The Black Death wasn't the only plague in the 1300s.
- In a unique study, researchers have determined how many people in medieval England had bunions
- A fashion trend towards pointed toe shoes made the affliction common.
- Even monks got in on the trend, much to their discomfort later in life.
Late Medieval England had its share of problems. The Wars of Roses raged, the Black Death killed off large parts of the population, and passing ruffians could say "Ni" at will to old ladies.
To make matters worse, a first of its kind study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology has demonstrated that much of the population suffered from another plague — a plague of bunions likely caused by a ridiculous medieval fashion trend.
If the shoe fits, it won't cause bunions
The outlines of a leather shoe from the King's Ditch, Cambridge. It is easy to see how these shoes might be constricting. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
The bunion, known to medicine as "hallux valgus," is a deformity of the joint connecting the big toe to the rest of the foot. It is painful and can cause other issues including poor balance. The condition is associated with having worn constrictive shoes for a long period of time as well as genetic factors. Today, it is often caused by wearing high heeled shoes.
The medieval English didn't care for high heeled shoes as much as modern fashionistas, but there was a major fashion trend toward shoes with long, pointed toes called "poulaines" or "crakows" for their supposed place of origin, Krakow, Poland.
This trend, already silly-looking to a modern observer, got out of hand in a hurry. According to some records, the points on nobleman's shoes could be so long as to require tying them to the leg with string so the wearer could walk. At one point, King Edward IV had to ban commoners from wearing points longer than two inches. A couple years later, he saw fit to ban the shoes altogether.
But, just knowing that people back in the day made poor fashion choices doesn't prove they suffered for it. That is where digging up old skeletons to look at their feet comes in.
Beauty is pain: the price of high medieval fashion
To learn how bad the bunion epidemic was, the researchers looked to four burial sites in and around Cambridge. One was a rural cemetery where poor peasants were buried. Another was the All Saints by the Castle parish, which had a mixed collection of people that tended toward poverty. The Hospital of St. John's burial ground contained both the poor charges of a charity hospital and wealthy benefactors. Lastly, they considered the cemetery of a local Augustinian friary, home to monks and well-to-do philanthropists.
The team considered 177 adult skeletons that were at least a quarter complete and still had enough of their feet to make studying them possible. The remains were classified by age and sex by observation and DNA testing. Each was examined for evidence of bunions and signs of complications from the condition, such as falling.
Those buried in the monastery's graveyard were the most affected. Nearly half, 43 percent, of the remains found there had bunions. This includes five of the eleven members of the clergy they found. Twenty-three percent of those laid to rest at the Hospital of St. John had bunions, though only 10 percent of those at the All Saints by the Castle parish graveyard did.
The rural cemetery had a much lower rate of instances, only three percent, suggesting that these peasants were able to avoid at least one plague.
Overall, eighteen percent of the individuals examined had bunions, with men more likely to have them than women. Those at cemeteries known for exclusivity were more likely to have them as well, though it is clear that the condition also affected members of other classes. This makes sense, as it is known that these shoes had mass appeal.
The authors note that the rural cemetery having fewer cases is partly because that cemetery "went out of use prior to the wide adoption of pointed shoes, and it is likely that those residing in the parish predominately wore soft leather shoes, or possibly went barefoot."
Those skeletons with evidence of bunions were more likely to have fractures indicative of a fall. This was more common on those estimated or recorded as having lived past age 45.
In our much more enlightened times, 23 percent of the population currently endures having bunions, most of them women, and one of the leading culprits behind this is the high heeled shoe.
Some things never change.
How fabric helped build modern civilization.
- Virginia Postrel, author of "The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World," describes how the pursuit of textiles has led to a vast variety of innovations throughout history. Notably, the launch of the Industrial Revolution started with the machines that mechanized the spinning of thread.
- The term luddite, which has now come to mean "people who have [an] ideological opposition to technology," started with textiles. The original Luddites of the 19th century were weavers who rioted when they began losing their jobs to power looms.
- Postrel states that human beings throughout the world and across history independently discovered different processes for creating cloth. She goes on to say that "weaving is something that is deeply mathematical… It seems to be this kind of human activity that's thinking in ones and zeros that's anticipating our modern computer age."
As much as we say it's not about the clothes, it's still about the clothes.
- A new study from Princeton University shows that perception of competence is linked to dress.
- Researchers discovered the same results over nine separate studies: men that dress better are viewed as more competent.
