples of fashion in history, where clothing has been worn “incorrectly” or otherwise “not looked after properly” in order to create a new look. I do raise my eyebrows somewhat when I see people walking down the street during the winter in Glasgow, shivering, with their jeans so ripped that more flesh is showing than is covered, but this fashion is nothing new.

If you know of other examples of clothing worn “incorrectly” in history to create new fashions, please let me know. I would be fascinated to see other more suggestions!


[1] I don’t remember where I read this one. I suspect it was in the book Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe by Peter Spufford, but I can’t find the precise reference.

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