Earmuffs: A Wintertime Must-Have

There’s nothing worse than having cold ears on a chilly winter day! Luckily, earmuffs are the perfect tool for keeping frostbite at bay, thanks to a clever nineteenth-century teenager who was allergic to knitted wool caps.

MAINE ORIGINS

Modern earmuffs were first created by Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine, in 1873. The ingenious 15-year-old needed a solution to help keep his ears from freezing while he was ice skating. The teenager decided to bend a wire into two loops and, with the help of his grandmother, cover the looped ends with beaver fur. Thus, the first modern earmuffs were born. 

Greenwood would not patent his creation, which he called “Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors,” until the spring of 1877. This patent kicked off a lifetime of invention for the young man; he filed more than 100 additional patents in the decades that followed the birth of the earmuffs. Greenwood also worked to refine his original invention by switching out the bent wire frame with broader bands and adding hinges to the sewn ear pads to create extra warmth and pressure.

WARTIME AND MASS PRODUCTION

While Greenwood did everyone living in colder climates a great service by creating earmuffs, the inventor actually earned his fortune by supplying the warm headgear to the United States Army during World War I. The Chester Greenwood & Company factory near Farmington was producing 400,000 earmuffs per year by 1937, when Greenwood died at the age of 78. His earmuffs and enterprises made such an impact on the local community that Farmington still celebrates Chester Greenwood Day, which includes a parade of participants wearing earmuffs, on the first Saturday of December every year.

TODAY’S WINTER HEADGEAR

Today’s earmuffs are as fun and fashionable as they are functional. Fuzzy faux fur poufs in a rainbow of colors are the norm for women’s and children’s options. Cat ears or other animal elements are sometimes added to the band for a lighthearted touch. Among men’s earmuffs, you’ll often find darker shades with more solid fabric exteriors. However they look, earmuffs are still appreciated today for keeping the cold winter wind away from wearers’ ears.

Earmuffs aren’t the only wintertime staples that are both a necessity and an accessory. Wool gloves, heavy scarves, snow boots, knit hats, and an assortment of coats all play an important part in keeping people warm while making a fashion statement. What makes up your cold-weather outfit of choice?

Dungarees: The Working Man’s Pants

Dungaree has a long history as durable fabric for work attire.

Dungarees: an apparently simple clothing item packed with a big historical punch. You have probably donned a pair of these pants once or twice in your life, or maybe you’re an avid wearer. Not only do dungarees have a storied past, but they are also making fashion waves in the present. 

Beginnings

Dungarees were born in a small, dockside village in India called Dongri. The blue or white-colored cotton cloth produced here, “dungri,” was sturdy, durable, and thick — a perfect medium for workwear. British colonialism eventually brought the fabric to England, where the cloth’s name morphed into “dungaree,” the word we know today. The late 1700s saw the use of dungarees as an outfit for factory workers, farmers, mechanics, and slaves. 

In Great Britain, the term refers strictly to overalls. In America, it can refer to fabric, a pair of jean trousers, or overalls. As early as the mid-1800s, with the assistance of businessmen Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, dungarees came into use across America as the uniforms of manual laborers and military men. In fact, various professions were assigned specific types of dungarees. For example, railroad workers had vertical striped overalls and painters had white overalls. Dungarees were also used as utility wear for members of the U.S. Navy during World War One. 

Modern Dungaree

Until the middle of the twentieth century, dungaree was not a woman’s fabric, nor was it worn by members of the upper class. This all changed as the age of motion pictures was ushered in. Audiences across America watched dungarees turn into an essential look for cowboys, greasers, and rebels. Many celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, and Elton John, began to sport dungarees. Soon, the clothing changed from a fashion faux-pas to a must-wear look. 

Today, dungarees are being sold by lots of major fashion retailers, such as Forever 21, Urban OutfittersFree People, and Nordstrom.

Some current celebrities who have been seen showing off their own pairs of dungarees include Milly Bobby Brown from the popular Netflix original Stranger Things and Elizabeth Moss from Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson, Taylor Swift, and even Beyoncé have also joined in on the trend. While dungarees today are very popular among women, they are having a moment in men’s fashion, as well. Male celebrities like actor Chris Pine, musician ASAP Rocky, actor Ashton Kutcher, and musician Chance the Rapper have all stepped out in dungarees. 

Dungaree vs. Denim

It’s easy to assume that dungaree is simply another word for denim. The two fabrics are very similar and are useful for tough, sturdy clothing pieces. In fact, dungaree is often dubbed “blue-denim.” In reality, the two fabrics are only somewhat distinct. Dungaree fabric is traditionally made from yarn pre-dyed with indigo, while denim is dyed after weaving. When dungaree is being woven, the warp threads (threads that run vertically) are pre-dyed blue, while the weft threads (threads that run horizontally) are left white. Aside from this slight difference, dungaree and denim are identical. 

