The Chopines, Macaroni Style, and Arsenic Dresses

Fareeha Arshad

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Fashion trends are not something new. Men and women of all ages throughout history have enjoyed different fashion trends.Wikimedia Commons

Bizarre fashion trends are not something new. They have always been around: some weirder than others. Men and women of all ages and times have enjoyed different fashion styles throughout history. However, very few people know how those fashion statements came about or the reality behind those fashion trends. Some of these distinguished the upper class from the lower, while some came to hide illnesses. Let’s look at some of the strange fashion trends in history and what they meant for the people at that time.

1. Chopines

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An Italian chopine from the 1600s.Public Domain, Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons

High heels are not a new trend. These have always been present — even during the sixteenth century. However, unlike the three to six-inch heels, we have today, back in the 1500s, platform shoes as tall as twenty inches were widespread and called the chopines.

These shoes were introduced to keep the wearer’s feet clean from the first on the roads and were commonly worn by upper class Italian and Spanish women. These shoes even became a status symbol among them — the taller the heel, the richer their background. Moreover, these shoes were paired with longer and more expensive dresses. Women often keep an attendant with them who would help them maintain a balance while walking in the chopines and take care of their long dresses.

Much later, in the seventeenth century, the chopines were replaced by more comfortable and more practical modern-day like high heeled shoes, thus ending the century-long fashion of chopines.

2. Macaroni

Before we get into the detail of this fashion trend, please know this tiny detail: here, macaroni is not a piece of pasta. Instead, it was a pretty popular fashion trend among the mid-eighteenth century British aristocrats.

This strange trend started when a group of young British men returned from the European Grand Tour, where they went to learn more about different cultures. These men brought the new fashion of ‘macaroni’ along with them. The hallmark of this fashion trend was the bold colours used in effeminate attire, unlike the conventional clothing that used darker shades. That was not it. This unique dress style also incorporated tall wigs that stood like a mountain on top of the wearer’s head and ended with a tiny cap.

Though initially, only the upper-classmen enjoyed this fashion trend, later, all members of the society partook in the macaroni style fashion wears. Shoes became flashier, pants became tighter, and coats became shorter. However, this unique style didnt last long. Because of the public backlash this trend stirred among the people, it was discontinued within a few decades.

3. Arsenic dresses

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Arsenic dresses were usually beautiful emerald green and became very popular during the Victorian Era.Public Domain, Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons

From a scientist’s perspective, I sometimes fail to understand how the Victorian Era could allow such rampant usage of the deadly poisonous element arsenic in every area of life — beauty, clothing, medicines.

A new green dye was introduced during the early nineteenth century, the ‘emerald green’ colour. Women of all ages loved the shade and rushed to get dresses of the same colour to appear the prettiest in the crowd. Little did they know that the vibrant colour resulted from arsenic addition into the dye. They ordered not just their dresses to be made from this dye but also wanted the same coloured gloves and shoes.

The chronic side effects of arsenic exposure were realized much later when women started experiencing issues like rapid hair loss, blisters on their skin, and severe complications like liver failure and others. The worst effects were seen among the people who flogged themselves for long hours in industries to develop the dye. However, the development of cheaper alternatives like synthetic dyes soon replaced this arsenic dye by the late 1800s.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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