The stories behind your favorite fashions

Lilly Pulitzer's bright, iconic design was originally created to disguise citrus juice stains.

Story highlights

  • The sports bra came to be after an innovative college student sewed two jock straps together
  • Lilly Pulitzer's patterned dresses were designed to cloak bright juice stains
  • Bikinis didn't become popular until the 1960s
Why did women start carrying handbags? Here, the answer to this and other puzzlers.
How Did the Trend for Pointed-Toe Shoes Start?
Long before they ever made an appearance on "Sex and the City," pointed shoes were favored by Polish nobles, who introduced the fashion to England on a diplomatic visit in the 1300s. The shoes, dubbed "crackowes" or "poulaines" -- after Kraków, Poland -- were so long that a chain running from the toe to the knee was often required to keep them from dragging. In 1363 the English attempted to rein in the look by law, assigning shoe spans to social classes. Commoners could sport footwear with toes of up to six inches, while those in the royal ranks were allowed a full two feet in length.
Who Invented the Sports Bra?
In 1977 University of Vermont student Lisa Lindahl was running 30 miles a week -- and her bra wasn't holding up. With the help of two classmates, Lindahl sewed together two jock straps and -- presto! -- the sports bra was born. The coeds founded the company Jogbra a year later, garnering eternal gratitude from exercise-loving women everywhere.
Is There a Real Mary Jane Behind Mary Jane Shoes?
Not quite: The most widely held theory is that the single-strapped footwear was named for a character in "Buster Brown," a children's comic strip that was popular in the early 1900s. Mary Jane was either Buster Brown's sweetheart or sister, depending on which source you consult.
What's the Connection Between Shakespeare and Raincoats?
Gabardine, a water-repellent fabric invented by Burberry, got its first mention from Shakespeare. The Bard used the word in The Merchant of Venice to refer to a coarse cloak worn as protection from storms. During World War I, British officers on the front lines kept warm and dry in a uniform coat made of the material -- the original Burberry trench.
Who Was the First Person Known to Have Pierced Ears?
No one knows who originated the style, but there's evidence that as early as 2500 B.C. Sumerian women wore pierced earrings -- gold half-moon hoops. Men have been wearing earrings since ancient Egypt, where the jewelry was introduced in 1500 B.C.
What Was the Inspiration for Lilly Pulitzer's Colorful Printed Dresses?
Bored Palm Beach socialite Lilly Pulitzer opened a juice stand in 1959 to pass the time, but she found one drawback: The citrus concoctions discolored her clothes. She instructed her dressmaker to create a uniform that would camouflage the bright stains, and the "Lilly" design -- sleeveless cotton shifts in vibrant prints -- was born. The style was an instant hit with customers, who soon began placing more orders for dresses than juice.
How did Pumps, Stilettos, and Sneakers Get Their Names?
The term pump first popped up in 1550 in England, where male servants sported the style. It is said that the noise they made while wearing the loose-fitting shoes resembled the sound of a water pump. The word sneaker entered the language in the 1870s; the rubber soles made the shoes quiet and therefore "sneaky." The modern usage of stiletto, a Renaissance-era Italian word for an assassin's narrow-bladed knife, made its debut in 1953. The word turned out to be especially appropriate, because the shoes' pointy heels were murder on wooden floors.
When Did Folks Start Toting Around Umbrellas?
For thousands of years, in such places as Egypt, China, Japan, Mesopotamia, and India, umbrellas were used exclusively to shade the heads of dignitaries from the broiling sun. (When it rained, the well-to-do stayed dry in covered carriages and sedan chairs.) Umbrellas weren't employed in inclement weather until the late 17th and early 18th centuries. And another hundred years passed before advances in manufacturing made them lightweight, portable, and available to average Joes.
Have Bikinis Always Been So Popular?
Hardly! Named for the nuclear-testing site Bikini Atoll, the suits first appeared in 1946, but American women thought them immodest. Not until the 1960s were they accepted, possibly helped by the hit song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini."
Were French Cuffs Really Created for the Battlefield?
It is said that the cuffs were designed to be used as handkerchiefs in combat. But, in fact, French royalty invented the style in the 1500s, when flowing sleeves were the rage; nobles would tie their sleeves back with fasteners. Amusingly, the competitive English tried to take credit for the fashion, which to this day they refer to as "double cuffs."
Have Women Always Carried Purses?
Once upon a time, ladies stored their essentials in a little waist sack tied under their clothing (sort of an early ancestor of the fanny pack) and accessible through slits in their skirts. Around 1800, thinner, silkier fabrics and slimmer cuts came into vogue, and women could no longer hide the bulging sacks around their midsections. The solution? They began carrying their belongings in small pocketbooks instead.
Why Is Underwear Nicknamed "Drawers"?
In the 16th century, drawers became a common term for both men's and women's underpants. Made of linen, the items were no-frills and looked more or less interchangeable (this being well before Victoria ever had a secret; decorative lace trim started appearing on the garments only in the middle of the 19th century). Most likely, underwear earned this distinctly unsexy epithet because it describes the way that people put on their unmentionables -- drawing them up and over the lower part of the body.