Fit and Feel

Dungarees began as an uncomfortable, unfashionable and poorly-fitting garment. Much has changed since their inception; you can now buy a pair of fantastically comfortable and stylish dungarees. Most are now sold pre-shrunken, which means that the buyer does not have to worry about his or her pair of dungarees shrinking after the first wash. Instead, they can walk out of the store with the perfect size. You can also buy dungarees in a variety of finishes, from acid-wash to dark-wash, and styles, from flared to super-skinny. If you don’t already have a favorite style, start exploring. Your options are nearly endless. Nowadays, the term “dungarees” is interchangeable with “jeans” and “denims,” so keep that in mind. 

For more information in the realm of dungarees, check out our post on jeans. Happy reading! 

The Shawl: A Timeless Look with Versatile Purpose

Shawls come in many shapes and styles.

What makes a shawl a shawl? It’s not the color, the material, the shape, or even the size. After all, shawls come in a wide variety of hues and patterns. They can be delicately knitted and lacy or thick like a blanket. They can be shaped like triangles or ovals. They can be large or small. The one thing that makes a shawl a shawl is the way that it’s worn: draped over the shoulders.

Beyond that common ground, the many different shawls of the world have the characteristics of their time, culture, and purpose. 

Shawls Have Been Around as Long as Humans

In one form or another, shawls have been a part of human history for as long as we know. Their earliest primary purpose was likely to provide warmth. They are an easy way to layer on protection and trap body heat without having to learn any complicated sewing techniques or patterns.

The word shawl comes from the Indian world shal. The earliest versions of garments were traditionally worn by men.

Shawls began to circulate throughout Europe in the late 1700s. Many of these shawls were Asian in origin, and the most popular version was made from pashmina. The word pashmina has Persian roots and refers to a specific kind of wool that is easy to weave. This wool comes from a particular breed of goats found in the Himalayas in Kashmir. This material and the beautiful shawls created from it can be traced back to the 3rd century B.C.E. At the time, the material was only worn by royalty, as it was rare and highly valued. 

In the 15th century, the ruler of Kashmir is believed to have founded the region’s wool industry. This is why people today in Western cultures refer to pashmina as “cashmere.” To this day, the soft material is associated with luxury and preciousness, and pashmina shawls are still popular and coveted items. They’re primarily worn by women and provide warmth, beauty, and modesty. They are often brightly colored and ornately designed with intricate patterns. 

The popularity of shawls in Europe is historically connected to the rise of neoclassical women’s fashion. In the late 1700s, women’s dresses tended to be made out of flimsy material influenced by Greek and Roman attire. These dresses may have been graceful, but they were not very warm. Shawls provided an easy way to have comfort and warmth while still being fashionable. 

Shawls Provide DIY Fashion

While the 20th century saw a rise in the use of elegant shawls to accompany evening gowns, shawls have also found popularity in a much more everyday, down-to-earth style.

Modern shawls truly come in all shapes, sizes, materials, and colors. They are also a popular item for textile artists (amateur and professional) to make themselves. With no holes for the arms or the head to worry about and no sizing required, shawls can offer a relatively simple pattern for beginners. At the same time, the versatility and relatively small size of many shawl pattern options provide room to experiment and explore creative ideas for even the most seasoned of creators. They do not use a tremendous amount of yarn, making them an affordable option, as well. 

Today’s shawls are primarily worn by women and might be used for added warmth. Also, they can be used to simply add a pop of color and texture to an otherwise simple outfit or to exist as a creative expression of individuality and artistic effort. Whether short or long, bright or muted, angular or round, shawls have been part of human ingenuity since antiquity and appear poised to stay around for a long time. 

Jumpsuits: From Parachuting to Wedding Day Attire

Jumpsuits have been worn for decades in different areas of fashion.

The jumpsuit is an iconic piece of fashion that stands out for its unique appearance and sense of being cool (and maybe even a little aloof). The most recent resurgence of the jumpsuit in women’s fashion is seen as a throwback to designs from the 1970s and 1980s. While this homage is certainly present, there is a much longer and more storied history to the one-piece outfit. 

Jumpsuits Got Their Name from Literal Jumps

First, let’s take a look at what a jumpsuit is. Put simply, it’s a one-piece outfit with pant legs. It typically has sleeves, but sleeveless versions are common in the modern-day fashionable iterations. The jumpsuit has some close relatives, including the jumper—a one-piece dress that is often worn over a shirt or blouse and is most common for young girls—and the romper, which is a one-piece outfit that has shorts on the bottom instead of pants legs. 

The early appearance of jumpsuits was very practical in nature, and their long sleeves and legs were designed with protection in mind. Jumpsuits got their name because they were worn by people (typically men, at the time) jumping out of airplanes with parachutes. They quickly spread as uniforms among other, often male-dominated, dangerous lines of work such as race car drivers and pilots. 

The jump from being primarily an article of men’s clothing to one that is mostly associated with women is also rooted in the tough nature of the labor done while wearing such a garment. In the World War II era, women adopted the jumpsuit as both a symbol of their empowerment and capabilities and as a practical item to wear while completing the manual labor necessary for war. 