- Even when told clothing is not a measure of competence, judges ruled in favor of the better-dressed men.
It would be nice to believe that we judge others not based on how they dress, but on their personal character. While such an idea sounds commendable, it's not true, says a new study out of Princeton University.
Regardless of how much we like to think ourselves above judging based on the clothing others wrap themselves in, such decisions are made much quicker than conscious awareness allows—as little as 130 milliseconds. The paper, which includes research from nine separate studies, confirms the long-held sentiment that "the clothes make the man."
Numerous studies have investigated how we judge faces. Speculation about the role of facial symmetry, large eyes, and prominent cheekbones has been around for decades. For this study — it was published in Nature Human Behavior on Dec. 9 — the researchers flashed the photos of 50 men so quickly that facial recognition proved about impossible. Noticing their torso and, more importantly, what that torso was garbed in, remained possible, however.
The team of DongWon Oh, Eldar Shafir, and Alexander Todorov write,
"Faces were shown with different upper-body clothing rated by independent judges as looking 'richer' or 'poorer', although not notably perceived as such when explicitly described. The same face when seen with 'richer' clothes was judged significantly more competent than with 'poorer' clothes."
Clothing Matters | Jan Erickson | TEDxColoradoSprings
Before beginning, the researchers asked a separate panel of judges to ensure that the clothing they chose was not overtly wealthy or representative of extreme poverty. Those partaking in the study were told to judge the competence of the faces they saw on a scale from one to nine based on "gut feeling."
In a few of the nine studies clothing was explicitly mentioned, though the judges were told to not consider what the people were wearing. In one, they claimed that there was no relationship between clothing and competence.
It didn't matter. In every single study, those rocking finer threads were deemed more competent, even when the same man was shown in different tops. If he was wearing nice clothes, he was deemed more competent than when wearing a t-shirt.
These perceptions influence who we vote for and where we spend our money. Oh believes this is especially important in the age of widespread income inequality.
"Wealth inequality has worsened since the late 1980s in the United States. Now the gap between the top 1 percent and the middle class is over 1,000,000 percent, a mind-numbing figure. Other labs' work has shown people are sensitive to how rich or poor other individuals appear. Our work found that people are susceptible to these cues when judging others on meaningful traits, like competence, and that these cues are hard, if not impossible, to ignore."
The researchers hope that by making people aware of their implicit bias toward clothing, such awareness can later translate into better decision-making about the judgment of an individual's character. As we learn over and over again, fine clothing does not necessary represent an ethical or honest person. It just means they can afford to purchase it.
Rapper Post Malone visits SiriusXM Studio on November 30, 2016 in New York City.
Photo credit: Matthew Eisman/Getty Images
Yet this lesson will be a hard lesson to instill. Clothing has long been representative of social status. Shoes were once a social marker separating those who could afford them compared to those that had to wear sandals or go barefoot. At root, humans are extremely shallow: we'd rather show off what we can afford than help others achieve the same status.
Shafir goes so far to claim that uniformity might be the way to go.
"A potential, even if highly insufficient, interim solution may be to avoid exposure whenever possible. Just like teachers sometimes grade blindly so as to avoid favoring some students, interviewers and employers may want to take what measures they can, when they can, to evaluate people, say, on paper so as to circumvent indefensible yet hard to avoid competency judgments. Academic departments, for example, have long known that hiring without interviews can yield better scholars. It's also an excellent argument for school uniforms."
That will be a hard sell an individualistic culture such as America, where outward appearance too often trumps inner character. As long as that's the case, we have to recognize ourselves for what we are: judgmental creatures focused on exterior presentation. Inner work takes practice, but the benefits — namely, not being conned or focused on fleeting materialism — is worth it.
Fast fashion has a devastating impact on the environment. Here's what you need to know before heading to Zara this holiday season.
- The fashion industry is responsible for an alarming 10 percent of all of humanity's carbon emissions.
- Eighty-five percent of all textiles are trashed each year, ending up in a landfill or incinerated.
- By wearing one item of clothing for 9 months longer a person can actually reduce his or her carbon footprint by 30 percent.
'Tis the season to be shopping. Across the country, Americans are flocking to malls, outlets, department stores, as well as online retail sites to get their loved one's gifts this holiday season.But this ritual of consumption has had a devastating effect on the planet, and particularly when it comes to fashion. The fashion industry is responsible for an alarming 10 percent of all of humanity's carbon emissions, thanks largely to the business model known as "fast fashion" that has come to dominate this century.
