Fashion can be summed up in a popular quote from “Project Runway”: one minute you’re in and the next you’re out. Style – and beauty – is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and certain styles and fashions will rapidly change year to year. Certainly, when we consider what is fashionable one decade – or even one century – to the next, there is a huge variation in terms of what people have believed to be hot and what would be downright laughable by today’s standards.
Looking good, and even professional, may be the priority of some fashions, but let’s face it: looking sexy is a hugely important aspect of it, too. Some trends that have been fashionable – and sexy – in the past, however, often seem bizarre and downright unsexy to us today.
Let’s take a trip into the past and go way, way back to look at what those who came before us thought were sexy. Then, we’ll revisit the more recent “sexy” fads of the 80s and 90s which would, even by today’s standards, not be quite as hot.
10. Super tall hair in the 18th century
Think of Marie Antoinette: the French Queen and the court of Versailles helped make the incredibly high hairdos that were typical in the 18th century popular. Women were not the only ones to sport incredibly tall hairstyles; men also wore huge wigs that made their heads seem larger than life. To get their hair to cooperate with the outrageous style, women’s hairdressers would supplement their coif with extensions. The women then powdered their hair grey or blue-ish grey with a messy powder. Meanwhile, the men wore powdered wigs (usually dusted with white powder). The hairstyles were required at formal occasions in both England and France throughout much of the 18th century. In the late 18th century, however, the craze died down in both Britain and France as a result of political developments. The British government levied a tax on hair powder and effectively ended the fashion. Meanwhile, over in France, the ostentatious styles of Versailles had become symbolic of the decadence of the French nobility and wigs quickly went out of fashion with the French Revolution in 1789.
9. Victorian corsets in the late 19th century and early 20th century
Okay, we’ll admit it, the corset isn’t the most bizarre sexy item of clothing on this list. In fact, many people would still consider corsets to be fairly sexy, and they’re definitely still worn today as an alluring and seductive piece. Unfortunately for Victorian women, however, the sexy corset was in fact a brutal torture device worn every day. Victorian women were obsessed with making their waists as tiny as (in)humanly possible. So, they wore corsets to squeeze their waists in, forcing them to “grow” smaller and smaller over time, often reaching impossibly small waistlines. Many women’s corsets would even break their ribs or cause them to grow in an unusual way, effectively causing serious and long-term injury to their bodies.
8. Victorian bustle in the late 19th century
No doubt about it, between the corset and the bustle, Victorians had some unique ideas about what made a woman’s body super sexy. In addition to the impossibly tiny waists that they wanted, women also coveted huge, fluffy derrieres. A bustle is a sort of framework used underneath a woman’s long skirts to expand the fullness and support the draping of a woman’s dress in the back. Of course, the bustle was difficult (and uncomfortable) to sit in, and special furniture was even made for women’s bustles. A woman in her full, fashionable Victorian outfit would have a tiny waist and a huge behind, under several layers of undergarments and skirts. Apparently, clothing that made a woman’s life as uncomfortable and painful as possible was super sexy.
7. 1950s Hair
Softly and elaborately curled hair and short, curled bangs were majorly en vogue in the 1950s. It took a long time for women to tease their hair into these prim looks, which is why the 1950s are often remembered as an era when women would flock to the hairdresser. The 1950s was also a time for a few other strange and elaborate hair styles for women, including the bubble cut, which featured a helmet of carefully-curled hair all over the head, and the poodle cut, which was Lucille Ball’s favorite look.
6. Men in Bell Bottoms
Think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever: men dressed up to look hot and sexy in the 1970s in… bell-bottom pants. Bonus points if they were white or powder blue. Flare-bottomed pants were actually adopted from a sailor’s uniform in the earlier part of the century. The trend first appeared in the 1960s and became wrapped up in the hippie counterculture of the decade. The trend then burst into the mainstream in the 1970s thanks to some hugely popular celebrities, including Sonny and Cher, who adopted the look. Although bootcut jeans that feature a tiny flare came back in the late 90s and early 2000s and can still be found in stores today, that look is usually reserved for women. The 1970s bell bottomed look had fabric that was much tighter in the knees and a more extreme flare at the calf and ankle, and was considered the height of sexy fashion for men.
5. Frizzy, curly crimped hair in the 1980s
After the 18th century, big hair had to eventually make a comeback, and it did in the 1980s (although thankfully without the impossibly tall wigs and messy hair powder). The return of big hair started in the 1970s with the sexy, full-volume feathery Farah Fawcett look, and was in full force by the 80s and early 90s, when every woman flocked to get perms or crimp their hair. A huge, unruly mess of hair was considered super sexy at this time and this style of hair is one of the most iconic aspects of 1980s fashion.
4. 1980s Bright Makeup
If big, curly hair wasn’t enough (not to mention the wildly-colored and patterned clothing of the era), a sexy look in the 80s was not complete without bright, at times garish, makeup. To be cool in this decade, women chose purple, blue or pink eyeshadow – and sometimes layered all three colors on at once. Another trend was to pair a darkly lined eye with a bright pink shade of lipstick. This hot look was anything but subtle.
3. Cone bras in the 1990s
In 1990, Jean Paul Gaultier designed several structured costumes and outfits that were worn by Madonna on her “Blonde Ambition” tour, including the cone-shaped bra. A cone-shaped bra was an audacious, but must-have for any woman (or at least any woman on stage) who wanted to appear super fashion-forward and sexy at the time. The cone bra actually dates back further, however: the design of the bra was a call back to a 1940s costume designed for movie star Jane Russell in the movie “The Outlaw” which also featured conical-shaped cups.
2. The Mullet in the late 1980s, early 1990s
While women rocked the frizzy permed hair in the 1980s, somewhere along the line it became sexy for men to sport mullets by the late 80s and early 90s. Consisting of short hair on the sides and long hair in the back, mullets were especially popular in North America for working class men in suburban and rural areas. Billy Ray Cyrus and other country music singers who were big at the time popularized the look and emphasized its sex appeal.
1. Grills in the 2000s
Grills – bright, shiny gold impressions that are fitted on top of a tooth that give the illusion that the wearer has a gold teeth – first came on the radar in the 1980s when they were worn by several hip hop artists. By the 2000s, they became a hot item for anyone to wear, especially in the mainstream hip-hop culture. Silver and platinum grills are also worn and can cost up to thousands of dollars depending on the quality of metal used. Although they’re still usually associated with hip-hop, lots of other artists like Miley Cyrus, Marilyn Manson and Travis Barker from Blink-182 also wear the expensive teeth accessories. Enough people apparently thought the grills were appealing in the mid-2000s to prompt school districts in Alabama, Georgia and Texas to ban the accessory.
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