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Vice Presents The People's Lists

Excerpted from The People’s Almanac Presents the 20th Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out, by David Wallechinsky.

Excerpted from

The People’s Almanac Presents the 20th Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out,

by David Wallechinsky.

1900—Button-Down Collars

John Brooks, of the celebrated men’s outfitters Brooks Brothers, found a day out at the polo grounds in New Bedford a profitable experience. He noticed that some of the visiting British players had the collars of their shirts buttoned down and learned that it was to prevent the collars’ riding up into the players’ faces on the field of play. Brooks had a special line of shirts made up with button-down collars, which he launched as the Polo. Originally the buttoned-down look was only for sportswear, but it was picked up on Ivy League campuses for general wear in the early 1950s.


1906—Permanent Waving

German-born Karl Ludwig Nessler was working as a hairstylist in a London salon when he first tried out his new technique of permanent waving on a customer. The boss spotted him and he was instantly dismissed. This was fortuitous, as it was exactly the spur he needed to go into business on his own account. On October 8, 1906, he introduced his Nessler Permanent Waving at his salon on London’s Oxford Street. At first, customers were few. They had to wear a dozen heavy brass curlers weighing 1 3/4 pounds each, the process took six hours to complete, and the cost was beyond all but the very rich at $55. Success came only when Nessler emigrated to the United States on the outbreak of World War I to avoid being interned as an enemy alien. Soon after his arrival, the fashionable exhibition dancer Irene Castle introduced “bobbed” hair, and permanent waving became a craze that swept America.

1909—One-Piece Bathing Suit

Australian-born swimmer Annette Kellerman caused public outrage by appearing in public on a California beach wearing the first one-piece bathing dress. No stranger to controversy, in 1915 she gave the moral guardians of America something more to chew on when she dispensed with a bathing suit altogether to frolic in and out of the water naked in the Fox movie