The Fast Fashion Model
Image source: live.staticflickr.com
Back in the 1980s, the average American only purchased about 12 new articles of clothing every year. But in 1993 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) made it much easier to import clothing by abolishing a quota system that had limited the number of items that could enter the U.S. and giving rise to fast fashion. The aim of this model is to make trendy clothes off the runway quick, cheap, and disposable. Think retailers such as H&M and Zara. They make their money by squeezing the time between trends, frequently filling their stores with new collections of cheap clothing that breaks down quickly enough for shoppers to come in for the next collection. In 2016, The Atlantic reported that the average American buys 64 new articles of clothing per year.
Of course, fast fashion has democratized fashion by making clothing more affordable and giving rise to greater variety. But this comes at a grave environmental cost.
Making Fashion is an Environmental Disaster
Photo Credit: REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir
In 2015, textile production contributed to more CO2 emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. For instance, making one pair of jeans produces as much greenhouse gases as driving a car more than 80 miles.
This has to do with the materials used in the production process.Take the water-intensive crop cotton for example. It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single cotton shirt, enough for the average person to live on for two-and-a-half years. Worse yet are synthetic fabrics like polyester, spandex, and nylon, which use nearly 342 million barrels of oil. According to World Resources Institute, producing polyester — a kind of plastic found in around 60 percent of garments — emits two to three times more carbon than cotton. Furthermore, washing these clothing items sends as many as 500,000 tons of microplastics into the ocean each year. That's estimated to be about the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Overall, microplastics are estimated to compose up to 31 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean.
Another popular fabric used is viscose, a silky material that comes from fiber derived from wood pulp using extremely unsustainable and chemically intensive production methods. As much as 70 percent of the wood harvested is wasted while the other 30 percent ends up in the garments that we wear.Furthermore, making and dyeing textiles involves the use of toxic chemicals which often are discarded by being dumped into lakes, streams, rivers, and ditches poisoning local communities. Garment manufacturing is responsible for 20 percent of all industrial water pollution around the globe and ranks in as the world's second-largest polluter of water.
Where Fashion Goes
Finally, there's what happens to the clothes when we are done with them. Although we are buying more clothes than ever before, we are keeping them for half as long. Shockingly, 85 percent of all textiles are trashed each year, ultimately ending up in a landfill or incinerated. The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothes per year. That's about one garbage truck of clothes being burned or sent to landfills every second!Even if you donate your clothes, they still often get dumped. What charities can't sell or give away are sold by the ton to buyers in the developing world and still end up in landfills in those countries. Perhaps you've seen in-store recycling bins with retailers like H&M implying that the old clothes you bring in will be recycled to make new clothing. But less than one percent of their clothing is actually recycled to make new clothing. That's because the blend of fibers that make their clothes don't break down easily.
What Can Be Done
Maybe the most important thing we can do is to simply buy less stuff by wearing the clothes that we already have for longer. Incredibly, by wearing one item of clothing for 9 months longer a person can actually reduce his or her carbon footprint by 30 percent. Some companies, such as Patagonia, actually ask that you send in a damaged item of clothing for free repair rather than tossing it and buying something new.Another thing you can do is to thrift shop. If everyone bought one used item instead of new this year, the amount of CO2 emissions saved would be equivalent to removing half a million cars from the road for a year. Finally, as the holiday season is in full swing and many are still scrambling to buy gifts for loved ones, you might consider gifting experiences or something hand-made rather than store-bought garb.
Some lingerie lines have failed to keep up with a new era.
- According to L Brands, the Victoria's Secret fashion show, which began in 1995, has been cancelled to shift its focus on digital marketing.
- Since the advent of the fashion, the female body has been dissected and commodified to promote new feminine ideals for sales. This might be ending.
- Feminist demands have given rise to body inclusive brands such as Aerie, ThirdLove, Universal Studios, and Savage X Fenty that redefine "sexy."
Met with a sigh of relief from feminist spheres of the internet, it was recently announced that the reign of Victoria's Secret fashion show has come to an end.
The show — famous for parading supermodels around in gemstone-encrusted panties, plaid push-up bras, stiletto heels, and giant feathery angel wings — has been canceled according to Victoria's Secret's parent company L Brands. And it might be the nail in the coffin to an archaic, androcentric definition of "sexy."
The Fall of Victoria’s Secret
Photo Credit: Getty Images
L Brands said that it wants to "evolve the marketing" of the Victoria's Secret brand, named after the Victorian-era in England.