Fashion and Function Merge

Today’s jumpsuits are more fashionable than the often plain versions used as uniforms for dangerous jobs. But their utilitarian influence remains as part of their allure. Today, jumpsuits are often seen as a way to look put together without having to go to great lengths to get ready in the morning. The ease of having a single garment to put on instead of layering together and meticulously matching multiple garments is desirable for its simplicity. Why spend hours picking out the right clothes when you can put on one single piece and be ready for the day? 

At the same time, the pants legs make them more versatile than many dresses. As the phrase “wears the pants” denotes, pants are seen as symbols of power, independence, and competence. In 2018, fashion retailer Ann Taylor launched a “pants are power” campaign to highlight how important pants are to women’s independence and fight for equality. Adding them to an otherwise flowing and fashionable look of a feminine pantsuit demonstrates a woman who refuses to be put in a box. 

There is another trend that takes this combination of feminine form and powerful function to an even greater height: the bridal pantsuit. Perhaps worn most famously by Solange Knowles, the bridal jumpsuit combines the luxurious fabric and delicate hues of typical bridal wear with the functionality and silhouette of the jumpsuit. In Knowles’ case, choosing to wear a jumpsuit made it easy for her to take a wedding day bike ride. 

Overall, the jumpsuit remains a symbol of power and strength, just as its uniform origins demanded of it. Today, though, power and strength are combined with beauty, femininity, and grace to demonstrate that no one has to choose between looking great and being strong. Whether the wearer is on the dance floor, out running errands, under the hood of a car, jumping from a plane, or even walking down the aisle on her wedding day, the jumpsuit is an article of clothing that has seen it all. 

T-Shirts: From Ancient Underwear to Everyone’s Go-To

From free event giveaways to expensive designer styles, most people have owned dozens of t-shirts throughout their lives. This wardrobe staple is important for good reason–a t-shirt is one of the only articles of clothing that’s perfect for working out, sleeping, spending time with friends, and pretty much everything in between. But if you turn back the clock and look at the origins of today’s closet MVP, you might be surprised how much change the t-shirt has gone through to get to this point. 

Warrior Wardrobe Essential

In ancient times, the t-shirt was first worn by warriors. Serving as a protective barrier between fragile skin and unsanitary chain mail, medieval soldiers often wore t-shirts under their armor to stay safer and cleaner during battle. It wasn’t long until civilians caught on and started donning t-shirts themselves, for the same reasons of increased hygiene and safety. 

Although the t-shirt today is considered an acceptable outfit on its own, it wasn’t until very recently that it graduated from underwear to full-fledged garment. From the medieval villagers who first discovered them to the royalty who wore them underneath tight corsets to prevent chafing, t-shirts actually began as a luxury for people who could afford that extra barrier between skin and clothes. T-shirts were also originally intended to work the other way around and protect clothes from the harmful effects of friction and sweat, making them even more important for wealthy people whose clothes were incredibly valuable. 

Underrated Undershirt

Around the start of the 20th century, however, t-shirts started to come down from high society and actually get back closer to their military roots. In 1913, the Navy started requiring that all officers wear t-shirts under their uniforms to make them last longer and save money–just like the medieval warriors from a thousand years ago. This time, instead of becoming a luxury for the wealthy, undershirts began to catch on with everyday people. Companies like Fruit of the Loom noticed the trend and started producing a wide variety of shapes and styles, from crew cut to V neck, to appeal to the masses. 

Just when it started to seem like the t-shirt was doomed never to see the light of day, something crazy happened–celebrities started wearing t-shirts and nothing else, a super scandalous move at the time. 1950’s icons like Marlon Brando and James Dean consistently wore t-shirts both on- and off-screen in movies like Rebel without a Cause and A Streetcar Named Desire, sparking everyone else to rethink the possibilities of their favorite cotton undershirt. The trend even spread to more “sophisticated” celebrities like presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, who created the first-ever slogan t-shirt for his “Do it with Dewey” campaign. 

King of the Closet

Today, t-shirts have a wide variety of applications from marketing to youth sports to comedy TV shows. A far cry from their origin as military dress and taboo undergarments, t-shirts have become a modern American staple and have spread throughout the world. You can find people wearing t-shirts on pretty much any occasion, from doing yard work to attending church. 

Not only has the number of people wearing this garment increased, but so has the amount of people manufacturing the garment. Since no company has the sole rights to the t-shirt, virtually every clothing brand has their own variation on the classic, changing the color, fit, fabric, and adornments to fit their target customer.

Many t-shirts nowadays are actually blended fabrics made from combinations of cotton, polyester, rayon, linen, and countless other fabric types.  Because of this flexibility with fabric options, t-shirts run the gamut from form-fitting to loose and boxy. Recently, wearing men’s t-shirts has become a huge trend in women’s fashion, with fabrics like cotton and polyester allowing men’s shirts to highlight feminine curves.

Transcending gender, age, time, and occasion, the t-shirt has risen up the ranks of fashion for the past 1,000 years, morphing from an ancient battle precaution to a beloved item found in closets around the world today. So next time you throw on a t-shirt and run some errands, be sure to send up a little thank-you to Marlon Brando.