Daughter of the Gods


1909—Sportswoman to Wear Trousers
Scion of a Boston Brahmin family, Eleanor Sears was a superb all-around athlete who believed that women would never be able to play team games effectively until they abandoned their skirts. In 1909 she strode onto the polo ground at the Burlingame Country Club wearing jacket and trousers and asked to be allowed to join in a match against a team from England. Miss Sears’s blow for dress reform was premature. The captain of the English team was rendered speechless with indignation and the coach of the American team ordered her off the field. Attitudes toward rational dress for women relaxed during World War I, when there was little time for sport but many women donned pants for workwear. Just ten years after Eleanor Sears’s frustrated effort, a Leeds, England, schoolgirl named Elaine (later Baroness) Burton appeared in shorts for the first time at a track-and-field event in the Northern Counties (England) Ladies’ Athletics Championships—and nobody ordered her off. 1913—Zipper
The zip fastener as we know it today was patented on April 29, 1913, by Gideon Sundback, a young Swedish engineer from Hoboken, New Jersey. There had been earlier attempts to produce a slide fastener, but they all suffered from the fatal flaw of coming apart under pressure. Sundback’s improved version worked on the principle of identical units mounted on parallel tapes and was completely reliable. Initially, though, it met with no greater commercial success than its inferior predecessors. The navy put them on pilot’s overalls, the army on the pockets of uniforms, and the air corps found a use for them never contemplated by the inventor—zipping the fabric onto the wings of airplanes. After the war the fasteners began to be incorporated into footwear, the B. F. Goodrich Company coining the name “Zipper” when they used them on their rubber galoshes. But although zippers were sometimes used on sportswear, high priests and priestesses of haute couture disdained anything so practical until Elsa Schiaparelli started to put them on the back of women’s dresses at her Paris fashion house in 1931. Menswear finally succumbed in 1935, when fly buttons on men’s pants were replaced with the far more efficient, though occasionally painful, zip fastener. 1914—Backless Brassiere
The first patent for a brassiere was taken out by New York debutante Mary Phelps Jacobs on November 13, 1914. But was it the very first brassiere? What the French called soutien-gorge was already known in Paris, but as a large, cumbersome garment full of frills and furbelows. Jacob’s was the first elasticized, backless brassiere, designed to release women from the tyranny of the corset and enable them to participate in sports and other outdoor activities without physical restraint. Her prototype, though, had consisted of no more than two pocket handkerchiefs and a piece of pink ribbon. She conceived the idea while changing for a ball, the thought of dancing the night away in a tight whalebone corset inspiring her to find a looser and less constricting substitute. Within half an hour her French maid had stitched together this ultralightweight bust supporter and Jacob was able to enjoy the ball with a new sense of freedom. Friends to whom she confided her secret asked her to produce bras for them, and then one day a letter arrived from a total stranger asking for one and enclosing a dollar bill. Realizing that there was a market for her invention, Jacob hired a designer to produce a detailed specification for her patent application, then sold the patent to the Warner Corset Company for $1,500 outright. Had she opted for royalties instead, she would have earned at least a hundredfold. 1914—Fashion Show
The first fashion parade with live models in the United States was organized by Edna Woolman Chase, editor of American Vogue, and held in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York on November 4, 1914. (The first in the world had been held in London in 1899.) The object was to showcase American fashion, imports of Parisian couture having been suspended because of the war, though Mrs. Chase admitted in her memoirs to an ulterior motive—with no new designs from Paris, she had nothing with which to fill the pages of Vogue. Among the fashion houses represented were Bendel, Mollie, O’Hara, Bergdorf-Goodman, Gunther, Tappi, Maison Jacqueline, and Kurzman. The models appeared on a stage, turned left, turned right, descended a short flight of steps, and paraded down the center aisle. The only essential difference between the first fashion show and those of today was that the catwalk had yet to be invented. 1915—Lipstick
Coloring for the lips had been sold in pots for centuries, even though it was seldom used by respectable women. It was not until 1915 that it became available in stick form, retailed in a metal cartridge container by American cosmetician Maurice Levy. 1916—Liquid Nail Polish
No sooner had women started applying lipstick than they were shocking their menfolk by varnishing their nails. The first nail polish was Cutex, introduced by Northam Warren. 1921—Chanel No. 5
Ernst Beaux created the first “designer perfume” for legendary Paris couturier Coco Chanel while they were staying in Biarritz. And what about Chanel nos. 1-4? They never existed. The “5” was coined because the perfume was launched in 1921 on the fifth day of the fifth month. 1923—Varnished Toenails
Pola Negri, eccentric Polish-born superstar of the Hollywood silents, pioneered the practice of polishing toenails. She later recalled that the first time she went out in public wearing sandals and scarlet toenails, a woman glanced at her feet and then shrieked, “She’s bleeding!” 1926—Bare Legs
Although Pola Negri had started to go bare-legged at the same time that she began painting her toenails, it was some years before the practice caught on among the other denizens of Hollywood. Joan Crawford claimed to have pioneered the fashion for bare legs with evening wear, abandoning her stockings when hemlines reached the knee in 1926 and only putting them on again when long frocks came back into fashion in 1930. What was acceptable in private, however, took some daring in public. In 1927 blond starlet Rita Carewe began going stockingless for comfort in the hot Los Angeles summer, but in order to preserve the proprieties she polished her tanned legs to look as if they were clad in silk. At the Wimbledon championships that same year, teenage South African tennis star “Billie” Tapscott was booed by the crowd for appearing on court with her legs bare. 1928—Women’s Pants for Evening Wear