The show began in 1995 as a marketing tour de force, with more than 12 million people tuning into the show in 1995. But the viewership has plummeted over the past five years, with only 3.3 million viewers in 2018 — half the viewers of 2016 — and its worst broadcast ratings ever. The decline in viewers has reflected the recent failure of company sales. Although Victoria's Secret is still America's leading lingerie brand, between 2016 and 2018 its market share dropped from 33 percent to 24 percent in the U.S., and the retailer's sales dropped 7 percent during the latest quarter compared to the same period last year.
CEO Les Wexner said that the company no longer thought network television was the right fit, and that it would shift its focus on digital marketing. But the shift in the viewer's preferred content platforms likely isn't the biggest reason for the shortfalls of the brand. Rather it's been its failure to keep up with social shifts that have, arguably, changed the essence of what Victoria's Secret sells: sexy.
Over the last few years a feminist wave has disoriented old marketing tactics. The #MeToo movement shamed inappropriate voyeurism, and body positivity reforms have vocalized the idea that sexuality should be available to bodies outside of the restrictive parameters set by fashion institutions. Victoria's Secret has not aged well in this new era of activism.
There was a damning Vogue interview with the engineers of the lingerie brand, Ed Razek and Monica Mitro, during which Razek said that the brand would not include transgender models because, he implied, it would be in conflict with with the "fantasy" that Victoria's Secret sells, and that no one had any interest in plus-sized models. (Razek soon resigned.) Then there was the unveiling of Wexner's close ties with the deceased sex criminal Jeffery Epstein, who served as the CEO's personal financial advisor.
This was, to say the very least, a terrible look.
Taking Sexy Back
Photo image: Wikimedia Commons
Victoria's Secret has always been voyeuristic. Essentially, it's been a lingerie store created by men, selling products to women that cater to the appetites of straight males. It's pretty much packaged and sold the same look for the past 24 years: Ultra lean, long legged, tall, and conventionally beautiful. Any efforts to diversify the models have been limited.Feminist demands have given birth to body-positive brands such as Aerie, ThirdLove, and Universal Studios with sizes ranging from 00 to 40. But nothing has directly stepped forward to challenge Victoria's Secret in the way that Rihanna's brand Savage X Fenty has.The Savage X Fenty Show debuted in New York City the September of 2018 and enjoyed rave reviews. An Anti-Victoria's Secret, it presented an unruly, dark, and assertive feminine sexuality — with a clear point of view dedicated to inclusivity. During the show pregnant, trans, disabled, and fat models swaggered down the runway in skimpy lingerie alongside mainstream supermodels. Rihanna toldThe New York Times that the concept was about mixing the conventional with what she hopes is the future of fashion. That is, women being celebrated in all their forms.
Commodifying of Female Bodies Is Out
From its beginning, Victoria's Secret has bet on the age-old marketing tactic of selling women a "perfect body." Since the advent of the fashion industry, the female body has been dissected and commodified to promote new feminine ideals for sales. In the 1910s that ideal was a tiny waist and thick thighs, in the '20s it was being rail thin with a flat chest and butt. In the '30s and '40s it was an hour-glass figure with military shoulders. In the '30s through the '50s weight-gain supplements were pushed because voluptuous curves with big breasts were desirable. Thin was back in during the '60s and '70s, and waists were to be narrow and boyish.
Long legs and a muscular physiques epitomized the '80s market trends paralleling the fitness frenzy, while the sickly boney appearance dubbed "heroin chic" trended in the '90s. It was the 2000s when the lean, toned Victoria's Secret look dominated runways. More recently, starting in the early 2010s, women have been told to strive for everything from thigh gaps to "Toblerone tunnels" to an internet-breaking booty.
Perhaps we're finally seeing a dismissal of the absurdity of a group of (probably male) somebodies, somewhere, deciding what body shapes are sexy decade to decade. Victoria's Secret and its plummeting financial standing is indicative of a changing tide in what "sexy," as it pertains to female bodies, is. Rather than showcase bodies that are tailored to designers' construction of the male gaze, Rihanna's brand, along with others, celebrates feminine sexiness as a somatic way of being.
They may just be lingerie brands and fashion shows, but the euphoric responses to Savage X Fenty and other body inclusive brands, as opposed to Victoria's Secret's cancelled show, tells us something is happening. What is sexy becoming, then? Rather than a commodified body-type that women are told to strive for, it's a reveling that feminine sexuality is without limits — it's available to anybody and every body.