Are you eager to get back outside, but concerned about keeping your social distance?
Maintaining six feet of space between yourself and others is not always easy, nor intuitive (especially on crowded city streets).
In one creative solution, Chinese schoolchildren have been sporting delightful homemade hats with balloons, strips of cardboard, and other odds-and-ends that jut out, encouraging kids to keep apart.
But while the hats have won worldwide admiration, what some may not realize is that this signature style has a historical precedent dating back nearly a thousand years.
Duke University professor Eileen Chengyin Chow pointed out that the kids’ caps bear a striking resemblance to Song Dynasty official court headwear characterized by two black wings on either side. These horizontal plumes were meant “to prevent officials from conspiring sotto voce with one another while at court,” she wrote on Twitter.
And that’s just one instance of fashion being used to quite literally make space. Across the centuries, different styles have been used to create barriers for social, political, and—yes—even health purposes.
During outbreaks of the bubonic plague, physicians wore (and pardon the frightfulness of this image) pointed, beak-like masks and head-to-toe body coverings to keep them from the sick. The nightmarish garb is often traced back to Charles de Lorme, a physician who tended to 17th-century European royals.
At the time, the plague was wrongfully believed to be carried through “poisoned air” that could be warded off with perfumes. Though the plague doctors’ herb concoction, known as theriac, certainly was protective, the costume became so well-known that it remains a common Venetian carnival costume to this day.
Flash forward a few centuries to Victorian-era Crilonemania, an obsession with crinolines, the voluminous skirts that defined mid-19th century Western fashion. This hulking skirt was worn to create polite distances between men and women in social settings.
Though dress reformers decried the skirt as impeding women’s mobility (they called it a fire hazard), the crinoline may have inadvertently shielded wearers from the health scourges of cholera and smallpox. Similarly, gigantically brimmed hats likewise played a role in keeping suitors—and strangers—at a distance in 18th- and 19th-century society. (The era’s accompanying hatpin was also a handy weapon).
So for those of you who could use a little socially distant wardrobe inspiration after months in pajamas, we’ve pulled together a few of our favorite fashion options from art history.
And no matter what your attire, don’t forget your mask!