Women had started wearing colorful “beach pajamas” on the French Riviera in 1926, but they were definitely only for the plage. Two years later, British actress Hermione Baddeley defied convention when she wore pants for an evening reception to celebrate her wedding to the aristocrat the Honorable David Tennant. 1930—Women’s Pants for Day Wear
The movies have always exerted a strong influence on fashion, and never more so than when Marlene Dietrich appeared in slacks in Josef von Sternberg’s classic picture Morocco. The women of America took to pants with an eagerness that might have been more restrained had they understood von Sternberg’s intention to signal the lesbian tendency of the character portrayed by the alluring Dietrich. 1935—Men’s Briefs
Introduced by the Cooper Underwear Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the first briefs with an open seam went on sale at Marshall Field’s in Chicago in January. When they were launched in Britain in 1938, the manufacturers advised left-handers to wear them inside out. 1935—Women’s Jeans
No one knows for sure when women started to wear jeans, though one thing is sure—they never wore them to ride the range as depicted in movies about the old West. It probably began in the new West with the advent of dude ranches. The May 15, 1935, issue of Vogue depicts two chic and sophisticated Manhattanites improbably dressed as cowgirls. Part of the costume, Vogue explained, was “simple-but-severe blue jeans or Levis, turned up at the bottom once, laundered before wearing (to eliminate stiffness), cut straight and tight fitting, worn low on the hips, in the manner of your favorite dude wrangler.” By the following year, jeans for women had headed east. It was reported that the free spirits of Mrs. Hallie Flanagan’s drama course at top women’s school Vassar had abandoned their skirts in favor of blue jeans. 1936—Loafers
The penny loafer was designed by the G.H. Bass Company of Wilton, Maine, as an adaptation of the Norwegian slipper moccasins that had become fashionable on the French Riviera the previous year. Bass called them Weejuns, as a contraction of “Norwegian.” They went on sale in men’s fittings only at Rogers Peet of New York at $12 a pair, with women’s fittings following the next year. The origin of the practice among preppies of inserting a penny into the saddle of their loafers is, according to Bass, completely unknown. 1939—Nylon Stockings
The first women to wear nylon stockings were employees of the DuPont nylon yarn plant in Wilmington, Delaware, in February 1939. They were available to other Wilmington ladies the following month, when they went on sale at a few selected stores in the city. There was the odd problem with these experimental batches. They had a tendency to turn yellow after a while. And they generated so much static electricity that in dry weather, ladies might find that preparations for bed were accompanied by the crackle of sparks. 1942—T-Shirts
The US Navy called it a T-Type when they issued specifications for a knitted cotton shirt with a round neck and short sleeves set at right angles to the front and back panels. While the navy saw its chief virtue as “greater sweat absorption under the arms,” sailors were more impressed with the striking effect it had on girls. After the war, it formed part of another kind of uniform, as teenagers of both sexes sported t-shirts with blue jeans and sneakers—the first unisex leisure-wear costume. 1946—Bikini
Micheline Bernardini entered fashion history—and subsequently received 50,000 fan letters—when she modeled the first bikini at a Paris fashion show in July 1946. The creation of automotive engineer and swimsuit designer Louis Réard, the skimpy two-piece was made up of a fabric printed with newspaper text. And the name? On July 1, the Americans had detonated an atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. The suit was dubbed the bikini because of its explosive impact on the fashion world. 1949—Sneakers
The German sportswear manufacturer Addas (later Adidas) introduced their “three-strip” running shoe, designed by Adolf Dassler. All the sneakers in the world trace their descent from this prototype. 1959—Pantyhose
Pantyhose were launched as Panti-Legs by Glen Raven Mills of Glen Raven, North Carolina, and worn by ballet dancers and beatnik girls. Glen Raven’s chief executive, Allen Gant, had been asked to develop them by his pregnant wife because she found stockings with a constrictive garter belt too uncomfortable. The original Panti-Legs had a seam running up the calf to make them indistinguishable from stockings. This was changed at the behest of veteran fan dancer Sally Rand, vaudeville star of the 1920s and 1930s, who was still performing as the 1960s dawned. She reckoned Panti-Legs would be ideal for wearing on drafty stages, but as she was supposed to be naked behind her fans, the seams were a giveaway. When the new seamless Panti-Legs were launched in 1961, Ms. Rand was able to perform before goggle-eyed audiences who remained wholly unaware of her innocent deception. 1960—Lycra
A synthetic polyurethane fiber with the elastic properties of rubber was developed by DuPont and named Lycra. In December 1960 the Warner Lingerie Company introduced the Little Godiva step-in girdle, the first garment made of Lycra. 1961—Afro Hairstyle
Bronx teenager Barbara Terry had a date but found that she had no time to hot-press and curl her hair. Fortunately, her father was proprietor of a hairdressing salon, Nelson’s Tonsorial Parlor. With his help, Barbara was on time to meet her beau, with her hair frizzed out in a style that other young black women—and eventually men—emulated. 1964—Miniskirt
In March 1964, British Vogue announced the sensation of the 1960s. The hemline had reached the knee in 1926, during the era of the flappers, but did not rise above it in the fashion world until Paris couturier André Courrèges took it four inches above the knee in 1964. British designer Mary Quant took it even higher than that three years later. 1979—Air-Cushioned Sneakers
Aerospace engineer Frank Rudy developed the concept of the Nike Tailwind after studying the pressurized gasbags that enabled lunar modules to make safe landings. 1989—Inflatable Sneakers
The Reebok Pump was a basketball shoe designed to give the wearer a customized fit when it is inflated by pressing a small compressor, shaped like a basketball, in the tongue. 1993—Long-Lasting Perfume
Shiseido Eau de Cologne was launched in Japan in May 1993. It contained hydroxy-propyl-cyclodexrin to inhibit evaporation, and the scent remained clear and strong for eight or nine hours. A conventional eau de cologne loses its fragrance after only one or two hours.